Looking across the Lostine River Valley

The final chapter in the visit of the in-laws consits of a visit to one of my favorite mountain ranges. There are many spectacular mountain ranges in the country, but I happen to have a fondness for the Wallowas in northeastern Oregon. Perhaps its because they’re the closest mountains of their kind, or because they truely are a spectacular gem. I’ve always wanted to bring people to the Wallowas, but there aren’t really a whole lot of day hiking opportunities. All of the lakes and the peaks are just far enough away that the trips would be better done as an overnight trip. There is one exception. Mt. Howard is accessible by a gondola that rises 3700 feet into the mountains. And so when I mentioned that this might be a good place to come on their next visit, the plans quickly changed to seeing these mountains before they left for Pennsylvania.

We were originally going to go camping along the North Fork of the Clearwater to go fishing and explore the bit of inland rainforest at the base of the Mallard-Larkins area. We were going to leave Sunday and come back Monday, but Sunday morning, nobody was motivated to pack. Steve and I were still recovering from our backpacking trip, which although was short and sweet, was also tiring. Once noon had passed and we still hadn’t packed, we decided that Sunday would be a more relaxing day with a trip to Elk River and Freezeout Saddle (see previous post). So we moved the camping to leave Monday and return Tuesday. Those days had better weather reports anyway. However, once we were up at 6000 feet, Retta had decided she wanted more high elevation experience, and when she heard that we could get her to 8000 feet without any hiking effort, she had made up her mind.

Of course, I didn’t really mind either. I love the Wallowas and any chance to bring new people there is a chance for me to see these wonderful mountains. I also love the drive out. On this trip, they got to experience the Lewiston Grade and the deep canyon of Rattlesnake Grade which also blew their minds. It’s one of the most scenic drives we can take in this area, though doing it twice in one day does wear you out.

So there we were, riding the Wallowa Lake Tramway. Retta did well with her height issues and once we were on top, it was nothing but sheer enjoyment. 8000 feet can take your breath away, litterally. The air is thinner so less oxygen gets to your lungs per breath, and while most people don’t notice it until exceeding 10,000 feet, first-timers will feel the effects on Mt. howard. But no worries. The paths atop the tramway are very easy and short, only 2.5 miles in total, so there is no rush.

Now that I’ve finally been up the tramway, I don’t really feel the need to do it again, but I think I may bring my parents up there next week with the intent of following the ridge to East Peak above 9000 feet for better views of the Wallowas and Hells Canyon. And then I’ll be back once more for our 3rd annual backpacking trip in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. I never get tired of this place.