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!

 

 

 





I Love Camping and Hiking in the Metolius River Region

7 01 2015
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The Metolius River from our campsite!

Bubbling up from the ground fully-formed, the Metolius River, at Camp Sherman, Oregon, is one of the state’s most magical outdoor gems. The Metolius River Valley stretches 13 miles from the mouth. Because it lies just to the east of Santiam Pass, it is solidly in the Central Oregon ecosystem. Blessed in a rain shadow, the valley is dry most of the year – and dry-climate-friendly Ponderosa Pines dominate the forest.

There is a lot going on in the Metolius River Valley – but it’s subtle. It’s not widely advertised. First and foremost, it’s all about the river. At the head of the valley the Metolius emerges from the ground as a fully formed river. It’s not a little spring. It is urgently rushing out at its headwaters. The water is glacier snow melt coming directly from glaciers in the Three Sisters, where it disappears underground and flows for many miles in underground lava tubes, only to emerge in the Metolius River Valley. That means it’s extremely cold and pure.

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Fly fisherman on the Metolius

This river, wending its way through snags and bends, is perfect habitat for trout and salmon. The Metolius River is a national blue ribbon trout fishing stream. When visiting the area you always glimpse fly fishermen trying their luck along its banks.

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Nothing like a multistory fire!

There are several campgrounds sprinkled along the Metolius River, plus there are lodging opportunities in Camp Sherman. My personal favorite is Allen Springs Campground because it sits along a U-shaped bend in the river. There are three walk-in campsites on the U-shaped peninsula. If you score the campsite at the end of the peninsula, you have guaranteed privacy and simulated back country camping. You just need to walk your gear to it. This guarantees no RVs parked next door. No generators grumbling during the night. All you hear is the glorious burbling of the Metolius!

Forget to bring everything? Fear not. You can get what you need at the Camp Sherman General Store. Even better, the store has delectable made to order sandwiches! It’s worth not bothering to pack your lunch because you can get a scrumptious fresh hand made sandwich at the store! If you order a club sandwich they’ll be cooking the bacon right in front of you.

There’s much more. There is a hiking trail running for at least 10 miles – down one side of the river and back up the other. A visit to the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery is well worth the stopover. For swimming and boating, Suttle Lake is just a few miles west of the exit for Camp Sherman off the highway. And in July, if you are up for an alpine hike through spectacular wildflowers, Three Finger Jack beckons.

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Rod pauses in front of Three Fingered Jack

On this trip my old college buddy Tully accompanied. For dinner, we used the tried-and-true Wok cooking method. Wokking is a great alternative to traditional camping meals. First and foremost it’s delicious! And fresh. It’s great for group cooking because the ingredients are all laid out and then each camper cooks their own. Some may be intimidated at first, but it’s virtually impossible to screw up a Wok meal!

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But prior to dinner there is the obligatory post-hike and pre-dinner happy hour. That requires a campfire. We violated all dietary guidelines by having a bag of Fritos. A camping secret is that Fritos and Doritos are excellent fire starters!

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Fritos are super fire starters!

No kindling??? No problem, IF you have a bag of Frito-Lay products on hand. The next thing is music. Tully provided plenty of songs from The Grateful Dead, The Eagles, and Eric Clapton. All good blended with the burbling of the Metolius River.

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Tully pickin’ on the guitar

Next day we glimpsed an unusual sight walking along the river. Turkeys!

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Turkeys!

There were 8 – 10 of them. Who knew! During a lunchtime visit to Camp Sherman we learned there are a lot of turkeys in the valley and they are a nuisance to some homeowners! The ones we saw looked innocent enough.

If you are in Central Oregon you should consider a visit to the Metolius Region!





Three Fingered Jack

21 10 2012

One of Central Oregon’s crown jewels is 7,844ft Three Fingered Jack. It is the core of an extinct volcano. Three Fingered Jack lies in between Mt Washington and Mt Jefferson and sits on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Jessie, Joel, Laura and I paid a visit there recently – camping at nearby Metolius River. We arrived mid afternoon Friday and got skunked at our favorite campsite on the peninsula at Allen Springs Campground. Figuring we had the luxury of time to search for a choice spot, we hunted around the local campgrounds. How naive we were! When we circled back one campground after another posted the “FULL” sign! We wound up with the very last site in the valley. No matter we made do and promised to try for a more choice spot that might get vacated in the morning!

Jessie, Joel and Laura by Canyon Creek

Though full the campground’s campers are gregarious but mellow. Nobody has trouble sleeping! Morning finds me fixing traditional bacon, eggs, and home made hash browns. All fueled up we head up to the trailhead at Jack Lake.

The three mile trail winds past a burned out area, then through shaded forest, then into wildflower-packed Canyon Creek Meadows and then into the basin underneath Three Fingered Jack. I’ve backpacked into the area and remember the view from the basin: You look straight up at the internal workings of a volcano! Spectacular.

And, this is not an ultimate challenge hike. It is a big payoff for easy effort hike! While we sweat on the trail, the climb is easy enough that we have no problem holding casual conversation on the way.

For the first three quarters of a mile of the trail passes through what was left after the B and B Complex fire, which burned 91,000 acres in 2003. It is a testimony to the catastrophic effects of climate change. Winters are warmer, allowing insects like the bark beetle to have longer reproductive cycles, leading to a population explosion. Normally lower temperature helps control the breeding season. With more beetles, the trees upon which they feed don’t stand a chance. The beetles feed on wood just below the bark – and when they complete a circle around the tree, the tree becomes “girdled,” and slowly dies. The only defense the tree has is to produce extra sap. In bark beetle-infested forests, mile upon mile of trees stand with the lower bark falling off to the ground, and the trees eventually dry out. They become the perfect fuel waiting for the moment of ignition = a forest fire in waiting.

Then it takes us through a section untouched by fire. It’s as it was. Mountain Douglas Firs and Cedars. Shady. A patch of snow here and there. A pond. No bugs. Then the it opens up into meadows carpeted with withering wildflowers, and the mountain dominates the view ahead.

Our goal is to reach the basin beneath the caldera, where we will take in the view and picnic.

We climb a forested moraine and descend into the basin. Wow! Above our heads lies exposed the plumbing of a volcano. Clearly visible are layers of lava but injected into the layers are volcanic dikes, which are like pipes through which lava flows to the top of a volcano. Cool!

I love this spot!

And all around us a sea of wildflowers.

Here, I glimpse a wildflower I’ve never noticed before, which is a kind of wild petunia. Beautiful!

We pause to drink in the view and warmth.

Laura makes the best picnic of all. Very European with fruit, cheese, and even some wine to accompany!

We love wildflowers. And there are plenty to see! But they won’t last forever.

It won’t be long before they fade and winter returns to these parts.

But for now we are happy to enjoy the moment!