Wow. Karyn and I, along with a friend of ours we call "The Badger", just returned from a three day backpacking trip in the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Northeast Oregon. It was an excellent trip.
We debated where to go acknowledging that the snow level had retreated to the high elevations due to lower winter coverage and high temperatures. We wanted a location with few people and mosquitoes so we chose to go as close to the snow line as possible. We were very successful on all counts. This weekend also saw record temperatures in Boise, so it was a great time to leave for the upper elevations.
On Friday, a beautiful clear sunny day, we started hiking up the East Eagle Creek in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. I was excited as this was my first "ultra-light" trip. I have shaved 10 pounds off my previous weight for this trip (5 on the backpack itself and 5 on the tent), Karyn's pack was 8 pounds lighter. I still weighed in at 37 pounds so it wasn't that "ultra". Karyn's pack was 28 pounds. With some planning, we should be able to shed another 5 to 10 from our combined pack weight.
Our destination was Hidden Lake. At 7200 feet above sea level, it would be questionable if we would make our destination. At six miles in The Badger was challenged by a cow elk. The cow barked at him and charged toward him. He wisely retreated. This is unusual behavior unless she had a calf hidden nearby. We did never see it.
Concerned about getting across the raging stream, we took advantage of a snow bridge to cross to the other side. This was about a quarter mile before the trail crossing so we had to bushwhack our way until we relocated the trail. On the steep climb up to Moon Lake, we kept loosing the trail as the snow patches grew larger and larger. We stayed on the South facing slope where most of the ground was clear of snow. Moon Lake itself was still buried in snow. We should have taken this as a sign, but we instead continued up to the saddle to cross over to Hidden Lake. Looking over the ridge to the North facing slope sealed the fact that we would not make it to Hidden Lake without skis. We retreated a mile back down the trail to East Eagle Creek and found an excellent campsite.
The rising peaks around us were beautiful as the Elk called to each other in the valley. We could see a number of groups of Elk, some with new calves along the hillsides. The bonus, we were yet to see any people, and no mosquitoes!
The next day the Badger and I decide to head toward Eagle Cap Peak. We were fairly sure we would not make the summit, but hoped to acquire the saddle below the peak. We searched for a way back across the stream. We couldn't find any. The water was raging and rising. The snow bridge was our best option. Concerned that the rising water and warm temperatures would melt the snow bridge before our Sunday departure, we changed plans and decided to move our camp back across the stream, preserving our safe exit. So we packed up camp and moved.
The second location was not quite as good as the first, but still great. The Badger and I once again headed off toward the peak. A mile into our hike the snow patches began. We spooked up a number of elk, getting to within 50 feet of some. About 2 miles in the going was getting very rough. Snow, water and mud everywhere. There were a number of downed trees as well. We got close enough to see the saddle and determine that we weren't going to get there. We headed back to camp. That night was very pleasant with the Pikas and the birds singing us to sleep.
The hike out was nice and uneventful. The first person we saw during the weekend was right at the trail head as we arrived back at the car. Very nice. I only saw one mosquito all weekend - no repellent and no bites. What a great time of year to go. The new tent was better than our old one AND 5 pound lighter. The new pack was not as comfortable, but I can't see adding the 5 pounds to go back to my old one.