Creating new thru-hiking routes & guides, hiking videos, outdoor documentaries, backpacking trip reports, trail journals, photos and more!

Oregon Desert Trail Section 9: McDermitt to Rome (2022 Thru Hike Journal)

Day 34

June 14th

After our 11am checkout time, Donny makes a stop at the library to print out a shipping label, so he can mail a faulty Lite AF backpack in for repairs. With just over a thousand miles on it, the seams were all blown out and you could stick your hand through them. I’ve never seen a backpack fail like that.

It’s after 11am now when we start hiking out of McDermitt. We start by hiking dirt roads out of town for a couple hours. We’ll need to climb up 2,000 ft to the top of a plateau in order to enter the Owyhee Canyonlands. We’ll be in the Owyhees for the rest of our hike now, another 9 hiking days. That’s a big region!

After climbing up about 1,500 ft, There’s a shelf that reveals some pretty impressive cliffs, and the final 500 ft climb. Every now and then, you stop and realize that you are walking into something special. And this was one of those times. The Owyhees have been on my radar for several years, and to finally be here at the Gates of the Owyhees, well, It was really starting to hit me.

Outstanding views as I climbed Up to the top of the plateau, topping out around 6600 ft. It was 65° in McDermitt today, and probably 55 or so up here. Add the 20 mile an hour winds, and it was quite cold.

After soaking in the final views over the valley below, I headed into Sage Kansas once again. These views always get me. Not the most beautiful, but damn, is it vast. And you gotta hike through all that. Just sage, to the horizon. Alright, let’s get into this.

The swarm of Mormon crickets had been pretty consistent all day. Wherever I hiked, they were there. They seemed way worse In town, but maybe that’s because they had fewer places to hide. I was really beginning to worry I might not be able to escape them tonight when it’s time to set up camp. And since I can’t zip up the mosquito netting in one of my vestibules of my tent, well, you can imagine why I might worry.

Even though the map shows a bunch of dirt roads up here, they barely existed, at best. It was mostly just cross-country hiking. And not the easy kind. There were many rocks to step over or on, many ways to twist an ankle. The hiking here has mostly been a pain in the ass after leaving the decent dirt road that led me up to the plateau.

By early evening, I reached Louse Canyon, home of the West Little Owyhee river. I was really surprised to see snow tucked away against some of the canyon walls. I’ll drop down here and walk this for a few miles.

West Little Owyhee River Is flowing, and there is much green grass along its banks. The canyon is not deep or narrow, but it’s much more interesting than Sage Kansas. I’m happy!

There are a couple of caves, arches and cool rock formations along the way. Hiking here in upper Louse canyon had a very raw and primitive feel to it. You could really feel a connection to our ancient ancestors that certainly called this canyon home. I’m not generally in tune with that kind of thing, but you could really feel it here.

After a few miles, the river was pushing me up against the canyon walls, and I found it easier to climb out. It was 7:30 now, and I was realizing that I was out in the middle of Sage Kansas again. That’s the term I coined on the ODT, Sage Kansas… referring to the flatness of Kansas, but with sagebrush instead of grass. Except now, There were so many rocks that these were much more of an obstacle than the sage. With several miles of this ahead, there will be no opportunity to get out of the wind and very little opportunity for a clear or flat spot to put my tent. So, I head back down into the canyon to make camp, a little earlier than I would have preferred.

It took a while, but I found a suitable spot to put the tent among some green grass. There was pretty good protection from the wind, but the downside is that I’m at the very bottom of the canyon, and not far from the water. This is going to make a cold night even colder, with the possibility of condensation, likely in the form of frost. Most nights, campsite selection requires a trade-off in one category or another.

ODT Day 34 Map

Day 35:

June 15th

Just as I expected, a very cold night, with condensation and frost. It was 20° when I woke up. This is one of the coldest nights of the entire hike. And it’s in mid-June, no less.

It was a good thing I didn’t push on past my campsite last night. This morning’s walk was slow, tedious, and absolutely nowhere to camp for miles and miles on end.

