Strawberry Mountain, OR

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A backpack trip through the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness, and a climb of Strawberry Mountain.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

We left Boise in the dark, at about 6:15am on Saturday. Driving the freeway to Ontario, then through Vail and up toward John Day, our destination was the Strawberry Wilderness just south of Prairie City. It was an uneventful drive on a pretty morning. When we got to Prairie City, is was just after 9 (pacific time). We stopped at the Forest Service office, where we were cheerfully greeted and helped by the Recreation Officer himself.

The road to the trailhead from town is poorly marked, but we figured it out. From town, the 12 mile drive to the trailhead is about half on an excellent all-weather dirt road. But it gets narrow, steep, and there are some good washboards.

The trailhead includes a large campground, and there were lots of cars everywhere. It was a little unsettling, but the trail quickly leaves that behind. We saw two other people this morning on the trail towards Strawberry Lake, then took the turnoff to Slide Lake, a less popular destination.

This trail winds back and forth up the flank of a forested ridge, working it's way into a different drainage. As you finally crest the ridge, there is a bare spot with excellent, and quite typical, views of the surrounding area.

Jasmine Platt in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness

From the shoulder of the ridge, it's a mostly flat traverse into the bottom of the drainage. We were to observe that the trails here don't always make sense, until you realize that there are cliff bands everywhere so the trail has to follow the gaps through the cliffs, not follow the most logical line between where you are and your destination.

These cliff bands, and the surrounding peaks, are the result of several interesting geologic processes. First, the Columbia lava flows laid down layer after layer of lava. Then the entire area was uplifted. Then the glaciers cut through. And finally, this area appears to get a fair amount of snow, but not a lot of additional precipitation.

Jasmine heading to Slide lake

Our flat traverse eventually brought us to Slide Lake, where we had a quiet lunch on the shore. Notice the cliff bands above the lake. This was a beautiful spot, and not a soul around. We'd have stayed, but we wanted to get to the next lake.

Jasmine adn John at Slide lake

From Slide Lake, we needed to change drainages. The trail heads to the top of the canyon, traverses the head of the canyon, then exits at the top of this ridge. The circle shows some folks headed down the trail towards us.

As with all these pictures, click on the picture for a bigger version.

Soon enough we were walking the traverse trail ourselves. Here we're getting close to the top of the canyon, where we will traverse the top of another canyon before finally dropping into still another one.

Jasmine in the Strawberry Mountains

We finally got to look down into the canyon we were going to descend to our destination for the day, High Lake. Tomorrow we would ascend this canyon, roughly going up the left edge of the picture. If one were to climb over the ridge to the right, you'd be looking down on Strawberry Lake.

High Lake

But we were happy to just get down to High Lake. We set up camp near the shore- we'd have camped further from the lake, but it went from the trees here to steep gravel and talus.

We got to camp fairly early- it was about 3:30. So we napped, read, and lazed. Here Jasmine sits in her sleeping bag reading (it was quite cool, and a little breezy). Our other entertainment was watching an osprey try to catch fish. We saw it dive into the water 8 or 10 times with a loud splash,each time then flying around to its perch to dry off. We never did see it catch anything, even though there were constantly fish jumping in the lake.

Jasmine reading at High Lake

Last evening, our water filter gave up the ghost. To get enough safe water for today, we had to boil and boil. Unfortunately, we had to forgo cleaning the pan properly, so the water tasted slightly of our chicken ramen.

Given our lack of easy access to drinking water, we decided to make a run for the truck, meaning a 13-mile day. So to take advantage of the cool and allow enough time, we got an early start, breaking camp at 6:15. Here we are at the top of the ridge above High Lake, the southern trailhead actually, right at 7am.

Jasmine early in the morning in the Strawberry Mountains

From the trailhead to High Lake, it's about a quarter mile to the other trailhead, "End of the Road." From this second southern trailhead, you step across the wilderness boundary again and walk an old road on a basically flat traverse for a mile or two. As you do so, you traverse the top of several more drainages.

Finally you get back onto a real trail and see this view of Strawberry Mountain. The trail traverses at a low angle to the sunny saddle, walking through the burn.

Strawberry Mountain

Once you get to the saddle, you are out of the burn again and get a view toward Strawberry Creek, but you can't see the lake.

The trail up the mountain traverses the rocky hillside into the trees on the right-hand (north) shoulder of the peak.

Strawberry Mountain

Once you get around to the north side, the trail zigzags up the talus. You can see the remnants of old trails, but the new one is set with a low angle. Despite the fearsome look of the mountain from below, the trail is actually quite easy.

But we had already walked about 6 miles today, and we were getting close to 9000', so Jasmine needed a rest.

Jasmine takes a break on Strawberry Mountain

As we neared the summit, her spirits rose. She had been afraid of the cliffy perspective offered from below, and when she saw she got to walk a good trail to the top, she was suddenly rejuvenated. She actually smiled.

Jasmine nears the summit of Strawberry Mountain

And then we were on top at about 9:15.

What a view! Even though it was a little smoky, we could see a long ways in every direction. I suspect that on a really clear day, you can see Hood or Adams from here, but it was a little cloudy off to the west. Still, we could see the Ochocos, Wallowas, Blue Mountains, Seven Devils, and Steens Mountain.

Jasmien and John on the summit of Strawberry Mountain

Knowing we still had a long ways to go to get back to the truck, we zipped back down to our packs and had lunch. Then it was time to drop down into the basin. As usual, the trails in this area are all at an easy grade. Here and there you can see the old trails, but for the most part it seemed that they had all been replaced with wide, well groomed tread at easy grades. And we didn't have to step over a single tree the entire trip.

Strawberry Mountain and the trail to Strawberry Lake

The basin below the mountain was gorgeous. If I were to come here again, I would camp out in this basin. There are several streams, one well away from the trail. So one could camp out in these meadows, near running water, yet a long way from the trail. And have this kind of view....

Strawberry Mountain

As we headed down toward Strawberry Lake, we saw more and more people. Obviously, this drainage sees all the traffic.

We also saw an interesting variety of climate zones. Going from above tree line, through an extensive krumholtz forest, to fir, lodgepole, sagebrush, ponderosa, then back to lodgepole.

Then we came around the corner and saw the falls!

Strawberry Falls

From the falls, it's a short hike down to Strawberry Lake. We were somewhat taken aback by the bathtub ring- but there isn't a dam here. I think it's just that the lake naturally drains through a moraine, and as the runoff slows at the end of spring, the outlet keeps letting the same amount of water run out.

From here, it's just over a mile to the trailhead. Our feet were hurting, but we pounded it out, getting back to the truck 10 minutes earlier than my predicted 1pm. Today was Jasmine's longest hike to date, just over 13 miles.

We drove back to Boise another way, following Highway 7 through Sumpter to Baker City then down the freeway. It was very scenic, much more so than the route through Vale. The time, however, was about the same, as was the distance- just under 200 miles each way.

Mr. Natural Home | 2005 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski