2018-09-08-09 Wallowa Peaks Loop

Distance: 24.8 mi.
Elevation Gain: 11,400 ft.

After waiting for a better forecast and not getting it, I ended up abandoning plans to climb in the north cascades and decided my best shot to enjoy some fine weather in the mountains was to head east to the Wallowa Mountains in northeastern Oregon. This is an area I have wanted to explore for years, but hadn’t yet made it to. On top of that, these are some of the highest peaks in all of Oregon (one of them the Matterhorn!) and I could climb my namesake Craig Mountain.

I managed to work remotely on Friday and slowly worked my way east out of the Seattle area during the day avoiding any traffic. After finishing my work I booked it to the tri-cities where I enjoyed some dinner at Ice Harbor Brewing Company in Kennewick.  I then drove the rest of the way along pretty remote roads to arrive at the trailhead around 10:30PM. Having hopped myself up on coffee for the drive, I had some trouble getting to sleep in the back of the car.

I took it easy in the morning, enjoying some donuts and coffee I had purchased for the morning. I eventually started hiking around 7 and quickly made it to the trail split where I stayed right on the Chief Joseph trail, which traverses the hillside at just above 5100′ for a while. I eventually left the trail following the path of someone’s GPS track that I found on peakbagger, but I didn’t like the terrain it was taking me toward so I kept right until I ended up back on the trail. I then followed the trail further until it reached a switchback just below 6,400′, following some other tracks I found on peakbagger. There were lots of little way trails through here but I generally continued southwest until I ended up in an obvious gully with a climbers path that would take me to the east ridge of Chief Joseph Mountain, on generally unpleasant loose rock. I trended to the right when I had options, but it may have been easier to take the most direct route to the ridge, as travel was a little easier once on the ridge.

View from Chief Joseph down to Wallowa Lake and the lingering smoke.
The summit of Chief Joseph Mt. Crazy colors!

The ridge travel was straightforward but tiring, as I rose above 9000′ and there was some lingering smoke from the southern Oregon fires (which cleared throughout the day). I then made my way up to the peak where I enjoyed views back down to Wallowa Lake and the town of Joseph. I took a good break here as I had done the biggest chunk of elevation for the day. I could see most of my other objectives for the day from here as well.

After some snacks, I dropped down the south ridge of Chief Joseph to head toward Hurwal Divide. I had to bypass one small point on pretty steep southwest facing slopes but following different climbers paths got me through with some care.  Up and over one other small bump and I was heading up the north ridge of the divide. I saw a few goats here and the views were improving as the smoke moved out. I ate my lunch at the top.

The view of most of my route. Hurwal Divide on the left and Sacajawea and Matterhorn on the right.
Traversing the slope on the left was one of the trickier parts of the route.

From here I followed a pretty obvious climber path right along the ridge to the south. This peak is an utter pile of garbage rock, but staying on the ridge was not too bad. Eventually however the ridge ends and you have to drop to the southwest to get to what is called Hurwal Divide Southwest. Its the same garbage rock, but the ridge is steeper here. This little subpeak does offer some great views down to Ice Lake however.

This is the ridge between Hurwal Divide and Hurwal Divide SW.  Lots of loose rock. Pt. 9775 and Sacajawea peak beyond it on the right.
The view down to Ice Lake (and Craig & Razzberry) from Hurwal Divide SW.

Then I did the gradual descent down to the low point before pt. 9775. This is where the strange slabby marble rock begins. It is surprisingly soft and is piled up like kitty litter in places, but it is very gritty and easy slab walking when not covered in sand.

The route from Hurwal Divide SW to Pt. 9775 follows the ridge on the right. Matterhorn on the left. Descent route to Ice Lake follows the ridge from Matterhorn down to large snowfield and then down lightly treed slope.