I reached Massey Canyon, and took a break. There were a couple of marmots around in the boulders here. Interesting, I was not expecting to see them here.

Massey canyon was short but pleasant, despite the cow activity. It was pretty heavily trampled by all the cattle, and cows were shitting right in the creek. It’s sad to see all the cows in places like this.

After Massey Canyon, it’s back out into the sage Kansas. I walked a series of dirt roads for a couple hours, reaching progressively larger roads. Swarms of crickets and grasshoppers came in waves. More cows, and another bull snake.

It was around 1:00pm when I reached Anderson Crossing. I had been talking with a guy named Mike on social media, who operates under the name About The Journey, and he was kind enough to offer to come bring me some trail magic. This is the time and place we had agreed upon meeting, but I didn’t see anyone here.

Crossing the West Little Owyhee River here at Anderson Crossing was mid-calf deep. I walked through the area along the road and around the bend, entering Louse Canyon. I figured I’d have lunch, filter water, and take a look at Louse Canyon while waiting an hour or so for Mike. Maybe he’s just running late? I took lunch, filtered water, and washed out my dirty socks… anything I could do to kill some time.

After stalling for a while, I decided it was time to get moving. Even though he won’t get it until he gets service, I sent him a message with my garmin inreach telling him I had to keep moving, and It’s a bummer that we missed each other.

Almost immediately upon entering Louse Canyon, I could see the challenge that lied ahead. The steep canyon walls and thick willows forced me into the water. I began hiking through the river, in water that was about crotch deep. It wasn’t long before I realized that this traverse of Louse Canyon wasn’t going to happen. It’s about 45 miles to Three Forks from here, and if the water is this deep in the very upper reaches, imagine how deep it will be farther down. Furthermore, it’s a very committing route, with few exit points. I decided it was best to turn around, head back and take the alternate route around West Little Owyhee, like literally almost every single ODT hiker does.

I was very disappointed. I had wanted to hike West Little Owyhee and Louse Canyon for years. Regardless, I backtracked through Anderson Crossing, and there was Mike. His truck was parked, and his camp was set up. His dogs rushed to greet me, and we said our hellos. This was definitely the silver lining here, getting to meet up with Mike and enjoying an afternoon of trail magic… beer and tacos!

Later in the evening, after dinner, Mike wanted to do an interview with me for his YouTube channel. In the middle of this, we had a couple of interruptions, in a good way. The first was an older guy named Charlie, who was out doing research on the number of predators (bear, mountain lion, wolf etc.) in the region. He asked us if we had come across any, and I thought back to what I had seen on this route so far. None of those in person, but tracks, and I even heard a wolf howl while in the hart mountain national antelope refuge. Charlie was pretty happy to hear that I had GPS location for this as well, since it happened while camping and I always mark my campsites. So after the hike, I’ll get in touch with him and pass on All the detailed information I have for what I’ve seen along this hike.

Our second interruption was two young women who were working for ONDA (Oregon Natural Desert Association). They were doing field work, monitoring effects of grazing on random plots of land. One of them had been working for ONDA for six summers, and said I was the first ODT thru hiker she’d come across. They were pretty excited to hear I was hiking the trail, and one of the women gave me her Oregon Desert Trail hat! That was super cool!

ODT Day 35 Map

Day 36:

June 16th

I got a late start this Morning, leaving Anderson Crossing at 9:45. Since I won’t be hiking the route through Louse Canyon, I’ll be hiking the alternate, which stays above the rim. The shaves off a couple of miles total, but probably shaves off at least a day walking due to the much easier terrain on the alternate route. I’ll be walking primitive roads all day. I figure It’s 29 miles to 5 bar, where the route crosses the main fork Owyhee River. This will be my goal for today.

Today’s walk was very dull. Besides the last few miles at the end of the day, It was all Sage-Kansas. I hike a series of dirt roads that seemed to get progressively worse. Pretty much nothing notable happened,

I saw my first and only rattlesnake of the entire Oregon Desert Trail today, alongside the road under some sage. It looks like he must have just eaten. It was a smaller snake, but very wide in the center. Well, at least now I can say I saw a rattlesnake along this hike.

