Cougar Pond Southeast Peak, Oregon, August 2019

On Friday, August 23, Linda and I drove up Pine Creek Road on the east side of the Elkhorn Mountains of northeast Oregon. My intent was to hike Cougar Pond Southeast Peak, an unofficially named peak in the nearby Elkhorn Mountains. Linda’s intent was to ride her mountain bike back to our campsite in the Baker Valley, then ride her road bike on a loop out of camp. It had been four years since I last drove this steep, rocky, and narrow road. I was glad to have my high-clearance, 4WD Jeep.

Linda prepares to descend the steep, rocky, and narrow road on her bike
Linda prepares to descend the steep, rocky, and narrow road on her bike

Linda wondered why I had suggested she ride down on such a treacherous road. The previous day I had thought she would enjoy exploring this nearby part of the Elkhorn Mountains but this morning I wondered whether I had made a such a good suggestion.

Linda begins her descent and approaches the curve where the road becomes challenging
Linda begins her descent and approaches the curve where the road becomes challenging

Just after leaving private property I found a nice parking spot. Here Linda began descending on her bike after promising to be very careful where the descent was steepest and rockiest. I felt a little guilty as she left.

A view of Rock Creek Butte, the highpoint of the Elkhorn Mountains, from the trail
A view of Rock Creek Butte, the highpoint of the Elkhorn Mountains, from the trail

I followed the road higher on foot and the road soon became steeper, narrower, and rockier. It seemed more of an ATV track than a road. Certainly, I would not drive my Jeep higher. I passed through forest, above the nearly dry Pine Creek Reservoir, and got my first views of Elkhorn Peak and Rock Creek Butte.

The trail switchbacks up this steep slope to a saddle
The trail switchbacks up this steep slope to a saddle

The track traversed around and switchbacked up a steep slope. Just before the ATV track ended I found the unmaintained trail that switchbacked up the steep slope to a saddle. Here I got phone coverage and saw Linda’s message that she had safely returned to camp. That was a relief.

Looking into Cougar Basin and at Cougar Pond from the saddle
Looking into Cougar Basin and at Cougar Pond from the saddle
Cougar Pond SW Peak rising to the west above the saddle
Cougar Pond SW Peak rising to the west above the saddle

From the saddle I looked north down into Cougar Basin and at Cougar Pond. To my left rose Cougar Pond Southwest Peak, which I had climbed four years earlier.

Cougar Pond SE Peak rising to the east above the saddle
Cougar Pond SE Peak rising to the east above the saddle
The last 300 feet to the summit was open with good footing
The last 300 feet to the summit was open with good footing

To my right rose Cougar Pond Southeast Peak, this day’s goal. I followed the open ridge up east to its summit. It was an easy scenic ascent with just a few trees and rock outcroppings to step around. The footing was good and it was easy to be distracted by the scenery.

The summit of Cougar Pond SE Peak. A butterfly flutters by above my pack.
The summit of Cougar Pond SE Peak. A butterfly flutters by above my pack.

Several butterflies fluttered around the roomy summit. The summit ridge drew my view east down into the Baker Valley and across to the Wallowa Mountains.

The northern Elkhorn Mountains from Cougar Pond SE Peak summit
The northern Elkhorn Mountains from Cougar Pond SE Peak summit
Looking west from the summit across the Elkhorn Mountains from Cougar Pond SE Peak summit
Looking west from the summit across the Elkhorn Mountains from Cougar Pond SE Peak summit

To the north, west, and south I viewed the crest of the Elkhorn Mountains. It was fun picking out several peaks I have previously climbed, and a bit more sobering picking out more remote peaks I have yet to visit.

Rock Creek Butte from Cougar Pond SE Peak summit.
Rock Creek Butte from Cougar Pond SE Peak summit.
Elkhorn Peak from Cougar Pond SE Peak summit
Elkhorn Peak from Cougar Pond SE Peak summit

It is a beautiful mountain range with steep, rocky peaks rising above forest valleys and glacial cirques holding lakes and ponds.

Elkhorn Mountain Goats
Elkhorn Mountain Goats

I descended the same route. Just after returning to the ATV track I spotted two mountain goats nearby. I often see mountain goats in the Elkhorn Mountains, even on popular trails. One ATV climbed past me lower on the track and several others passed by on their way higher after my return to my Jeep. I passed one Jeep on my descent on the narrow, rocky road. This is a popular area for 4-wheelers.

I have several more peaks to visit in the Elkhorn Mountains. They will be more difficult to access. Then I can start repeating my favorite peaks to savor the mountain views, wilderness spirits, and fond memories.

Paul McClellan

About Paul McClellan

I had the good fortune to have spent most of my life in the Pacific Northwest, where I discovered the joys and addiction of hiking and climbing in the Cascade Mountains and other mountain ranges in the Western United States.
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