Twin Lakes and the Elkhorn Crest National Scenic Trail Trip Report

This weekend we took a long trip down to The Elkhorn Mountains for a two nighter.  We arrived Saturday and hiked up to Twin Lakes from the “trailhead” at Forest Service Road 030.

You can do the entire 22.8 miles from end to end, but this requires a shuttle.  For $50 per person Range Tours and Shuttles will do the job for backpackers.  We live at sea level, so hiking at elevation can be quite difficult for us, although we’ve noticed that certain places are harder than others, even if the elevation is similar.  The trails we were on ranged from 5300′ up to around 8300′.  This is tough to adjust to quickly.  We decided to take it easy and not push it.  Last time we were backpacking high up (for us) at Mt Margaret Backcountry in Mt St Helens Nat’l Monument, we were fucking exhausted.  We decided instead to basecamp at Twin Lakes and do day hikes the following day.

No trip is without some kind of issue for douchepacker.  I used a 2001 version of William Sullivan’s Eastern Oregon guidebook.  Since he wrote the book, presumably in the late 90’s, the lower portion of the trail has been completely re-routed.  The original trail that was in the book climbed along Lake Creek, all the way up.  Steeply.

However once we arrived, a sign indicated that the trailhead was another 1/2 mile up the road.  We couldn’t drive the last 1/2 mile because the road was too steep and rocky right at the beginning.  I tried getting the 2 wheel drive Element up it, but I just kept spinning out .  You must have 4 wheel drive to get up this part of road 030, or you’ll have to hike it like we did.

Once you reach the “trailhead”, we deduced that we took the closed FS road up the hill.  However, on my GPS (PDF maps on my Nexus 5x phone) I saw we were way the fuck off.  The map I was using didn’t even have the new trail, much less the labyrinth of abandoned FS roads all over the place.  For such a desolate area, there was an unbelievable amount of roads.

Using the GPS we eventually connected up with the old trail, which continues up the creek through some conifer woods.  Eventually as we climbed it gave way to more meadows and open spaces.  My first wildlife spotting was this buck:

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Young buck ahead of me on the trail

We made it to Twin Lakes, which is a really beautiful place.  I had also read that you’re basically guaranteed to see Mountain Goats here, and sure enough I immediately spotted a mom and her kid up in the rocks.  Exhausted, we set up camp.  I was mentally exhausted from trying to find our way earlier with no current info to go on.  I had only myself to blame, as I didnt even buy a paper map to bring with us.

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When my domestic partner and I backpack, we use a Lunar Duo Outfitter made by Six Moons Designs.  I bought this tent on sale for $60 if you can believe it, there was some staining on the tents (that I didnt give a shit about) and they offloaded them and donated the cash to charity.  Its been our go to for backpacking and is much lighter than the REI Passage 2 that we had been using.

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The next day we got up and made cheesy potatoes with bacon bits.  We started our ascent up to the Elkhorn Crest National Scenic Trail, with no real goals in mind.  We stopped for lunch in view of Rock Creek Butte.  It is the highest point in the Elkhorn Mountains at 9106′.  You can summit but we didnt, opting to continue on the Crest trail.

 

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Rock Creek Butte from the Elkhorn Crest Trail

Everywhere there is evidence of Mountain Goats.  Fur, tracks, trails, scat were all over.  The population appears to be doing really well and I brought my non-ultralight binoculars along specifically to see the wildlife.  THIS is why I go for ultralight gear… so I can bring other shit that adds value to my trip and doesnt break my back.  There was fur like this everywhere, you could’ve knitted a sweater I shit you not:

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The Crest trail itself is stunning, you’re never without an incredible view.  This is why I love to go high up, its just so beautiful and stunning.  The trail was basically flat along the Crest making it very easy for these two sea-level dwellers to hike.  We realized we could have easily done the entire Elkhorn Crest Trail and underestimated capabilities at elevation.  I’ll certainly go back.

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Check out the fire in the distance.
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You can barely make out some white dots amongst the rocks, which are Mountain Goats.

For whatever reason I happened to look to my right, uphill.  Lo and behold was a group of 5 Mountain Goats that paid us no mind.  We then looked back on the trail, and saw another group below us of around 17 individuals.  I’d never seen that many before in my life and it was really amazing to see.

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After a few miles, we turned around as we were eager to get back to camp and hopefully lay around by the lake.   At camp, we saw this guy/gal:

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After a hearty meal, we had a small campfire and tried to stay up till nightfall.  We turned in, exhausted and happy.  The next morning we packed up and headed back down.  This time, we knew which way to go.

Lesson learned, always look for recent updates to whatever trail you’re going on or you may end up frustrated, tired, and lost.

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