Backpacking the Wallowas

by Kim on September 16, 2011 · 15 comments

Backpacking the Wallowas

Over Labor Day weekend some friends and I went backpacking in the Wallowas.  The Wallowa’s are a mountain range in northeastern Oregon nicknamed Little Switzerland or The Alps of Oregon, depending on who you google.  They’re a six-hour drive from Portland and totally, completely worth the trip.

I was giddy with anticipation at spending three nights beneath the stars. Because Brian and I spent all summer preparing and then selling the house I hadn’t been camping at all, and hiking only twice.  In my book, missing camping season in Oregon is a true sin, punishable by neighbors that drone their TV at all hours and smoke cigarettes on their balcony right next to your open window (oh, can you tell I live in an apartment now?).  Ahm, anyway.

Here’s what I loved about the Wallowas: you have to work for the views.  Day hikes in these parts are beautiful, but in order to reach the most stunning scenery you’ve got to backpack in.

So backpack in we did.  We were rewarded with stacked panoramas of rugged mountains and teal alpine lakes so clear you could see right to the bottom.

The daytime sky was a crisp, early-fall blue.

At night a million stars came out to greet us.  Eastern Oregon is sparsely populated so there is no light pollution in the mountains.  I’ve never seen a night sky like that before, stars were stacked on top of stars.  The milky way was visible and dense.  Only the freezing temperatures were enough to finally drive me inside of my tent.

I feel most alive when I’m running, hiking or backpacking through the mountains.  This world is so beautiful.  Trekking deep into the wilderness always reminds me of that.

Backpacking is about essentials.  In the mountains it isn’t important how much money you have or what kind of impressive career you’re built for yourself.  What does matter is having a shelter to keep you dry, a bag to keep you warm, food to fuel you and a body that is strong enough to carry you where you need to go.

Friends matter too.  It’s more fun to see this beautiful world with people who love the same things you do.

Wendy kept exclaiming “I can’t get over that this is always here!  Like it’s here, while we are sitting in our cubicles and going about our business.”  I know exactly what she means.  It’s always surprising to remember that places this beautiful just exist, beckoning us to explore them, sitting and waiting silently for hundreds of thousands of years until we carry our tired souls inside of them, asking to be renewed.  Wilderness like this is essential to humanity.  We can never, ever allow it to be destroyed.

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Note: We found this route in the backpacking bible Backpacking Oregon.  It’s the Wallowa River Trail, a 36 mile loop with 7,100 feet of elevation gain.  If you’re planning a trip yourself and would like more details about the trail feel free to email me.  

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