East (left) and Hidden Peak (right) from near Aneroid. Photo by Brian Jenkins
Hidden Peak and East Peak are grouped here because of their close proximity and the route to climb them is shared almost to the summits. At 9460 ft., Hidden Peak is slightly higher than the 9380 foot East Peak. While East Peak is officially named, Hidden Peak is assumed to be a local name that is used in Fred Barstad’s excellent book, Hiking Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness. That source lists Hidden Peak at 9495 ft. and East Peak at 9400 ft. These elevations do not match with the USGS maps for these points and are assumed here to be typos. Hidden Peak is aptly named because from most of the populated areas in the Wallowa Valley, it is hidden behind East Peak. The two are separated by approximately 0.8 mile and an 8990 foot saddle.
Both mountains are topped by some of the highest elevation Columbia basalts in the Wallowa Range. The white west shoulder of East Peak represents the eastern most significant extension of the granodiorite that dominates so much of the central Wallowas. Here its very decomposed and forms a loose soil and should be avoided. Large springs flow from these peaks just below the summit pyramids, but may dry up near the end of dry summers. The shoulders of both mountains support open subalpine forests of stunted white bark pine, but the alpine summit pyramids are well above the tree line.
East Peak sees a lot of visitors in the summer because of its proximity to the Mt. Howard Tram, which is only about 2 miles away. A light trail from Mt. Howard extends to the east side of East Peak before petering out. Being further south Hidden Peak doesn’t get nearly as many of these day hikers and a real nasty scree slope on the southeast face of East Peak deters many who would try. Summit registers were not noted on either peak. Extended hikes in this area could include Aneroid Peak, which is situated on the same ridge 3 miles to the south.
East Peak in the distancer from the north ridge. Photo by Brian Jenkins
From Joseph, head south into Wallowa State Park. Keep to the left (straight) just beyond the lake and continue through the tourist trap developments to the end of the road. The trailhead starts next to the information board and soon splits into the East Fork trail 1804 (straight) and West Fork trail 1820 (right). Follow the East Fork trail as if going to Aneroid Lake. Avoid turns to the left that provide access to the city water supply. The signs are worn and old, but tell the correct way to go.
It is best not to climb the ridge until you are south of the saddle separating the two peaks. It may be tempting to cut up East Peak early, but its west side is a rugged network of avalanche chutes separated by difficult rocks. The chutes are full of vertical rocks that form intermittent falls during the spring or periods of heavy rain. Don’t try it unless you really know what you’re doing.
Wait to leave the canyon bottom until you are south of the first large meadow, which is roughly 4.5 miles in. I would leave the trail somewhere between the first large meadow and the next significant stream crossing. There are several routes available up a few poorly defined ridges and from the open areas you can scan the main ridge and pick the path you want. It is here that the most open forest extending from the valley bottom to the alpine ridge can be found. Aim for Hidden Peak, which is the right (south) of the two points or the saddle separating them. The meadow to the saddle is approximately 2,000 feet of vertical gain, while the entire hike from the trailhead to the summits is barely less than 5,000 feet.
A Northwest Forest Pass cost $5 ($30/year) and is required to park at the trailheads. These can be purchased all all local Forest Service offices and at many area businesses.
A free wilderness permit is also required for overnight trips. These are available at the trailheads and a copy needs to be attached to your pack.
There are general wilderness regulations, but these can vary slightly depending on different areas to be visited. Specifics are generally posted at trailheads or call the US Forest Service visitor center ((541) 426-4978) in Enterprise to get the regulations for the particular places you wish to visit.
When To Climb
Most people climb the mountain from late June to October. Winter ascents are possible, but take additional skill and equipment. Snow can occur at any time of the year.
A fully developed campground is available at Wallowa Lake.
Many at large primitive camping spots occur throughout the East Fork canyon, however; the best areas are at Aneroid Lake and other areas near the meadows of the upper canyon. Public camping at Aneroid Lake is limited to the east shore as much of the area is private land. A small sign on the trial designates the camping area.
Both peaks have areas near their summits that can serve as alpine camping sites complete with springs. These are on the east side of East Peak and the west side of Hidden Peak, but don’t expect privacy, especially on the former. Check the information boards at the trailheads for restrictions. Generally these prohibit camping within 200 feet of lakes and streams, but regulations can vary slightly in different places.
Current mountain conditions can be obtained from the US Forest Service visitor center, (541) 426-4978.