Once on pt. 9775 I could see the whole ridge over to Sacajawea Peak, the high point of the Wallawas. This was the most challenging travel of the trip, as there were several towers and gullies of this strange rock to get across. I generally found that staying as high on the ridge as possible was best, with several traverses along the west side to get around the steepest bits. There were usually some nice ledges to traverse when needed. Eventually you get back onto some of the crappy orange scree and then you are at the summit. I saw another goat here too!

The ridge to Sacajawea. There were a few tricky parts the required class 3 scrambling on the west side of the ridge.
View of the Matterhorn from Sacajawea

I backtracked along the ridge to pt 9775 and then descended again to get to the Matterhorn. This is pretty much entirely on the slabby gray rock and at the low point of the ridge there was a huge vertical cave that was pretty intimidating to look down. Then I had to slab walk up the ridge to the top.  The peak doesn’t really seem like a horn in any way. It probably looks much steeper from the southwest.

A large cave on the north ridge of Matterhorn.  It goes straight down into the mountain.
Slabs to the top of Matterhorn

From the summit I followed a climbers trail to the east that descends to Ice Lake, which was pretty easy to follow.  I finally made it to the lake at around 5:30 PM. I hadn’t seen a single person until this point and all of a sudden it seemed like they were everywhere.

Descending the east ridge of Matterhorn to Ice Lake

I made my way around the lake and set up camp on the peninsula on the east side of the lake. There are lots of campsites here and probably always lots of people on summer weekends. I washed up a bit in the lake, enjoyed a huge dinner and a beer and passed out. The stars were pretty amazing.

Craig Mt. and Razzberry from Ice Lake.
I had plenty of room for my bivy.

I woke up with first light, since I had already slept 8 hours, and cooked some breakfast. I was ready to summit the mighty Craig Mountain at 6:30 AM. It is really not very far over to the peak. It was interesting to find the rock was mostly granite over here. Quite the contrast to everything I had encountered the day before. I stayed to the left of the creek that goes up to the west of Craig Mt. and then headed straight up the ridge when possible. I eventually realized that I was better off dropping to the south side of the ridge because there were fewer trees. I worked my way up through whatever openings I could find and found myself at the summit in just under an hour from camp.

The south side of the west ridge of Craig Mt. Sandy granite benches through trees.
The east side of Razzberry Mt. I went up the right skyline of this photo.
The view to the south to Eagle Cap.  Razz Lake is the close one.

I quickly backtracked to the pass and decided I had enough time to go up what is called Razzberry Peak on peakbagger, just to the west of Craig Mountain. Razzberry was probably the most enjoyable of all the peaks I ascended on this trip. It is mostly a big pile of large granite boulders and required some real class 3 scrambling. I traversed around it slightly to ascend the north side to the summit, but it looked like you could go several different ways. I backtracked my way back down and then followed the gully between the two peaks back down to the lake. I traversed back around the lake and made it back to camp right at 9 AM.  I quickly packed up camp and booked it down the trail in an effort to enjoy the afternoon and do all the driving before dark.

Back at Ice Lake with Matterhorn reflection.

I managed to make it back to the car at about 11:45 AM and drove to the north end of Wallowa Lake, where I took a bit of time to clean up. I wanted to stop at Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise, and it was totally worth the stop as I had some delicious food and beer. After relaxing for a good amount of time I finally hit the road again and made it back to Seattle before dark and without incident. A great trip overall, but I would love to go back and explore the Wallowas more…maybe on skis!

Wallowa Lake. I just freshened myself up here for a bit so the drive would be less smelly.

More photos
Download GPS track

(Download the free Gaia GPS app on your phone to view tracks and then get a Gaia GPS membership if you want offline access. Discount below!)


Recommended brew: Three Magnets Keep It Like Vic Secret

Gear Used:

  • Bivy
  • GPS
  • Helmet
  • Sleeping pad
  • Summer sleeping bag
  • Stove
  • Trail runners
  • Trekking poles
  • Water drops/filter

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