Oregon Butte Hike

I had great plans for this hike – an 18-mile loop that’d take me from ridge lines to river valleys. I based this loop on the interactive map the US Forest Service provides. I planned to hike in a ways Friday evening, thinking that’d leave plenty of time to do the remaining miles on Saturday & Sunday.

I left the Teepee trailhead at about 6 p.m. Friday. Sunset was at about 8 p.m., and I knew I wanted to have my campsite selected by 7:30. Since I’ve gone stoveless, I no longer need to add time into my schedule to cook dinner. Friday’s dinner was cheese & fresh zucchini wrapped in tortillas with guacamole – no cooking or prep time needed.

I felt like I was just crawling along, so I was surprised when I encountered another person at a spring – Oregon Butte spring. The person there was Julie, the fire lookout. She was filling her water jugs from the spring. She chatted about the trails, and told me that many of the old trails in the area no longer exist. That set me to thinking I’d need to re-evaluate my planned route. She also told me there are several really nice campsites on Oregon Butte. I’m leery of camping on a ridge top, especially during late summer – lightning – but I figured a person working as a fire lookout was a reliable source of information.

We set off up the trail together, and despite the fact she was carrying almost as much weight in jugs of water as I had in my entire pack, I struggled to keep up with her. (This summer’s relative sloth has taken its toll on my fitness.) We got to the top of the butte & she showed me the campsites – she was right! It was a good spot for either a hammock or a tent, and there was even a spot that’d only work for a hammock.

Campsite at Oregon Butte

I could tell from the salmon color of the western sky that the sunset was beautiful. I snuggled into my hammock & listened to the wind. Although the area was protected by trees, it was a windy evening. I’d set my tarp up to block most of the wind. Feeling the air moving around me is one thing I love about sleeping in a hammock. Occasionally a gust would cause the hammock to rock gently – bliss! And then I saw a bright light in the eastern sky – the moon. I opened up the Kindle app on my phone and read for a while, as I knew I wouldn’t sleep with the moonlight in my eyes.

It doesn’t matter where I am — I never want to get out of bed!

I figured Saturday I’d head south on the Smooth Ridge Trail and either find a place out there to camp or return to Oregon Butte to spend the night. Because I was no longer planning to do a loop, I had more flexibility. That enabled me to have a leisurely morning Saturday. I watched the sun rise. I recovered my food bag and took it out to the lookout. There, I mixed up my morning mocha & drank it as I admired the expansive view to from the lookout. I put second breakfast – coconut almond raisin oatmeal with cocoa nibs *yum!* – in my Talenti jar to start rehydrating. I avoided looking into the lookout, as I didn’t want to intrude on Julie’s privacy. (Privacy is a rare commodity when one lives in a building with that’s mostly windows.)

I went back to the spring to fill up my water bottles, then returned to camp & packed up. I finally started hiking at about 9:30 – a leisurely morning, indeed.

Soon enough, it was 10:00 a.m. – time for second breakfast. It seemed silly to stop after just thirty minutes of hiking, but I didn’t want to delay second breakfast. Delaying second breakfast means delaying lunch, which delays dinner. My morning mocha weighs in at 200 calories, but I figured I burned that off hiking down to the spring & back and the rest of the morning’s rambles. Second breakfast it is! I found a spot along the trail with room to sit & take in the view while I ate.

Saturday was kinda sucky. I hiked about five miles down the trail. Some of it was gorgeous. Some of it was so overgrown that I felt like was bushwhacking. I saw so many bees – at least a half-dozen different varieties – and gorgeous wildflowers. But I felt like I was dragging. Because this is just a weekend hike, I didn’t want to over-eat. I wondered if I was eating enough, though.

Five miles down the trail there are three springs close together. That’s an amazing thing about this area — there are so many springs! Some are developed, like the ones below; others are in their natural state. A drink of water fresh from a cool mountain spring is a delight. I only found one of the three springs in the group – Huckleberry Spring. It’s undeveloped, and probably right next to the trail. I say “probably” because it was surround by such a thicket I couldn’t get near it. I was tired, tired of hiking, and hungry. (It was a little past my target lunch time.) I turned around and head back toward Oregon Butte. I stopped at the first decent-enough place to make my lunch.

