ON FOOT

June 18, 2004 12:00 am
Douglas Lorain's book has20 Northeast Oregon hikes, including nine in the Wallowa Mountains and Hells Canyon. He rates Northeast Oregon as one of his three favorite hiking areas in the United States. ().
Douglas Lorain's book has20 Northeast Oregon hikes, including nine in the Wallowa Mountains and Hells Canyon. He rates Northeast Oregon as one of his three favorite hiking areas in the United States. ().

By Dick Mason

Staff Writer

Outdoor author Douglas Lorain of Portland holds a unique distinction.

Lorain has hiked his age on a single day every year since he was 6. When 15 he went on a 15-mile trek. At 39 he went on a 39-mile hike.

Today at age 41 it seems his streak will continue indefinitely.

Why?

The lean Lorain appears to be in good health, and more importantly he is a recent convert to the metric system.

Since turning 40 Lorain now walks his age in kilometers instead of miles.

"It seemed like a prudent thing to do,'' Lorain said with a laugh during a visit to La Grande earlier this month.

A kilometer is .62 of a mile.

Lorain might be cutting back on his hiking goals but not his writing production. He has come out with two books this year, "Backpacking Idaho" (Wilderness Press) and "100 Classic Hikes in Oregon" (The Mountaineers Books). "100 Classic Hikes in Oregon" is an especially ambitious work. The 256-page volume has more than 100 color photographs, color maps and covers at least 30 hikes which Lorain believes have never been covered in guidebooks before.

The work has 20 Northeast Oregon hikes, including nine in the Wallowa Mountains and Hells Canyon. Lorain writes from experience, for he has hiked 17,000 miles in Oregon and 13,000 in the West. He rates Northeast Oregon as one of his three favorite hiking areas in the United States.

"There is just great stuff here,'' Lorain said.

There is just one drawback — a lack of short hikes.

"It's a backpackers' paradise, but it's not a good place for day hikes,'' Lorain said.

The author stresses that timing is critical when hiking, particularly in Hells Canyon.

"If you go in the wrong time of year, it is a well-named place. It is hot; there are poison oak and rattlesnakes,'' Lorain said.

People who hike there from early May to mid June, though, will experience more moderate temperatures and vegetation in full bloom.

"If you go in the brief green season, it is just spectacular,'' the author said.

Hells Canyon treks listed in his book include the Somers Point hike. This 27-mile round trip takes two to four days to complete. It is a strenuous hike — but well worth the effort.

"On any list of Oregon viewpoints, Somers Point ranks near the top,'' Lorain wrote. "From this remarkable grandstand you can look down on the raging Snake River, almost a vertical mile below, and east to the high peaks of Idaho.''

The area also has a wealth of spectacular wildflowers. These include phlox, lomatium, sky rocket gilia, asters and daisies.

"Although the flower show peaks in early June, the trailhead is usually not accessible until mid June. Fortunately, the views are great at any time,'' Lorain said.

One of the longest Northeast Oregon hikes Lorain lists is the

44-mile round trip Southeast Wallowas Loop. Twenty-two miles into the hike one reaches Glacier Lake, which has ice nine months a year. Glacier Lake's water is exceptionally frigid, something Lorain avoided telling a friend who accompanied him on a recent hike there.

Lorain jumped into the lake's 35 degree water. He then stoically turned around to encourage his friend to join him.

"It took every ounce of courage to say ‘It's great, come on in!' '' Lorain said.

His unsuspecting friend then took the plunge. A split second later his friend's shriek of Ahhh! echoed throughout the Glacier Lake area.

Lorain also writes about hikes in the Elkhorns. They include a 28-mile round trip journey along Elkhorn Crest Trail. The three to four day hike is best to take in July. It features a side trip to Summit Lake, where one should not count on getting a good night's sleep.

Campers can expect to encounter mountain goats.

"They will stomp around all night and keep you up,'' he said.

These agile creatures can be seen from a distance along many portions of the Elkhorn Crest Trail hike.

"Keep an eye on the nearby cliffs for mountain goats, which initially look like small moving snow patches,'' Lorain writes.

The author's two latest books are the fourth and fifth he has written. He also penned "Backpacking Oregon," "Backpacking Washington" and "Afoot & Afield—Portland/Vancouver."

Lorain spends 15O to 200 days a year on the trail. He often hikes alone. The quick-witted Lorain jokes that this is a reflection of how tedious his company must be. In his book, he advises people against hiking alone, especially on trails that have little foot traffic.

Lorain has seen many quotes from hikers at registers over the decades. His favorite is one he read in a climber's register in Nevada. It said:

"I'll hire this God. I like his work.''

The quote reflects how Lorain feels about Oregon.

"You could easily spend a lifetime in this state and never grow tired of its charms,'' Lorain said.

"100 Classic Hikes in Oregon" is available in La Grande at Earth 'n' Book and Sunflower Books and in Enterprise at The Bookloft.