Tag Archives: Joseph Oregon

A big backpacking trip – Ice Lake and The Matterhorn, in the Eagle Cap wilderness!

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Tuesday through Friday, 25 to 28-Aug-2020

 

I took some vacation earlier this year, but it wasn’t quite as relaxing or refreshing as I’d hoped that it would be.  On top of that, I can’t carry my vacation time over into next year… and it’s already August.

So I took some time mid-week to go backpacking.

To escape from town, to get away from everything, and to focus on in getting my head back into a positive place.  It’s important to escape every once in a while, to simply be, somewhere without interruptions or distractions.  I’m reminded of a popular quote that, as is common with quotes, isn’t quite portrayed completely…

“The mountains are calling & I must go & I will work on while I can, studying incessantly”.

– John Muir

Normally, the quote is shortened to just “The mountains are calling and I must go” – which definitely gets most of the idea, but I do enjoy the little extra regarding working and studying… I took this change to be by myself, surrounded by soaring peaks, to reflect, study, and do a little work on myself.  Maybe not as impressive as John Muir preserving Yosemite, but hey.  We all do what we can, right?

Ohh, as an interesting side note?  I think this is the highest peak I’ve ever summitted!  Yay me!

 

Here’s the vital statistics:

Hike to Ice Lake:

Somewhere between 7 and 9 miles, each way (every guidebook differs a bit), roughly 17 miles round trip

3,350ft elevation gain

High Point 7,900ft

Ice Lake to Matterhorn Summit:

3.6 miles round trip

1,980ft elevation gain

High Point 9,826ft

 

Here’s the itinerary, and actual milage / elevation gain (per my fitbit):

  • Tuesday – Rest, go slow, and arrive at the trailhead around 5:00pm.  Hike in a mile or three and camp off trail.
    3.2 miles, 650 ft gain
  • Wednesday – Hike in the rest of the way to Ice Lake, rest.
    10.81 miles, 2600 ft gain
  • Thursday – Summit The Matterhorn, rest
    8.55 miles, 2140 ft gain
  • Friday – Hike out, drive home.
    10.73 miles, 250 ft gain

 

So… how was the trip, you may ask?

It was excellent.

Perfect.

Ideal.

I don’t have strong enough words to describe how much I enjoyed this trip.

 

The trail to Ice Lake was beautiful – exceptionally well graded, to the point that I didn’t really notice the elevation gain at all.  The trail to the Matterhorn was steep and hellish… but well marked, and still quite pleasant with views the whole way up.  The lake itself was pristine, and had barely any other people there – which was amazing, since everyone warned me that it’d be slammed, even during the week.  But nope – I don’t think I was forced to speak to anyone once while camping.  On the trails, maybe… but nothing lasting more than 30s.  Nice and peaceful, and it gave me a solid amount of time to just relax, and be alone with my own thoughts.

It’s been so long since I’ve been able to truly let my mind wander, you know?  Long drives work pretty well, but there’s still the destination that I’m always thinking about with some portion of my attention.  On a solo backpacking trip, though?  I don’t really think much about the destination, because it’s usually so far away… and I don’t really have to plan for anything.

Backpacking’s amazing like that – I’ve gotten good enough at the logistics of setting up camp, etc… that I don’t really have to think about it much.  It’s sort of like rock climbing, in that I can pretty easily get into a glorious zen-state of clear-headedness.  I love it.  Walking, letting my brain go wherever it happens to go at the time, without having to worry about what I’ll be doing next.

I know what I’m doing next – it’s walking.  One foot in front of the other, repeatedly, until I get to a spot that I want to stop.

So I walked, and thought, and walked some more.

I stopped to rest when I was tired, and had snacks when I was hungry.  Took a sip from my camelback when I was thirsty, and took pictures when something caught my eye.

 

Before I knew it, I was at Ice Lake.

Now, I say that I enjoyed the solitude, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t interact with people.  As I passed folks coming out, I exchanged a sentence or two with them, getting little bits of info about the next stages of my adventure.

By the time I got to Ice Lake, I knew that I should take the left fork to find the best campsites, and that I’d follow the right fork the next day to summit the Matterhorn.  I had a map saved to my phone, so I would have been able to find these out on my own anyways… but why not get first-hand recon information, if people are willing to share?  Right?

(Ed Note: To wax poetic for a moment, asking questions is important.  Ben tries to get direct info from people as often as possible, instead of just looking it up online.  While it might not be the quickest option, it does usually give more interesting data, along with unexpected extras that wouldn’t come from a focused google search)

I turned left, and pretty quickly found an ideal campsite – fairly secluded from anyone else, right on the shore of the lake, good views…  Yeah.  I’m glad that the folks beforehand gave me the tip to go left.

