It was wildfire season in the West again and haze and smoke had been plaguing Portland and the Columbia River Gorge for several days. Heading east seemed like a plausible way to find some fresh air and clear (or clearer) skies. So we drove out to John Day, Oregon, with a plan to hike up Strawberry Mountain (9,038 feet), the high point in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness (so named for the wild strawberries that ripen to juicy redness in July). The smoke and haze stuck with us almost all the way to John Day and we feared that our hoped for views from atop Strawberry would be seriously compromised. By the next morning, however, the weather system that had brought clouds to the Portland area had also pushed the haze elsewhere. It was clear and sunny for the entire hike, with maximum temperatures in the high 70ºFs. It’s always great when a plan comes together (particularly one of ours).
We started from Strawberry Trailhead, south of Prairie City, Oregon. From there, it was a short hike to Strawberry Lake.
Then we headed up past Strawberry Falls,
and the turnoff to Little Strawberry Lake, to a viewpoint at about 7,000 feet overlooking the lake and the valley beyond.
The trail passes through and among a number of open meadows between 7,000 and 8,000 feet, and each of these was ablaze with numerous different flowers.
At about 7,800 feet, the trail turns around a ridge and we got our first full view of Strawberry. Our route to its summit would follow the ridge on the left.
Just before the trail starts its final climb to the pass, it crosses the outlet from a spring and shortly thereafter passes an abandoned cabin.
A D-6 cupola lookout house was constructed on the summit of Strawberry in 1921.
That was replaced by an L-4 cab in 1941 and that was removed in 1966.
The phone line (first installed in 1913) from Prairie City to the lookout passed by this abandoned log cabin. We found one of the ceramic insulators for the line being consumed by a tree near the cabin.
We continued on up the trail to the pass at 8,280 feet and then followed the trail toward the peak. Where the trail dips off the ridge the east and begins to circle around to the far of the peak, we left it and scrambled directly up the south ridge to the summit. Once we gained the ridge itself, a bunch of use trails became apparent and the hiking/scrambling was easy and fun.
One advantage of going directly up the ridge – aside from the cooling breeze – was the magnificent view we had the whole way up.
We gained the summit shortly before the only other folks we’d seen so far that day arrived on top.
The summit afforded us really BIG views in all directions – no issues with smoke or haze except as a pink glow on the distant horizon. We could see the Elkhorns to the east,
and John Day and the Cascades to the west.
After a snack, we descended via the main trail and decided that, while it was fine to leave the summit that way, reaching the summit via the south ridge was much more fun.
On the way down, we passed through more flower-laden meadows,
and got a different view of Strawberry Lake, with Slide Mountain beyond.
The view we had on the way back was also (sadly) a view of the large number of beetle-killed trees in the upper Strawberry Lake valley.
We were thinking it would be hot enough to require a “shower” in Strawberry Falls but, surprisingly, temperatures were so moderate we took a pass on getting wet. Anyway – showers, burgers, and beer awaited us in John Day. On the way down we passed a dozen or so folks on their way up (and the hiker parking lot at the trailhead was full when we got to our car) but it felt like we’d had the mountain largely to ourselves. With the weather cooperating like it did, this was a great hike in a wonderful area. We added a stop at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument to round out the weekend and learned that horned rodents once roamed this area – gophers with attitude – who knew? They’re enough trouble without horns too!