For this summit, it's all about the destination. Screw the journey. Although the approach hike is gorgeous and not too taxing, this scree gully ascent will be one of the worst two-steps-up/one-slide-back you've ever "enjoyed." There is no trail so some minor bushwhacking is involved but the camping is superb and the views up top are the big payoff as you can pretty much see all the Wallowa peaks from the summit. It's mostly Class 2 in difficulty with some minor Class 3 near the top. But I am warning you about the looseness of this gully. It's mostly sand with talus and all the boulders move under your weight. You will be trying to stay in the elk tracks on this one as it does somewhat help with their mighty weight making at least some of the footsteps secure.
See the Getting There section of the main page for directions to the Two Pan Trailhead south of Lostine, Oregon.
From the Two Pan Trailhead at 5606 feet, hike south on the combined trails of #1662 East Fork Lostine River and #1670 West Fork Lostine River for a short distance to where they split. Take the right fork and stay on the West Fork Lostine River Trail #1670. Go 2.8 miles to another junction where you will again take the right fork onto Copper Creek Trail #1656. This is about 6425 feet in elevation here.
Take this trail as it gently climbs and crosses the Copper Creek several time over 1 to 1.5 miles where you will look for camping spots if this is an overnighter for you (and why wouldn't it be, this is an amazing place to enjoy as long as you can).
The base of the climb is off to your right (north) at about 7200 feet but it would be difficult to access it without going up higher to lose some elevation to get to it as it's forested with not too many views. I would recommend climbing up to about 7500 feet where the forest starts to thin and then you lose another hundred feet of elevation, staying on the trail, until you reach the large meadow. (See this photo.)
From this spot, you are slightly past the obvious central gully up the south side of Elkhorn Peak. Pick your line towards it and start bushwhacking there.
See this photo for perspective of what I am talking about:
There are a few granite slabs and small walls to go around with multiple ways to do it. You should descend a couple hundred feet and cross the Elkhorn Creek along the way. Once you do, look up and line yourself up again to head due north into the gully.
See this photo looking up at the climb from the Elkhorn Creek:
The first third of the gully is somewhat vegetated with more secure footing. This gets worse as you ascend. There is what looks like an eroded streambed up the middle of the gully and that is something to avoid as the edges are loose and waiting to screw up your ankles.
See this photo from the base of the gully:
Keep somewhat right between that streambed and the encroaching granite slabs and small walls on the right. As you ascend the right side becomes cliffs of granite. The middle third of the gully is the worst and the crux of this route. It's mostly soft sand with rocks and the boulders you think are secure are most definitely not. Keep your knees bent and be ready to dance between falling rocks. I found it helpful to stay in elk tracks as much as possible and to traverse back and forth. Towards the top of the middle third of this gully, the left side gets a bit vegetated and therefore somewhat better footing. Work your way through this section as best as you can and watch the falling rocks. You'll know you are getting through this mess as the angle lessens and the footing gets better.
See this photo looking up the crappy middle part of the gully:
Here is another photo looking down the crux middle section of the gully:
The top third of the gully you want to start heading right to what looks like the summit (it is!). There are multiple ways to summit with the easiest being to weave your way between the rocks and trees around to the right of the summit and up blocky rocks to the top. However, you could scramble straight up (I could not as I had my dog with me at the time.) Class 3 rocks to the summit or go around left as well.
See this photo of the top part of the gully. The summit is the slightly lower-looking point just left of center. There are multiple ways to weave through the trees and scramble up.
Also, another angle of the summit in the photo below. This is from the lower western summit and you can see what the terrain is like. Nothing too bad and easy scrambling.
To descend, just reverse your route.
High boots! If you sometimes use gaiters in deep scree, you will want them here but not absolutely necessary. A helmet is probably a good idea if you have a party of any size. My dog was knocking rocks down on me so you can see how loose this route is. If you are camping, a GPS might be handy as well to relocate your campsite in the forest .
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