The scenery began to improve massively as I dropped down in elevation towards five bar. Louse Canyon terminates here as it meets Owyhee Canyon. The scenery is downright nuts! But, the route is anything but straightforward from here.

I get down to West Little Owyhee River and check my map. I will need to follow this downstream, but it’s choked with willows and the stream is braided. It’s just wide enough to be unjumpable, but with some ingenuity, I am able to keep my feet dry and cross.

I reach a deep pool, hemmed in on both sides by cliffs. I’ll need to cross this. It’s 30 minutes before dark, and I’m not too keen on getting my shoes or clothes wet. So, I stripped down to my underwear and put on my sandals, and went waist deep to cross it.

After that, I started working my way along the banks, and found myself walking above a small rock face. This ultimately ended up being a dead end, and I needed to backtrack. Then, I had to drop down to the river again and cross it. I push my way through some willows and get to the other side, where I could walk a gravel bar. This leads me around the bend, where I see a big cave on the other side of the river. It looks like an awesome place to camp, But I don’t feel like crossing the river again, moments before dark. So, I set up camp on the gravel bar, which still affords me an insanely awesome view!

ODT Day 36 Map

Day 37:

June 17th

I love mornings like this, where I open my tent to a view that takes my breath away. Even though I was aware of its beauty last night when I set up camp, but somehow a night of sleep diminishes our memory. Wow! I took some time admiring the towering canyon walls before packing up.

From camp, I’ve got a quarter mile hike North before I reach the Owyhee River. I’m walking through the West Little Owyhee River now, which is maybe calf deep here. Extremely scenic.

I reach the Owyhee River, and see a decent current and stomach deep water. Still, it doesn’t look like a raging river, and fordable. Taking Heavy Teva’s advice, I walk (bushwhack) upstream about 50 ft and cross here. It’s a little shallower. When I reach the other side, I walk down stream about 50 ft in the water and along the banks, and find a good spot to exit the water. That wasn’t bad at all. It was about crotch deep for me.

From here, the route climb steeply to the canyon. As a gain elevation, I noticed two things; the scenery is downright stunning, and the best crossing point would have been about 20 or 30 ft downstream from the confluence with West Little Owyhee River, not upstream. Here, the water was really shallow.

I can’t emphasize how incredible the landscape is here. This spot, climbing out of the Five Bar area, is my favorite along the Oregon Desert Trail. It seems like something out of a fairy tale. It really makes me want to return someday and explore these canyons more. Or just sit and stare at them.

At the top of the climb, there’s a Jeep parked along a dirt road. I really wasn’t expecting this. I follow this road across an area called Brown Ridge for several miles. It’s pretty boring here, mostly flat and rolling hills with sage. But this will connect me with three forks, which is another incredible area.

As I’m walking along brown ridge, The Jeep that was parked along the road a while back drove up behind me. Typical for me on boring stretches, I was in the zone and the Jeep scared the shit out of me as he approached. It turns out, This guy was hiking and camping down by five bar Ranch last night. He had also hiked the Idaho Centennial Trail a few years ago, which was pretty cool to hear. Very few people have hiked that trail.

Soon I reached Three Forks and the scenery once again blew me away. Pretty Incredible landscape as I dropped down from Brown Ridge around Three Forks Dome. There’s a big network of roads here, as this is probably the single most popular spot in the Owyhees. There’s a hot spring here, and they always draw a crowd. However, I didn’t make it to the hot springs myself.

The road I was walking crosses the North Fork Owyhee River. Here, the water was calf deep. A quarter mile up the road, there’s a bridge that goes over the North Fork Owyhee River. It’s a pretty awesome looking canyon, and it’s clear more water is flowing through the North Fork than normal. There was some vegetation that looks like it would normally not be underwater. Today though, the Owyhee River USGS station at Rome was only showing 270 CFM, which is really not that high.

