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Home arrow Opinion arrow HIKING EASTERN OREGON



ON THE TRAIL AGAIN: Author William Sullivan hikes through a portion of Hells Canyon. (Submitted photo).
ON THE TRAIL AGAIN: Author William Sullivan hikes through a portion of Hells Canyon. (Submitted photo).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Finding trails in Northeast Oregon that author William L. Sullivan has not hiked is as difficult as trekking up Wallowa Countys Mount Howard without riding its gondola.

Sullivan hiked virtually every significant trail in Northeast Oregon over the past three years. He did so while compiling information for his his latest book, 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon.

Sullivan provides a broad range of detailed information and anecdotes in his book, much of which extend past the hiking essentials.

There is more to hiking than just mileages and directions. I try to weave in the stories behind the landscape too why a gold mine failed, when the mariposa lilies bloom, or how an ancient volcano shaped the land, he said.

Sullivans book covers the Wallowas, the Blue Mountains, Hells Canyon, the High Desert, the Columbia Plateau, Central Oregon, the Ochoco Mountains and Strawberry Mountain.

Northeast Oregon is well represented in the book . Forty-two of the 100 hikes covered are in the Blue Mountains, Hells Canyon and the Wallowas. Sullivan said these areas have the bulk of Eastern Oregons hiking opportunities.

Sullivan rates the hikes in the Wallowas as perhaps the most difficult of those he covers.

There are no easy hikes. Every trail climbs at least 3,000 feet, he said.

Sullivan is often eloquent when discussing the difficulty of hiking trails in the Wallowas. His description of the hike to Ice Lake is an example.

Backed by the two tallest peaks in Eastern Oregon, Ice Lake belongs to an Alpine world halfway to the sky. Youll feel like youve climbed to the sky too, after hiking up endless switchbacks from the Wallowa Lake Trailhead, he writes.

Sullivan advises people who want a quick and easy look at the Wallowas to ride the tramway, which takes people near the Mount Howard summit. The ride carries people 3,700 feet in 15 minutes.

The Mount Howard trail is inlcuded in Sullivans All Accessible Trails of Eastern Oregon section. Eighteen sites accessible to those with limited physical abilities are listed.

Sullivan sometimes weaves history into his writings about Mount Howard and other sites.

A good example is his description of Chief Joseph Mountain and Mount Howard. Sullivan recounts the famous battle between Nez Perce leader Chief Joseph and U.S. Army General Otis Howard (Mount Howards namesake) in 1877. Chief Joseph retreated and his party was caught by Howard 30 miles from the Canadian border.

Today Chief Joseph Mountain glares across Wallowa Lake at Mount Howard, as if the two military rivals are continuing their standoff for all time, Sullivan writes.

Sullivan said that about 90 percent of the people hiking into the Wallowas start their journeys from Wallowa Lake, which is often congested in the summer. The author noted that people also have the opportunity to start from five other less crowded lake basins in the Wallowas.

Sullivan also says that he immensely enjoyed his hikes in the Elkhorns. Most are different than those in the Wallowas because they do not involve as many steep climbs.

There are more level walks, he said.

Perhaps Sullivans favorite trek in this area is the 22.8-mile Elkhorn Crest Trail.

It is one of Oregons most beautiful backpacking trips, Sullivan said.

Another Elkhorn route Sullivan rates highly is the 9.6-mile round trek to Twin Lakes.

You are almost certain to see mountain goats, Sullivan said. ...They are breathtaking.

Sometimes the mountain goats are almost a nuisance.

They are not afraid of people... they are curious and are always looking for salt, Sullivan said.

He advises Twin Lakes hikers to watch their backpacks because mountain goats like the salty sweat on shoulder straps.

Sullivans book also covers the Steens Mountain Wilderness in Southeast Oregon. Congress designated 175,000 acres of the Steens Mountain area as wilderness in October. Sullivan said his book is the first to describe the area for hikers since it was declared a wilderness.

He notes that Steens Mountain Loop Road, which slices through portions of the wilderness, is the highest road in Oregon, cresting at 9,550 feet.

Sullivan also covers the towns hikers will pass near while driving to trailheads. He lists recreational opportunities


Sullivan writes of La Grande, The Old Oregon Trail runs through the south side of La Grande (on B Street), but this city isnt stuck in the past....

Sullivan said it was important to include information on towns, campgrounds, lodges and inns because people travel great distances to hike in Eastern Oregon. As a result many trips are multi-day tours.

100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon is the fifth and last of a series of hiking books covering Oregon. Sullivans earlier books covered Northwest Oregon, the Central Oregon Cascades, Southern Oregon and the Oregon Coast and Coast Range.

Over a period of 10 years Sullivan hiked every significant trail in Oregon to collect information for his books.

Sullivan has written eight books. His others include Listening for Coyote, the story of his 1,000-mile walk across Oregon in 1985.

Author William Sullivan of Eugene will appear at two book signings on Aug. 18 in Union and Wallowa counties.

Sullivan will appear at Sunflower Books in La Grande from 9 to 10:30 a.m. He will be at the Book Corner in Joseph from noon to 2 p.m.

Sullivan will sign copies of his latest book, 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon.


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