TASTING THE TOP OF THE ELKHORNS
For hikers with thick calluses and fresh soles, the Elkhorn Crest National Recreation Trail is a 24-mile-long smorgasbord of scenery, history and geology.
Nibbling at its edges can be nourishing, too.
Hikers who lack the energy or, more likely, the time to swallow every mile of the trails mountain goat-, wildflower- and granite-strewn route through Baker Countys alpine country can sample its flavors with short day hikes, too.
There are two obvious choices: Start at the trails northern entrance near Anthony Lake, or at the southern portal in Marble Creek Pass.
Which trailhead best suits you may well depend on your vehicle.
If you dont have a high-riding pickup truck or sport-utility, the Marble Creek Pass option is out the road up the pass relishes low-slung oil pans.
Conversely, the only gravel youll encounter in driving to the Anthony Lake trailhead is in the parking lot.
Either way, youll see gorgeous, multi-county vistas and a lake (or two) that rests where a glacier was born, and died.
From the North
To find the trailhead, drive on U.S. Highway 30 to Haines, turn left at the sign for Anthony Lakes and follow the signs from there. The trailhead is about 34 miles from Baker City.
The parking lot is spacious enough to turn a horse trailer around, if you prefer to travel in the saddle. This section of the trail is closed to bicycles, though.
A half mile in, the Crest Trail meets the Black Lake trail, which starts near the boat launch at Anthony Lake Campground. Turn left, following the sign pointing to Dutch Flat Saddle.
The trail climbs gradually from the Black Lake junction, passing through a forest where lodgepole pines predominate. The menacing peak to the east is Van Patten Butte. Look to the west to see a sliver of Black Lake and the nearly vertical shoulder of Gunsight Mountain.
After another quarter mile the trail swings around a granite knob and begins to climb more steeply, with a few switchbacks, toward Angell Pass.
Just beyond the pass the trail enters the North Fork John Day Wilderness.
Then it descends for a half-mile to Dutch Flat Saddle, a four-way wilderness intersection.
Here you can walk a few feet east for a hang-gliders view of Dutch Flat Lake, or you can follow the side trail for a downhill mile to its shores.
Dutch Flat Lake lies in a shallow bowl that an Ice Age glacier carved in the Elkhorns granitic bedrock.
From the saddle you can return the way you came, or turn right and hike back to the parking lot via the Crawfish Basin trail and a road that zig-zags up one of Anthony Lakes Mountain Resorts ski slopes.
Either way the round trip, including the detour to Dutch Flat Lake, is about nine miles.
From the South
Marble Creek Pass
The hike to Twin Lakes and back is about the same distance as the preceding route, but you dont climb quite as much.
Unless you make the off-trail scramble to the top of 8,931-foot Elkhorn Peak, the second-highest summit in the Elkhorns.
This southern section of the Crest Trail is open to bicycles and motorcycles.
Comparing views from the Elkhorn Crest is as futile as trying to decide which toddler has a cuter smile; but certainly the southern end of the trail surpasses the Anthony Lakes area in panoramas of Baker Valley and the Wallowas.
Then there are the goats.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife released the first batch of goats in the Elkhorns in 1983. The population has grown to about 100.
If you dont see a goat during this hike youre not looking hard enough. Their favorite hangouts are the cliffs that nearly encircle Twin Lakes glacial basin and the precipitous east face of Elkhorn Peak, but they often graze within disposable camera range, too.
The Baker Ranger District, 523-4476, has the latest trail conditions.