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Oregon Desert Trail Section 5: Plush to Frenchglen (2022 Thru Hike Journal)

Day 18: Crossing Hart Lake

May 29th

I left the Hart Mountain Store at 4:30pm. The first couple miles are on paved roads. With Hart Mountain as the backdrop, this is one road walk that’s tough to complain about.

Hart Lake is just one lake In a chain of lakes running through Warner Valley called Warner Lakes. When I reached the lake, I could see it was not what I was expecting. I thought it would dry mud or sand, but instead it was full of green grass.

As I neared Hart Lake, I ran into a guy named Alan who I met earlier today outside the Hart Mountain Store. He was out doing some section hiking on the ODT, and had been on the other side of Hart Lake and now driving back into town. He said it looked like we could cut across the lake to shave off a few miles, instead of road walking around it on the official ODT route. And that’s what it looked like to me as well. Sold, I’ll give it a shot.

The first bit of walking across Hart Lake was easy. Again, the backdrop of hart mountain was awesome. I chose a notch In the ridgeline on the other side of the lake to help keep my course as I hiked across it.

Towards the middle of the lake, it was becoming increasingly muddy, then pools of water. If it weren’t for yesterday’s rainstorm, or if it was the middle of summer, this plan probably would have worked out flawlessly. However, I had to backtrack towards dry ground and take a different route. Any time savings I would have realized have probably been wiped out by now. This is a perfect example of how the shortcut turns into the long cut.

I didn’t have to go back across the lake, though. I just had to backtrack to dry ground, then change my trajectory to the east more, instead of south. This route still cuts off miles from the original route, but one can’t angle too far south. Aim more for the east shore, north of the peninsula.

It was after 7:30 now when I reached the road on the east side of Hart Lake. Here, I took some time to clean the mud off the bottom of my shoes, clean my insoles and knock the loose dirt out of my socks. You know, like I do 10x a day on the ODT.

I hiked another mile or so before finding a pretty decent campsite nestled in the trees. I’m not going to find anything better than this, and I’m running out of daylight. Set up my tent, crawled into my quilt, and called it a day.

ODT Day 18 Map

Day 19: Hiking Up to Hart Mountain

May 30th

I was hoping to have the sun hit my tent this morning, but that didn’t happen. When I opened my tent, clouds were obscuring Hart Mountain. Another cold, windy and cloudy day. Lucky me.

I was pretty annoyed this morning with the persistent crappy weather that has been plaguing this region. This put me in a bad mood all day. By the time I packed up my tent, I couldn’t feel my fingers. It’s almost June. This is dumb.

I continued walking the dirt road around the shoreline of Hart Lake. I passed a gravestone from the Civil War era. A soldier who had died from wounds. This was pretty unexpected the way out here, far away from the battlefields of the Civil War.

It’s going to be a long hike up into the mountains today. The route follows a very rudimentary U-Shape, taking me roughly 11 miles in one direction, only to turn around and hike 11 miles back the other way. This was mostly necessary to gain the ridgeline of Hart mountain. I say mostly necessary, because I plotted out another route that I could have taken to cut off at least 6 miles. Of course, this would require some climbing up steep slopes, xc. I’ll have to get my eyes on that option when I get to the junction, later.

I reach an old homestead with a spring. I left Plush yesterday around 4:30 p.m. with 2L of water. I drank maybe half a liter of that to this point. Looking back, I should have got water here. Instead, I stop for some food and move on.

Behind this homestead is my potential shortcut route, near riffle canyon. It looks pretty feasible, but I opt to stay on the official Oregon Desert Trail route.

I follow the base of the mountains towards Fisher Canyon. The sun is coming out more now, and for the first time in a few days, I’m actually warm enough to wear shorts. At least, when I’m moving, It’s warm enough.

An old Oregon wagon road from the 1860s leads up Fisher Canyon. The views over Warner Valley and the dried Crump Lake are pretty nice.

