The view from Meadow Mountain.
Photo by Zoë Symon
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Scouting Catherine Creek

Evan and I signed up to be a part of a trail maintenance trip in the Eagle Cap Wilderness with our local trails organization, Wallowa Mountain Hells Canyon Trails Association. The trail hadn't been maintained for years, so we decided to do an overnight scouting trip to assess the condition of the trail.

Zoë Symon       Trail Report       07/28/2019
Zoë Symon
Trail Report

Evan and I recently started volunteering with the Wallowa Mountains Hells Canyon Trails Association, and though we’ve had busy summers, we were able to sign up for our first trail maintenance work party. The trail hadn’t been cleared in years, and was just past the first place that Evan and I visited in the Wilderness when we moved to the area, so we decided to take an overnight backpacking trip to scout the area.

Day 1

The Catherine Creek Trailhead is on our side of the forest, so the drive was relatively short. We parked the truck and chatted with some horseback riders before heading up the trail with Springer, our dog.

The hike up to the meadow was leisurely, hiking through forests, along smooth trails, and across Catherine Creek. We were delighted by the abundance of ripe huckleberries, and our trip slowed a little as we paused every so often to pull a few from a nearby bush and greedily stuff them in our mouths.

A hiker and a dog stand in front of a cabin in a meadow with an evergreen forest in the background.
Evan and Springer check out the Catherine Creek Cabin.
Photo by Zoë Symon

We stopped at the north end of the Catherine Creek Meadow to check out the cabin and to attempt to find the beginning of the project trail.

It seems like most people stop at the cabin, as Evan and I had previously. We had a difficult time finding where our project trail left the meadow, and an even harder time finding where it crossed the creek. We walked through a significant amount of stinging nettle before we found the trail away from the meadow.

After pausing at the creek to filter some water and have a snack, we continued on. For the most part, the actual trail was easy to follow, but we counted over 70 trees down across the trail!

The first day was beautiful, and the trail meandered through small meadows and coniferous forests.

As the trail began to climb slightly, we began looking for a good place to set up camp.

A lush green meadow has evergreen trees in the background.
Catherine Creek Meadow.
Photo by Zoë Symon
A hiker looks at a winding stream in a lush meadow with an evergreen forest in the background.
Evan looks for fish in Catherine Creek.
Photo by Zoë Symon
A trail winds through a green meadow. A hiker travels down it towards an evergreen forest.
Evan walks down a trail through a meadow.
Photo by Zoë Symon

Suitable campsites seemed to be rare along most of the trail, but the day was still young, so we continued on, counting fallen trees and enjoying the day. We even spooked some elk in a small grove of trees!

Eventually we made our way across a meadow and encountered a beautiful campsite: plenty of flat shaded areas with a cushion of fir needles. The only thing we needed to watch out for was old cow pies! We learned later that, 5 or 6 years ago, this area had been one of the last cattle grazing allotments in the wilderness. It’s remarkable that we were still able to see intact cow pies so long after they were deposited. It really makes you think about the impact that we leave on the landscape even after we’ve been gone for a while.

We ate a delicious dinner and shared a small box of wine (Evan packed out these treats for us) and watched as the sun slowly dipped behind the mountains.

A blue tent is set up in a grove of evergreen trees.
Our campsite for the night.
Photo by Zoë Symon
A green meadow surrounded by evergreen trees.
The view from camp.
Photo by Zoë Symon

Day 2

The next day we had a leisurely morning and packed up camp (after eating another delicious meal made by Evan).

The trail began to climb slowly upwards and eventually we burst out of the treeline to encounter a stunning vista: a forested valley surrounded by majestic rocky peaks, some of which still sported patches of snow. This trail junction marked the end of the project area, so we stopped counting trees and continued up the rest of the short climb to the true summit area of Meadow Mountain.

A view of distant mountains and forests from a rocky ridge.
The view from the ridge at the junction before Meadow Mountain.
Photo by Zoë Symon

After a short but steep climb, we began to realize how Meadow Mountain got its name. The summit was more of a long, wide ridge rather than a sharp peak, and was covered in lush grass and small stands of trees.

At one bend in the trail, we encountered the remnants of an old radio tower: large piles of rocks with thick cables protruding out of them as if they had once held a giant hostage.

A hiker looks at a distant valley through binoculars.
Evan looks back down the valley. “I can see our house from here!”
Photo by Zoë Symon

Shortly after the radio tower, we decided to take a break for some snacks, some water, and some time with Evan’s binoculars. We had stopped at the exact right place and were able to look back across the Grande Ronde Valley towards La Grande and our home.

As we continued on, we witnessed another amazing sight: a pair of eagles engaged in a spectacular dance together, alternately gliding across the valley and then locking together and plummeting some distance down before rising again. We guessed they were a mating pair, something I had never seen before with my own eyes.

We continued along the ridge, constantly rewarded with spectacular views, until we reached our next trail junction. We descended down the trail through the drainage, making our way back to the Forest Service roads we had arrived on.

Eventually we reached the trailhead and began the 2-mile gravel road walk back to our truck (the loop we had planned wasn’t a true trail loop, but we had agreed it would be more fun to visit more parts of the forest than to do a simple out-and-back). We passed a few families along the way who were out picking huckleberries and enjoying the beautiful summer day.

The road walk seemed to take forever, but once we arrived back at the truck, we both eagerly submerged our aching legs and feet in the cold creek before beginning the drive back to civilization.

When we got home, we rewarded ourselves with ice cream. There’s something about having ice cream after a hike that makes it taste so much better than normal!

A dog with a green backpack sits in front of a view of mountains.
Springer sitting pretty.
Photo by Zoë Symon
A trail winds across a meadow on a ridgeline towards forests and mountains.
The trail along Meadow Mountain.
Photo by Zoë Symon

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About the Author
A woman wearing glasses sits in front of a bamboo grove.

Zoë Symon

Zoë grew up in North Carolina and first heard of the Appalachian Trail during her time in college. In 2016, she took a leave of absence from her job and thru-hiked the trail. This adventure fostered her love for the outdoors and for hiking. Currently, she explores the public lands of Oregon. In 2017 she joined the team at Atlas Guides as Creative Director. She spends her days improving experiences for all our users.