- Date: June 25, 2017
- Location: Blue Mountains
- Start: Teepee Trailhead
- Distance: 14 miles (according to Mack’s Garmin)
- Duration: 3 hours 24 minutes (breaks not included)
- Type: Out-and-back
- References: Washington Trails Association
Our first official summer adventure took place in an unlikely, unexpected place in the PNW: the Blue Mountains of Eastern Washington. It’s rare that we venture this far out (six hour drive from Portland) unless it’s to climb a mountain/mountains or do a multi-day backpacking trip. However, we were attending a wedding in Walla Walla on Saturday evening and figured it would be worth it to explore some place nearby on Sunday before heading home. We decided a trail run would make the most sense since we still needed to train for the upcoming Mt Hood 50K in July. After multiple preceding ideas (including the Wallowas and Hells Canyon), we settled on running up to the highest point in the Blue Mountains of Washington, Oregon Butte (at 6,387 feet), as well as exploring the surrounding area in a 17-mile loop.
On Saturday, we spent a few hours at our friends’ wedding before hitting the road again at 9:15 pm. Teepee Trailhead is two hours away from Walla Walla and the final hour/25-ish miles is on a dusty gravel road that climbs up to the trailhead (which, we found out in the morning, is also a fantastic overlook). After a busy day of packing, driving, wedding mingling, and more driving, we crashed instantly. We woke up around 7 am to sunshine, blue skies, warm temps (already nearing 70 degrees), and a gorgeous view of the Blue Mountains. We took our time getting ready, making sure to pack plenty of water for the 85-90 degree weather we expected later that morning/afternoon, and by 8 am were running up Mount Misery Trail.
Oregon Butte is only three miles into the route, so we looked forward to being rewarded for this uphill stretch fairly quickly. After a mile or so we came to our first junction. The left trail stays lower while the right one traverses over West Butte, another high point in the Blue Mountains. We opted for the West Butte traverse because it meant views as we ran. We were actually able to see the lookout tower on Oregon Butte as we ran across West Butte Ridge!
After reconnecting with the trail below the ridge, we continued past a spring-fed log watering trough and took a spur trail on the right leading up to Oregon Butte and the lookout tower. We enjoyed views of the Blue Mountains on both sides of the ridge as we ran through a carpet of wildflowers on the final traverse. What a way to start our adventure run!
On such a clear, bluebird day, the views were phenomenal. I’ll admit, when we first decided to hit up this area, I hadn’t had very high hopes. My heart had been set on either exploring the Wallowas again or running around Hells Canyon. The Blue Mountains ended up being a last minute fallback when the other ideas didn’t work out. Now that I was up here soaking it all in, these mountains were definitely starting to grow on me. From Oregon Butte, you can look across to the snow-covered peaks of the Wallowa range, as well as the Seven Devils range in Idaho.
The highlight of our route was now over, but we descended to Mount Misery Trail and continued north to the Panjab Trail junction (another few miles away). The ridgeline we continued across had an unexpected amount of elevation gain. I mean, I knew it wouldn’t be level, but the amount of climbing still took me by surprise. The heat was also starting to get to me, so even the smallest hills felt challenging. The wildflowers along the way were a beautiful distraction though.
The trail continues through a burn area where, due to exposure, the vegetation was wildly overgrown and made for a little bushwhacking experience. Views were plentiful along this route since we stayed up high and sections of forest were rather sparse. However, now that we were further away from the “popular” part of the hike (i.e. Oregon Butte), we became more wary of black bears, which we had read were pretty common in this area. In fact, many of the trip reports I’d read concerning this trail mentioned black bear sightings (but, fortunately, no dangerous encounters)! Mack and I remained on the lookout and made plenty of noise as we ran to avoid any surprise encounters.
The final section before the junction is through a colorful wildflower meadow. Blue, purple, green, and yellow blooms blanket this vast plateau. The junction is about halfway through this section. Despite the lack of signage, it was pretty clear when we reached it. The Mount Misery Trail continues off to the right, straight ahead (continuing through the meadow) is the Rattlesnake Trail, and off to the left, descending back into the forest, is the Panjab Trail.
Our original plan was to turn down the Panjab Trail then take the Turkey Creek Trail back to the trailhead. However, we’d already spent a couple of hours running, as well as stopping a lot more than intended to take pictures. With a long drive still awaiting us, we decided it would be best to just turn around here and do an out-and-back instead. Although I was disappointed that we wouldn’t get to explore this area further, I was also relieved. The heat was draining me of energy and motivation. Air conditioning sounded so good.
The miles back to the trailhead were slow going on my part. Mack runs very strong in hot weather, but I don’t fare well at all. I was walking even the smallest hills that we came across. I swear we’d encountered more uphill sections while running toward the Panjab Trail junction, so where was all the downhill on the way back? We stopped at the watering trough on the way back to cool off. The spring water was delightfully cold and felt good splashed across our faces. Just what we needed to finish strong. I finally got to stretch my legs and run once we reached the West Butte junction. A whole mile of downhill at last!
We arrived at the trailhead dusty, sweaty, and a little sunburnt. Despite not having completed the larger loop, we still got in a decent amount of miles (although I’m pretty sure the mileage according to my map was actually 12.6 or something like that). Before heading out for good, we took a few extra moments to savor one final look at these incredible mountains. Until next time Eastern Washington. We’ll definitely be back to explore even more. Wenaha River Trail thru-run maybe?