As I walked through the Three Forks area, I saw Mike’s truck parked here. His dogs ran up and greeted me, and I stopped by for a beer. It was 12:30 or so, and I had some time to hang out for a bit. Mike has a YouTube channel of his own called About The Journey, and he tried to conduct an interview with me the other day when we met at Anderson Crossing. However, he was having some technical issues with his GoPro, and what we recorded the other day was lost. So, I sat down again with him this afternoon for another crack at it.

I hung out with Mike until around 3:15. Now, it’s time to climb up out of the three Forks area onto the canyon above Owyhee River. My map shows cross-country hiking, so it was a surprise to see an old 4×4 road leading up the canyon. There were many trees here, junipers perhaps… the first trees I’d seen in a while. I was feeling great, and powered through the hike uphill, making quick work of the 1000ft climb. The road fades near the top, and it’s a couple hundred feet of off-trail to gain the rim.

The wind was whipping pretty hard by the time I made it up to the top. And the views were stunning! Owyhee Canyon is a majestic place. Along the rim, there’s an occasional lone tree that stands out. In fact, there’s a line of trees along the rim in certain places. Certainly, a microclimate exists here. Most likely, the wind’s moisture blows up from the canyon and allow these trees to exist along the rim. They are not found more than a few feet away from it.

Now, I tried to walk the rim as long as I can. The landscape everywhere but the canyon itself is an impossibly vast and open terrain. The vegetation here is a mix between Sagebrush and grasses, with a bunch of basalt boulders scattered along the ground as tripping hazards. The cloud cover is thick, the winds are whipping really hard. It certainly has an ominous feel to it, especially the way the grass moves in the wind.

The skies grow darker, and it’s pretty clear it’s going to rain. There has been light sprinkles here and there, I think the sky can hold out much longer. I stop and take the first acceptable campsite I can find around 7:30. Moments after setting up my tent, a moderate rain begins to fall. Man, is it a good feeling when you beat the rain!

It rains for an hour or two after sunset. And there actually was a sunset tonight. I was able to peak my head out of the tent and catch a glimpse. Red and orange skies, one final treat for the day.

ODT Day 37 Map

Day 38:

June 18th

I woke up this morning to full sun beating on my tent. The tall grass blowing in the light wind, wrestling against my tent, wakes me up. It looks like It’s going to be a nice day.

Today will be a mix of walking on dirt roads and cross-country hiking. There’s a well-maintained dirt road that roughly parallels Owyhee Canyon, but because the canyon twists and curves, the road is only sometimes close to the canyon. I’ll walk the road for now, as the canyon is a ways away.

I walk the road to Owyhee Canyon overlook, and leave it here for a while I can walk the rim. Every time I see the canyon, it just takes my breath away. Incredible. Now, I hike the rim for a while before heading up over a hill and back to the road.

I stay on the road until I reach Lambing Camp Reservoir. I take a break here and then head up over a hill and drop down into Soldier Creek Canyon. There’s some water here, but also a bunch of cows. Not really drinkable water unless one is very desperate. You know, because of the cows. The climb out of the canyon affords a good view, though!

Back up on the rim, It’s no longer Sage Kansas. The landscape now is more of a, well, regular Kansas. It’s a sea of green grass, and it’s vast. Quite an incredible place to walk, really. Like hiking through that old Windows wallpaper background. The grass seemed to breathe with the wind, or perhaps, flowing like waves of water. Kind of a surreal moment.

As I drop down slightly into a canyon, the grass gives way to sage again. I meet up with another primitive road, and follow this for a mile or two.

When I leave the road, ODT route suggests that I walk the base of a small hill for a few miles. This doesn’t make any sense to me though, because It’s only a small 150 ft climb to the top, which looks like it would afford me a view of Owyhee Canyon. The walking doesn’t seem any easier on the bottom than it would be on the top, nor would it add any miles. So, I do a 5-minute walk to the top, and sure enough, there’s a view of the canyon.

