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S. Eagle Cap 2005



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Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon, Main Eagle / Boulder Park Trailhead, 2005

Gayle Noga

The second week of September 2005, Scott and I ventured into Main Eagle in the southern Wallowa mountains.  The southern portion of the Eagle Cap Wilderness area is not quite as rugged as the northern, but still holds a tremendous amount of beautiful scenery.

We took Pepper Corn and Morning Sunshine (our poster llama) on this trip.  While Pepper is an experienced packer and Sunshine has some driving experience, this would be Sunshine's first real pack trip.  Having been on a couple packless walks in the past, she had never worn or carried panniers before.  But she has always impressed us with her willingness to try new things and this trip was no exception.

The drive there on the llama bus was relatively uneventful and included a brief visit to Richard Galloway's spread where we met his llamas.  He conveniently lives near the junction to the entrance road to Main Eagle. However, the 20 mile entrance road is mostly gravel over hardpan but was is desperate need of a grader.  The llama bus lost a wheel cover somewhere along that stretch and it took twice as long to travel as expected.  One of the tires suffered a structural failure as well.

We arrived at the trailhead to find a horse trailer and truck and a small car in the parking lot. As we unloaded and started to saddle up Sunshine we were expecting possible trouble since she only had a saddle on once before, but she was a trooper and didn't protest at all. What a doll. Pepper as usual could hardly wait to get started.  The initial trek to the campsite was only three miles in and about a thousand feet elevation, but the start was now rather late in the day.

Eagle Creek

The path starts off wide and smooth. We got our permit and noticed a sign for a lost llama. “Clark” was last seen at Summit and we hoped to spot and bring him back. We took down the phone number and off we went. After crossing a small stream we walked through a tree lined path. This part of the trail is wide and smooth with a gradual incline, and as we walked above the stream Sunshine was very interested in the new sounds that surrounded her. She kept looking towards the water which ran clear and cold, with colors of turquoise, blue and green. The pools were surrounded by granite boulders made smooth by the water over the years. The bottom of the stream bed was coated with crushed black and white granite. As the trail continued to rise I noticed bear tracks in the dusty path. Sometime recently a small bear had passed through. Scott as usual brought along pepper spray and a wrist rocket in case the need arose. As the trail meandered it became narrower and steeper. Granite rocks littered the path and I noticed that water that bubbled nearby seemed further away and Sunshine became alerted to the birds singing and insects buzzing around her. As this was around 3:30 P.M. it was still hot and with the exertion of the hike it seemed the higher we went the warmer it got. But we were able to walk in the trees of majestic firs and tall grasses still green in the shade of the mountainside. Pepper wanted to eat every time we stopped; those grasses must have been really tasty. Our first crossing of an elevated bridge was new to Sunshine so it took a bit of persuasion to get her across. She walked gingerly at first, then gained confidence.  The view was impressive, with a cascading waterfall and pools of water lapping the near white granite basin, dancing down the stream bed. The sun was making the stream shine like polished crystal.

Copper Creek Falls

Up we went on to the next crossing where several small streamlets flowed across the trail and Sunshine was tentative at first, then relaxed and crossed them without hesitation. Water was available and we filled up the canteen. The water was sweet and cool and delicious to the taste. It felt wonderful to stop and refresh ourselves after walking for a couple of hours. Up we climbed and another bridge was ahead of us. Wider and longer than the last one, she hesitated for only a moment then over she went. Pepper followed effortlessly, but it was becoming apparent that at the pace we were walking setting up camp was going to be a night time affair. I just don’t walk as fast at Scott and the llamas. I need to walk slower so that my asthma doesn’t act up. This trail was littered with granite rocks, small and large, stepping on stone worn smooth by years of feet and water made sometimes difficult to get good footing. With a small long handled shovel in hand I made it without much trouble. Scott and Pepper walked on without missing a beat, Sunshine and I stumbled and slid a few times but we made it. Up we climb and the sun was beginning to set. How much longer was the trail to camp? Walking in the dark is not much fun and could be dangerous with unknown paths. The trail rounded a bend and opened out to a wide open meadow. Setting up camp became a welcome chore and both Sunshine and Pepper were grateful that the loads they carried were coming off. While Scott and I set up the tent and made camp, Pepper and Sunshine began to graze the grasses that were around them. The deer watched from the other side of the creek, wondering what we were doing and grazing from the lush tall greenery that lived there. Food was quickly prepared and bedtime arrived. The stars came out; first a few, than dozens, and before long the whole milky way spanned the night sky before our wearied eyes.

