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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.