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kiliki
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PostMon Sep 14, 2020 2:43 pm 
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Having done the Lakes Basin a few years ago for 4 days in September, we wanted to visit the area again but to find a less-traveled destination. I have been battling plantar fasciitis and didn't want anything too long. Hike 88 in Rich Landers' 100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest sounded perfect. And it was great! I would highly recommend this area. We camped for 2 nights at Swamp Lake, 9.5 miles from the very busy Two Pan trailhead. There were about 50 cars, plus trucks with stock trailers, parked there on a Wednesday in Sept, but this trailhead also serves the Lakes Bain. We met a ranger carrying out garbage, who told us that Swamp and Steamboat were pretty devoid of people, and who reminded up to camp 100' from lakes and that fires were forbidden. I was happy to see that the area was patrolled.

The trails were very dusty and there was plenty of stock poop, as is often the case in the Wallowas. On the plus side, since the trails were built for stock, they are well graded and never steep. The hike is beautiful. You climb up for about 8 miles before dropping down to the lake, along the way passing the meadows in the Copper Creek Basin and Elkhorn Basin. The latter was really beautiful and would make a fine and empty camp spot for anyone that didn't want to make it all the way to Swamp Lake in one go. We were sure we were almost to the lake when we hit Elkhorn Basin, but it took us a couple more hours, I think; if someone was tired or struggling at that point, I would recommend stopping there. The trail's high point of 8600' is still to come. We saw a herd of mountain goats on the trail in front of us above Elkhorn Basin, too.


There were a number of creek crossings. Only one required boots off (it was mid-calf for me), but it's mid-September. My understanding is that earlier in the season they can be hairy. I brought water shoes, which doubled as my camp shoes.


You get your first view of Swamp Lake around the 7 mile mark or so. But you still have to climb all the way up and around the bowl before you start heading down to it. So close yet so far.


Swamp Lake is absolutely lovely.


The campsite situation is interesting. The ranger we met told us that he counted 25 sites at the lake. But, there aren't social trails to sites, and only a couple places where there are established sites. We set up on the only bare dirt spot we saw that fit our tent; it was a great spot.


There are lots of grassy spots where a person could put a tent. Is it possible the area just doesn't get enough use to create social trails and wear tent spots into the dirt? Maybe. We camped at the north end of the lake, as did the others. There were a couple spots along the east side where someone could camp but I would say, in general, that the north end was the camping area. There were a couple sites, near a stream, with piles of horse poop. It makes me wonder about water quality in the area (I wondered the same thing when we camped at Mirror Lake a few years ago, but I drank the water (filtered) and lived). Two other pair were there our first night; three other pair the second.

There are a number of other lakes in the area, which make fine day hikes from Swamp. Steamboat is just a 1.4 mile hike down into another bowl. We didn't see anyone camped there.


I saw both western larch and lyall's larch, both just starting to get larch-y.


One of the other campers told us they had mountain goats watch them curiously from about 75 years. So, we were sure to pee well away from our campsite. We heard coyotes in our lake bowl as well. My first thought was, oh, no, teenagers. But it was coyotes.

There is the possibility of a loop, about 30 miles, that ends at the Bowman Trailhead then requires a 4 mile road walk back to Two Pan th. I thought about that but didn't want to stress my heel. After seeing how incredibly dusty the road is, and how narrow, busy, and without shoulder, we were very glad we didn't have to walk it.

I brought my new Sony RX100 vi. I'd been wanting a good point and shoot for a while but choked at the cost. I get why they are expensive now but still. Anyway, I scored a "new but open box" one from B&H for $599, down from $1100. So nice to have a little camera with 200 mm zoom that fits into my husband's hipbelt (my hipbelt pockets are tiny). My phone is just too big to keep accessible and there's no optical zoom on phones of course.

We did a couple other day hikes/trips in the region that I will post about later.
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texasbb
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PostMon Sep 14, 2020 4:58 pm 
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up.gif

I hiked that loop a few weeks ago, camped at Steamboat and Chimney.  The high trail to Swamp is the most picturesque part, but the other end is nice too.  From Steamboat down to North Minam Meadows is BRUSHY.  And it was wet when I went, so I got soaked.

Anyway, that's yet another gorgeous part of the Wallowas.  Thanks for the report!

P.S., do you have a theory on what creates those dozens of tiny islands at the marshy end of Swamp Lake?
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kiliki
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PostMon Sep 14, 2020 5:35 pm 
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I like that shot. ^^ I didn't love any of my attempts. No idea about what forms those. Good to know about the brushy trail. I saw photos of North Minam Meadows and they looked like heaven, and that was my main motivation for wanting to do the loop. How busy was it for you?
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texasbb
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PostMon Sep 14, 2020 6:42 pm 
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kiliki wrote:
I like that shot. ^^ I didn't love any of my attempts. No idea about what forms those. Good to know about the brushy trail. I saw photos of North Minam Meadows and they looked like heaven, and that was my main motivation for wanting to do the loop. How busy was it for you?

There were two other parties at Steamboat, one of them with six tents.  Didn't see anyone else from when I got on the Copper Creek trail until I got to Laverty Lake, which was a rave.  I was alone at Chimney as far as I know, but then there aren't many places to camp there that I saw.

