The Oregon Desert Trail (ODT) is a new conceptual hiking route that traverses the wild and remote southeast corner of Oregon. The ODT is approximately 800 Miles long and weaves its way through some of Oregon’s most spectacular natural areas such as the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, Steens Mountain Rage and Owhyhee Canyonlands. The route links a mixture of preexisting hiking trails, 4WD dirt trails, cross country travel and paved roads.
The area coved includes some of Oregon’s most extreme terrain and environmental conditions. The lack of reliable water sources requires thru-hikers to strategically place water caches before they hike or carry gallons of water over long stretches between water sources. The ODT is largely unmarked route. Anyone attempting the ODT must have strong navigation skills to safely complete the hike. The temperature can swing from below freezing to 100+ degrees from one day to the next. The terrain varies greatly from sandy to rocky exposed tread, bushwhacking through overgrown willows and sagebrush, and swimming down a river in The West Little Owhyee Canyon. Lastly, due to the remoteness of the trail, contact with people is limited. Cell phone reception is spotty. The further east you go along the route the less connected you become to the modern world.
I will start my journey on the ODT on May 17th 2014 at the Tumulus Trailhead in the Oregon Badlands outside of Bend, Oregon. Please follow this blog to follow my hike. I will update it when connectivity is available.
Oregon Desert Trail – The Oregon Badlands Wilderness – Black Lava Trail – April 27th 2014
In the fall of 2012 I came across an article in Oregonian by Terry Richard covering a proposed 800-mile trail in the high desert of Oregon. I was immediately captivated by the thought of hiking this part of Oregon. Two years earlier I thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and hiked sections of the Te Araroa in New Zealand. After finishing that epic journey that took me around the world and settling back into modern life my mind started thinking about my next adventure. The logical choice would be the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). At 3000 miles the CDT traverses the US continental divide through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. However, leaving my current career for a 4-month hike is not an option at this time. At 800 miles the ODT seemed like the perfect remedy to scratch my thru-hiking itch.
Over 2013 I would occasionally do a search to see if any additional information became available. One day in June I came across an article on a women from Bend, Oregon who was going to be the 1st to hike the ODT! Her name is Sage Clegg www.sageclegg.com. I followed along on a blog about Sage’s journey as she hiked 600-miles and biked the other 200-miles of this new route. She was able to do this journey in 36 days. I was hooked. To be one of the 1st people to hike a new trail and help shape it for future generations to come only presents itself once in a lifetime. I had to seize this opportunity! Thankfully I have a very understanding employer who approved the time off for a 6-week journey.
In February 2014 the 1st version of the map set was released to the general public. I attended a presentation in Portland by the organization that proposed the trail: www.onda.org. I remember walking out of the presentation excited and scared to death at the same time. This was going to be a major undertaking. The 1st 160 miles has only two reliable water sources along the route available to hikers. This meant caching water ahead of time along with carrying up to 7 liters of water over 20+ miles between water caches. Being strategic in placement was a must. Being a brand new route there was no information on where to cache your water or even how to get to the locations cache water. I spent many hours pouring over maps and Google earth piecing together a plan.
In its current state, a newly proposed trail is broke down by the following tread types:
73 Miles of foot trail
416 Miles of 4WD dirt roads (most of these are abandoned)
267 Miles of cross country trail (no trail)
10 Miles of paved roads
Virtually none of this route is marked. A hiker must have strong navigation skills because getting lost out here with a lack of water will get you in trouble very quickly.
The biggest challenge will be the West Little Owyhee Canyon in Malheur County. In this section a hiker will travel down a 45-mile canyon that is home to more rattlesnakes and cougars than people. From the ODT handbook “The cross-country travel involves boulder hopping, bushwhacking though willows, walking in and out of water.” Photos that I seen from other people who have traveled down the West Little Owyhee also include floating (i.e. swimming) from one side of the river to the other. To top it off you are in remote country. If you look up “middle of nowhere by road map” in your favorite search engine this area of western part of the United States is highlighted. If you get in trouble here it could be fatal.
Over the last three months I have scoured the maps and information that ONDA provided to the general public along with correspondence with Sage and members of ONDA to place together a 38-day plan to hike the ODT. I was able to coordinate with two other hikers who will be hiking the ODT this year and place water caches for all three of us where we will be taking the same route. My plan is to travel to Bend, Oregon on May 14th and setting up my water caches on the 15th and 16th. If all goes according to plan I will start hiking the ODT on Saturday May 17th. Stay tuned to this blog for additional updates and I will have my SPOT GPS tracking device setup so you can follow along in real time.
People often ask me how ask me what I do for food on the trail. When I am home in Portland I eat a very strict and healthily diet – no gluten, no refined sugar, grass feed meat, organic fruits and vegetables, ect. However, when I am on the trail anything goes! I am always on the hunt for food with the highest calorie to weight ratio. I am going to consume approximately 4000 calories a day when hiking. So food that packs a lot of calories that does not weight a lot is desired the most. On the ODT I am leaving behind my stove to save additional weight and the headache of finding fuel along the way. Additional benefits are that you don’t need water to cook. You save time not having to prepare your food and lastly you do not need to clean up afterwards. You also do not attract wildlife (bears) to your camp spot looking for a meal. The down side is you are limited to what you can eat and you run the risk of getting tired of the food you are eating on the trail. This happened to me while I was hiking the PCT. Lucky, the ODT is about a 6 week hike so I should just about be sick and tired of peanut butter and tortilla shells for lunch and dinner when I arrive into Owyhee State Park.
