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.