Oregon's Wallowa Mountains

Southern Wallowas Traverse, Part II

From Cached Lake your trail makes a long looping climb to a windswept pass, then descends back into forest to a meadow with a trail junction. An excellent side trip turns left here, climbs steeply over a rock pass, then drops to the alpine cirque holding tiny Arrow Lake. With a high granite peak, small islands, and a rocky wildflower meadow, Arrow Lake is a magical place. Now you return to the main trail and switchback steadily downhill to Trail Creek.

You'll have to get used to this pattern of alternating between high passes and deep canyons because that pretty much describes the rest of this trip. There are precious few stretches of level trail. Fortunately frequent lakes and views provide ample compensation. A break in the trees partway down this particular descent provides an excellent view of the peaks to the west.

Warning: Later in the summer, the water level drops in this artificially controlled lake, making it much less attractive. You continue downhill and make a few switchbacks, then cross a marshy area near a small pond. Switchbacks resume as the trail crosses semi-open slopes with high peaks on either side.

At the bottom of the canyon you go left at a junction, then cross Trail Creek. Rest for awhile and refill your water bottle before tackling the long 2,300-foot climb to Wonker Pass. The Forest Service has constructed a reasonably graded route that contours up to the north, then switchbacks, mostly through forest, toward the exposed talus slopes below the pass. If you look carefully, you can see the remains of an old trail that dropped in wickedly steep switchbacks to Trail Creek.

From Wonker Pass it's only a short descent to the alpine basin holding beautiful Traverse Lake, with excellent camps. The lake has an idyllic setting in a large meadow surrounded by scattered islands of trees. The most impressive view is from the northwest shore looking back toward a prominent granite monolith beside Wonker Pass — outstanding!

To continue your tour, head away from the waters of Traverse Lake and soon reach a grand overlook of Echo Lake and the canyon below. (Yes, you're going all the way down there.) Walk past a nice spring, then drop to Echo Lake, which can be reached by any of several short side trails. A serrated ridge south of this lake makes a nice backdrop.

In a brushy area, long before the switchbacks end, is a junction. Turn right, cross the West Fork Eagle Creek, and brace yourself for the next big climb, as the trail regains all the previously lost elevation on a long and rather uneventful climb toward the pass above Tombstone Lake. There are nice views as you climb, but only intermittent shade. It's all worthwhile once you top out at a high pass because the views, as usual, are superb. From the pass the trail contours along a ridge for a bit then drops to the shores of Tombstone Lake, which has several choice camps for the weary hiker. The lake's name comes from a large pinnacle rising from the southwestern shore. With some imagination, it might be said to resemble a tombstone.


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