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Ascent of Steens Mountain on 2021-06-22

Climber: Chris Gilsdorf

Date:Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Steens Mountain
    Location:USA-Oregon
    Elevation:9733 ft / 2966 m

Ascent Trip Report

This is a superlative peak. With well over four thousand feet of prominence, and a long slope from the west leading up to a dramatic dropoff on the east, and holding numerous patches of snow well into late June in a record-setting year, this is the unquestionable monarch of southeastern Oregon. An excellent dirt road leads to near the top; however, it still took some three hours to get up the mountain from McDermitt! I looped around to the north, cutting west and then south near New Princeton, then continued down into Frenchglen where I again filled up, this time at an old-time gas pump in town. Once you get on the right dirt roads out of town, you will find this to be one of the nicest dirt roads you've ever driven on. It honestly was a pleasure--nary a bump in the road for long stretches!

However, the weather was looking increasingly dismal. A cloud layer had been hanging over the mountain all morning, but from Frenchglen I could see that the clouds were sinking onto the higher parts of the mountain, hiding them from view. Sorely disappointed I might miss out on the summit views, I nonetheless drove, higher and higher, past patches of forest and small lakes, and up onto the surreal alpine tundra of the mountain crest. Clouds danced over the ridgeline, rolling across the crest of the mountain and rapidly dropping into the valleys beyond. I drove across this eerie, but beautiful moonscape to the first highpoint candidate, reaching a road junction where the leftmost option went to this point, the center option to Steens proper, and the rightmost--unfortunately closed and barricaded today, for unknown reasons--to the remaining portion of the Steens Mountain loop road.

After tagging the highest rocks on the other candidate, I returned here and took the slightly lesser (but still excellent) road to the gate below the last few tenths of a mile of road leading to the summit of Steens. As I walked this road, I initially couldn't even see the summit, but the clouds began to break apart to a truly awe-inspiring view. A stunning lake basin to the south came into view, and as I reached the summit, the clouds rolling over the mountain began to dissipate as they hit the crest. The cool, damp breeze, in the mid-50s, felt like heaven. I could have stayed up there all day...but other mountains awaited. I made the drive out, and none too soon--before even reaching Frenchglen, the weather took a dramatic turn for the worse, and thunderstorms ravaged Steens for the next hour or so. I continued on south to Denio, and Nevada...
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