Thursday, July 9, 2015

Mill Creek Backpack

Memorial Day Weekend in NW Oregon is typically cold and wet.  If my hubby and I do any camping, we always head east of the Cascades.

The trail beckons...

For a couple of years now, I've been wanting to start backpacking again.  After several failed attempts, I decided 2015 would be the year I'd make it happen, and chose Memorial Day weekend for our first trip.  Knowing this holiday's rainy reputation, I picked a trail in sunny, dry Central Oregon.  Hearing lots of glowing reports, the Mill Creek Wilderness, just east of Prineville, got the nod.

"Official" trailhead

Roger and I rose early that Saturday morning, and after a 4-hour drive, pulled into the Twin Pillars Trailhead, at the Mill Creek Wilderness western edge.  After lots of last-minute adjustments (it had been a long time since we'd donned humongous backpacks!) we set out along the trail, Roger charging ahead, and me meandering behind.

Lush forest

After passing through a pretty car campground, we found the "official" trailhead, next to a gated crossing.  Stepping through this threshold transported us into a lush, green, magical wilderness.

Entering the wilderness area

Although the trail was supposed to follow Mill Creek, the stream didn't show itself for the first half mile.  Our path finally climbed up a steep bank, and we gazed at the lovely little creek, burbling below.

Our first sighting of Mill Creek

The forests here were predominately ponderosa pine.  The undergrowth was much more grassy than the forests on the Cascade's western slopes.  But I enjoyed the change of scenery, especially when we passed through a meadow chock-full of yellow Arnica blossoms.

A meadow full of arnica

I'd read this trail was known for it's multiple creek crossings.  Realizing we might have to wade, Roger and I had strapped sandals to the outside of our packs.  Not a huge fan of water crossings, I was a tad bit apprehensive about high spring runoff creating a raging torrent.  But at mile 1.3, when we encountered our first crossing, Roger discovered a large downed tree spanning the creek.

First creek crossing

We both easily shuffled across it's trunk, no problem.  Our feet stayed dry - this time.

Tentative log shuffle

We continued on, trekking through more gorgeous scenery.  The wildflowers were out in force, and I enjoyed the colorful display of purple larkspur, orange columbine, and more yellow Arnica.


Then we came upon creek crossing number two!  But again the crossing was easy-peasy, thanks to a few well-placed logs.

Log balance

Crossing number three was another cinch - the water was shallow enough we could almost walk across.  Roger and I hopped over on a few well-placed stones.  Only the  bottoms of our boots got wet.

Hopping through the shallow part

I was beginning to think these creek crossings had been over-hyped when we came upon our fourth ford.  This one was different.  There were no rocks or tree trunks to hop onto.  The water was just deep enough that wading would totally submerge our boots.  Good thing we brought those sandals!

Sometimes you just have to take off the boots and wade!

Sooo......we dropped our packs, off came the boots, and on went the sandals!  It seemed a lot of work just to walk across a twenty foot wide creek.  But I didn't want wet boots for the rest of the weekend, so that's what I did.

Lovely meadow

On the creek's opposite shore, our efforts were rewarded with a wonderful bright green meadow to walk through.

Columbine bloom

And more wildflowers to stop and admire.  Or, in my case, photograph.  And, no Roger didn't pick this columbine blossom.  He merely held it up so I could capture the yellow underside.

Entering the burn zone

About two miles in, we began seeing blackened tree trunks and scorched bushes, remnants of a 2000 forest fire.  Although the burned out trees made for a somber landscape, seeing so much lush green undergrowth was encouraging.

A large survivor

Some of the larger trees appeared to have escaped the flames.

The forest is coming back to life

Around the three mile mark, we came upon a side creek draining a lush meadow.  This area was  reputed to have some nice campsites, and I'd hoped to find one for ourselves here.  But after counting a half dozen tents set up, I decided to keep going in hopes of finding something more secluded.

Evidence of rebirth

By this time, Roger was starting to tire.  Carrying our tent and a couple other items, he definitely had the heavier load.  That, and since he didn't hike as much as I, wasn't as conditioned.  And, in our haste to leave, he'd accidentally grabbed his old worn-out hiking boots, and now his feet were beginning to protest.

Creekside campsite

I offered to hike ahead, and scout for possible campsites.  A short quarter mile later, I stumbled upon the perfect spot.  Situated on the creek's bank, we'd be serenaded by it's babbling waters.  The site also boasted a fire ring, a couple of log benches, and a private wooded area to pitch the tent.  And, best of all, there were no other campsites nearby.

A peaceful place

Yes, this place would do quite nicely!  After setting up camp, and enjoying a leisurely lunch, it was barely noon.  The day still young, we decided it was time for more exploration.  The trail continued to a rock formation called the Twin Pillars.  Since we now had lightened loads, Roger and I decided to go check it out.

