8.8 miles of hiking • 1500' elevation gain •
First time out to one of Oregon's newest state parks. This hike is mostly off trail, and starts immediately UP from the parking lot at the Murtha Ranch Trailhead. The hike was lead by Mazama's hike leader Bill Stein.
Going up we could see a faint trail where others had gone before us, but nothing that is an official trail. Once we reached the ridge crest, we followed around an outcropping of rock on the right side. At Peak 1443, we had expansive views of windmills and the John Day River below. (And the parking lot, which you can spot for much of this hike) We then followed a fence line which lead us down into a steep gully, and back up the other side. This area would be treacherous if the ground was wet, but despite some iffy clouds the weather stayed dry for us. Across the gully we spotted some Bighorn Sheep, but they never got very close to us. This second ascent seemed less brutal than the first, perhaps because I was warmed up or because it involved more scrambling which I find fun. We found a nice spot to stop for lunch out of the wind, and then continued on to the top of the ridge. Once on top of the ridge again, we were able to follow an old jeep path along the fence boundary, with some great views of the red canyon walls across the river.
The descent was very steep, and we took a different route than Bill had scouted the week before. The group divided into a faster scouting group, and a those of us taking it a little slower. (I'm always wary of my knees and like to the take descents slowly.) We all felt a bit like mountain goats as we each made our path down. Eventually, we were in some trees, and I had to guess where the rest of my party was but we all made it through. Once down, we took a long break admiring the scenery as we sat along the river towards the end of the Pinnacles trail. From there it was easy going back to the parking lot on a flat dirt road.
And because the world is so small, I ran into an old college friend from Michigan (who also now lives in Portland), hiking along the Pinnacles trail. A brief hug, and I was off to catch up with the rest of the now speedy hiking crew.
I loved this hike, but I would only recommend to those who don't mind going off trail, and aren't afraid of a steep descent. The way to take is pretty obvious, but a fall here would not be pleasant. Trekking poles are a necessity.
For photos click on my GPS track below.