Climbing out of Fisher Canyon, there’s a small rocky ridge to the north. The ODT route continues to go all the way around this, but If I Just climb up about 250 ft over a half mile, I can cut off a mile and a half. It’s an easy cross-country walk that takes 10 minutes, saving probably a half hour or so. And the latter half of the shortcut is on old, faded 4×4 roads. This one’s a no-brainer.

The views over Warner Valley from here were my favorite of the day. I stopped here for lunch. However, every time I stop, It’s just so cold. I put my pant legs back on, and add a few layers again.

Next I cross a valley on the west side of Wool Lake. Dry, of course. They all are. Nice hiking here.

I go up over a small ridge and drop down into another valley. I hike across this, up over a small pass, and drop down to a big flat. Here, I see my first pronghorn of the hike in the grasslands below.

Walking through Big Flat, I come across an old homestead. This one is a little more extensive than the one I saw this morning. Besides the main house, there are a few barns and other structures. The house itself had a fireplace, with a wood mantle inside. However, It was pretty dilapidated. Not only the typical holes in the walls and roof, but It was home to many birds nests and even some cows, who had been crapping In the bedroom. Won’t be staying here tonight.

Next, I encountered Warner Creek. I wasn’t sure if I could cross it without getting my feet wet, so I decided to stop here and filter water first. That way, if I do get my feet wet, I won’t be standing around water afterward, I’ll be moving and warming them up.

I was able to cross the stream by hopping across some soggy patches of grass. Whew. Just sitting there filtering water, I was chilled to the bone. The weather forecast for today was 50° in Plush. Add another 1500 to 2,000 ft And that drops to 40°. Then add 15 to 20 mile an hour winds and the lack of sunshine due to the constant clouds, well, you do the math. Weather math. That’s cold! And I’m pretty tired of it.

A few miles up, I encountered Box Creek. I had to take my shoes off to cross this one. No way am I going to get my shoes wet, just an hour and a half before camp. I don’t want to put on cold wet shoes in the morning. Plus, my feet were still pretty tender from walking all day in the rain 2 days ago. Sometimes you gotta make smart decisions.

Next, I passed Guano Creek and Post Meadow. It’s almost 7pm now. My stomach Is feeling a little upset, and I’m not feeling like hiking much farther. I find a camp spot away from the road with a good view, but a little exposed to the wind. I’m pretty tired and ready for camp, so I settle for a lumpy spot. With 25 miles hiked today, I feel pretty good about my progress. Still, I didn’t catch up to Heavy Teva or Donny. There’s always tomorrow. And it better be warmer, damn it!

ODT Day 19 Map

Day 20: Hart Mountain Hot Springs

May 31st

When I poked my head out of the tent this morning, I was disappointed to see that the sky was still cloudy. It did feel a bit warmer, though. I even had condensation in my tent, which was surprising considering the fact that I was up high on a hill and exposed to the wind.

Started hiked at 8:15. It’s been nice not feeling rushed to start any earlier. On the CDT, every day I felt the pressure to cover miles. But not here. What’s the hurry? To get 30 instead of 25? Seriously, who cares.

Hiked up Guano Creek after breaking camp. It was surprising to see pit toilets along the road, even if they were 50 years old. They were missing the doors, and even the walls. A toilet with a view, nice.

Reached the top of the pass, having climbed about 700ft. The views now were pretty so-so. In fact, ever since climbing out of fisher canyon, it’s been just ok. It makes me wish the ODT was routed along the top of Hart Mountain, instead of along the base of it. Surely, the views from the top would be impressive!

I descend the pass and hike a few miles to hot springs campground. There are about 5 vehicles here. I head over to the Hot Springs, and see Donny in one of the pools. It’s not long before I drop my pack and join him. This pool was pretty warm at first, but quickly becomes just the right temperature.

