Steens Mountain Backpack

  • July 4, 2013 · 9:30 AM
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Dominating the southeast Oregon landscape is the state’s most massive peak, an alpine island that stretches about 50 miles. At 9,733 feet, Steens Mountain is not the tallest, but it towers over the surrounding desert. On its east side is a steep escarpment more than a mile high, while its gently sloping west side features immense U-shaped gorges. We will follow a tumbling stream up one of these gorges to the summit, then down another gorge to our starting point. The loop is about 26 miles, with about 4,200 feet of elevation gain.

The scenery is exceptional, and unlike anywhere else in Oregon. Hiking up these gorges takes one through a succession of different ecosystems, from pinyon-juniper at the base, through grassland peppered with cottonwood trees, then aspen groves and conifers, with a final climb on alpine tundra to the summit. We might encounter a few snowfields during the ascent, but most if not all of the route will be dry. I completed it with another group 4 years ago (photos here).

Thursday is a travel day, with a long drive of about 350 miles to the trailhead. We will car camp Thursday night at South Steens Campground. Friday is a relatively easy 9-mile ramble up Big Indian Creek Gorge. Saturday is the hardest day, starting with a steep scramble about 2,000 feet up the glacial headwall to the summit, followed by an off-trail descent into Little Blitzen Gorge. On Sunday morning we will hike back down to the starting point and should be headed home as early as noon.

Difficulty: Hard, with some difficult scrambling, long miles, multiple stream crossings, limited shade, possible thunderstorms. The mountain makes its own weather, which could range from cool to very hot. There is water along most of the route so we will have ample opportunities to refill.

Essential gear: backpack, tent, warm sleeping bag, waterproof boots, stove, filter, bug repellant, sunscreen, hat, footwear for crossing streams, clothing for all conditions, hiking poles strongly recommended.

For the week before the trip I will schedule a pretrip meeting.

 

THE FINE PRINT (stolen from Matt, thanks Matt):

- There's a manual waiting list for this event, meaning that when someone on the YES list drops out, everyone waitlisted gets an email noting that there's a spot open.  First one to the open spot gets it.

- The "ten essentials" to always have in your pack generally include: Map/compass (and advance understanding of where you're going!), sun protection, extra clothes, extra food, extra water, headlamp/flashlight (and spare batteries), first aid kit, matches/firestarter, knife/tools, and a whistle if you need to signal for help.  You should always be prepared in case you get separated from the rest of the group and/or have to spend a night on your own.

- As a Meetup organizer, I'm an unpaid volunteer.  While I always try to ensure a safe and enjoyable outing for everyone, by signing up for this event you assume full responsibility for your own health, safety, and well-being for its entire duration, including while traveling to and from both the meeting place and destination.

- I also reserve the right to remove anyone from my events if I'm concerned that their ability or fitness level will slow down the rest of the group.  If there is a waiting list, I may remove anyone with multiple past "no-shows" to the "no" list to make room for those who may be more reliable.


 

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  • jeremiah

    I found a pair of sunglasses at the Cottonwood camp. Did anyone lose a pair?

    July 9, 2013

    • Larry

      Not to mention 2 people! lol

      3 · July 9, 2013

    • jeremiah

      "Not all who wander are lost" :)

      1 · July 9, 2013

  • Larry

    Alright, alright. All you stinkers who have already posted photos.... I'll get mine up tonight or tomorrow.

    July 9, 2013

    • LaDonna

      Stinkers? I have about 120 pics but refrained from "dumping" them all. Mostly posted the candids. Can't wait to see what you and Bhaskar post.

      1 · July 9, 2013

  • Jovian

    Outstanding team and beautiful location. Thanks everyone for creating a really exceptional backpacking weekend. Thanks Keith for sharing such a gem of a location with us, and thanks to Rick and Andee for their support - mmmmm, watermelon never tasted sooooo good!

    1 · July 9, 2013

  • Keith

    Great pix, guys. Makes me want to go back for more. Bhaskar, you're the tech dude, let's see some photos!

    1 · July 9, 2013

  • B.G

    Best backpacking trip I've done till now. This group is something I would with if I were to go backpack K2. Keith thanks for putting this together.

    Now let the SD card dump being. I'll do mine tomorrow.

    2 · July 7, 2013

    • B.G

      Thanks Rick and Andee for the wonderful treat on the summit and letting us ride on the bumper of your truck.

      1 · July 8, 2013

    • LaDonna

      You rock Andee and Rick. That was the best!!! You obviously went out of your way to make us feel special. It was wonderful!

      July 9, 2013

  • Keith

    On the road, as our home mountain hove into view, I looked back on time well spent with fellow travelers. Special thanks to trail angels Andee and Rick.

    1 · July 7, 2013

  • DIAN

    July 4, 2013

  • LaDonna

    Hi Rick, I just wanted to confirm our meeting time at your house tomorrow. I thought I write it down but apparently not! Is it 10:00am?

    July 3, 2013

    • Larry

      but yes, we agreed at 10am...

      July 3, 2013

    • LaDonna

      Right! Keith's.whoever address I have!

      July 3, 2013

  • Larry

    Gah!! I somehow deleted Keith's address and phone number. Can someone please text or email to me? [masked] or [masked]. Thanks!

    July 3, 2013

  • B.G

    http://forecast.weather.gov/Map...­ Chances of thunderstorms, don't forget to bring your rainjackets.