North Minam Meadows are gorgeous to look at from above, but kind of tall grassy, not really inviting to wander in.
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Conrad
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PostMon Sep 14, 2020 6:43 pm 
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kiliki wrote:
I saw photos of North Minam Meadows and they looked like heaven

North Minam Meadows up close didn't impress me at all; I was happy to forge on past it to Steamboat. It's low enough elevation that it's a tall-weedy meadow, not grassy, also lots of it is damp underfoot IIRC.

There are numerous large campsites under the trees, but horsey.

OTOH, Elkhorn Basin which you appreciated is one of my favorite (on-trail) spots anywhere.

The main value of the loop for me was connecting two of my favorite areas: off-trail beyond Chimney Lake at the north end, and W Fk Lostine / Copper / Elkhorn at the south end.
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rubywrangler
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PostMon Sep 14, 2020 8:42 pm 
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Nice photos! I like the tiny islands too and the tent shot. How do you like the RX100vi?  My iii is slowly dying so I'm starting to think about my next one.

Unrelated to this TR but hope you're enjoying bearcam season! I was supposed to be at Brooks right now but of course my reservation was cancelled since they didn't open the campground this year bawl.gif
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Sculpin
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PostTue Sep 15, 2020 8:06 am 
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up.gif

Those meadows look really nice!

Range maps indicate that there are no Larix lyallii in the Wallowas.  There are a few places where Larix occidentalis reach timberline, I'm guessing that is what you saw.

--------------
Between every two pines is a doorway to the new world. - John Muir
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kiliki
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PostTue Sep 15, 2020 8:12 am 
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rubywrangler wrote:
Unrelated to this TR but hope you're enjoying bearcam season! I was supposed to be at Brooks right now but of course my reservation was cancelled since they didn't open the campground this year bawl.gif

We were supposed to have been there last week! The Wallowas trip was a substitution for Katmai. And I was supposed to have gone in late June as well. Both trips I was booked in the campground so both trips were canceled. Last week's trip would have also included a stay at Camp Denali, at the end of Denali's road, but they decided not to open for the season. So we rolled that over to next September, and will hopefully get campground reservations at Brooks as well. Honestly I think the bear cam, along with baseball, has saved my sanity this summer.

This is also a tangent but you might appreciate it. When I came back from Katmai last year I told my book club about it, none of whom are outdoorsy in the least. Unbeknownst to me one of the women was intrigued, and started researching a trip up there, but also started researching other bear viewing options, and happened upon McNeil River. She decided that would be the best trip but realized how hard it was to win that lottery as a non-Alaska resident, so she thought she better start applying. Well, she won a spot on her first try, and only then informed her husband, who knew nothing about any of this, that that's where they would be vacationing this year. And the trip actually happened. McNeil stayed open, they got their Covid test, they went up and had an amazing time, a big male bear came so close to her husband that he peed his pants a little.  lol.gif
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kiliki
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PostTue Sep 15, 2020 8:20 am 
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rubywrangler wrote:
Nice photos! I like the tiny islands too and the tent shot. How do you like the RX100vi?† My iii is slowly dying so I'm starting to think about my next one.

I like it so far. Caveat, I am a novice photographer in general. The 200mm zoom is legit, though. I thought it might be grainy but it isn't. There is some camera shake at that length.
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Dr. T
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PostTue Sep 15, 2020 8:28 am 
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Doesnít appear to be smokey there, is this true?
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kiliki
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PostTue Sep 15, 2020 8:32 am 
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Dr. T wrote:
Doesnít appear to be smokey there, is this true?

There was some haze, in some directions , last week, but it wasn't actually smoky. When we drove out Friday afternoon it became increasingly smoky and by the time we had even gone 45 minutes away it was very very bad. I looked at the smoke map later and it looks like they're completely blanketed now. We got very lucky In that it seems like that was the last part of the Northwest to get bad.
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kiliki
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PostTue Sep 15, 2020 8:48 am 
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Range maps indicate that there are no Larix lyallii in the Wallowas.

Some of the larches had longer needles than the others, so I assumed the shorter needles were Western larches and the others were Lyall's. Is there another kind the ones with longer needles would be? I don't have a great photo of the ones with longer needles. I have this, but now I'm questioning whether this was actually one of those, of if it's a western larch.

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Dr. T
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PostTue Sep 15, 2020 8:49 am 
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Thanks for the info. You got it while you could.  Iím getting stir crazy as Iíd imagine most of us folks are.  Dreaming delirious dreams of driving to Alaska or checking out the maples on the east coast for fall this year.
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kiliki
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PostTue Sep 15, 2020 9:26 am 
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Dr. T wrote:
Thanks for the info. You got it while you could.  Iím getting stir crazy as Iíd imagine most of us folks are.  Dreaming delirious dreams of driving to Alaska or checking out the maples on the east coast for fall this year.

My sister in law, who would have come with us on our cancelled AK trip last week, went to Great Smoky Mts NP instead (she lives in the midwest). She said is was uncrowded (on weekdays) and just beautiful. Campgrounds only 1/4 to 3/4 full. Leaves barely starting to turn. Perfect blue skies.
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Dr. T
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PostTue Sep 15, 2020 10:02 am 
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Ha, good to know.  Havenít been that close to the Atlantic in almost 10 years.  Maybe check out the blue ridge parkway.
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