 

Once camp was set up… I hadn’t really expected to make the lake so early in the day, honestly.  Like I mentioned, the trail was gloriously steady, and I had made really good time… which meant that I had a few hours to kill before sunset or dinner.  So I kept the theme of the day, and walked around a bit more – around the lake, up to the Matterhorn trail, and just let my feet wander as much as my mind was wandering.

Dinner was lovely, as lovely as mountain-house can be, the stars and lake were gorgeous, and I slept like a log.

 

Thursday was my summit day, but that didn’t mean I got going early.  The Matterhorn trail isn’t particularly long, but it is intense… so I wanted to be fully rested and energetic before I attempted anything.  Which is my reason for just laying in my sleeping bag, reading, and randomly making happy stretching noises.

I mean, I still was mobile by 9:30 I think, so… not that lazy of a morning all things considered.  But still, it’s a vacation and I made sure to treat it as such.

The hike up to the summit was beautiful, but definitely a lot steeper than the trail the day before.  A lot less obvious as well… I didn’t ever really lose the trail, but there were a fair number of times that I had to stop and assess the terrain for a little while, to figure out exactly where I wanted to go next.  Again, not bad… but also not boringly obvious.

I saw evidence of mountain goats a few times (wool, poop, tracks), and a team coming down asked me if I’d seen any coming up.  I hadn’t, but it was definitely a nice change of pace from the normal hikes I’ve been on – getting deeper into nature definitely means getting closer to animals, which is always a fun aspect to backpacking.  Especially here – The Eagle Cap Wilderness is home to lots of critters, from squirrels to bears, so I’d been acutely aware of how I was storing food the entire time.

The summit itself was gloriously empty – I was the only one there, and I took the chance to really enjoy it by setting up a nice sunshade, and reading a few chapters in the book I’d brought along.  I even flew a kite!

Really, there’s not much to say here.  I enjoyed the quiet, the wind, and the views.  The solitude was excellent, and the sense of accomplishment was appreciated.  It’s hiking, and it’s great.

 

On the way down, I finally saw those mountain goats that people had been mentioning – a “herd” of five or six goats, with a few kids in the mix.  They were super cute, but stayed pretty well away from me, and from any of the major cliff faces that I was walking beside.  It was lunch time for them, I guess, since they were hanging out pretty exclusively around the flowers and fresh growth lower down on the trail.

The rest of the day was relaxed – I was definitely starting to feel the miles, and had absolutely started feeling the elevation while I was relaxing on the peak – 9,826ft is pretty high up there, and while wearing a mask has definitely helped me acclimatize, it can only go so far.  So instead of hiking too much more, I just rested.  I read, had two dinners (I’d packed an extra for this exact reason) and enjoyed the sunset.

 

Friday dawned a bit earlier than Thursday, since I had far more miles to cover – roughly 362miles, between the hike out and the drive home.

I’d been debating staying an extra evening somewhere nearby, and had the supplies to do so stashed away in the trunk of the car… but I didn’t quite feel the energy for it.  I felt good – I’d accomplished what I wanted, and didn’t really feel the need to continue the solitude and self-reflection.  I needed to jump back into the world for a bit, and let my thoughts come back to the insanity of the day-to-day.

Poetic, right?  That’s what happens when you’re alone too long, kids.  Be careful.  You might catch the philosophy.

I had a quick cold breakfast, tried Sardines for the first time, packed up camp and said goodbye to my little tent site.  I hefted my pack, took a few final pictures and started onto the long trail back to the car.

Quick note – Sardines are really salty.  At least the kind I tried.  Too salty to really taste anything.

The hike back, as most hikes back are, was quick and pleasant.  Downhill is always faster and easier, and a lighter pack is always appreciated.  What I did notice was the sheer number of people heading into the wilderness – While I had only seen a few other people at Ice Lake, I saw a solid 25+ people heading in as I was heading out.  It definitely make me thankful for my ability to take time off from work, and for the privilege of taking a mid-week backpacking trip.  It would have been a hugely different experience had I gone on the weekend, I’m sure.

I walked, I thought, I admired the views from a different angle, and I enjoyed the last few hours in the wilderness.  It was excellent.

 

The drive home was pretty simple, if quite long.

I had a nice plate of nachos in Joseph (the town closest to the trailhead) before the drive, and picked up a coffee on the way.  I’d changed clothes as well – so I was comfortable, and didn’t have anything to distract me from the cruising ride back into Wilsonville.  It was lovely and quiet, a good chance to listen to music, and appreciate the dust-infused sunset over the gorge.