Maxwell Benchmark, Oregon, July 2020

Maxwell Benchmark and Hunt Mountain rise abruptly above the Baker Valley and invite a visit each time I see them. Early on Thursday, July 30, I left the valley to visit them.

Maxwell Benchmark (center) and Hunt Mountain (right) from Running Iron Road in the Baker Valley
Maxwell Benchmark (center) and Hunt Mountain (right) from Running Iron Road in the Baker Valley

From the Baker Valley I turned off Pocahontas Road and drove west up South Rock Creek Road. I continued along Rock Creek as the road entered National Forest, became FR 5520, and changed from pavement to good gravel to coarse and eroded gravel. I passed the Killamacue Trailhead and arrived at Eilertson Meadow.

Eilertson Meadow from my parking spot
Eilertson Meadow from my parking spot

Here I turned onto a lesser road and starting driving uphill. The road became narrow, steep, and brushy and I was concerned that should I meet a vehicle coming in the other direction, either then or while descending in the afternoon, it might be difficult to pass. So I took advantage of a wider spot in the road, turned around, returned to Eilertson Meadow, and parked.

Here the road turns into an ATV track. A good parking spot is just before here.
Here the road turns into an ATV track. A good parking spot is just before here.
One of the Highland Mine ruins beside the road
One of the Highland Mine ruins beside the road

I hiked up the sometimes narrow and steep road into a narrow valley past mining ruins. Shortly before the second ruins I found a good parking spot on my left just as the road steepened sharply, became very rocky, and seemed more an ATV track than a road. Next time I might drive to this spot, listening as I drive for any approaching vehicles.

The ATV track passes trail junctions and becomes the Highland Trail
The ATV track passes trail junctions and becomes the Highland Trail
Looking across towards the Cougar Basin from the Highland Trail in morning light
Looking across towards the Cougar Basin from the Highland Trail in morning light

Eventually the ATV track passes junctions and becomes the Highland Trail, climbing through forest, beside rock slides, and across open slopes. The morning light illuminated basins and ridges to the west.

Castilleja flava var. rustica beside the Highland Trail. It is rare in Oregon.
Castilleja flava var. rustica beside the Highland Trail. It is rare in Oregon.
Lewis Flax (Linum lewisii), named after Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Lewis Flax (Linum lewisii), named after Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

I found several wildflowers on the higher open slopes in morning shade and paused for photos. One was a yellow Indian Paintbrush. After much study at home I made my best guess as Castilleja oresbia, and posted my observation as such on iNaturalist.org. An expert subsequently identified it as Castilleja flava var. rustica, a great find as it is rare in Oregon.

The Highland Trail becomes more faint as it approaches the saddle, but is still easy to follow
The Highland Trail becomes more faint as it approaches the saddle, but is still easy to follow

The Highland Trail switchbacks upwards to a saddle at 8200 feet below the south ridge of Maxwell Benchmark. It then continues over the saddle and down into the Pine Creek drainage. According to plan I left the trail here and climbed the open south ridge towards the summit of Maxwell Benchmark.

Rock Buckwheat (Eriogonum sphaerocephalum) on the saddle below the south ridge of Maxwell Benchmark
Rock Buckwheat (Eriogonum sphaerocephalum) on the saddle below the south ridge of Maxwell Benchmark
The south ridge of Maxwell Benchmark is an easy climb with great views
The south ridge of Maxwell Benchmark is an easy climb with great views

Hunt Mountain seemed much too far to traverse over to and back on what was expected to be a hot day so I decided to defer visiting Hunt Mountain to another day. Instead, I took my time climbing the south ridge, pausing several times for photos of the surrounding mountains and colorful flowers.

The Maxwell Benchmark summit. The MAXWELL benchmark, itself, lies in front of my pack.
The Maxwell Benchmark summit. The MAXWELL benchmark, itself, lies in front of my pack.
Willow Creek Lake, Hunt Mountain, and the Baker Valley from the Maxwell Benchmark summit
Willow Creek Lake, Hunt Mountain, and the Baker Valley from the Maxwell Benchmark summit

At the Maxwell Benchmark summit I rested, had lunch, and enjoyed the views. I studied the traverse towards Hunts Mountain. Instead, I think I will attempt Hunt Mountain from Pine Creek up its south ridge next time. I tagged an alternative nearby summit just to be sure I had visited the highest point.

Peak 8615 and Elkhorn Peak beyond it from high on Maxwell Benchmark
Peak 8615 and Elkhorn Peak beyond it from high on Maxwell Benchmark
Rock Creek Butte appears behind the Cougar Pond Peaks from high on Maxwell Benchmark
Rock Creek Butte appears behind the Cougar Pond Peaks from high on Maxwell Benchmark

Descending my route, I paused several times for more photos. I recognized many Elkhorn peaks I have previously visited and picked out several new ones to visit another time.

Chloride Ridge from low on the Highland Trail. Twin Mountain lies beyond to the right
Chloride Ridge from low on the Highland Trail. Twin Mountain lies beyond to the right

I had the hike to myself and met only one other person, on an ATV, after I had returned to my Jeep. It had been a scenic and pleasant day on trail and open country. Someday I expect to return, but I have many other peaks to visit before then.

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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