Hill…what exactly is the difference between a hill and a mountain? All I know is that on Friday I hiked to the top of Mount Ireland (8321′) then turned around and hiked to the top of Columbia Hill (8117′) on Saturday and they’re only separated by 204′. It was an amazing trip, in all of my journeys I seldom have the opportunity to hike or climb with both my father and my son so this trip was the exception. I studied the route to the peak and found a road that appeared to traverse directly under the peak leaving only a short hike up the final 500′ to the top of the peak. With most forest service roads these days this one was ended at a stream crossing where the forest service removed the large culvert approximately 3 miles from the peak. Our nice easy peak would turn into a hike of 3 miles with an elevation gain of 2000′. We had all day so we started out walking up the closed road at a nice easy pace stopping to take water breaks along the way.
Columbia Hill is a prominent peak located right on the southeast side of the North Fork John Day Wilderness Area in the Elkhorn Mountains of Eastern Oregon, it’s listed as the 82nd highest peak (500′ prominence) in the state. Throughout the recent past and present the area has been known for an excellent place to prospect for gold. The access road leading up to the peak passed right by the remnants of an old mine complex that at one time had several mine shafts in operation.
We made excellent progress up the road even with the multiple rest stops along the way. As we gained elevation Strawberry Mountain, Vineger Hill (yes another hill above 8000′), and Dixie Butte came into view. The road ended at a saddle between Columbia Hill and another unnamed peak. From the saddle we finally could look north into the Elkhorn Mountain Range and many of the peaks I’d climbed over the previous month an a half filled the horizon. The summit was less than 500′ higher from the saddle so we pushed up the remaining elevation to reach the top.
The view from the top was amazing, Columbia Hill, Crystal Point, and Mount Ireland form the southern “bookend” to the Elkhorn Range and to the south you could see the Aldrich and Strawberry Mountains. There’s a survey marker directly on the summit marking the edge of the wilderness area to the north. The long North Fork John Day River begins it’s journey in the drainage just below the peak. I stood on the summit for a few minutes snapping shots and taking in the view before my son hiked up the remaining feet followed by my father close behind.
I congratulated both of them and shook their hands, 98 peaks to go for my son and 99 for my dad I was proud of both of them, it took quite an effort to reach the top.
The hike down went fairly quick, we spent a few minutes exploring one of the old mining shacks located next to a mine shaft then continued down to the truck. Columbia Hill will always have a special meaning to me, it wasn’t just another peak bagged, it’s valuable memories for a lifetime.