Base Camp

Culver Lake

Wednesday Morning came frosty and clear. Good thing I had Scott pack the wool blanket -- it was needed. Today would continue the climb with another thousand feet to view a couple of lakes. First would be Culver Lake, it's turquoise green waters loaded with small lake trout. Not being very deep at the edge gave Sunshine a chance to cool her feet.  Lush green grasses were abundant in the meadow and Pepper was content to enjoy eating away the afternoon. After a brief lunch break we were off to Bear Lake.  The trail is pretty easy, but winds it’s way around the hill side. At one point you can look down and see the valley below and almost touch the sky above.  Once in a while on this trail we spotted bear tracks -- not real large at about 5" across.

Gayle & Sunshine with Eagle Creek Valley in the background

The sun was more intense and the warmth heated and slowed the body so you could enjoy the sites more. Why rush? But off we went -- the lake beckoned. Soon after the viewpoint we gradually descended the trail and this lovely green/blue lake was there to welcome. As we came down through the trees and meadows of lush grasses, flowers of blue and yellow greet you with peacefulness and longing, hoping you will sit and relax next to its calming waters. Here we let Pepper loose to wander on his own, but we kept Sunshine on her lead. Trout were jumping and playing in the water, birds were heard all around us.  Being that Bear lake is deeper and bigger than Culver Lake we enjoyed more time here. We even had a quick swim, though it was quite brisk. We dried by the sun and a slight breeze cooled us. A juvenile eagle soared above us as if watching and waiting to see what we were doing. Soon it left and we were soothed by lapping waters stirred by the cool breeze.

Bear Lake; Left, Middle, Right Views

After the llamas took time to graze, cool their feet in the water and get a drink we headed back down the trail to camp. That night Scott saw an owl soaring and bats sweeping across the darkened velvet sky. We slept until 4:30 A.M., when we were suddenly awakened by stomping feet running by the tent followed by quite a clatter. Jumping up and grabbing his headlamp and pepper spray Scott climbed out of bed to find Sunshine had spooked and pulled her stake out of the ground.  Pepper was alert and standing at attention while Sunshine was now standing behind a tree.  The surrounding area was searched for intruders, but none were found.  After calming her down and restaking, all was back to normal.
Thursday morning again was clear and cold. Frost covered our gear and tent while Pepper had a white cap on his dark wool. I couldn’t move or feel my right leg. A nerve was pinched during our early morning wakeup call with Sunshine. Hiking was out of the question for me, which seemed fine to our four legged friends who seemed content to graze and relax by the campsite. After breakfast and clean up, Scott set out to climb to Eagle Lake further up the trail and straight up the mountain side. As he tells it, it is a rather steady uphill climb the whole way, about 1100 feet elevation in nearly 3 miles.  Unlike the other lakes, Eagle is comparatively devoid of trees and other vegetation.  It has been dammed to form an irrigation reservoir and this late in the year was about 30 feet below the high water line.  Sitting in a bowl surrounded by steep mountain, it is a very deep lake.  Following his return that evening, we again watched a group of three deer that passed through camp and crossed the stream.  Each evening after sunset they would head up the valley and early each morning would trek back down the valley.  They seemed quite fascinated by the llamas and would hang around for a while.

Eagle Lake

Friday was time to head down the trail for home. While I broke camp, packed sleeping gear, clothes, and such, Scott made breakfast and tended the llamas. They must of known what was up because getting the saddles and panniers on them was a breeze. After bidding a fond farewell to our campsite we were off on the return trail.  Scott and Pepper took turns taking the lead.  Whenever Pepper led he would become extra vigilant, smoothly trotting ahead then stopping to scrutinize our surroundings for possible dangers -- looking and listening. It took us three hours to hike out and on the way we met a couple coming in with a barking young dog. After a minute or two of conversation, with Sunshine focused intently on the restrained dog the whole time, she finally alarmed at at the hyperactive pooch -- something she rarely does, leaving it to others -- which agitated Pepper a little. Farther down the trail we met a couple with three llamas headed up to the same area we had camped. As the clouds gathered, driven by winds above us, I thought how grateful I was to be able to walk out and be out of the gathering storm. Rain was expected and snow was to dust the higher elevations. Crossing the bridges was a simple task and maneuvering through the rocks and dust was slow but rewarding. As we neared the trailhead the llamas froze on the trail, looking up the forested hillside.  After about 15 seconds of fixation, Sunshine alarmed.  We don't know what it was she saw as we didn't see or hear anything, but they wanted to get out of there post haste immediately after alarming.  Sunshine pushed us down the trail.  A basking cougar, perhaps? Arriving back at the van offered us a chance to unload and reflect. I felt relieved that we made it in one piece. My leg and back still ached and I had to deal with an asthma attack that slowed me down, but I would go again. The scenery was enchanting, the water refreshing, and wild animals beckoned to visit their part of the world. Nature always makes me feel whole and complete and this trip was no exception.

Pepper taking the lead, ever vigilant; c'mon slowpokes!

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Last modified: 15 May 2012