Saturday, November 3, 2012

Elkhorn Peak in November!

FRIDAY, November 2
Click HERE to view the best of today's pictures!

Turning off on Marble Pass Road
     So...Rick and I decided to climb Elkhorn Peak one final time before the snow really flew for the year and snowed the night before!  Friday morning I looked up at the mountains and thought, "they have more snow on them now than they did yesterday!"  We took off up Marble Creek Pass Road anyway, figuring we would get as far as we could get and make our final decision from there as to our goal for the day!
Honda on top of pass
     The Elkhorns were gorgeous with their fresh dusting of snow and the tamarack trees, along with lower elevation cottonwoods, still in golden glory.  Western dock, which Luke long ago renamed Wild African Turkey Grass, was a flaming red-brown, a beautiful contrast with the white snow, blue skies (MOST of the time), browns and greens.  We found Marble Creek Road just as awful as usual, particularly with the rocky sections always worrying you about punctured tires.  Rick wondered if the snow didn't pad things a little on the higher stretches.  It takes about 50 minutes of slow, deliberate driving to trek the six miles to the top of the pass.  But...the Honda is a trooper!
Western dock reds contrast with the snow. 
     Windy on top!!  We put on plenty of windproof gear, warm gloves, and take off up the Elkhorn Crest Trail.  It is about 3 miles of gradual uphill to the point at the base of the ridge that cuts UP to the summit of the peak.  The trail has more snow than we expected - remains of the heavier snow two weeks ago - but in patches in odd places!  Much of it had been shaped by the wind into interesting fins and cornices already.  The red dock provided bold splashes of color against the white of the snow.  In one place I thought, 'why is there an orange electric cord across the trail?' when I then realized it was stems of the dock broken up and scattered!  (Rick said it was a LONG extension cord to light up all the Christmas trees!)
Ice Flowers! 
Twin Lakes Basin from Elkhorn Peak
     We love this section of the crest trail for the many 'peek-a-boo' saddles where you can capture a glimpse of the Baker Valley even though you are hiking for the most part on the Sumpter side of the range.  The Wallowa Mts. were visible in the distance with their own fresh cloak of snow.  The skies were EVER changing - with the gusty winds, clouds were moving quickly over us in swirling fashion.  Sometimes black clouds, sometimes puffy, sometimes just wisps of fog.  Everything was layered on the southwest side with a covering of hoarfrost.  I remarked to Rick at one point that I couldn't find any wildflowers, until I realized I was seeing plenty of white flowers: ICE FLOWERS!  Many of the flower seedpods were totally covered in frost, giving them a petal-shaped crystal flower formation.
Rick in a reflective moment...or was he waiting for me?
     We stopped at the point of the trail where we were going to start the cross-country UP, grabbed water and snacks, and then became the actual climb.  Footing in the partial snow was better than we expected - but glad we were wearing our summer boots with excellent traction (although by the end of the day our boots were definitely soaked through!)  I commented to Rick at one point that I felt like a true mountaineer: bundled up, wind howling, slowly climbing with hiking poles providing a little extra stability (Thank you, Jed and Luke!)  It was beautiful!!   We climbed to the top of the the false summit, and decided that was good enough.  We had a view from there and at the moment the peak was hidden in the clouds.  It would have been another 10 minutes to gain the actual summit, but not necessary.  (With old age comes great wisdom as when to stop!) We didn't stay on top long.  I didn't even get an inuksuk made for Luke. (Sorry, son, but I did THINK of you!)  We were never sure which of the dark clouds might decide to linger and actually produce something white and wet that could make a great day spiral downhill fast!
     Back to the truck at 3 - total trip was four hours up and back.  What a great adventure!  And a view of Elkhorn Peak we hadn't seen before!  Thank you, God, for the opportunity and health to experience your glorious creation!

On top of Elkhorn 'false' Summit.  

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