Oregon's Wallowa Mountains
The trail continues to the northwest, traveling above the basin holding woodsy Diamond Lake, which can be reached by steep side trails, then continues to lose elevation to a trail junction beside Elk Creek. Turn left and cross the stream to an excellent campsite where two creeks meet. The meadow here is a lovely foreground for craggy Granite Butte to the south, and trees provide welcome shade.
Warning: Bugs can be an annoyance here since the meadow is rather boggy. Leaving this meadow basin, you'll notice an older trail that climbs steeply up a slope to the left, but the well-graded newer trail climbs gradually to the right in two very long switchbacks with several good views along the way. Near the top of this climb the trail contours around sloping Burger Meadows, then climbs another hillside to a junction in the trees. For a quick exit, turn right, but keep straight for a terrific side trip.
The side trip first visits a beautiful meadow with a fine campsite, wildflowers, and small ponds. The view across this meadow toward prominent China Cap is particularly fetching. Leaving this meadow, you travel up very steep, sandy switchbacks to aptly named Sand Pass, often snowbound until late summer. Turn left at Sand Pass and follow a more gently graded trail that climbs through semi-open forest on a ridge east of Sand Pass.
The way traverses an open slope a few hundred feet below the summit of Granite Butte, then crosses a saddle and goes up the spine of a narrow ridge to Mu Peak Lookout. This is one of Oregon's least visited fire lookouts, but the lack of visitors is due only to its isolation, because outstanding views extend all directions. Fire-scarred forests below the peak testify to the need for the facility. The staff person here obviously has a good sense of humor, as signs identify this as the MULE PEAK BED & BREAKFAST . . . PARKING IN-THE REAR.
Back at the junction above Burger Meadows, turn west and climb Burger Pass. The peaks on either side are not the typical white granite of the Wallowas, but are reddish summits. Tip: For those with energy to burn, scramble up China Cap to the north is particularly rewarding. The trail drop: a few hundred feet to a junction below the pass. To the right is a long, packed ridge walk, but keep left to reach your car.
The final part of the hike is a pleasant downhill stretch, mostly in forest along Middle Fork Catherine Creek. Keep straight at a trail junction near the bottom and soon reach the Buck Creek trailhead the close of an exhausting but glorious hike.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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