Cowhorn Mountain (Deschutes NF) 03-Oct-2015

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

A low pressure front was scheduled to move through our area yesterday, bringing a (too) brief taste of fall (but no real precipitation) to our area. This seemed like the perfect moment to do the short, but fun, hike/scramble to the summit of Cowhorn Mountain, just north of Diamond Lake. Back before Cowhorn’s cow-horn shaped summit spine fell off in 1911, this peak was called Little Cowhorn to distinguish it from Mount Thielsen, which was then called Big Cowhorn. This is Hike #14 in Sullivan’s Southern Oregon hiking guide (Third Edition, 2014) and scramble #17 in Bond’s 2005 75 Scrambles in Oregon.

The hike starts at Windigo Pass, which has good gravel road access off Highway 138 about five miles north of Diamond Lake. From there, I just followed the wonderfully well-graded Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) north past Windigo Lake,

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
Windigo Lake

for about 2 miles for a first view of Cowhorn Mountain and its west ridge – the route to the summit.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
Cowhorn Mountain from the PCT
Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
Cowhorn Mountain’s west ridge

The weather was a bipolar mix of sunbreaks and rain/snow squalls, with a brisk, cold wind to discourage doodling. From the PCT, I managed to catch a glimpse of Diamond Peak as it was being enveloped by incoming clouds.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
Diamond Peak

The turn-off from the PCT to the summit use trail is marked with a few small cairns. The use trail is well-used and obvious and leads up through the trees to the open ridge below the summit.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
The use trail up Cowhorn’s west ridge

From here, I had another view of Diamond Peak to the west,

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
Diamond Peak

of Crescent Lake to the north,

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
Crescent Lake

and of Mount Thielsen (which sounds better than Big Cowhorn) and Mount Bailey to the south.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
Mounts Thielsen (T) and Bailey (B)

The wind was whipping across the ridge and it was cold enough, and just barely wet enough, to allow for build-up of the first frost I’ve seen in months.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
Branch with wind-blown ice
Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
Iced lichen

The only scrambling on this peak is up the last 100 feet or so of the rocky prominence that is the summit – not much exposure and lots to hang on to.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
Toward the rocky summit

From the wind-swept summit, I had a good view back down the west ridge toward Sawtooth Mountain.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
Looking west along the ridge to Sawtooth Mountain

During a brief break in the weather, I had a pretty good view all around, but then another line of squalls arrived to blanket Diamond Peak,

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
Diamond starts to fade

and then Mount Thielsen.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
Thielsen fades too

This loss of views (and the cold wind) killed my enthusiasm for lunch on the summit, so I descended toward the tree line, passing four mountain bikers taking time for a quick ascent of Cowhorn. Their presence allowed me to get some perspective of the summit ridge from the relative comfort of the trees.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
Bikers on the summit ridge

I snacked in the windbreak afforded by the trees. By the time I’d finished my snack, Cowhorn was socked in again and it was definitely time to head back to the trailhead.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
The clouds eventually got to Cowhorn too

A straight forward hike and simple scramble (9.4 miles round-trip; 1,900 feet of elevation gain) to a summit with big views all around. Because their respective trailheads are close to one another off Highway 138, it would be easy to combine a hike of Cowhorn with one to Tipsoo Peak for a full day of big view hiking.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon
My track to and from Cowhorn Mountain

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