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Oregon Desert Trail Section 4: Lakeview to Plush (2022 Thru Hike Journal)

Day 16: Crooked Creek, Fremont NRT to Vee Lake

May 27th

I didn’t make it to the post office yesterday afternoon before it closed, so I had to wait until 9:30 am to send out my resupply boxes to Frenchglen, Denio, and McDermitt. I probably could have gotten away with not sending a box to McDermitt, but I wasn’t sure if they would have my staple food items at the Quinn River Market, so I just sent a box anyway. I also sent home my 16-35 mm lens, my gloves I had planned to use for bushwhacking, and rocks I found from the last few sections.

Donny, heavy Teva and I left the hotel around 10am and began trying to hitch out of town, back to trail. It took about 15 minutes, and we got a ride to the Mill Trailhead area along highway 395.

We resumed our hike by following the Fremont National Recreation Trail up Crooked Creek. The creek was flowing strong, and the canyon was scenic. Some really nice rocky outcrops among large Ponderosa Pines. Nice stuff.

It’s a 3,000 ft climb to the top of the crest from here. It was a pretty nice hike, for a while. We crossed the creek a couple of times by jumping it, hopping rocks across, and walking logs.

As we gained elevation, we started seeing snow along the creek. Eventually, There were more downed trees and snow. Not the best combination. More work for sure, but at the same time, our pace slowed, and our heart rates dropped as a result of not climbing so rapidly. A decent trade-off, I suppose.

After passing Smith Fork trailhead, the snow and down-trees subside and we have a descent 4×4 road to hike. We began to get our first views of the crest of the mountains now as we emerge into the occasional clearing. Pretty nice so far, and it will only get better from here.

The trail skirts the west side of Twelvemile Peak. When we reach the north side, we get our first view East of the crest. Wow! The town of Plush and Warner Lakes are to the east, although not really in sight. The wind is whipping, and the clouds are threatening rain. It’s quite cold now, so we take shelter behind some rocks to put on an extra layer and take a quick food break.

We continue walking the ridge North. Excellent views, until we drop down Into the forest again. More snow patches to walk through, and some occasional mud.

Next we traverse the west side of McDowell Peak. The trail is good and the walk is easy. Finally, we have the biggest chunk of today’s climb done. We can just cruise on this trail, and enjoy the views, while they last.

The trail wraps around the north side of McDowell Peak, then drops to a saddle. From here, we traverse the south side of Crook Peak, Then, the east side. Here, there is a large section of snow on a very steep hillside. We weren’t really expecting this. None of us have microspikes, but this is the kind of place you would certainly use them. If one were to fall here, you would slide down at least 100 ft, more in spots. And the slide would be a fast one.

Heavy Teva went first. He kicked steps and took his time, but the last few feet were very icy. He slipped and fell, and slid down about 30 or 40 ft. Thankfully, the runoff was just into dirt, and he was alright.

It was my turn next. The first half is not bad, but the second half is steeper and icier. I took my time and I tried to kick deep and level steps. Made it. Lastly, It was Donny’s turn. He made it across no problem. Whew.

Now the trail drops in elevation, from 7400 ft to 5800 ft. This took us out of the wind and gave us some protection. We were back in the forest, where there are several small creeks flowing. Water has not been an issue in this section, that’s for sure.

As we drop below 6,000 ft, we enter a very impressive canyon, with Honey Creek flowing through it. This was an old forest fire burn area, but it was still very scenic. Around 5800 ft, we cross Honey Creek. It’s flowing strong, and instead of taking our shoes off to cross it, we look for another way. Not because it’s dangerous, but simply to avoid getting our feet wet. Heavy Teva and I spent some time bushwhacking a route across a downed log, and through some very heavy brush on the other side. This was a real pain, and we should have just done what Donny did; walk through it!

We climb out of the canyon, with excellent views along the way. We reach an old dirt road that contours around the canyon walls, and take a shortcut up and over the ridge. This one actually worked out well; normally they just end up being the “long cut”.

Finally, around 8pm, we reach Vee Lake. It’s not necessarily the most scenic lake on its own, as it looks man-made and is surrounded by cow shit. Still, with the dark rain clouds behind it and the sun trying it’s hardest to come out, the scene was beautiful. A campground is on the map here, too. This is where we were planning on camping tonight.