Donnt and I discussed the events of the previous day and a half, since I had last seen him in the Hart Mountain Store in Plush. It turns out, he camped about a half a mile up the road from where I camped last night. Heavy Teva had made it here to the Hot Springs Campground last night, and had taken off early this morning.

After soaking in this pool, we moved over to the main pool. This one had a cement wall around it, among several other improvements; cement ground around the pool, ladder, wooden bench etc. It was too deep to sit in, but just right to stand up in. Probably not as warm as the first one we soaked in, but still very nice.

A cool water creek flowed just outside the walls to this hot spring. I filtered water here, set up my solar panels in the sun to charge electronics, cleaned my socks, shoes and pant legs as these were all covered with dirt and mud. I ate lunch as I waited for this stuff to dry. After eating his lunch, Donny hit the trail again sometime after 12:30. I ended up staying until 2:00, as my shoes took a long time to dry.

I was in a great mood as I walked away from the hot springs campground. I’m clean, the temperature was perfect, and it was mostly sunny for the first time in days. It was a dirt road walk, but because of the above, It didn’t matter. I just felt good.

I reached the Hart Mountain Visitor Center around 3:30, and filled up 6L of water here. It’s 40 miles to the next water source, at Miller Place.

After leaving the visitor center, a large dirt road leads to a smaller dirt road, which eventually leads to an even smaller one. For the first time along this hike, I’m seeing a ton of Jasper on the ground now.

I’m walking the base of Poker Jim Ridge now. I stop for a quick dinner break at 5:00, about 15 minutes after I start walking again, I see Donny In the distance. It looks like he has stopped for a break. I catch up, and sit with him for a minute. We discussed the logistics of when we’ll reach Frenchglen for resupply. From the Visitor Center, it’s 63 miles to Frenchglen. We will probably knock off another 10 miles this evening. The route ahead looks flat and easy, along dirt roads. It also looks fairly boring. We are both thinking big mile days are possible here. It’s Tuesday evening, I’m thinking late Thursday, or at the worst, get into town early Friday morning and nearo.

I go ahead of Donny, and the road quickly fades from here as I reach Rock Creek. It’s a pretty crappy bushwhack through Sage brush and a ton of larger boulders strewn about in the soft sand. I gave up on the road and just started hiking cross-country.

The route along Rock Creek was not any better. In fact, it was probably worse, but there was no road to follow. It’s going to be off-trail hiking either way. The soft sand was terrible. There were also many burned log stumps barely sticking out of the sand to trip over. Miserable.

After hiking xc 2.5 mi along Rock Creek, I reach a dirt road. However, this ODT route does not take this road. It continues cross-country for another 5 mi. At this point, I have no interest in doing that. It looks like the road on the map meets back up with the ODT route again, but will add about 2 miles. At this point, I would rather hike an extra 2 mi then do any more xc hiking through that deep sand obstacle course.

I followed a very old and faded dirt road, which was mostly sand. The sun had just gone down below the horizon, and I had not seen anything even close to resembling an acceptable campsite. Just sage and sand. But then, alongside the road, I saw an area clear of sage. It was very flat and level, but had many rocks sticking out of compacted mud. It was very solid, not loose sand like everything else. So, time to dig out all the rocks and made myself a pretty good campsite. Good thing too, it was after 8:30 now and there wasn’t much daylight left. The final fading rays of sun colored the cloudless sky a beautiful pink hue. Desert sunsets are always special.

ODT Day 20 Map

Day 21: 40-Mile Water Carry

June 1st

Woke up this morning and put shorts on right out of bed for the first time in a while on this hike. That’s what I like, waking up to shorts weather! I’m pretty sure I heard a wolf howling last night. I wouldn’t have believed they are in eastern Oregon, if it weren’t for the locals in Christmas Valley telling me they are here. And now to hear one for myself. That is cool.

This morning, I continued walking a very faded, but halfway decent 4×4 road. At the junction where I turn north, the road turned to shit. Figures, I’ll be on this one for 3.5 miles. It was all soft sand, and the road had pretty much faded away.

