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Hiking poles are becoming essential gear

Photo by Jim Witty for The Bulletin
click to see original size

Near the top: Bob Speik, leading, and Bob Mahoney approach the summit of Horse Ridge 
during a hike. Hiking poles made the going a bit easier.

Exploratory hikes such as Horse Ridge can be reined in a little easier with aluminum poles, an outdoor tool that gives your knees a break.

The Bulletin
by Jim Witty
January 31, 2001

Our outing, billed as an exploratory hike and posted on the Cascades Mountaineers Web site, began at the south foot of the ridge, a sagebrush pocked hump with Millican Valley to the east. Inveterate outdoorsman Bob Speik and retired Marriott Corp. chief architect Bob Mahoney – active members of the Mountaineers - led the way.

Our goal: the highest point on the ridge at 5,148 feet. From our vantage about 1,000 feet below and 2˝ miles away, we could see what looked like our spot in the distance. But beware of false summits.

Under a leaden sky spitting snow, we began trekking upward, ever upward, toward the spine of the ridge, packs brimming with The 10 Essentials deemed must-haves when venturing outdoors by the local alpine club. They are map, compass, flashlight, bulbs and batteries, extra food, extra clothing layers, sunglasses, first aid kit, knife and a fire starter. Toilet paper and a butt pad to put between you and the cold ground when lunching are also strongly advised.

We only used a couple of those items, but it was good to know' they were there if we needed them. The poles, adjusted for height, made picking our way in slippery conditions less hazardous. Instead of dobbing ahead with the poles like a blind person testing the terrain, it's best to use them for stability and to place some of the gravity-fighting workload on your upper body. Switching into 4X4 can save the knees a lot of wear and tear.

A couple of miles into the climb, we realized that the high spot we had been eyeing was not the summit at all, but an interim peak on the ridge just-high enough to block the real summit from view as we approached. The genuine article lay about a half-mile farther along.

By peak-bagging standards, Horse Ridge Summit is a modest one. Topped with a jumble of rocks and a rawboned, wind-whipped juniper, it would be a great spot to take lunch in summer, munch on a muffin and attribute human characteristics to the solitary old veteran. But to "enjoy" lunch here in January is to feel the first tremulous effects of hypothermia kick in.

Sage grouse take up a winter refuge in Horse Ridge area.

Juniper musing would have to wait until we were back up and moving.

The hike back down, again, felt as though it was easier because of the poles.

The round trip was about five miles, not an ultra-arduous adventure but one made more challenging by weather conditions and the lack of a trail to follow. This type of hiking is not for everyone. If your abilities are more suited to less steep terrain and/or established trails, cross country rambling over hills straight out of a John Wayne movie may not be for you.

But for those who are able and prepared, there's a lot of High Desert out there to the east.

A good map is essential; for this hike it's the Horse Ridge, Oregon 7˝ Minute topographic map.

According to Bureau of Land Management biologist Paul Schmidt, the Horse Ridge area contains "important" habitat for the embattled sage grouse as well as other wildlife. It's on the extreme western fringe of the sage grouse's range and is used by the birds as a wintering area. During April and May, the ridge - particularly its brushy eastern and northern flanks - is frequented by nesting grouse.

The region is also considered prime winter range for mule deer.

Schmidt urges anyone recreating in the region to use common sense and steer clear of wildlife.

From Bend, drive about 20 miles east on Highway 20. Just past the Horse Ridge Summit, turn right on Road 2015. Park at the foot of the ridge about four miles in.
DIFFICULTY: A moderate to strenuous hike with about 1,000 feet in elevation gain. There is no trail.
ACCESS: Hikers. 
PERMITS: None required.


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