Metolius River, OR in October

28 01 2020
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Picture perfect from my campsite.

In late October 2019, two things converged: A couple of midweek days off, and a forecast of 70-degree sunny days for the Metolius River area. The Metolius River campgrounds stay open until mid December. With such a terrific forecast and time off, I scrambled to pack up one last time and get some more camping and river watching in!

The Metolius River valley and its Camp Sherman zip code are one of Oregon’s jewels. The river is super clean as it emerges as a fully grown river from a lava tube at the head of the valley. The valley is populated by orange-red barked Ponderosa Pine. And the Forest Service conducts regular “controlled burns” so that the underbrush never grows too high. The valley road winds along the river but also climbs to vistas of nearby Cascade peaks such as the Three Sisters, Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack, and Mount Jefferson. This means that a drive to the campground immerses you in a lush, peaceful forest with a blue ribbon trout stream populated by hopeful fly fishers, punctuated by blue skies and snowy peaks.

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10,450 ft Mount Jefferson

70 degree days in late October in the Metolius area are not the norm, but they do occur often enough that it’s worth keeping an eye on the weather in case they pop up. The area sits in a rain shadow just east of the Cascade crest. It’s guaranteed the campgrounds will be 50% empty. No reason for a reservation.

I found one of those picture perfect, lots-of-real-estate campsites with a magnificent view of the river. And not far from the rest room either!

Just behind my site, on the other side of the road, was somebody camping with some kind of tiny Airstream trailer. I set up my tent, put the pad, sleeping pad and pillows inside.

Then, I proceeded to set up the camp kitchen and the fire pit that is always a “reason to come camping.”

The valley sits in a north-south position. With a low ridge to the west and a higher, 800ft ridge on the east side.

 

I sat by the river and read my New York Times as the warmth set in. But as it was late October, I started to realize that the lower level of the sun meant an early sunset here.

 

The forecast for this area said nighttime low temperatures would be in the low 40’s. That was no problem for me. So, I brought my 32-degree down bag. This Mountain Hardwear 800-fill down bag has been terrific. It’s been warm even down to the mid 30’s.

With the sun setting and chill creeping in, I lit a campfire and hastily set about making dinner. By 7:30 p.m. it was mighty chilly and time to crawl into the sleeping bag.

With my sleeping bag zipped up, ski hat on my head and gloves, plus my two pillows, I was actually just fine sleeping through the night. In fact, I was quite surprised how comfy I felt. I looked forward to the 70-degree day following.

The next part isn’t so rosy. I went to bed at 7:30, so my 6:30 a.m. I was DONE with sleeping and very much wanted to get up and start the day. What I wasn’t expecting was while although it was light outside, the sun had not come up over the eastern side of the valley. And much of what was liquid last night was now frozen. The pump on the camp stove barely moved. It groaned and squeaked, as did I. The temperature was clearly below freezing and not the mid 40’s predicted. While I was fine tucked into my sleeping bag, outside I was in the discomfort zone, and the sun wasn’t anywhere near rising above the valley wall anytime soon! Worse, I could hear the radio coming from the tiny Airstream trailer just accoss the way. This is when I knew that for late season camping a trailer does have it merits!

I managed to pump up my stove and get a nice few cups of coffee going. Then, the fire. Still, I was a bit put off by the weather forecast. As the morning progressed, it wasn’t until 9:30 by the time the sun came up over the hill, warming everything up. So, I realized the actual maximum temperature was only a few fleeting hours today. Whilst beautiful, I decided to just head back home rather than endure another long morning! It wasn’t the night, it was the long cold morning that got to me. Nevertheless, the Metolius area is beautiful even in late fall. Perhaps a hotel night would do the trick!