After meeting up with the official ODT route again, I was on another pretty crappy dirt road. There’s nothing but sagebrush around, It’s very flat and beyond a couple of distant landmarks. It was incredibly boring. It reminded me a lot of the great divide basin in Wyoming on the CDT, but with way shittier roads/route.

There was another road junction, where the road pretty much disappeared. Very frustrating to be looking at a road on the map, and then end up doing cross-country hiking when you get there. I was getting pretty frustrated with this section of the ODT. Everything after the Hart Mountain Visitor Center.

I went over a hill and saw Donny around noon. He was eating his mashed potatoes for lunch alongside the road. I sat down and joined him, and we swapped stories about how much we were hating this section. Endless sage, shitty deep sand xc hiking, no views of anything.

We hiked together for another 2 hours. I found a large obsidian Arrowhead in the road, or perhaps a knife; It was missing the tip and the base, so I couldn’t tell what it was for sure. It was about 5 in long though, a very good size.

We parted ways around 3:30. I wanted to knock down some miles today, so I put it in high gear. My goal is to reach Miller Place, the next water source and end of the 40-mile water carry. It’ll be close to a 30 mi day for me, by the time I reach it.

The rest of the afternoon was pretty uneventful. I jammed out to some music, put my head down, and thought about anything other than my current situation. These are the stretches of long distance hiking that people gloss over when recalling their adventure. The less than glorious times, the awful times. At least here, I had a pretty decent road to walk now.

I reached a random stop sign at a road junction. It’s been over 30 miles of hiking since I was last on a road that deserved a sign of any kind, and these roads didn’t look like they warranted signage either. It’s probably another 27 miles to Frenchglen from here, and Frenchglen only had a population of 12. Indeed, this stop sign seemed out of place, useless and downright comical.

Not far after the stop sign, I missed a turn. I kept going straight through this nearly impossible to open gate, which I just crawled under. When I looked back, there were two wild horses behind the gate. I’m surprised I didn’t see them while crawling under the gate, they must have been close. This is when I realized I shouldn’t be here at all. I had to backtrack and go through the same gate again. At least it allowed me to get pretty close to the horses.

It was 6:00 pm now, and I had a 6-mile slog ahead of me to Miller Place. The clouds were building behind me, and looks like rain. I pass Mud Spring Reservoir, which has plenty of water, but is best suited for the cows that were standing in it. I’ll wait for Miller Place.

I reached the abandoned homestead at Miller Place and saw a large pond. There’s also a windmill, Which now appeared to be powered by an electric pump. There was plenty of good clean water here, and I could access it via spigot. The ODT water chart says that Miller Place is privately owned, by Rock Creek Ranch, and the owners have given permission to draw water here.

I walk up a small hill and leave the Ranch Property. Immediately on the other side of the fence, I see a good campsite. Clear and flat. I’m pretty tired, and this looks good enough to me.

I set up my tent and filtered water. While getting situated in the tent, I noticed a tick on my leg. This is the first tick I’ve had the ODT. It was just crawling on me, it was not burrowing yet. I treated all my clothes with permethrin before the hike, but I had none of these clothes on inside the tent. Unfortunately, I’ve been having issues with the zippers on the mosquito netting of one side of my tent vestibule, and I have not been able to close that side of the tent along this hike. That means bugs can just crawl right into my tent. I tried using the pliers on my Gerber dime multi-tool to clamp down on the zipper pulls, but the tiny little pliers don’t have enough force. All I can really do Is lay my permethrin-treated clothes alongside the tent on the outside, below the zippers for the mosquito netting, to hopefully prevent any ticks from crawling inside while I sleep. If I can get any sleep now.

Glad to be done with this day. A lot of effort expended with very little to show for it. At least I’ll be able to reach town tomorrow. I’m ready for a zero-day.