    July 3, 2013

  • Jovian

    Hmmm, was planing on meeting the group at the South Steens CG. Can also meet at Keiths if preferred (LOL except that I don't know where Keith lives)

    July 3, 2013

  • Rick L. J.

    Red band trout. Also rattlesnake and grasshoppers. Never ate grasshoppers though. Wouldn't know how to clean a snake but its pretty good.

    June 27, 2013

    • B.G

      Rick, how are the Mosquitoes in the area.

      June 30, 2013

    • Keith

      I don't remember there being any mosquitoes, but don't quote me.

      July 1, 2013

  • Larry

    Keith - as far as lunches go on Thursday and Sunday. Should we pack for that or should I assume we'll stop somewhere on the way there and back?

    July 1, 2013

    • Keith

      Good question. No hurry getting there on Thursday; we could stop in Madras or Prineville for half an hour or so. Or you can take something for the road. On the way back, the only place to stop is Burns, with (on Sunday) few options for dining, if any -- and we won't get there till 2 or so. So the choices are to leave something in the cars for lunch when we get out, or cook up some roadkill on the way back (if it's fresh of course). I hear that roasted grasshoppers are pretty tasty.

      1 · July 1, 2013

  • Monique

    I realize this is last minute, but my other holiday plans fell thru.

    June 30, 2013

  • Rommel

    Aggravated a tore MCL on my right knee. I will have to give my spot on this trip to someone else.

    June 30, 2013

  • Keith

    I'm bringing my Mountain House (tm) freeze-dried rattlesnake stew, which is much easier to prepare.

    June 28, 2013

    • DIAN

      Oh...hmmm...umm...hmmm..­.I can hardly wait?

      June 28, 2013

  • Larry

    inside? outside? anyone here yet?

    June 27, 2013

    • LaDonna

      We are in the back room at tables aside from the rest of the bar. Meetup sign is up

      June 27, 2013

  • LaDonna

    Wouldn't you know it, on my way to the meeting but traffic is stalled on hey 26. Gonna be late

    June 27, 2013

  • Rick L. J.

    If you took a short piece of fish line and had some red or yellow wulfs (flies) you could catch dinner.

    June 27, 2013

  • DIAN

    Does that mean you'll b providing dinner one f the night's ;)

    June 27, 2013

  • Keith

    On my first visit, also over the Fourth, it was very pleasant in the two valleys (in the 70s) but hotter up closer to the summit. Hydration, sunscreen, hats, you all know the drill.

    June 19, 2013

  • Rick L. J.

    My fields ore forecast shows 90 degree weather. Should be a bit cooler on your side of the divide

    June 18, 2013

  • Keith

    Pre-trip meeting is at the Green Dragon, 928 SE 9th, on June 27 at 7:30 pm. Attendance is required. People on the list or waiting, check your email.

    June 17, 2013

  • marianne h.

    Just found out I'm working on the 5th. Sorry!

    June 12, 2013

  • GabrielF

    Others need this more than I. Enjoy!

    June 11, 2013

  • DIAN

    I need to carpool so please let me know if you're interested. My car is rather small and low so not the best for a TH.

    June 3, 2013

    • Keith

      Larry, we will try to plan the carpooling at the pre-trip meeting.

      June 9, 2013

    • Aleksandra

      I will drive a subaru outback so I can take 3 people. I live in inner Portland.

      June 9, 2013

  • Aleksandra

    What is the mileage for day 2 & 3 and the elevation for days 1 & 3?

    June 9, 2013

    • Keith

      First hiking day, starting at 5,400 feet elevation, about a 9 mile hike to camp at 7,200 feet. Second hiking day, 7 or 8 miles, mostly steep 2,500 feet elevation gain to the summit (then back down to 7,000 feet). Third hiking day, easy 9 miles downhill and back to the cars.

      June 9, 2013

  • Rommel

    I've been dreaming about this backpacking trip after Keith told me how beautiful this place is.

    June 3, 2013

    • Keith

      Keen an eye on this page Rommel in case anyone drops out.

      June 4, 2013

  • Rommel

    I've been dreaming about this backpacking trip after Keith told me how beautiful this place is.

    June 3, 2013

  • Keith

    That's me in the photo above, starting the descent into Little Blitzen Valley.

    June 2, 2013

  • Hemlock

    Sorry, I can't make the trip that weekend. Family adventure came up :) have an amazing time! I just love that part of Oregon!

    June 2, 2013

  • Aleksandra

    How many people will attend? Do anticipate a rowdy or a quiet crowd and is there room to spread out if it gets noisy? I have only backpacked with small groups of 4 people and stayed in wilderness camps with 30 + people but they were quiet (Chilkoot trail and West Coast trail).

    May 30, 2013

    • Keith

      There are no designated sites or even any obvious tent pads; when we reach the top of each valley, we will find spots where we can, so privacy seekers are welcome to move off a ways from the main camp. As for people being very noisy, I reserve the right to feed them to the rattlesnakes.

      June 2, 2013

    • Keith

      Also, when we car camp, many sites will be vacant and we won't have to camp together.

      June 2, 2013

  • Rick L. J.

    Cool Kieth! We will be on the other side. My eye dr is a glider pilot. He will give us rides but doubt they get as high as the rim. Hope to get on your side to look for the Kiger Horses. Burnt Car road area

    May 29, 2013

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