Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Eagle Cap Wilderness

Backpacking
Location: Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon
Duration: 3-4 Day
Season: Summer - Fall
Distance: ~24 miles, Round-trip
Difficulty: Moderate


The Eagle Cap Wilderness lies in the heart of the Wallowa Mountains in Northeastern Oregon on the Wallowa -Whitman National Forest. It was the summer home to the Joseph Band of the Nez Perce tribe and was used as hunting grounds for bighorn sheep, deer and to gather huckleberries.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 placed the area in the National Wilderness Preservation System. It was enlarged through the years and now totals 361,446 acres of Wilderness. The Eagle Cap Wilderness is characterized by high alpine lakes and meadows, bare granite peaks, and U-shaped glaciated valleys. The Wilderness has an array of exquisite wildflowers, small groves of old growth forest, and a variety of interesting wildlife.

In the summer months, white-tailed deer, mule deer, and Rocky Mountain elk roam the Wilderness. Black bears are seen on occasion eating huckleberries and cougars hide out among the rocky outcroppings. On rare occasions, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep or mountain goats can be seen, not to mention the smaller mammals that inhabit the area year-round including pine martens, badgers, squirrels, and marmots.

As for fowls, keep your eyes to the air for falcon, woodpecker, bald eagle, golden eagle, ferruginous hawk, or the gray-crowned rosy finch. Plants range from low elevation grasslands and ponderosa pine forest to alpine meadows. Across the meadows you might spot a variety of Indian Paintbrush, Foregt-me-nots, Columbine, Larkspur, Cow Parsnip, and Mountain Bluebells.

As for the trail, the West Fork Wallowa River Trail follows the river to its headwaters at Frazier and Glacier Lakes. From the trailhead, stay right and follow the sign marked West Fork Wallowa River Trail #1820. The first ¾ mile section of trail is steep and junctions with Joseph Mountain Trail. After passing the Wilderness Boundary sign at ~1 mile, the remaining ~2 miles to the Ice Lake junction is less strenuous with good views of Craig Mountain and the river (Note: there are 3 good campsites with water available at the junction).

It's another ~3 miles to Six Mile Meadow gaining a total of 1,200ft in elevation from the trailhead and finally leveling out ~1 mile before the meadow (Note: at Six Mile Meadow a person can usually find good access for fishing the West Fork Wallowa River for Brook and Rainbow trout). At the beginning of Six Mile Meadow, there's a trail junction for Lakes Basin Trail #1810 to Horseshoe Lake, stay left on the West Fork Wallowa River Trail #1820.

The West Fork Trail continues South from Six Mile Meadow up the valley toward Frazier Lake gaining another 1,200ft in elevation, over the next 4 miles. As you continue South, the trail travels through a narrowing canyon along the river, passing through dense forests interspersed with openings created by past avalanches. One of those openings, approximately 2 miles up the trail is a large avalanche meadow with the junction for the Polaris Pass Trail. Stay right at the junction to continue up to Frazier Lake.

After the junction the trail enters the forest again and skirts the edge of a narrow gorge. Soon you will enter the high country with impressive limestone cliffs and sub-alpine meadows sprinkled with wildflowers. Note: keep your eyes open for bighorn sheep and mountain goats on the cliffs above.

1 mile before Frazier Lake the trail will cross the river. There's no bridge here, so you will need to ford the river (Note: depending on if it's still there, you might find a log across the river about 200 yards downstream, cross with caution).

Camping is available at Frazier Lake. Beyond Frazier Lake, it's another 800ft in elevation over 2 miles to Glacier Lake and well worth the hike. Also, a nice side trip is the trail to Little Frazier Lake and Prospect Lake, two beautiful alpine lakes only a little over a mile away. Fishing is good in most lakes and the West Fork Wallowa River.

Camping sites abound, but make sure you follow the forest service regulations and avoid camping within 200ft of the shorelines for all lakes. Bears are common, so hang your food and follow bear country precautions, not to mention the squirrels and chipmunks like to get into things also.

Directions: From Joseph Oregon, drive South on Highway 82 following the signs ~6 miles to the far end of Wallowa Lake. At the end of the lake, turn left at the junction in the road and follow Powerhouse Road 1 mile to the end of the pavement and parking area. A parking permit is required (see the link below for more info). The trailhead is located about 200ft up the hill and to the left of the powerhouse.

For a map, pictures and more info click on Eagle Cap Wilderness - Frazier and Glacier Lakes

See you on the trail,
--Greg

All Day Energy Runners


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1 comment:

  1. The Eagle Cap Wilderness Area sounds like an excellent place full of natural beauty. Your description of the fauna and the history of the area makes it a very appealing place. In additon, I appreciate the great description of the West Fork Wallowa River Trail. I am very glad that great areas full of diverse eco-systems such as this have been protected for the enjoyment of individuals and for their environmental importance.

    Thanks for contributing this excellent post to the Athletic Alley Blog Carnival.

    ReplyDelete