As we approached the campground, we could see a car parked here. In fact, several vehicles, and even a campfire. It also started sprinkling at this moment. We were disappointed to learn that the campground was completely full. It looked like one large group. This is Memorial Day weekend, so we shouldn’t have been surprised to see people here. What a bummer for us, though. During the middle of a regular week, it would probably be empty.

Donny knocked on the door of an RV and asked them if he could camp there outside in his tent. They said yes. However, Heavy Teva and I didn’t want to camp here. Not only because it’s awkward to just ask a stranger to share their campsite(right??), but they had generators running, and it looked like they’d be a party crowd, up all night. Instead, we both found campsites closer to the shore of Vee Lake, away from the campground itself.

I set up my tent as it sprinkled lightly. After getting all situated, the rain dissipated. However, that’s when the people in the campground cranked up their music. And of course, It was really crappy music. It also sounded like they have one song on repeat. What a bunch of tools. Glad to have some distance between them and my camp tonight, but it still required earplugs to drown out the constant and repetitive bass. Sigh. Happy Memorial Day.

ODT Day 16 Map

Day 17: Abert Rim & Miner’s Draw

May 28th

Woke at 6:45, with the sun shining on my tent. Nice. By the time I packed up, it was cloudy. Donny and Heavy Teva were both gone already. Hiking by 7:45.

Some dirt roads to walk, then I leave them for a xc section. It’s soggy, muddy and lots of downed trees.

Then, I reach white pine marsh. There’s a beaver dam here, and it’s challenging to cross without getting my feet wet. This time, I was successful. While I filtered two liters of water here, a couple of hunters in a side by side drove by. ORV traffic was pretty rare on the ODT, actually. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Next I begin hiking up to Abert Rim. It’s all off trail now for the next 7 miles or so. It’s open and grassy, at first. In the distance, dark clouds obscure the top of snow capped peaks.

Soon enough, the climb gets harder. Not because of the grade, but because the ground is littered with rocks. Lots and lots of them to step over. Little did I know, this was just the beginning of the rocks.

At the top, the view was excellent. To the west, there’s a massive drop off overlooking the community of Valley Falls, which is basically just a few farms and ranches. The Chewuacan River and Crooked Creek flow through here, and the area is quite green.

This cliff face continues north for 20+ miles, although I won’t hike all of it. Lake Abert is north, and I’m curious to see how much water is in it. It’s been drying up over the last several years.

I hike as close to the edge as I can, infatuated with these views. As I progress forward, the view behind me provides a different perspective, seemingly more impressive as I go.

Rain clouds are moving into the valley below, and seem to be moving parallel to the Rim. So, I’m walking the edge, and alongside a moving rain cloud. This is nuts.

As I near Mule Benchmark, I get my first up close views of Abert Lake. It’s mostly dry now, but was much larger just a few years ago. The sands of the lake bed glow intensely, and I’m mesmerized by the view. This is my favorite spot on the Oregon Desert Trail, so far.

I leave mule benchmark and head down off the rim, to the east. It’s raining on and off now. I eventually reach a line of trees and brush, apparently with no way around them. After a short bushwhack, I’m through.

Now, I hike through a large open meadow, with nice views of the snow capped peaks of the Fremont National Forest to the south. It’s sunny for the moment, but more dark clouds on the horizon.

Another hiker that’s about 10 days ahead of us had posted on the ODT Facebook group warning of a “suicidal bushwhack” in the forest ahead. So, I take a road around this area. Here, a large convoy of 4×4 enthusiasts drive by. It takes several minutes for them to drive past me, there was that many of them. Looks to be the same people from Vee Lake campground, where we camped last night.

Now the rain starts again. The temperature drops 20 or 30Ā° every time the rain falls. I walk a series of dirt roads, until the clouds break and the sun comes back. It’s 4 hours since I’ve stopped for a break or eaten, and now’s my chance. Time for a picnic. That’s essentially what we are as backpackers, professional picnickers. Think about it!

The next few miles are along dirt roads, through some open landscapes with rolling hills. I see Donny in the distance now, so I push ahead and catch up to him. We hike together for a mile or two, and catch up on the day’s events. He’d seen some pronghorn up on Abert Rim. Cool, I still haven’t seen any on this trip myself.

I look back behind us, and the sky is darker than it’s been all day. It looks pretty wicked, and it’s coming this way. I buzz ahead of Donny, hoping to knock out the final 4+ miles to Miner’s Draw, where we planned on camping today.

