275 Miles on the Oregon Desert Trail
I’ve been slowly picking away at sections of the Oregon Desert Trail this year, and since fall is one of my favorite times to hike, I was looking forward to tackling another couple hundred miles of the route in southeastern Oregon.
In theory, fall has the potential to be a difficult time to hike in the desert. Many of the seasonal water sources might be dry after a long hot summer, hunting season might inundate the sagebrush sea with figures in camo looking to fill their freezer for the winter, and cold nights could freeze the remaining water in a hiker’s bottles...but I was ready for these extra challenges. I was hoping a few weeks in September would mean brilliant aspen groves, cooler daytime temps, and the end to fire season.
As luck would have it, the last two weeks in September were indeed cool-not freezing, I found plenty of water, wildlife roamed the desert without targets on their backs (I saw no hunters), and the aspen positively glowed in the shortening days. It was amazing hiking weather!
From Plush to Bend
My goal for this 275-mile section hike was to pick up the route near Plush and hike home, back to Bend. By hiking east to west I also had the chance to run into two other thru-hikers who started their trip the same day, and was looking forward to picking their brains on their fall hiking experience.
The hike out of Plush came on the coldest day of the trip, and even though I was steadily gaining in altitude as I climbed up into the Coyote Hills, I kept bundled up and even ate my lunch while wrapped up in my sleeping bag.
Renee on Abert Rim, 2,490’ above the valley floor. Photo credit: Renee Patrick.
When I crested the edge of Abert Rim the next day I was astounded by the view of the valley below, and enjoyed a look into the future. I could see where I would be hiking over the next week as my route would dip down to Lakeview, and back up the other side of the valley in the Fremont Mountains. Man do I love a good view.
Journey Through Time
I stopped to check out some petroglyphs near Abert Rim, and saw several herds of pronghorn up top. I was surprised to see how curious they were, and often it seemed they were more interested in me than the other way around. I guess they don’t see many people on the rim as the access is quite difficult, unless you are willing to walk there.
I picked up a new pair of Oboz Pikas over the summer, and as much as I liked how lightweight they were, ultimately decided to wear my pair of Bridger Low shoes because of the long sections of cross country travel over jagged lava rock.
I trusted the Bridger’s bomber mid and outer-sole to protect my feet from the bone bruising effect of the rugged terrain. And the waterproof/breathable aspect would protect against any cold fall rains that might happen during the trip. (and color! I love the color).
After the splendor of Abert Rim, I soon found myself on some of the only trail tread of the Oregon Desert Trail in the Fremont Forest. For the next 70-ish miles, the ODT parallels the Fremont National Recreation Trail for some brilliant ridge-walking, the golden aspen I was dreaming of, and trail.
Really really wonderful trail.
Best of all, many of the water sources in the forest were still flowing. Creeks had water and springs were still seeping from the ground. I happily floated down the trail, soaking in views that reached all the way to Mount Shasta in northern California, and over to Hart Mountain to the east.
A few days later I found myself on the exact opposite side of the valley from where I had been perched on the edge of Abert Rim. Looking back at one of the largest fault-block mountains in the country was an exercise in perspective, and I was joined by even more pronghorn wondering what on earth I was doing alone in their territory.
By the time I made it into the little town of Paisley a few days later I had reveled in even more ridge walking, aspen groves, and a series of brilliant warm afternoons.
Brush with Civilization
I took a day in Paisley to eat a few meals, sleep in a bed, do laundry, and meet the other two hikers who had just completed their first 160 miles of the route. They described total solitude, brushes with big horned sheep, and yes, more curious pronghorn. It was exactly what they had come out from Colorado to experience.
Open Skies, Dramatic Clouds
Rain was in the forecast for the next few days, but instead of blocking the views and turning the ground into a muddy mess, the dramatic skies made for the best views of the whole trip. By the time I climbed up to the edge of Diablo Rim I was in love.
This rim was an amazing surprise.
Big horn sheep on theDiablo Rim. Photo credit: Renee Patrick.
The view into the east was nothing but an expanse of pure desert, and I saw a herd of big horned sheep run over the edge of a cliff to a rocky perch 1,500’ above the valley below. The climb up Diablo Peak provided stunning 360 views and I could almost see the curve of the earth. It was remote, and it was real. This is the Oregon Desert Trail.
I hiked an alternate route into the small desert town of Christmas Valley and spent the afternoon eating a big lunch at the Pines Café, resupplying at the grocery store, and laying in my hotel room watching bad TV.
North of Christmas Valley I walked through Crack in the Ground, a 2-mile long volcanic fissure in the earth, and past several Wilderness Study Area lava flows. The traces of Oregon’s volcanic history are everywhere out here.
Because I had miscalculated some mileage, I found myself trying to hike as many miles as I could so I could make it on time to meet someone out for my last day of the route. It was a little painful, but, I was thrilled to pull my first 40-mile day.
Thrilled, but sure that I would never try that again.
The last stretch of trail wound through a forest south of Pine Mountain, and as I gained the summit, was able to connect with my boyfriend who would be meeting me with dinner that night. By this point I was about a 30 minute drive from home, and he came with burritos and cold beer. Magic!
The last day on the trail was through the Badlands Wilderness, an area the Oregon Natural Desert Association was pivotal in protecting in 2009. Its old growth juniper trees and 80,000 year old lava flows are a unique spot just outside of Bend, and a place I’ve hiked countless times.
Western Terminus of the ODT. Photo credit: Renee Patrick
And then I was there! The end (or beginning) of the Oregon Desert Trail!!
Renee “She-ra” Patrick is the trail coordinator for the Oregon Desert Trail in Bend, OR, and co-owner/founder of hikertrash (stuff for hikers). She is hiking the Oregon Desert Trail in sections this year, and you can read about her adventures on her blog, www.sherahikes.wordpress.com.