Thu, Jun 28, 2012
Our previous trip to Oregon earlier in the month had been cut short by bad weather. The Pacific Northwest is certainly not as predictable as the Sierra and we had to consider it carefully. Having spent the previous evening online studying the forecasts, we found that several small fronts would be moving in over the next week, giving us some wet weather mixed with a few good days. The latter would have to be reserved for the big peaks - Mts. Adams and Rainier, the two we most wanted to succeed at. Today was deemed marginal weather-wise, so we planned to do Olallie Butte on our drive north to Washington for Adams the next day. Olallie is a P2K but has a bonus with the Wasco County highpoint somewhere on its northeast slope.
We were not to get an early alpine start. We slept in, then spent several hours driving from Bend to the start of the Olallie Butte Trail described by Ken Jones on the cohp.org website. We followed the directions until we had passed under the obvious power lines mentioned in his description. They are impossible to miss as a swath more than 100 yds wide has been cleared through the forest underneath them. It seems the lumber industry must be one of the greatest supporters of new electrical transmission routes in the state. As was often the case, Adam was some time in getting ready at the TH. Normally this would not be a problem, but we encountered for the first time this trip one of the great scourges of the PNW - the ubiquitous mosquito. I found myself wandering aimlessly around the car to keep them from collecting about me until we could start off.
Our best view of Olallie Butte had been during the last several miles of the drive in. Now that we were at the TH, we were in forested terrain where there would be no views until nearing the summit. We found the trail as described just down the powerline road and shortly after that the junction with the PCT. Just ahead of me, Adam happily started north on the PCT before I called him back. To be fair, it was hard to tell where one should go in all the trees and the junction was unsigned except for the small PCT symbol nailed to a tree. Most of the trail along with the summit fall within an indian reservation, where I understand that visitors are not encouraged - thus the lack of any trail signage. The trail does not appear on the current 7.5' topo map, but is in fairly good condition other than downfall which has not been removed for the past several years, at least. We were somewhat concerned that the trail would be buried in snow since it was on the north side of the 7,200ft peak, but thankfully it was snow-free for the bottom two thirds of the route. Higher up we found some annoying remnants of snow on the trail and when they became increasingly tedious we left the trail and went up what became almost continuous snow coverage. We spent a bit more than an hour on or near the trail in the forest before breaking out into more open (and less snow-covered) terrain not far below the summit.
At the summit by 12:20p, we found what remains of the lookout tower, a pile of rocks forming the foundation, the wooden sideboards scattered about, some decaying, others used in one of several fire pits for heat. There is a slightly lower southern summit a short distance away that we also paid a visit to, primarily for the fine view of nearby Mt. Jefferson that it provides. Forest views spread out in all directions, the snowy volcanoes jutting up from the landscape both north and south. There as a wide swath of tree between Olallie and Jefferson that looked to have been taken ill by beetles or other insects, the dead trees with brown needles adding a somber note to the otherwise green landscape.
After leaving the summit, we started down the North Ridge, watching the GPS to show us approximately where to leave the ridge to drop down to the CoHP on the NE side of the mountain. This made for several hundred yards of fun boot glissading down the softened snow slope, steep but continuous with a fairly safe runnout. The coordinate I had entered in the GPS was spot on, taking us within 35ft of a small pile of rocks near the bottom of the slope. Tucked inside was a register for the CoHP, so there was no searching about needed at all. It had been left in 2010 by noted San Diego highpointers Richard Carey and Gail Hanna. Two other parties had signed it since then.
The climb back out of the cirque was not nearly the same fun it had been on the way down, but so it goes. We hiked back up through the slushy snow to the ridge, then did a traverse around the mountain in a counter-clockwise fashion until we came across the trail again. Another half an hour had us back at the TH by 2:10p.
We spent the next several hours driving our way out of the small maze of twisty paved roads that weave through the mountains between Olallie and Mt. Hood to the north. Some low clouds surrounded the Oregon highpoint, but otherwise it looked like it would have been a good day to climb that one had it been on our agenda. We drove on to the Columbia River and took a room at The Dalles where we would stay for the next two nights. We would use this for our staging of the Mt. Adams climb we had planned for the next day. We didn't get to bed as early as we might have liked, but still managed sufficient sleep for the big day we had planned.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Olallie Butte
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