High & Wild in Eastern Oregon
We headed up the Strawberry Basin Trail toward our destination, the 9,038-foot high Strawberry Mountain, in cool weather, with mist obscuring the peaks. The trail skirts Strawberry Lake at 1.4 miles, then climbs to Strawberry Falls base (2.5 miles) and top. Shortly thereafter we reached a bare ridge along the trail that gave us a view, as the mist shifted off the rocky ridge opposite, of Rabbit Ears and Indian Spring Butte, as well as the basin and lake.
The trail then headed up through a knee-high meadow in full bloom, and we began to see evidence of a recent forest fire. We made a steady gain, now threading through scorched lodgepole, before hiking along a creek and meadow basin of the delicate alpine variety. A clear creek, lush green vegetation sprinkled with flowers I couldn't name it was a photographer's paradise.
The trail led around a rocky basin lacking only sufficient water to form a lake, and switchbacked along one side until we passed the final steep snowbank holdout, and got on the ridge that would take us to the summit.
The trail cut horizontally across the mountain and then switchbacked up through scree to the top, where someone had built a roofless scree fortress. It wouldn't protect us from the rain front moving in, however, so we hustled down and at the trail fork took the Onion Creek Trail, which would loop around north to the camp road. The view from the top included much of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness, the ridge of mountains stretching to the West, the grazing land of ranches plotted in the mountain watershed, and Prairie City basking in hot sunshine farther north, and arid John Day to the northwest. Farthest north are the Blue Mountains, which go all the way up to the border and into Washington.
Another Trail, Another Landscape
The Onion Trail, we were later told, had only recently opened because of the amount of fallen trees that had to be cut by hand on the trail this year. We found the trail very lightly trod in areas, and relied on the old"i" blazes cut into trees and rock cairns set up through the meadows to find our way. We lunched in the shelter of trees just below the mountain, with a view of a magnificent cliff on one side and bare, grassy knolls leading to forest on the other. Then we hiked down through the verdant browse that covered the ground damage of a significant recent burn.
The mule deer were thriving here, according to another hiking party that saw a herd of nine, but we only saw one spike. We actually saw more deer in camp and along the road by the ranches. The contrast between the green waist-high growth and the black of the scorched trees was beautiful and very different from the trail we took up; we were glad we came back by the other route. This trail also was steeper and more difficult we thought it was good we were headed down and not up. The trail, which made for about a 13-mile hike, ended up on the road about one mile north and downhill from camp. Jeff headed for that last microbrew in the cooler, and I lingered to pick berries along the road.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication