Return to China Cap

China Cap from the summit of Granite Butte

I decided to take it easy last week and concentrate on just one peak located in the Wallowa Mountains of eastern Oregon.  Granite Butte is located to the east approximately 1.5 miles from a peak I climbed back in June called China Cap.  Being totally familiar with the area I thought that I could easily take a morning and drive from Walla Walla to the trailhead then hike the six miles to the summit and back before early afternoon.  I had even checked on the condition of the forest road the week prior to make sure I had access to the trailhead.  What I didn’t count on was the fact that the US Forest Service contractor had decided they would work on the maintenance of the road on the same day.  So, I woke up at 4:30 ish and was in the car before 6 for the 2 hour drive east of the town of La Grande.  Arriving at the access road to the trailhead I was greeted by a road grader and water truck blocking the access along with a nice large ROAD CLOSED sign…{BIG sigh} now what.

Sand Pass

I parked my car next to the road and waited, I figured the contractor would arrive at some point and I wanted to know for certain when the road would be open so I moved my seat back and snoozed for a few.  Finally around 10:30 the contractor showed up and informed me that the road would be closed all day then open all weekend so I decided to drive back

to Walla Walla and regroup.  On my drive back home I called my wife Romy and informed her of the situation and she offered to keep me company if I wanted to drive back out later in the afternoon…I now had a plan B.  We left home around 4:30 pm and yes we drove back to the access road then up to the trailhead to camp for the evening.  It’s archery season all over the state of Oregon so we weren’t alone at the trailhead.  Romy had an interesting conversation the next morning about mules/horses with a couple hunters/packers at the trailhead that I’d love to write about, but I value my life.   We had enough time before dark to quickly set up the tent and climb inside…I finally made it to the trailhead after a long day of driving.

Granite Butte Summit

My first alarm sounded at 3:30 am then my second one at 3:45 before I finally woke up enough to get out of the sleeping bag.  My goal was to start hiking by 4am which would give me enough time to make it up to the ridge top next to China Cap before sunrise.  I don’t mind hiking in the dark, it can be quite peaceful, as long as the animals stay away.  The first three and a half miles of the trail winds its way uphill under the Douglas Fir/Spruce/Larch over story before it finally breaks out into sub-alpine/alpine terrain.   Around 6am it started getting light so I ditched the headlamp in my pack grabbed a quick bite and drink then continued on.  It was an amazing morning, there were three layers of clouds which blocked a beautiful sunrise, but provided a dramatic affect on the landscape.  I stopped numerous times to grab the camera for shots.

The six miles went by quickly and I was actually a little surprised when I topped out on the summit of Granite Butte.  I didn’t stay long on the summit cause I knew my hike was only half over and we had plans for the rest of the day so after 15 minutes I was off again retracing my steps back to the car.  35 down…65 to go!


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