Lunch was cold-soaked instant refritos with cheese powder that I’d started rehydrating after I ate second breakfast spread onto flour tortillas. Another hit. I’m adding this to my menu for my Section J hike next month.

Because I ended up returning to Oregon Butte, I found myself wishing I’d not broken camp in the morning. That would have saved me 6 pounds – more if I’d left all my food but Saturday’s food back at camp – but I realized that carrying all of my gear & food made Saturday a better training day.

Dinner with a view

Upon my return, I set up my hammock. I figured I had enough water to get me through the evening & start Sunday’s lunch soaking, so I didn’t go back to the spring. My legs were tired, so I spent about five minutes lying on my back on the ground with my feet up on a tree trunk. It felt wonderful! I headed over to my private viewpoint and ate dinner – cold-soak tuna couscous. I wasn’t sure how well this would work as a cold-soak meal as I’ve always cooked it in the past, but it was delicious. I may try making this with cheese powder, butter powder, and freeze-dried mushrooms instead of the dry alfredo sauce mix – none of those sketchy ingredients that make the sauce mix shelf-stable.

Dinner consumed, Talenti jar well-rinsed, I hung up my food bag & headed over to the lookout to watch the sunset. Julie joined me outside, watching the sky & the landscape change colors. It really was gorgeous. Julie offered to take a picture of me, and suggested she knew the perfect spot for me to stand. She was right!

I headed back to my camp in the waning light, watching the sky turn deeper shades of salmon. It was lovely. I crawled into my hammock feeling truly blessed. I woke up just in time to see Sunday’s sunrise.

There’s something magical about reading Morning Prayer as the sunrises & paints the landscape in its light

As I stood on the ridge trying to finger-comb a windy day’s knots out of my hair, some movement caught my eye. We made eye contact, but he stayed in the area long enough for me to get my phone out of my hammock & take a picture. Other than rodents & birds, this is the only wildlife I saw this weekend. Julie mentioned that the bear hunters have been fairly aggressive, and that’s driven the bears away. Wolves have moved in, and there’s a breeding pair in the Blues. Because of the wolves, most other animals are “laying low” — she said that even the coyotes are harder to see now. That made seeing this mule deer even more special. (You cannot see because of the aspect of this photo, but this guy is a 6- or 8-point.)

Because the hike out to the trailhead is short, I couldn’t drink my morning mocha – not enough physical activity to burn off the caffeine. And I couldn’t justify a 700-calorie breakfast. I used the last of my water to start a half-serving of tuna couscous soaking for lunch, and I stopped at Oregon Butte Spring to refill my bottles & start rehydrating my cole slaw. At about 400 calories, it was enough calories for breakfast without being too much, and I ate it at the trailhead. I ate the tuna couscous for lunch at a park along the drive home. It’s soooo good!

All things considered, this was a good hike. I figured out a few more things to make the hammock work better for me. So far, I’m really liking cold soaking; I may buy a smallish titanium mug so that I have something in which I can boil water if there’s an emergency & I need the heat. I feel like I’ve adjusted my pack so that it’s fitting me better. I don’t think I’ll have another chance to go backpacking before I hike Section J next month, so the next several weeks will be spent planning. I want to plan out my meals to ensure I’m carrying the right amount of food – no more than an extra day’s worth. I also plan to mark each meal-in-a-bag with the calories, as I need to ensure I’m getting enough without getting too much. (Ideally, no more than a 250 kCal/day deficit. Depending on terrain, I burn 150-200 kCal/mile, and my basal metabolic rate is about 1500 kCal. That gives me an average daily intake of 3375 kCal. Thus, I can justify 700-calorie breakfasts & 1000-calorie dinners.)

I can’t do anything about the lack of miles in my legs, but I can go into this hike better prepared mentally than I was last year. It’s about 75 miles; my conservative estimate is that it’ll take me seven days to do the hike. I plan to carry just seven day’s worth of food. If I’m moving slower than anticipate, I can reduce my daily calorie intake because I don’t need as many calories if I’m not covering the miles.

I’ve worked aggressively to reduce my pack weight. I’ve grown more comfortable using the hammock & finding it easier to sleep in. I’m more confident in my ability to keep moving forward even when it sucks as well as in my ability to sense when I really need a break.

That’s a pretty good feeling.

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