In 2016 it was my plan to packraft to Leslie Gulch and hike the final 30ish miles to the Eastern terminus of the Oregon Desert Trail at Lake Owyhee State Park. Temps well over 100 degrees changed my mind, so I ended up paddling the last stretch to the dam. So there are some miles I haven’t hiked yet in the Owyhee and this year it is my plan to complete the Owyhee section on foot.
The perfect opportunity arose to finish section 25, or the final stretch of the route, this April. I’ve been working with Tim Davis and a group he founded, Friends of the Owyhee, for while. Last April I came out and led a hike with him for a group of interested folks around Leslie Gulch. This year we decided to step it up a notch and I would lead a group of 12 on the final 27 miles for a 3-day backpacking trip.
I met Tim and 2 of his board members, MJ and Becky, on Thursday evening after I drove down from La Grande where I had given an ODT presentation the night before at Eastern Oregon University. We camped in Leslie Gulch under a huge moon and got up early the next day to drive to the park. Three of us left our cars at the end of the section so we could run shuttle on Sunday, and drove the 3 hours around to the start. Yes, that’s right folks, a 27 mile hike had a 3 hour shuttle.
We met the group in the parking lot of Indian springs campground and all hiked out to the rock jetty together, the finish (or start) of the route, depending on how you want to go.
We put packs on and immediately made a route change. We had 2,000’ to climb up, and could either walk the original route up the steep Birch Creek Canyon, or walk a road along side that was slightly longer due to switch backs. I personally wanted to walk the road because of the warnings of poison ivy other hikers had warned me about (I’m extremely sensitive… I hate that plant) and the others were more than happy with that decision. As we walked up and saw how brushy it was we were all glad.
Our group was a mixed bag, some had hiked a lot, but never cross country, and others had not hiked much and soon thought they had bitten off more than they could chew. I had only planned 7ish miles for the day, so kept encouraging water, breaks, and an easy pace.
When we made it to the top of the first climb we broke out the map and compass and did a little practice at setting a bearing to reconnect to the ODT route and talked about route choices, micro adjustments, and fence hopping. We would cross a few fences, all on public land, but that required some finesse.
We were joined by Sarah and Andrea who were geologists for the Vale BLM district, and they talked rocks while we took a break, I learned some stuff!
The last few miles were on a gentle uphill, but folks were fading and we slowly made our way up. A few clouds gave us some relief from the heat, and by the time we made it to our high point at 4,800’ the wind was crazy strong.
Tim and MJ drive some back roads and were waiting for us at camp with coolers full of cold drinks, and hot water for our dehydrated meals.
Ahhhhh. First day backpacking for me of the season… Feels so good.