Stop back for my next post and see what we found.

Sharing with:  Weekly Top Shot and Scenic Weekends.


  1. Beautiful place to have a walk and explore, Linda!

  2. Nice hike and a good find for a campsite! Thanks for sharing, Linda. Looking forward to your next post!

  3. Lovely area Linda! I didn't know the area around Prineville was so green...Love the wildflowers and trees-- love central and eastern Oregon!
    Blessings, Aimee

  4. Another excellent walk. I am looking forward to part II. Forest fires are depressing but several plants need the heat to germinate their seeds. Doesn't sound right now and didn't when I first heard it. Oh well.

  5. I felt I wascoming along with you on your lovely hike. it was a good idea that you brought your sandals to cross the water without getting your boots wet.

  6. Love where you decided to camp, and your water follies made me smile.
    Sad about our many forest fires, but they'll always be and our forests will always recover.
    Great post, I enjoyed backpacking with you!

  7. A gorgeous and peaceful place indeed. I love hiking through the woods, and the trails you show us here are more then inviting.

    Mersad Donko Photography

  8. I did a project for that wilderness but couldn't go see it (don't ask). I had heard a lot of it burned. Looks pretty though, and I didn't know it was so visited.

  9. Nice post - I only really like camping like this - light weigh and free from company!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  10. Hi! Nice creek crossings. I think you enjoyed the crossings very much. Wearing a pair of sandals is a nice idea. Wild flowers are very beautiful too. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Hello Linda, another great hike and post. I have car-camped but never backpacked. Looks like you found the perfect spot to pitch your tent. I love the scenery and the beautiful wildflowers. Wonderful post and images, happy weekend!

  12. Good luck with your backpacking! Not sure I'll ever do that again, but had a great long walk on a new part of the trail yesterday.

  13. cloudy days are the best for hiking - mud - not so much! That's a lot of gear you're carrying around. Have you read "Wild"?

  14. Looks like a great place to spend the night in the outdoors. And I bet without those heavy backpacks the rest of the day was a real treat. ;)

  15. Absolutely enjoyed your hike! My husband and i use to do this so much and i dearly love it, however, am a bit passed that stage and now need two hip replacements..... so, very happy to enjoy this hike through your eyes. Looks like a wonderful time and the scenery gorgeous. Smart bringing those sandals!

  16. I like the shot of the fallen log with yellow flowers. But there were a lot of fallen logs! Great hike.

  17. Such an adventurous soul, out camping in the wilderness and hiking!

  18. I love to tag along on your adventures. What beautiful scenery you have to enjoy, and your photography is the next best thing to balancing on those logs myself!

  19. I used to do a fair bit of backpacking, but it's been many years. Now I'm pretty sure I'm done, but it sure was nice to tag along with you on this one. Nice job! :-)

  20. Looks like a fabulous weekend and it's just begun! I had no idea this Wilderness existed...thank you for bringing it to my attention! Whenever I think of "East of Bend" I think of dry desert-like landscape. This is something else altogether! We'll be in the Bend area next summer and we may jut have to check it out.

  21. I would love to accompany you on your walks but without the heavy backpack!

  22. I'm glad that there still is wilderness out there. Tom The Backroads Traveller

  23. What a beautiful and peaceful area. A great way to spend time. Very beautiful photographs!

  24. I'm headed into the Trinity Alps this weekend. Mill Creek looks a lot like where I'm going so this post makes me super excited! :)

  25. Fun hike and beautiful scenic shots!

    Happy Weekend to you,
    artmusedog and carol

  26. This is a magical place to wander. Love the photo of the little stream below you and the log balance photo is great too.

  27. I was just thinking about the big Yellowstone fire and wondering how much has changed in that area. How nice you guys got out together!

  28. Looks like a wonderful place to enjoy nature. Happy weekend Linda.

  29. What a great way to start the hiking promise you made to yourself! Just the four hour drive would have done me in! Looking forward to reading and seeing more xx

  30. I applaud you both in the wildness Linda. Your pictures were splendid.

    Your brave souls. I guess you had some good bug repellent yes?

  31. That looks like a great hike - I'm looking forward to seeing that rock formation.

  32. I love the beauty of your hike.I can relate to the creek crossings. Its not the water that is the problem. It is putting the pack down, shoes off, [walk across] dry the feet, boots on, pack lifted, but all part of the fun.

  33. Looks a nice hike. We used to carry two large plastic bags and a few elastic bands backpacking. Useful up to knee deep streams and easy to fit over boots at crossings.Not that slippy underfoot with a walking pole. Also very light to carry on a long trip.

  34. What a great hike, I loved seeing all the Wildflowers:)

  35. Just finished reading "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed about backpacking the Pacific your presentation♪

  36. beautiful selection of wildflowers in the great scenery,


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