I had climbed, err,. hiked this one last year in the early part of July after having been turned back once by snow blocking the road and by a shredded tire the second time. The third time was a charm and most of the work for getting this county highpoint is spent in the driving to the TH. 30 miles from Dayton with 25 of it on dirt or gravel roads. But, the views along the Skyline Drive is something different and enjoyable. Back to the main story, I really didn't write this to talk about my first trip although I'll do a flashback or two along the way.
My county hunting, peak bagging friend, Dennis Poulin indicated that he wanted to make a trip to this part of Washington so he could chase after some more Washington counties. Together he and I had done Okanogan's North Gardner peak back in July, a 30 mile 2 day affair and then a little later on, we did Grey Wolf Ridge over on the Olympic peninsula. Dennis had also climbed Mt. Rainier and Mt . Adams this year along with about ten other Washington counties so he was hoping to get in this trip to end the year with over half of Washington's county highpoints done. He accomplished this mission by getting 6 of them before the weekend was over but Oregon Butte was the one I wanted to do with him, even though it was a repeat.
I had damaged my knee coming off of Mt. Grafton down in Nevada and 5 weeks of physical therapy and inactivity had me chomping at the bit to get out so Oregon Butte was the perfect vehicle to find out how well the healing was coming along with its mild 6 miles round trip and about a 1000 feet of elevation gain. To me, this would be a good chance to test it out and it also gave me another chance to hike with Dennis, a guy who I truly enjoy hiking / climbing with.
Dennis came by and bunked at my place after making the 8 hour drive from Medford. Friday morning early, we were up and ready to get going but found the going slow as we had to deal with a lot of fog. Mc'D's for breakkie and going as fast as the conditions would allow, we made a detour to Lewis Peak so Dennis could nab Walla Walla's highpoint. Mission accomplished and onto Dayton. I left my car at the market at the west end of town and hopped in Dennis's battlewagon to assault the peak. Dennis had no need of a map since he had me and I guided him expertly to the TH but it wasn't a cakewalk. Snow. Dang white stuff. Once we hit 4500 feet, we had not only to contend with the white stuff, we had to contend with ice.
One spot of it gave us a scary moment and Dennis carefully and slowly navigated the rest of the way over snow covered roads until we hit a snow free TH. We can thank the hunters for making the roads passable for a 2WD vehicle but despite the sun, the snow and ice was not melting since the bad areas were all in the shade.
From the cleverly named "Tee Pee" TH, with its NWForest Pass paid for vault toilet and picnic tables, we headed up the Mt. Misery Trail. Most of the elevation gain is accomplished in the first mile and a half but about midway you come to a fork that allows you to choose a high route or a low one. Of course Dennis chose the high one and got to be the first to tromp in new tracks while I chose the lower one with its well beaten path (in the snow) and managed to beat him to the junction where the two trails come back together. From that point, it was only a half mile or so to the lookout, which we could see, atop Oregon Buttte. Did I mention we had sunshine all the way up as when we hit the snow at 4500 feet, we left the fog we had been driving in and was rewarded with wonderful sunshine. It wasn't intense enough to require sunscreen but it was warm and I was able to do this hike in a t shirt. Not bad for mid November.
The trail drops down from the junction and hits a saddle where a trough (fed by a spring) sits. From there we left the main trail and took the shortcut the lookouts use to get to the spring (it is their water supply) and soon was stomping new tracks in the foot or two of snow. Being kind of wily, I let my friend take over the lead and then just stepped in his tracks which made life a lot easier for me. Thanks Dennis, I appreciated your sacrifice to help my knee out.
When we hit the ridgeline, the snow was left behind and we made our way over to the lookout, to sign the register and enjoy the views.
Now, time for a flashback. The first time I visited the lookout, I met the lookouts, Charlie and Bev. They come back summer after summer to man the lookout and are a very nice and enjoyable pair. They went out of their way to show me the inner workings and shared some neat stories. When I mentioned I was chasing county highpoints, they looked like they were amused by the thought but for a different reason. They remembered a guy who ran up the trail in his quest to do 7 county highpoints in one day. A fellow SP'er, Bill Jacobs. A guy who had done the Western 100, an endurance race for ultramarathoners. I didn't know Bill at the time but I did meet up and do several peaks with him (Eagle Cap, Mt. Daniel and Greywolf Ridge to name a few) They pulled out the log sheets and pointed right to Bill's name. Bill, if you ever read this, know that you make lasting impressions on people. OK, back to the hike at hand.
The fog down below us reminded me of the ocean as the neighboring peaks looked like ships. I could see the ski runs over at Bluewood and knew that unless they get alot of snow in the next week or so, they are not going to make their hoped for opening date of November 19th. We grabbed a bite to eat, snapped a few pics and were soon on our way back down as Dennis still had other counties to conquer. It took us one hour to get back to the car so my knee held up pretty well and it put a smile on my face as I didn't expect it to do so well.
Time up 1hour 25 minutes
Time down one hour
The drive out was still icy and nasty but once we dropped out of the snow zone, we hit worse fog than we had had earlier and we made a slow return to Dayton thanks to it. Actually, once we dropped below 2800 feet in elevation, the fog cleared and we had smooth sailing into Dayton. Dennis headed to Franklin county to do that highpoint and I hightailed it for home. Dennis did get stuck in the ice the next day on the other side of the Blue mountains as he chased after Asotin county's highpoint and it took him two hours to get out of that dilemna. Garfield was another 7 miles away so he'll have to return and nab that one on another day as he had no desire to spend the winter up there enjoying the snow and ice without his skiis. Good job Dennis.