ODT Day 21 Map

Day 22: Resupply in Frenchglen

June 2nd

The cows were moaning like zombies just outside my tent after sunrise. Made it through the night with no ticks crawling inside my tent. Success.

I continued to hike a dirt road along some power lines. Mind-numbingly boring. It’ll be about 20 miles into town today. The faster I can hike this, the better.

I missed a turn-off for a cross-country segment, which resulted in more cross-country hiking to meet back up with the route. I had a couple of miles of deep sand and Sagebrush ahead of me. Furthermore, I was thinking it was going to be all dirt roads into Frenchglen today, So I was pretty annoyed with the xc. The cross-country segment was simply to avoid a private ranch. On the ODT, it seems like there’s always a ranch to walk around.

After hiking around the Ranch and meeting backup with another dirt road, I discovered a shortcut; follow the fence line east at waypoint 239, meet up with a road, follow this above Waterhole Canyon to waypoint 247. Looks to shave off about three and a half miles. Perfect.

There was a cow path along the fence line to follow, then I met up with a very solid dirt road. I walked this briefly before leaving it for a smaller dirt road. This road still was an easy walk, and it was becoming more scenic as well as I approached Frenchglen. My alternate route here stays high above Waterhole Canyon, which is fairly scenic on it’s own, but I think it would be worth hiking down in the canyon if I were to do it again. There looks to be a dirt road down there, roughly the same distance, and there looks to be a creek flowing though it.

I looked it down and saw a bull snake, or perhaps a gopher snake, slithering across the road. Non-poisonous, non-threatening. I took a moment to watch him slither through the purple flowers, sage and rocks. No, snakes don’t scare me.

The final 5 miles into town were increasingly scenic. Sagebrush gives way to grass, plains turn into rocky canyons and cliffs. Finally, over the last hill, the town of Frenchglen is in sight.

The views over Blitzen Valley and the Malhuer National Wildlife Refuge were really nice. Looking back at the cliffs that do down to the valley are equally impressive. The last few miles into Frenchglen were a really nice way to end this section, on a better note.

I hike into town, stop at the mercantile store forest for a cold drink, and to scope the food selection. Not too much, and no microwaveable foods or anything hot. Bummer.

Next, I stop at the Frenchglen Hotel and inquire about a room for the night. All booked, but the Drovers Inn had one room. $145 for the night, which is more than I want to spend. But they offer it to me for $120, and as whooped as I am, I take it.

I didn’t really want to spend $30 on pot roast dinner at the hotel, so I picked up some beers from the mercantile, as well as some junk food. A hiker trash dinner for sure. Got a hot shower, did sink laundry, and just relaxed. Ahhhh. Done with another section.

ODT Day 22 Map

Day 23: Zero Day in Frenchglen

June 3rd

Donny got into town early morning, as I finished breakfast at the hotel; Delicious pancakes, bacon and sausage!

There were no rooms available tonight at the Frenchglen Hotel or the Drovers Inn, so we got a ride from a couple from Portland over to the Steens Mountain Resort, where we had sent our resupply boxes. It’s a RV park with tent sites and cabins. We got a cabin for the night, which was a great call vs tent camping, since it will rain tonight/ tomorrow morning.

I borrowed a pair of pliers from the owners to crimp down the zipper pulls on my tent, since they were not closing. This worked, and I fixed all the zippers on the outer fly and the inner mosquito netting. Awesome, a fully functional tent once again. Well, for a little while.

I also borrowed a needle and thread to repair a strap on my backpack. One of the shoulder straps was repeatedly coming loose, and needing constant adjustment. The strap material was wearing down and becoming too thin for the slider to keep it in place. So, I pulled the lower part of the strap in place, folded it over on itself, and sewed it together to prevent it from sliding. The upper strap can still allow full adjustment of the shoulder strap. This worked well, another easy fix.

–> Continue reading Oregon Desert Trail Section 6: Frenchglen to Fields (63 miles)

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