Twin Mountain, Oregon, July 2020

On Saturday, July 25, I climbed Twin Mountain in the Elkhorn Mountains northwest of Baker City. Twin Mountain is one of “Oregon’s 100 Highest Peaks“, a list first published by Jeff Howbert in the May 1996 issue of Pack & Paddle magazine. Peaks on his list have at least 500 feet of “clean” prominence (rising at least 500 feet above any saddle connecting it to anything higher). I know of three people who have climbed all 100 peaks, Pam Otley, Jay Avery, and Troy Baker.

Twin Mountain rising to the east from Peak 8428 in July 2012
Twin Mountain rising to the east from Peak 8428 in July 2012

The High Cascades include many of Oregon’s highest peaks. These fueled my original interest in climbing and I focused on them for many years. In 2007 I started working on my remaining Oregon’s 100 Highest Peaks, making slow but steady progress on these peaks over several years. Thirteen of the 100 peaks lie in the Elkhorn Mountains northwest of Baker City; as of 2015 I had climbed twelve of them. The last one, Twin Mountain, rebuffed my exploratory 2015 attempt due to difficult access. Since then it had been easy to defer returning to try again as I became distracted by Oregon’s prominence peaks. It was finally time to return.

Twin Mountain from Bulger Flat Road
Twin Mountain from Bulger Flat Road
I parked at an abandoned road leading through forest up the east ridge
I parked at an abandoned road leading through forest up the east ridge

Saturday morning, July 15, I leave our Baker Valley property and drive the primitive Bulger Flat Lane towards Twin Mountain. I park beside the road below Twin Mountain’s heavily forested east ridge. From there I hike an abandoned road that leads a short distance up the ridge, then plunge into the heavy forest.

I leave the road and begin climbing up the east ridge through heavy forest
I leave the road and begin climbing up the east ridge through heavy forest

As I climb I make use of game trails where I can and try to stay near the ridgeline to minimize the steepness. After about 2000 feet of climbing the forest opens up and the climb becomes more pleasant.

I climb through more open forest above 8000 feet towards Peak 8566
I climb through more open forest above 8000 feet towards Peak 8566
The summit cairn of Peak 8566 with a registry
The summit cairn of Peak 8566 with a registry

I eventually reach the summit of the subsidiary Peak 8566. Here is a cairn and a summit registry with several entries by elk hunters over recent years. The Baker Valley and Baker City lie below me to the southeast. To the west rise the summit peaks of Twin Mountain.

From Peak 8566 the Baker Valley lies below with Baker City just visible beyond the shoulder of Hunt Mountain
From Peak 8566 the Baker Valley lies below with Baker City just visible beyond the shoulder of Hunt Mountain
West from Peak 8566, Powder Benchmark rises in the center with the Twin Mountain summit beyond to the left.
West from Peak 8566, Powder Benchmark rises in the center with the Twin Mountain summit beyond to the left.

From Peak 8566 I plan to follow the summit ridgeline west towards the summit of Twin Mountain a little over a mile away. I descend to a saddle, then climb west to the next peak on the ridgeline. Here steep rock gendarmes guard the ridge. These force me to traverse lower to the south over talus, between and beneath rock blocks and towers, slowing my progress.

I visit Powder Benchmark on the traverse, only 1 foot lower than the summit
I visit Powder Benchmark on the traverse, only 1 foot lower than the summit

The next peak on the ridge, Powder Benchmark, has an open summit and good views. Powder Benchmark at 8896 feet of elevation is officially only 1 foot lower than the summit. I was sure to claim this point in case of future USGS revisions.

The summit of Twin Mountain on the left from Powder Benchmark
The summit of Twin Mountain on the left from Powder Benchmark

The summit of Twin Mountain still seems distant and it is later than I planned, but I am committed to summit. I notice a tempting open slope leading down from the Twin Mountain summit towards the North Powder River. I had hiked below years ago on my climb of nearby Red Mountain and I debate using that open slope as a possibly faster descent route.

The last slope leading to the summit of Twin Mountain
The last slope leading to the summit of Twin Mountain
The summit of Twin Mountain with skis left here years ago to memorialize a lost friend
The summit of Twin Mountain with skis left here years ago to memorialize a lost friend

Fortunately, the last ridgeline hike is open and easy to travel. I finally arrive much later than expected on the summit of Twin Mountain (8897 feet) where I rest, eat lunch, and enjoy reading and signing the registry.

Angell Peak, Gunsight Mountain, and Van Patten Butte from Twin Mountain
Angell Peak, Gunsight Mountain, and Van Patten Butte to the west
Peak 8428 left center and "Dutch Flat Saddle South" on the right from Twin Mountain
Peak 8428 left center and “Dutch Flat Saddle South” on the right from Twin Mountain
Mount Ruth, Mount Ireland, and distant Vinegar Hill lined up from Twin Mountain
Mount Ruth, Mount Ireland, and distant Vinegar Hill lined up from Twin Mountain
Columbia Hill lies just left of center. Strawberry Mountain and Dixie Butte lie in the distance.
Columbia Hill lies just left of center. Strawberry Mountain and Dixie Butte lie in the distance.
Red Mountain, "Summit Point", and distant Ironside Mountain from Twin Mountain
Red Mountain, “Summit Point”, and distant Ironside Mountain from Twin Mountain
Rock Creek Butte, the highpoint of the Elkhorn Mountains, to the south from Twin Mountain
Rock Creek Butte, the highpoint of the Elkhorn Mountains, to the south from Twin Mountain

I savor my success and views and take many photos of familiar peaks, around me in the Elkhorn Mountains and beyond. I identify several more Elkhorn peaks yet to visit.

Looking east towards Powder Benchmark and the start of my long traverse back
Looking east towards Powder Benchmark and the start of my long traverse back

After more thought I decide not to use the south slope as a descent route, favoring the devil I knew to the one I do not. Instead, I descend my ascent route, the east ridge, taking a more direct path where I can.

I think this is Rock Buckwheat (Eriogonum sphaerocephalum)
I think this is Rock Buckwheat (Eriogonum sphaerocephalum)
I think this is Tailcup Lupine (Lupinus caudatus ssp. caudatus), one of so many species of Lupine
I think this is Tailcup Lupine (Lupinus caudatus ssp. caudatus), one of so many species of Lupine

In spite of the lateness I take a few minutes as I descend high on the east ridge to photograph some wildflowers. I’ll try to identify them later. I gratefully return to my Jeep and drive back to our Baker Valley property to have a late dinner with Linda.

It was a scenic day in the Elkhorn Mountains and I savored my success on Twin Mountain. I have 23 more “Oregon 100 Highest Peaks” yet to visit. They all lie in the Wallowa Mountains in the Northeast corner of Oregon.

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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