First chance I get, I hike over to the edge of Owyhee Canyon. Of course, it’s just stunning. The cloud cover creates a real moody scene over the canyon, making for some great photos. Then I hike along the edge for a while, until the canyon veers away from my general trajectory. I definitely recommend this small alternate route, as an improvement over the original route. Do it!

I follow a ridge line downhill, come across the cow path, and it drops me down into a canyon. I walk through the canyon and meet up with a 4×4 road. This should mostly be the end of the xc hiking for today, although I still have too many miles left to town to truly believe that.

Soon, it’s time to stop and for a break. I found one of those tags that go through a cow’s ear, with a number on it. Surprisingly, this is the first one I’ve ever found. I think I’ll keep this one, just for the novelty of it.

From here, I think I have about 8.5 miles to Rome station, and it’s about 4:30. I have 2L of water left out of the 5 that I took with me yesterday afternoon, leaving Three Forks. I was conserving my water a little bit more, because I was thinking I was going to camp a few miles out of Rome tonight, and nearo into town tomorrow. But like always, when I get within striking distance of town, I can’t help but push in that same day. That means I’m no longer worried about conserving my water, so I can drink!

I hike on with a purpose now, hoping to reach Rome in time to get a cheeseburger before the grill closes at 8:00. To distract me though, the road I’m walking eventually veers very close to the edge of Owyhee Canyon. The edge is only 30 ft away now, and it’s very easy to stop frequently and see the canyon from new angles. And I take full advantage of this, stopping many times for photos and video.

When the road veers away from the canyon, my route has me doing a quarter mile xc hike to meet up with a different road. I walk through a field and struggle to find the road, but eventually stumble upon it. It’s here that I realize that my next turn is not really on a road, as the map shows, but it begins what appears to be a nearly 2 mile xc hike into town. Seriously? This is so like the ODT, to bushwhack your way into town. I was pretty pissed about this.

I can see that there is a very, very faint set of tire tracks that run parallel to a fence line. However, it’s through a bunch of cheat grass, which has been a real pain to walk through lately. Little bits of the grass, which are very sharp, stab my feet as they become embedded in my shoes. It can be pretty horrible to walk through for long distances. Not only this, but to descend the rim to the river on the other side, It looks like a bushwhack of a couple hundred feet as well.

I’ve got another idea. I can continue straight ahead on the road I’m currently on, instead of turning left along the fence line. This will take me to Highway 95, and will add 1 mile. I’m not worried that it will add one mile, because I’m pretty sure it will be just as fast as the official route. It should be faster hiking, with less crap in my shoes.

I reach Highway 95 and walk along the shoulder. The road curves and winds downhill, with a nice view over the Owyhee River. I crossed the bridge over the Owyhee River and marvel at its size here. It looks 10 times bigger than it did from the top of the rim.

I reach Rome Station at what I think is 7:30, having hiked 31.5 miles today. I’m surprised to see the store/grill closed. Inside the store I see a man, so I knock on the door. I tell him I’m an ODT hiker and looking for a tent site tonight, and a cabin tomorrow night, which I will split with Donny. He says they have a cabin available tonight and tomorrow night, 75 bucks a night. There are no showers otherwise, and with the 25 mile an hour winds right now, that cabin sounds pretty good. Sold!

For 75 bucks, I wasn’t expecting much. But when I opened the door to the cabin, I was pleasantly surprised. A hot shower Felt great, and I got started on my town chores… charging electronics, sink laundry etc.

ODT Day 38 Map

Day 39: Zero Day in Rome

June 19th

Donny arrived mid-morning, just in time for breakfast. And breakfast here at Rome station was excellent! Big omelettes, thick cut bacon, good hash browns. Seems like every little town in Oregon makes the best omelettes.

Not much to do today, except relax. We gorged ourselves with food and watched some TV in the cabin. Just one more section to go!

–> Continue reading Oregon Desert Trail Section 10: Rome to Lake Owyhee (91 miles)

Back to Oregon Desert Trail Thru Hiking Guide & Journal index

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *