Spring Basin Wilderness

Thursday–Sunday, May 19–22, 2011
Leader: Chris Stockdale
Ext Trp: (Difficult)

There’s nothing like arriving at the trailhead of a hike you’ve never done to find the parking lot full of emergency vehicles and a helicopter buzzing overhead. This is what awaited us at the start of the Scout Camp trail in the Crooked River Ranch area. Our group was heading for the Spring Basin wilderness trip in the John Day Clarno area and broke the journey to hike this new trail. Apparently a woman had fallen and broken her leg not long before we arrived, and was evacuated by helicopter. It certainly makes you think about treading carefully, especially on this trail which turned out to have some steep, rocky descents and a bit of scrambling. But our group survived to tell about it, and found it to be a spectacular 3-mile loop in the beautiful Deschutes River canyon. Fourteen of the group arrived for Thursday night at the Hancock Field Station, sharing the OMSI science camp with about 90 kids. With cabins to ourselves and a separate dining area, we could enjoy watching and listening to the exuberance of these kids on their last night in camp without having to join in. On Friday, we hiked up into the Spring Basin wilderness via a fairly steep and rough trail. Once on the top of the ridge, though, the going was much easier as we followed old ranching roads. The weather was spectacular and we were able to spend plenty of time on top of a couple of high points, relishing the incredible views and looking for numerous different blooming wild flowers. These included hedgehog cactus, bitterroot, balsamroot and phlox, plus several flowers that nobody could identify. A couple of deer were seen running in the distance, and several snakes were almost stepped on. Having determined the first one we saw was not a rattlesnake, we didn’t worry too much. (I think it was a Western Terrestrial Garter Snake.) Lunch was atop a rocky outcropping with steep drops down to the John Day River valley. Back at camp we found the six people who had been unable to come on Thursday and spread ourselves around the camp since the kids had gone. While some relaxed with books or snoozed, others hiked some of the 10 miles of trails surrounding the camp, which is located right in the John Day National Monument. On Saturday we organized a car shuttle, leaving one vehicle at the Spring Basin trailhead. Then we all drove to the Palisades area of the Monument and headed up into the hills again, this time via the Pine Creek Conservation area. A few people turned around part way up, but the rest of us continued on, heading cross-country to scramble up the trail-less Horse Mountain. From this great viewpoint, we could plan a route down the other side of the mountain, into the actual Spring Basin valley and then up to the ridge we had visited on Friday in order to descend to the car waiting for us. Not everyone wanted to do this one-way trip, so they headed back down to the Palisades. Eight of us accomplished the route-finding hike with no problem and, in fact, were back at the car earlier than expected. Sunday dawned chilly with a threat of rain, and most people packed up to get an early start for the journey home. The trip was deemed a great success, with praise heaped upon the Hancock station staff, especially our cook, Nancy. They bent over backwards to make sure that we were comfortable, well fed and wanted for nothing.

Members: Stockdale, Chris, Nelson, Nola, Jacobsen, Janet, Whitfield, Nancy, Flashenberg, Paul, Van Deusen, Charlie, Whitfield, Jim, Christiansen, Lynda, Meacham, Lynn, Drescher, Marlene, Emlen, Clara, Lichtenstein, Ed, Pierce, Jim, Hackett, Jane, Metcalfe, Valerie, Foster, Bob. Nonmembers: Stern, Carol, Fitzpatrick, Kelly, Ramey, Stephen, Friedland, Sharon.

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