33 miles of hiking • 8000' elevation gain • 3 nights
Day One (320 miles of driving)
Five of us left Portland Thursday after work for the long drive out to Joseph, our two cars arriving within minutes of each other at the Wallowa Lake trailhead a little past 1am. We donned our insulation quickly and commenced with the drinking, standing in a small headlamp-lit circle in a dark, empty parking lot. It took a bit to realize we were right next to a closed campground, after which we made our way there to lay our sleeping bags out under the stars, build a small fire to warm up, and head to bed.
Day Two (13 miles, 6000')
A couple hours later, it was time to go. The weather forecast deteriorated every day leading up to the trip, and our backpacks bulged with precautions from rain, snow, and cold. Friday, however, was supposed to be glorious. We left the trailhead at 8:30am and made it up to Ice Lake around 1pm under blue skies. Ice Lake wasn't our goal though. Having read trip reports of folks making the scramble over the ridge between Ice Lake and the Lakes Basin, our sights were set on Razz Lake for night one.
The scramble up to the ridge line is straight forward—follow a prominent drainage up to the scree fields, then zig zag up to a cliff band, following the grass and goat poop. From there, things get much worse. A small funnel of loose rock above a multiple hundred foot cliff to certain death was the first indicator of trouble. The GPS track we were following ultimately went over a tiny saddle scrambling across more loose rock over sheer cliffs into a chute on the other side. While obviously possible, the five of us and the siberian husky with us opted to head back down to Ice Lake for the night instead of risking life and limb.
Around 5pm, we settled into a camp on the southeast corner of Ice Lake. With the great weather, I pitched my tarp high and in a meadow in order to soak in the splendor of Sacajawea overnight. After fishing a bit, we were all sitting around enjoying some whiskey when a wall of cold air ripped across the lake and through the trees. Low grey clouds were pouring down the face of Sacajawea right at us. A minute later, it was 10º colder and raining. My bunkmate and I quickly realized that a high pitched tarp faced into the wind would not suffice, and we scrambled to relocate our bivies and tarp into the shelter of a small grove of trees. Crisis averted and the rain dying down, everyone piled under the tarp to make dinner and enjoy a tiny twig fire.
It rained all night.
Day Three (9 miles, 2000')
Saturday, we packed up slowly under a high grey ceiling and a steady mist. Randomly, just as we're leaving camp, the rain abated and a break in the clouds appeared. Despite the forecast of "likely rain" for the next two days, this would be the last rain we'd see for the entire trip. Awesome.
The hike back down from Ice Lake was uneventful, as was the trip up to Six Mile Meadow and ultimately to Horseshoe Lake. None of us knew that there were Larch in the Wallowas, but we were there on the perfect weekend to see the full display of yellow conifers intermingled in the vast landscapes in every direction. We found a lovely camp on the far end of Horseshoe Lake, built a small fire, and went to bed.
Day Four (11 miles, 320 miles of driving)
With the tarp open to the west looking out over the lake to Pete's Point, I woke up just before sunrise to catch the show. It was still, somehow, mostly clear out and surprisingly warm. Before too long, all of us were sitting out on a granite slab having breakfast over the lake. We left camp at 9am for the long walk back.
By 1pm, we were at Terminal Gravity eating hamburgers and enjoying their fresh hop seasonals, by 6:30pm, we were at Double Mountain in Hood River eating pizza and enjoying their fresh hop seasonals, and by 10pm I was home and in bed.
I want to go again.