Total Eclipse along the Elkhorn Crest Trail

Living in Oregon, I had a wonderful opportunity this year to be able to experience a total eclipse from the mountains. To be able to achieve this, however, it took a lot of planning and preparation. For months, I’d been narrowing down my list of places that I wanted to go for the eclipse. I knew that fire season might throw me some smoky obstacles. On top of that, there were certain areas that would be so inundated with people that traffic would cause some issues. So, I had to build a flexible plan so that I had alternatives in the case of problems.

Twin Lakes, in the heart of the Elkhorn Mountains, ended up being my top choice, where before it was my plan C. My other options just didn’t seem feasible after I talked to rangers in the week before the eclipse. Reading about the Elkhorn Crest Trail made me salivate and I knew that it would work out perfectly. The biggest issue that I had to prepare myself for — one that is pretty unique to the area — was mountain goats. The ranger at the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest office told me that they have become increasingly attracted to human salt (read: sweat and pee). As a result, you have to keep all sweaty clothing out of munching distance and urinate more than 200 feet from campsites. In other areas, like Olympic National Park, the mountain goats that have grown accustomed to humans destroy campsites in search of their salt. It’s kind of like not giving a mogwai food after midnight; no one wants to camp with gremlins. She urged me to tell any other campers around me about her advice, since many of them would not call ahead and get her warning.

I left Medford at 2:15 AM on Friday, 4 days before the eclipse. I took some of the lesser-used highways and got to Baker City by 10 AM. There are two trails that go to Twin Lakes — one that has a lot of climb in a short period and another that has longer distance but less climb. I chose the latter, even though it has an agonizingly rough road. I got to Marble Pass just as two Portlanders were getting ready to backpack in. There were already 4 vehicles at the upper trailhead.

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4.79 miles and 709 elevation gain — not too bad if it weren’t for the full backpack!

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Just like it sounds, the Elkhorn Crest Trail stays on the crest, so you get incredible views the entire time. I chatted with the Portland guys for a while and ran into another guy from Washington (who was smart and attractive).

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We made our way down into the cirque and parted ways to go claim the best campsites before everyone else got there. There were probably only 9 or 10 of us at first, but it turned into 15 or 20 by nightfall. Here are some more pictures from that first afternoon:

I also had some time to play around with the supertelephoto lens that I rented. These are the better goat pictures that I was able to get, though the focus is a little soft for my taste.

The next morning, a group of people from Washington went exploring with me up on the crest. Here we are leaving camp:

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Upon reaching the saddle, we ran into this guy (or girl?). Either way, it was mean-looking.

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About a mile past the turnoff for Twin Lakes, the trail goes through an area that they had to blast clear with explosives. The trail gets to be only about 3 feet wide and it has sheer drops into the valley below.

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I didn’t really come prepared for bagging a summit, but the group was all under the impression that we were going to keep going to the summit of Rock Creek Butte. So, with a little encouragement, I continued on with them. It was a lot of bushwhacking since there really isn’t an official trail. We followed mountain goat trails as best we could. Be the mountain goat.

After bagging the tallest mountain in the Blue Mountains, I broke away from the group and headed back since the sun was beating down on my pale skin. I took the other spine back down to the trail and headed back to camp.

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5.62 miles and 1476 elevation to go up to Rock Creek and back down to Twin Lakes

The next day, I didn’t do much more than lay around reading and listening to the dumb people that arrived. One nugget that I overheard — “I think the weather’s gonna be mild. I mean, I don’t really know because I never go camping.” It was 41 degrees that night. I was absolutely baffled with the amount of underprepared, inexperienced hikers that filled the area. Twin Lakes only had a limited amount of established campsites, so any newcomers just had to fill in where they could. One guy from Vancouver set up camp in the same place that I’d been using the bathroom for two days, which didn’t bode well for him and his son (remember — no gremlins!).

There were a lot of cool people that I talked to. Others weren’t so cool. Many newly-arrived people that walked by my campsite made some offhand comment about wanting to steal it from me, saying that they’d worked hard enough to deserve a nice spot. I don’t think they knew that I overheard them expressing their inflated sense of entitlement, nor did they know that I only had that spot because I know how to plan better than they do. Then every night there was always that girl who doesn’t know volume control, talks about stupid gossip, and laughs like a mule. Also, one family brought their three-legged hound dog, which would howl every time it was startled or another dog walked by, so pretty much every 15 minutes. People all around the lake thought it was funny and egged him on, so it became this loud howling fest. Humans are irritating, sometimes, especially when you go somewhere to get away from them and they show up there anyway.

The morning of the eclipse, I got up around 5 AM so I could frantically pack up my gear and head up to the pass near Rock Creek Butte before anyone else. On the way out, I snapped some pictures of how many tents there were. There must have been 60 or 70 people staying that last night. I pack out my own poop (Google PVC poop tube) but I can only imagine how shitty the whole area became. Literally.

On the way up to my eclipse viewing spot, I ran into a group who was freaked out about a herd of mountain goats that had just harassed them. I listened to their warning to not go forward, then went forward anyway after I saw the goats on the ridge above. One little guy came up on my spot after I had eaten breakfast. Grace was convinced that she had a fighting chance, but luckily the goat took off down the mountain in a cloud of dust.

Finally, the eclipse had begun. I quickly realized how much I was messing up the pictures. I was trying to get a picture from each of the different phases so I could later edit it all together into one photo strip. The lens could not get clear focus due to the wind shaking my tripod. My cheap solar filter was not staying in place. I ditched my plan to get pictures of all the different phases and decided to focus on totality alone. The same mountain goat from before came up on me about two minutes to totality and Grace almost knocked over my tripod. Through all those obstacles, however, I was able to get these. The first video is the last minute before totality (I was distracted and didn’t always have the mountains in frame LOL). The second video was directly after. The videos are arguably better than my fuzzy picture.

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One of the better totality pictures I got — look at those pink prominences! Pity that the focus is so soft.

As soon as totality was over, I grabbed my gear and headed back to my car. It was a long four days and I did not want to spend another night listening to mule laughs and hound howls. As I left, a person flew by on a powered parachute, which made me think about how incredible (and terrifying) the eclipse must’ve been for them.

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Powered parachuter over Rock Creek Butte

As I walked back down to Marble Pass, I had a lot of time to reflect on the entire experience. I’ve already got a few spots in mind for the eclipse in 2045, which is going to go right through the Trinity Alps in Northern California and will last up to 6 minutes (shhhh…don’t tell anyone so I can have a campsite to myself!)

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Walking the last mile to my car — exhausted, stinky, and craving greasy food

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