Moments later, it started raining again. The heaviest of the day. I went light on the rain gear for the ODT, with a Zpacks Vertice jacket and some Enlightened Equipment wind pants (just 1oz) for rain pants. I’m fairly soaked now, and cold. Nothing to do but keep hiking. Just as I approach a water trough, I see heavy Teva ahead. I need to draw water from this trough, even though it’s raining. So, I quickly fill my 2L platypus bladder and take it with me. I can filter it later this evening at camp, hopefully it won’t be raining then.

I had about 5 lb of mud on each shoe as I began the 500 ft climb up to the pass to Miner’s Draw. The rain began to subside, but it still don’t trust the weather today.

The view from the top of the pass above Miner’s Draw was great. Hart Mountain stands tall in the distance across the Valley, although the weather is obscuring a clear view of it.

Next, I dropped into Miner’s Draw. We are hoping there will be suitable camping here without having to descend too far down the canyon this evening. There is an old mine shaft marked on the map below the pass, and I was thinking this spot had some potential. Unfortunately, there was no mine shaft here anymore. It must have been filled in at some point. Plus, the ground was not level, and it was littered with cow shit. Pretty much the opposite of what I was hoping for.

As I was standing near the mine shaft, I saw heavy Teva come down the pass. We hiked down the draw and continued to scope out campsite options. We eventually found a spot just off the road, maybe 2 miles below the pass. Just as I got my tent up, it started raining again. I quickly threw my stuff in the tent and finished setting everything else up from inside. I rarely have to do this. It was a long day, having covered 27 or 28 miles. I was glad to get in my quilt tonight and warm up.

ODT Day 17 Map

Day 18: Walk-In, Walk-Out Resupply in Plush

May 29th

It rained on and off throughout the night. Eventually this turned to light snow, and I could hear it pelting my tent. Heavy Teva was camped nearby, and I could hear him breaking camp earlier than I cared to. It was cold and windy, and my shoes, socks and pants were all still wet. It was also still precipitating, a light rain snow mix. Yeah, I’ll wait a little bit for it to warm up before I get moving.

I broke camp at 8:45, with 9.5 miles to walk to get into Plush for resupply. This morning’s hike will be all down hill and all on good roads, so I know I’ll be able to make great time.

I was looking forward to walking miner’s draw, because of the opportunity to rock hound. A variety of interesting minerals here, including opal, Fosterite and Labradorite. However, It wasn’t really what I was expecting. I was hoping to be able to find these rocks as I walked, but that was not the case. And I didn’t really have the time or desire to poke around on the hillsides, given the cold and wet weather Additionally, when town is just hours away, the motivation to get out of the weather and get a hot meal are pretty great. Moving on.

I exit Miner’s Draw and enter Warner Valley. Plush can be seen In the distance now, about 5 miles away. Hart Mountain provides an imposing backdrop. There’s fresh snow on top from yesterday’s weather event. I’ll be headed up there soon, on the next section.

It was around 11:30am when I reached Plush. I walked into the Hart Mountain Store, where I saw Donny and Heavy Teva sitting at a table. First thing I did was grab a cold drink out of the cooler, and order a double bacon cheeseburger for lunch. I had only drank five liters of water during the last section, about 58 miles over 48 hours. I was feeling totally fine, but obviously thirsty.

We got our resupply boxes from the store, who graciously holds them for us ODT hikers, and began getting our food together for the next section. It’ll be 108 miles to Frenchglen from here.

We had planned on getting a cabin for the night, but everything was booked since it was Memorial Day weekend. This was a major blow, as it would have been really nice to get a hot shower and dry out. My feet were feeling kind of rough from being wet so long yesterday. I had some holes in my socks, so my feet were rubbing on the inside of my shoes in a weird way. They were also pretty tender from being wet and wrinkly all day. Oh well, we’ll have a chance to rest up in Frenchglen.

Heavy Teva left first, then Donny. I have more electronics to charge, so it took me longer. I didn’t leave until 4:30pm. But this allowed me to get a second lunch in!

**Day 18 Continues Here: ODT Section 5: Plush to Frenchglen

ODT Day 18 Map

–> Continue reading Oregon Desert Trail Section 5: Plush to Frenchglen (107 miles)

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