One of the advantages of living in Puget Sound is easy access to hiking in the mountains.
One of the disadvantages of living in Puget Sound is that nearby hiking trails are often busy because of their close proximity to the urban area.
Because we craved an outdoor experience that would be quieter for our 4th of July holiday, Steve and I journeyed to the lofty Wallowa Mountains in eastern Oregon. We were rewarded with expansive views, winds whistling through evergreens, sparkling mountain streams dancing downward to valleys, and sharing sunset with an elk herd. And solitude.
Solitude is a key element of the wilderness experience for me, and our backpack into Eagle Cap Wilderness delivered on this point. We avoided the popular Lakes Basin area and chose to hike into the wilderness via the lonelier Summit Point trailhead. Amazingly, we encountered only one other backpacker during our 4-day ramble.
But we were not alone. We camped a couple of nights on the edge of a beautiful meadow populated with song birds, hummingbirds and Clark’s Nutcrackers. At sunset, a herd of elk joined us to graze on wildflowers and drink water from a nearby pond.
One morning as we hiked a trail, I noticed a cougar paw print among the elk hoof prints. Now alert, I looked around but saw no other sign of it. This is typical. Backcountry visitors seldom get to see this solitary, secretive creature.
Hiking in the Wallowas is an exhilarating experience as the granite peaks rise like skyscrapers above the valley floor. We found ourselves wandering meadows and ridges upwards to 8500 feet in elevation. These heights offered us breathtaking views of mountains near and far, farm lands in surrounding valleys, and glimpses of the Snake River and Hells Canyon on the Oregon-Idaho border.
This was my fourth visit to the Wallowas and I don’t expect it to be my last. When the daily grind of urban life builds its crust on my spirit, I will again answer the siren call of those remote peaks.