It seems as if there’s never enough time to do everything I’d like to do, so I make a mental bookmark or placeholder for places that at some point in my life I’ll make it back to. Eagle Cap was a mental bookmark that I made years ago when I was in high school. My first experience in the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area was on a summer backpacking trip with my father and a couple other family friends. At the time I was living in the northwest coastal town of Astoria, located on the northwest tip of the state of Oregon. I can’t remember why the eastern Oregon wilderness was our focus, but at the time I was young and the reason didn’t matter. All that mattered was that we were heading into a wilderness area on a backpacking trip, what could be better. Of course I started looking at the maps and noticed pictures of the peak for which the wilderness area was named, Eagle Cap.
Even before junior high I’ve had a fascination and love for hiking and backpacking, my idea of the perfect trip is to grab a backpack and head out for the isolation of the wilderness. Eagle Cap was the “perfect” peak; it sits in the middle of a beautiful wilderness area and is surrounded by high peaks and glacial carved valleys. Our hiking trip revolved around fishing a couple of high elevation lakes, Steamboat Lake and Long Lake. At the time I did enjoy fishing, but I also had a strong desire to explore the high peaks, unfortunately I was the only one that had that desire so the summits of the high peaks would have to wait.
Over the years I’ve had opportunities to hike to the summit of Eagle Cap. In 2004 I was less than a mile from the summit working on a vegetation inventory plot and had planned on hiking to the summit of Eagle Cap. When I finished my work the weather had changed for the worse and I could see a thunderstorm building so I descended back to my camp close to Mirror Lake, the summit would have to wait. I guess I had to wait for the “right” time and that time was last weekend.
It’s a little amazing how the trip worked out; I had initially planned on going down to the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Area with my wife Romy to climb four “easy” peaks. We were unable to find someone to watch our dogs while we were gone so our plans fell through so on to Plan B, the only problem was that I didn’t have a Plan B. I opened up Google Earth on my laptop and started looking at the peaks I have left to do and there it was, Eagle Cap. Hmm…10 miles from the trailhead to the summit and another peak across the basin that on the 100 Highest Peaks in Oregon list, it sounded like an interesting trip, I now had a plan B. I had other plans for the weekend so I would be limited to only Thursday evening and most of Friday to hike in, summit the peaks and return. The only problem was I worked out plan B Thursday morning and I didn’t have anything packed, so at lunch I drove home loaded all the gear in the car and raced back to work asked for a couple hours off in the afternoon and I was on my way.
The drive was uneventful and I was at the trailhead by 5:00 pm I quickly packed my backpack and was on the trail in less than 30 minutes. The trail from the Two Pan trailhead at the end of the Lostine Road is quite interesting. The trail climbs 1500 feet in the first three miles up the Lostine River under the tree canopy topping out at a long meadow that extends for two miles up the valley. The view of Eagle Cap from the long open valley was spectacular, the sun was setting and the evening light was shinning on the peak. The trail continues along southwest side of the long meadow for approximately two miles before it crosses over to the northeast side and back under the tree canopy. Back under the tree canopy the trail begins its final push up to the lakes basin. By the time I reached the Horton Pass/Eagle Cap trail the sun had already set and the temperatures had started to cool. I started up the trail hoping to make it as high as possible before I lost the remaining twilight. At about one mile the trail splits with the Horton Pass trail heading to the southwest while the Eagle Cap trail heading to the southeast, I continued up the Eagle Cap trail for another .3 mile before I found a nice level spot for a bivy.
I was quite amazed at how cool it was, I packed light and only had a bivy sack and thin fleece sleeping bag liner to sleep in, I was in for a cold night. After I set up my bivy I grabbed my water bladder and walked to a close snowfield and added snow to the half filled bladder, fortunately enough the water was still warm so it melted the snow giving me a full water container for the evening and morning to come. Back at the bivy I put on all the clothes I had, fleece pants, shirt, jacket, and fleece balaclava then slid into the bags. I ate a quick dinner consisting of a granola bar, cliff bar, and an energy gel, I was wishing I would’ve carried the stove for a cup of hot tea.
It’s been a few years since I’ve “slept out under the stars” without a tent, but this evening was spectacular. Meteors from the Perseid meteor shower streaked across the sky all night long, I was well above the tree line so I had a “front row seat”. I kept waking up about every 30 minutes cold and would have to change positions to try and find a way to warm my body temperature. I typically set two alarms, the first for 4:00am and the second fifteen minutes later, I wanted to be on top of the peak at sunrise. Somehow I slept through both alarms and didn’t get up until 4:45am.
I quickly packed everything and was off and hiking by 5:00am the sky was already getting quite light so I set a quick pace. A few hundred feet from the summit the sun rose over the ridgeline, I missed the sunrise from the top, but the sunrise from my vantage point was still amazing. The peaks began to glow from the morning sun so I hurried my pace and was on the summit before 5:45 am.
Well worth the wait…I was speechless. It had taken many years to finally reach the summit of Eagle Cap, but there I was standing in awe of the view of the surrounding wilderness. Long glacier carved valleys extended in every direction from the peak. I kept trying to visualize what it must have been like in the past ice age when all of the valleys were filled with hundreds of feet of ice slowly moving out away from the peak I was standing on. My camera’s shutter was getting a workout as I snapped one shot after another in every direction. Thirty minutes went by before I started thinking about heading off the peak. I wanted to get as much out of the early morning light as possible and I knew that the view of Eagle Cap from my next peak would be amazing so I started my descent.
I met two couples hiking up on my way down; I stopped and talked to both couples for a few minutes then continued on my way. In no time I was standing on the edge of Mirror Lake looking back up at the peak. The wind was blowing enough to disturb the surface of the lake so I was disappointed that I would miss the peaks reflection in the lake. From Mirror Lake I hiked northwest up to the summit of the unnamed peak at an elevation of 8441’ ranked number 62 on the list. On my way up I passed a couple of small ponds that provided the opportunity to snap a couple Eagle Cap reflection shots. I only stopped for a few minutes atop the peak, long enough to grab a bite to eat and snap a few shots then I was on my way down the northwest side of the peak toward the Lostine River trail.
The hike out was uneventful and went fairly quick; I did however pass one group of people after another heading toward the lakes basin. They all greeted me with basically the same question…how much longer till we’re there. It’s amazing to me that people get so focused on where they’re going that they miss the beauty that’s all around them, slow down people… look up every once in a while. The trip was amazing; I hiked over 20 miles in less than 20 hours and stood on the summit of two peaks.