A warm January day out in the desertBeatys Butte has been near the top of my list for a couple years now. Its definitely one of the most remote mountains in Oregon, I had always believed driving in from the north via Frenchglen would be easier than the deep south route through Lakeview and Adel. Without the benefit of good directions however I decided to drive in via the directions provided by Dean Molen, and then leave by travelling across the Catlow Valley on one of the many roads shown in my atlas and topos. This "exit strategy" would come back to haunt me.
I hit the road at 4:30am from Redmond. After five hours of travel with a gas stop in Lakeview I reached the turnoff for the Beatys Butte Road around 9:30am. The 21 mile trip up the Guano Valley on the gravel and sand Beatys Butte Road was really pretty smooth other than a 3 mile section in the middle that was fairly rough. I think many sedans could make the drive up this road when its dry and not rutted (although you would want heavy duty tires for the jagged rocks jutting out of the road in places). I settled on the Mahogany Mountain Road Cory Crebbin recommended as my point of entrance. This road would have been a muddy mess if not for the freezing night time temps. Even in midday heat after the ice had several hours to melt, only the surface of the road was soft which saved me from either getting stuck or having a much longer hike.
I parked on the southwest end of Beatys Butte just below the Buckaroo Spring, where wild horses were feeding just above me in the canyon. The view of the mountain was amazing from here, it rises from the canyon under a canopy of golden bunchgrasses and short gray sagebrush.
After taking in the view I started up the canyon driving the herd of horses away from me; at this time it was about 10am. It was my hope to follow the canyon up to a higher bench and then follow the west ridge on up the mountain, but I soon tired of fighting through the dense sagebrush that lined the bottom of this draw. Climbing the canyon wall just north of the Buckaroo Spring seemed like the best way up, and I was able to stop at that rare desert waterhole to look around. It was immediately evident this was obviously a place Paiutes had spent a lot of time at in the past. Although not a massive spring, water is abundant this time of year, and likely well into summer. After takeing a few pictures I started up the 20 foot band of basalt above the spring and began the long ascent up the southwest face of Beatys Butte. Shortly after 11am and jumping up two herds of deer I made the summit and beheld the summit refrigerator. Apparently at some point in the past someone decided a refrigerator was the best means of housing the two cars batteries needed on the mountaintop. There must have been a repeator up here at some point I would surmise.
The views from Beatys is simply stunning on a warm winter day. Most of this hike I managed without any sort of coat, and the wind was minimal except for the upper 200 feet of the butte. After signing the geocachers log (eh why not?)I started the uneventful hike back to the jeep to begin a long afternoon of driving.
Make sure to bring extra gas - unintentional exploration of the high desert...Rather than turning back south and heading down to the Adel-Denio highway that I drove in on, I turned north on the Beatys Butte Road hoping to connect with either the Frenchglen-Hart Mountain Road or some sort of road that travelled west across the Catlow Valley. I passed a few rough 4x4 trails that headed in the direction I wanted, but I was certain I would find some sort of more established road. After 5 miles of travel the road turned west and much to my surprise I came upon a couple state troopers out here in the absolute middle of nowhere. They seemed pretty interested in the contents of my jeep and were peeping in the windows when I stopped to talk to them. One remained behind my jeep with his hand rested near his pistol while I talked to the other one out the window of my rig; not sure what they were looking for, but after chatting with me they decided I obviously wasnt it. I asked them for directions and they were no help, they said they came in via Hawks Valley (wherever that is).
Off to Hawks Valley
After another few miles the road turned south towards Nevada with no sign of anything in the direction I wanted. I pulled over at The Big Fish Fin and dug out my atlas. It showed the road I was on continued south across the Butcher Flat and down into Hawks Valley. The road was continually detiorating in quality but I absolutely hate turning back. Thankfully I brought a few extra gallons of gas so I went ahead and topped off the tank and began the long desolate drive across the flats. Eventually I reached a pass on the north side of Acty Mountain and descended down the rocky and steep 4x4 trail into Hawks Valley. It was now dusk and I a few short miles from the Nevada Border, probably as far from civilization as I have ever been in Oregon. The Hawks Valley is a sea of sagebrush ringed by a trio of relatively impressive peaks: Acty Mountain, Hawks Mountain, and Lone Mountain. I stopped and consulted my atlas again, it looked like driving out via Funnel Canyon was the best route. After another 40 minutes of incredibly rough roads I emerged from the canyon back into the Catlow Valley and found the Fields - Frenchglen Highway. Thankfully, no flat tires, or getting stuck in any of the giant mudholes I had negotiated. It was around 5pm and I only had a couple hundred mile drive back to John Day.
In retrospect I think there is a road near the Willow Spring that would cross the Catlow Valley, explore at your own risk!
Features of a remote regionI dont know of any pictures of these features on summitpost so I thought I would share them here. This is one of those areas you dont just take a daytrip to so you can take in the sights. I had the misfortune of driving to them, so anyway, enjoy.
For the Hawks Valley area this is the dominent peak. Elevation is 7234 feet and vegetation is limited to sagebrush and bunchgrass. Best access and route can be found in the Barbara Bond book 75 Scrambles In Oregon.
Big Fish Fin:
This is a feeder dike on the northwest side of Beatys Butte. Feeder dikes were the cracks in the earth that basalt poured out of, inundating much of the Pacific Northwest 16 million years ago. In some instances, the land around the dike has eroded leaving sills such as this one. Many of these can be found in Oregon, most notably in the Steens Mountains, and seen on the Washington side of the Columbia River in the Gorge between The Dalles and Hood River.
This jumbled heap of rock sits across the valley from Hawks Mountain. Although not as prominent, the geology here is breathtaking. The ridgelines are highlighted with massive rock features that beckon a day of scrambling, Personally I am going to have to revisit this one. The elevation is 6903 feet, and again the best route for this one can be found in 75 Scrambles In Oregon.
Pueblo Mountains west face:
the seldom seen west face of the Pueblo Mountains seen from across the Butcher Flat. The highest point seen here is the West Pueblo Ridge. For anyone that has summited Pueblo Mountain, the West Pueblo Ridge is the prominent point that lies west across Stergen Meadows.
South Catlow Rim:
Seen from the north end of Funnel Canyon. Another one of those places few people have seen. I was happy just to put it behind me after 100 miles of off-highway travel.