June 18, 2013

Rock Creek Butte Mountain Goat Hike

On June 8th, Rob and I decided to conquer the 5th most prominent mountain in Oregon: Rock Creek Butte. This staggering beauty lies Northwest of Baker City and Southeast of Anthony Lakes ski resort. These mountains are truly one of the best kept secrets in Oregon. Many people people admire their beauty from the freeway, but only the determined get a closer look. The steep and excruciatingly overgrown rocky road leading up to this  mountain, forms a barrier for wildlife to flourish and human tracks to be few. There just simply aren't a lot of visitors because of the limited access. 


Driving up the road was an adventure in itself. There were pot holes, streams, rocks and fallen down trees to dodge, and a blanket of loose rocks that made the incline very difficult in a vehicle lacking four wheel drive. We decided our hike would begin as soon as we couldn't drive an further. This point came sooner than hoped, but an extra 3 miles was not about to stop us. After all, this was just the beginning of our adventure. 

After hiking up the road a few miles, we stopped to drink some deliciously refreshing water from the Spring run-off as we admired the beauty of the snowy mountains and rocky cliffs. The earth and its prominent features surrounded us like ants in an enormous mountainous bowl. We had already made it to the point where few had gone, but we wanted to touch the top. This 9,106 ft. peak with a 4,466 ft. prominence called us to the challenge and we were barely getting to the good part. 

Climbing up to the ridge line by Talus slope was increasingly beautiful every step of the way. This beauty gave us an inner desire to climb higher, in order to experience more breathtaking moments. Once at the ridge line, Rock Creek Lake greeted us with its dazzling crystal clear run-off leaving a light blue shimmer on top of the frozen snow. There we sat, on a gigantic slab of granite, eating and admiring our surroundings. I was not about to let this kind of beauty be taken for granted. 

Ridge Line


Mountain goats galore! Every corner we turned, one would quickly run away from us. Then we'd find a couple staring at us from atop a rocky ledge. These curious creatures would let us get within 20 feet, and then scamper into the distance. We found ourselves in the middle of nowhere yelling, "Hey billy billy!" or making noises to spook them. We didn't want to come across any close encounters that could potentially be a threat to these creatures. Mountain goats can amazingly conquer rocky or snowy cliffs. I would never even think about walking where I saw some of their tracks! They are definitely more agile than they appear. 

After maneuvering past several mountain goats, free climbing some rocky faces, and carefully tip toeing the scree filled slopes, we made it to the top! Only, this wasn't the top. It was the second tallest pointed peak before Rock Creek Butte that towered along the ridge line. Admiring the view, we decided that this was an accomplishment in itself. Time was dwindling and we needed to find a way down. Our choices were back where we came from, or forward to create our own path. 

2nd Tallest Peak Before Rock Creek Butte

Forward seemed like the most logical choice for a couple of adventurers, but I felt uneasy. This meant creating our own ladder in a nearly vertical snowy slope. This was my first exposure to anything of this magnitude. One wrong step would have sent us sliding down a snowy cliff only to gain a speed that would crush us as we hit the rocks at the bottom. Skydiving, and having to use my reserve chute, was nothing compared to carefully stepping across this massive snowy ridge that had the choice to buckle underneath me at any moment. I didn't have a second chance, and suddenly had a newly developed fear of heights covering my mind.  My hands grew increasingly numb with every grasp into the freezing snow that was meant to hold me from a fall. How was I supposed to try to catch myself if I couldn't feel my hands? Too many "what if's" were running through my head; I needed to find a way to clear my thoughts because fear was not an option. Before long, a peace came over me, and I knew we were going to be just fine. I looked at Rob and said, "This is great! We are probably the only ones to ever experience Rock Creek Butte in this form!" His response, "I'm glad you are thinking that way!"

After a long stretch of snow, we found ourselves climbing up rock faces to avoid the cold blanket of ice. Before I knew it, I was hanging from a rocky cliff, unable to find a firm hand hold. Every rock was loose, and my only option was to swing my body around a sketchy rock to boost me to the top. Death crossed my mind multiple times. Would this rock hold all of my weight? I wasn't sure, but it was my only option. Luckily, Rob was at the top and helped pull me to safer ground. With hearts pounding out of our chests, we plopped down on the ground, laying in disbelief. I literally couldn't believe I was still alive. 

As we looked to our next route, we noticed we had nearly climbed to the top of Rock Creek Butte while trying to maneuver our way around the snow. We did it after all! The problem was that after our multiple stunts of bravery, we were ready to get off of the mountain. Now, the decent was even further. As we discussed our options, we decided to brave the snow and literally create a ladder with our hands and feet. Kicking and packing the snow one step at a time. 

It was freezing, and my hands were numb, but I knew this was our best option. After a couple hours, the steepness of the slope subsided. To make up for time, we slid down the mountain, using our feet and hands as breaks to keep us from gaining too much speed. As soon as we thought we were at the bottom, another cliff challenged us. Our newly acquired skills helped us defeat it with out a problem. 

The hike back to the car seemed to take a while, but we definitely enjoyed the brown earth under our feet. After a 13.5 hour hike that challenged us in every mental and physical way, we treated ourselves to burgers from Haine's Steak House. They were delicious!

On this adventure, Rob and I were able to see the beauty of this earth from another seemingly untouched perspective.  Yes, we did some crazy things on this mountaineering escapade, but we survived and expanded our skills by pushing ourselves and staying focused. Learning begins where comfort ends. :)

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