Sunday, October 4, 2009

McKenzie Pass

Guest writing for Marin on this blog is her husband, Kevin.

Taking advantage of the last bit of summer, Keenan and I took a camping trip to the central Cascades of Oregon. Our (mine) main objective was to go over the McKenzie Pass into central Oregon. McKenzie pass was the original wagon trail from Eugene to Sisters. When the transportation department paved it, they kept all of the twisting and winding turns in the road. Many people compare it to European mountain passes. Since then, Oregon Dept. of Transportation have built other highways over the Cascades which do not incorporate all the twists and turns. They have gone for a more straight road--boring!;0. The McKenzie Pass highway, OR 242, is closed in the winter due to snow. The highway department does not plow it. The pass sits at 5,325 feet. It is usually closed in early November (the earliest being Oct. 18, 1996) and usually re-opens in early July (the latest being July 29, 1999).

Our first stop was at the McKenzie Bridge ranger station to pick up our permit (later on that) and maps to plan out what we wanted to see (OK, what I wanted to see. Keenan just wanted to go camping).

As we ventured up the windy road, we came across the trail head for Proxy Falls. Keenan and I had lunch here before setting off on the 1.5 mile loop trail. It is an easy trail that travels through forest and lava flows before dropping you off at the beautiful Proxy Falls. I forgot to bring the camera, which is a shame because it was a very nice looking falls. Luckily, there are other people out there who also think it is very pretty. So I'm borrowing someone's picture to show you how nice it is. Thank you Regensburger Photography for the picture.

The nice thing about this hike is that Keenan did it all by himself. No carrying by dad. Although I had to coax him into finishing the hike through games and false promises (just make it to the next shady tree then I will carry you, no not this one, the big tree farther down.)

Once in the car, we headed up to the hike I wanted to do, the Obsidian Trail. Since this was a longer hike, 7 miles round trip, I brought the kid backpack carrier. Since I knew Keenan would never make it all the way, I was planning to carry him once his begging to be carried got too much. Five minutes into the drive up to the trail head, Keenan was asleep in his car seat. Not what I had planned. At the trail head, he was still fast asleep and was not going to be wakened. Ugh! So in the backpack he went. I figured it would be a bumpy ride and he would wake-up soon. A limited entry permit is required for this hike, which we obtained at the ranger station. I can understand why. The parking area was nearly full (this is on a Thursday after Labor Day) and at the trail head we ran into a group of probably 14 backpackers (the group had to break up into 2 groups to make the hike). As we passed this group of backpackers, they all smiled as Keenan was fast asleep in the carrier. Some of them commented that is how they wanted to be transported up the trail. About a half mile into the hike, we entered the Three Sisters Wilderness Area. Keenan still asleep.

After hiking through the forest (with an elevation gain of nearly 1,000 feet), we made it to the base of the lava flow. And yes, Keenan was still asleep.

The last half mile was up the lava flow. Through switch backs and jagged rocks we finally got to the Obsidian view point. You come around a corner and bam! you're hit with an amazing view of the North Sister (elev. 10,085), Middle Sister (elev. 10,047) and the Little Brother. By the time we reached the viewpoint, Keenan finally woke-up. This was our turn around point. But first Keenan had to crawl up and over some of the rocks. The first group of backpackers met up with us at this spot. Keenan told them we were on a volcano hunt. On the way back Keenan hiked about 1/4 of the way before being put in the carrier.

On to the summit of McKenzie Pass and the Dee Wright Observatory. It was now about 5:00 PM and Keenan was ready to set-up camp. He didn't want to stop for anything, until he saw the "castle", which is the observatory. He was more then happy to get out and explore the structure.

The pass is in the middle of a huge lava flow. It goes on for miles with the dark, jagged basalt rocks all around you. It gives you wonderful views of the Three Sisters to the south. To the north great view of Belknap Crater, which produced most of this lava flow, Mt. Washington and Mt. Jefferson.

Keenan, lava flow and the North and Middle Sister

On the trail up to the observatory

View from looking out one of the viewing holes in the observatory

After exploring the rocks and the observatory, it was finally time to go set up camp. We headed down to Cold Springs campground, just west of Sisters. Keenan wanted to be a big helper, but his enthusiasm got the better of him. After pulling into the spot, I opened the rear door to start unloading the items needed to set up camp. Keenan got the jump on me by pulling out the sleeping bags and sleeping pads and our clothes bag and throwing them on the dusty ground. After picking up the bags, I had him help me set up the tent by putting the tent poles together. This turned into a game of how often can I poke dad with the pole. I finally got the tent up, and I laid out the pads and sleeping bags inside it. As I was setting-up the camp stove, Keenan decide to play inside the tent with his dusty shoes on. I coaxed him outside to help me make dinner. The water source at this campground was a hand pump. Which Keenan wanted to pump all by himself to produce the water. Keenan is just not that strong yet. So It was him and I pumping the handle while I tried to hold the pot to collect the water. It was quite the challenge with my shoes getting all wet. Once we finished dinner, it was time for bed. The stars in the sky that night were so beautiful and numerous. Living in the city, you forget what a sky full of stars look like. Keenan and I laid in our bags looking up at the stars till we both feel asleep.

After breaking camp, we headed into Sisters for breakfast. After a vegan blueberry muffin and a whole wheat bagel, we drove out to the Sisters bouldering area. Fearless Keenan took to the rocks like a mountain goat. I was his spotter all morning long. My job was to find rocks for him to climb that where not too tall so I could spot him all of the way too the top.

Doing a dyno move on the rock face, out of the reach of dad.

Our last stop on this whirlwind adventure weekend was Sahalie Falls along the McKenzie River. What impressed me about this waterfall was the amount of water that came tumbling over the edge. For so late in the season, I didn't expect it to be so roaring. There is a trail along side the river down from the falls. The water along this stretch of the river is just raging as it cascades over much smaller drops. I'm sure many a whitewater kayaker has dreamed of running this section of the McKenzie.

It was now time to head home. Keenan and I had a great time exploring this part of the Cascades. He is becoming a better hiker, a decent rock climber and an enthusiastic camper. Next time we bring Molly and Marin.

1 comment:

  1. What beautiful falls. I think we might have to go on these hikes when we come out next time.