My wife and I wanted to get away for a few days so I planned a little road trip to Eastern Oregon and then up to Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho. My wife is not a hiker or mountain climber but she actually encouraged me to plan a few hikes along the way. I was delighted to comply with her request.
I had been to the Steens Mountains previously and knew she would like the area, so our first night out from home in Medford, I planned to camp in the Steens Mountains. We left home Saturday, June 30, 2007 and drove Hwy 140 through Klamath Falls to Lakeview where we filled up with gas. Gas is a precious commodity in Eastern Oregon and you never want to pass a gas station without filling up. We continued on Hwy 140 east into Nevada and to Denio. In Denio we turned left on Hwy 205 and headed back into Oregon.
We stopped in Fields to sample their “world famous” burgers and “world famous” milk shakes. This is a HUGE meal and we finally waddled out of the café and got back in the truck to continue on our adventure. In Frenchglen we stopped at the historic hotel and looked around. The public restroom here is an outhouse about 100ft from the hotel. There were vacancies and the rates weren’t too bad at the hotel, but we wanted to camp this first night out so we left and headed up towards the Steens Mountains.
The road up the west side of the mountains is very good for a gravel road and we made good time. We stopped at the Fish Lake Campground and looked around. There were 6-8 vacant spots, but I wanted to see if the next campground had any vacancies. We drove up to the Jackman Park Campground and it was half vacant so we paid our $6 and pitched a tent.
It was only about 6:00PM so we got back into the truck and headed up the road. We stopped at the Kiger Gorge Lookout to see the climb I scheduled for the next morning, and then we drove up to the end of the road near the Steens Mountain Highpoint. My wife was feeling good even though we were at about 9,500ft elevation, so we hiked the .5 mile to the highpoint and enjoyed the views. The wind was blowing a little, so we put on our windbreakers and spent some time just looking around. Soon we drove back down the road and returned to our campsite. We decided to skip dinner since lunch was still weighing heavy on us. We crawled into the tent early to avoid the mosquito attack and to get some good rest for the next day.
We slept well and we were up early the next day. After breakfast we drove up the road a little past the Kiger Gorge Overlook and I started my hike from there. My wife drove down to the Overlook where she would be able to watch me through binoculars and also enjoy the view.
I headed over a slight hill towards my objective and soon found myself on a little cliff that I needed to descend to get down onto the ridgeline. I took my time, found a couple of dead ends, but finally got safely down. This ridgeline is interesting with lots of views down both sides. Time and mileage went by quickly as I scrambled along mostly on the east side of the ridge, sometime on top of the ridge, but mostly trying to find the easiest way forward. The west side seemed to be more vertical dropping into the Kiger Gorge. There is a climbers trail or game trail along the ridge. It was probably a game trail long before any climbers came along and started using it. It is braided in some places and roughly follows the ridgeline. I saw a boot print a time or two from an earlier hiker or a hunter.
It took some time to traverse the 2.0 miles of ridge line before I crested an area where I could finally see the highpoint in the distance. No more rock piles to climb over, only a rocky flat plateau area to cross. It is almost a mile to the highpoint once you are on the plateau, but it is scenic with lots of wildflowers. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any wildlife except for a few birds. From the highpoint I continued along the ridge for a few hundred feet to the U notch. Great views from up here and there are some cliffs to the east so I stayed back from the edge a few feet.
I carried one of those two-way radios so I could talk to my wife while I hiked. It was fun that she could watch me and talk to me too. I returned back to the road the same way I came and my wife met me there. The hike took about 4 hours and was a little over 7 miles and 2,300ft of elevation gain. This is a great hike and I would recommend it to anyone unless you are afraid of heights, or afraid of scrambling a little over the rocky areas. On to see the town of Diamond, Diamond Crater, and the Peter French Round Barn before heading to Burns, Whitney, Sumpter, and Baker City.
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