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  • Patrick Stoll

Wallowa Mountains - Oregon's "Little Switzerland"

"The mountains are calling and I must go." I'm no John Muir but I too feel the call. My wife and I often visit the Wallowa Mountains and the area around Wallowa Lake. The banner across the top of my "Mountains" web page features a panoramic image of the Wallowa's and the Eagle Cap Wilderness I made from the top of Mount Howard a few years ago. This year, we returned to the area during a long 4th of July weekend. We stayed in a cabin near the south end of Wallowa Lake.

On the morning of the 4th (the first morning of our stay) I decided to go for a run along the east side of the lake. The town of Joseph, Oregon, located 6 miles to the north at the opposite end of the lake, is known for its lakeside 4th of July fireworks display. I was scouting for a good location to view the evening event. Early in my run, I was struck by the beauty of the lake and the surrounding peaks as I looked back over my left shoulder.

I was successful in my search for a good fireworks viewing spot. In the early evening, my wife and I returned to the location and set up our camp chairs on the bank above the lake's rocky shore. As we were waiting for nightfall and the start of the fireworks, I noticed a woman building balanced rock cairns along the shoreline. I am fascinated by cairns and recently created a blog post about them. I asked her if she would mind if I made a few pictures of her at work.

The next day my wife and I spent some time visiting the many eclectic gift shops and art galleries in Joseph.

Later that day, we decided to take a drive and do some hiking along the Wild and Scenic Lostine River, south of the small town of Lostine. The Lostine River Road is the gateway to many of the trails in the northern part of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. The first 7 miles of the 18 mile drive are paved before turning to gravel and ending at the Two Pan Campground. The campground is the departure point for many of the hikes in the area. A few years earlier, my wife and I began our first backpacking trip into the heart of the Eagle Cap Wilderness from this location. On a more recent trip, we hiked into Maxwell Lake from a different trailhead a short distance back down the road.

Maxwell Lake, Eagle Cap Wilderness

As we were driving down the Lostine River Road on our trip to Maxwell Lake, we had noticed a beautiful picnic area at a location bearing a "Pole Bridge Picnic Area" sign. On this trip, we decided to stop by the area for our own picnic and to spend some time exploring the banks of the river.

The next day we decided to see if we could make our way out to Hidden Peak from the top of Mount Howard. We have done this hike in the past but it was usually later in the summer. I was concerned that there might still be too much snow on the trail to reach our goal.

The five mile (round trip) hike starts from a short hiking loop at the top of 8000' Mount Howard. The best way to reach the top of Mount Howard is via the Wallowa Lake Tramway. The almost 4000' elevation gain provides outstanding views of the surrounding area. From the loop nature trail, the out-and-back hike to Hidden Peak starts with a decent to a saddle and a hike back up a trail that skirts the shoulder of East Peak and Hidden Peak. As we hiked through a meadow on East Peak, we could see that a significant part of the trail on the north side of Hidden Peak was still snow-covered. Without crampons and an ice axe, it was clear that that route was not available to us. I climbed to the top of East Peak and made a number of photos, including the one below.

Hiking back to terminal, we rode the tram back down to the valley floor. Even though I have done the tram ride many times, I always transfixed by the views.

On the last day of our visit, we decided to have breakfast at the nearby Wallow Lake Lodge before our return to Boise. It was one of the best breakfasts I ever had!

From inside the Lodge, this is the view of the grounds from the lobby to the lake on the far side to the trees.



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