Just missing out by 56 feet on being included in the Wallowa's 9000 foot mountain club, Brown Mountain, by no means is to be overlooked. What Brown lacks in those few dozen feet, it more than makes up for in amazing meadows, streams, ponds and scenery. Brown sits at the southern edge of the ridge that includes 9000'ers Elkhorn Mountain and Glacier Mountain. The eastern edge of Brown sidles up to the Lakes Basin Region and Minam Lake sits on its eastern toe.
As usual in the Wallowas, there is a lot of geology going on here. The eastern base of Brown Mountain is wonderful granite dotted with ponds, flowery meadows, streams, open forests and a few larger lakes. The top of Brown though is all volcanic basalt with hexagonal columns looking like castle walls and large blocks of fallen basalt everywhere making for some interesting scrambling as well as giving this peaks its name as it is all, well, brown.
The western side is mostly talus and scree and steep so, while there might be a way to scramble up from the unnamed lake with the small island on that side, it was not evident from the summit. To the south are big cliffs over Blue Lake and a climb from that side looks technical although you might be able to scramble up from the southern shore of Minam Lake into the basalt talus basin. The most obvious way to climb Brown is from the east via the eastern ridge. It’s characterized by a broad ridge where you can weave between granite blobs and small domes up to the basalt column wall. You’d then skirt it to the left and scramble up to the summit ridge where you flip to the western side for the last scramble to the summit. While it appears climbers of Brown are few and far between, there is a small cairn at the summit (no register though). The ridge between it and Glacier Mountain might be able to be scrambled but no information is available on that possible option. I’d highly recommend the east side though as you can scramble down off the ridge into the cirque created by Brown and Glacier and spend the afternoon lounging in wildflower meadows next to a bubbling stream watching the ouzels dip up and down on the edge of the rocks while you look over to the west face of the Matterhorn and Sacajawea or off to your right at Eagle Cap. The views and the scenery are absolutely amazing here and while you might run into people down at Minam Lake, I seriously doubt you’ll see anyone else here.
From Portland (and the west), take I-84 east to LaGrande, OR. Take Highway 82 from LaGrande east to the town of Lostine, OR. In Lostine, where 82 bends left at the Presbyterian Church (it's obvious, it's a very small town), take a right on Lostine River Road and follow it south 17.7 miles to Two Pan Trailhead. The first 7 miles or so are paved, then it’s washboard gravel, then it degrades to rocky forest road. You will pass a number of campsites and horse camps. Be aware this is also the trailhead to head up the East Lostine River Valley to Eagle Cap and the main part of the Lakes Basin so it can be crowded.
From Boise (and the east), take I-84 east to LaGrande and proceed as above.
From the north (Lewiston, ID), take Highway 129 south and cross the state line to (it becomes Highway 3 in Oregon) and continue 43 miles to Enterprise, OR. In Enterprise, take Highway 82 west 10 miles to Lostine and turn south (left) onto Lostine River Road and proceed as above.
Northwest Forest Pass required to park at the trailhead.
Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Restrictions
regarding where you can have fires, camp, etc.
When To Climb
This will be snow-dependent. The trailhead is at 5606 feet and this area gets a lot of snow in the winter. Plus, Spring and early Summer means bugs. The best time would be August-September. June is going to still be snowy but you can probably get in, just prepare for snowshoeing. July is going to mean you better have copious amounts of DEET with you.
Winter months could be done if you can get in there. It would mean a long snowshoe in.
The obvious camping spot to start a climb of Brown Mountain is going to be Minam Lake. There are numerous sites all around the lake. Standard leave no trace rules apply.
I hesitate to mention this because I want to keep it a secret but there are some absolute glorious spots in the meadows on the east side of the Brown Mountain/Glacier Mountain ridge. Just camp away from the streams so they remain as pristine as they are. (But filter/treat your water, lots of elk and goat scat everywhere.) You would have to go cross country (pretty open forest) 400 feet up to the west from the Lostine River just before you get to the campsites at the northern end of Minam Lake.
If you are just looking for a place to camp before you hike in, there are spots at the trailhead and numerous campsites on the drive in on Lostine River Road.
(From north to south)
Canyon Forest Campground
Walla Walla Forest Camp
Turkey Flat Forest Camp
Arrow Forest Camp
Two Pan Campground
Mountain ConditionsWallowa-Whitman National Forest
1550 Dewey Avenue
PO Box 907
Baker City, OR 97814
NOAA website forecast centered on Brown Mountain