For the ODT I will be resupplying in the following towns:
- Paisley, OR
- Plush, OR
- Frenchglen, OR
- Fields, OR
- Denio, NV
- McDermitt, NV
- Rome, OR
The length between towns is average of 4 days and up to 6 days from McDermitt to Rome. Below is a photo of my resupply boxes that will be mailed ahead of me awaiting my arrival in the towns above.
I am making last minute preparations this morning before heading out to Bend Oregon this afternoon. It you would like to follow along in realtime on my hike please use this link below for my SPOT GPS tracking device:
When I start hiking on Saturday the link above will be populated with my location as I travel along the ODT route. With that my bags are packed and I am stoked to have the opportunity to hike for six weeks!
My friend Dave and I spent the last two days driving 750+ miles around SE Oregon placing water and food caches along the ODT route. We saw a lot of country in a short amount of time. I am looking forward to hiking the route and taking it in at a slower pace than 70 miles per hour.
The desert is very green right now. I wonder how long that will last before it turns brown for the rest of the summer. I have attached a few photos from the last couple of days.
I am finishing up my last second preparations here in Bend and then I start the journey early tomorrow morning. I will update this blog when I get into towns with cell coverage. If the last two days where a precursor to what I am about to experience, I will have no cell signal at all.
Finally, I am so stoked to start hiking. It has been almost two years in the making. These next 40 days will be worth all the effort and months of preparation. Now all I can ask for is mother natures cooperation and delivery some nice weather while I am in the wilderness.
Enjoy the journey!
After months of preparation the day has come to start hiking the ODT! I woke up at 5:30 to take my last shower for 6 days. Crammed down as many leftover slices of pizza from 10 Barrel Brewing as I could. Soon Dave and I were on our way to set my very last water cache and then finally the ODT trailhead which is the Tumulus Trailhead in the Oregon Badlands.
It is always surreal to start a long distance hike. Getting the obligatory pictures and saying goodbye to Dave. The last minute jitters work them self out. Once this is done I headed out to the unknown for the next 6 weeks. The first 9 miles are very flat and a wide sandy trail. I made quick time and arrived at the Flatiron Rock Trailhead about 3 hours later. I meet a couple going out for a short hike and explained to them what I was doing. They never heard of the ODT. I collected my water cache and then crossed highway 20 for my first cross country section.
Prior to leaving for the ODT I had been working very hard on sharping my map and compass skills on top of my GPS skills. Now I finally get to put them to work! I had a 1 mile x-country hiked. I jumped the barbed wired fence and went a general west direction. 25 minutes later I was at my destination. I crawled under the barbed wired fence and I was at the Horse Ridge Trailhead.
It was another wide sandy old jeep trail that I followed up the hill. It was the first workout on the ODT because the sand makes it difficult to climb the ridge. Eventually it leveled itself out and I had an outstanding view of Bend and the Cascade mountains. I meet a big burly fellow and his dog out for a hike durning this climb. Little would I know that this would be the last person I would see or speak with in person for the next 5 days….
I followed the trail to the point of my next x-country section. I hiked across the hillside up to a ridge. On the map set that ONDA provided they showed a very large private property block but there is no fence indicating where this property starts and a stops. As I was making my way to this area, I could hear gun shots in the distance. I was never quite sure where the firing was coming from but I am sure it was some guys out target shooting in a gravel pit in the valley below. I was still a bit cautious and followed the ridge line longer than I needed to before cutting down the hill to hit at old jeep trail. I continued down the ridge to the valley floor and could see my destination in the distance: Pine Mountain.
I followed and off highway vehicle trail system to the base of Pine Mountain. Then the 2000 foot elevation hike to the top began. It was a slog that took me about 45 minutes after a long first day. Eventually I was to my destination and found my water cache and set up camp for the night on the top of Pine Mountain. It was lights out for me at 8:00pm. Word of advice if you are planning on hiking the ODT with a cell phone with AT&T service – their coverage is terrible. I only had service at one spot all day. From that point on I did not get service until Diablo Mountain 5 days later.
I was awoken around 1:00am to thunder, lighting and a torrential downpour on top on Pine Mountain. It always makes me a bit nervous being out in the woods under my tent that requires my metal trekking pole to hold the tent up. The perfect lighting rod!
This morning I had to spend extra time drying out my gear the best I could before heading out. I had some great views descending from Pine Mountain to the valley bellow. Once I hit the valley floor it was a full day of walking on OHV and road walking in the pine trees. It was very easy hiking and was easy to navigate without a compass or gps. I had made my way down to Sand Springs. This was the only trail water I used in the first 160 miles of hiking. The spring was low and was the color of iced tea… It had plenty of creatures swimming around in it. After treating my water I was on my way again.
I only saw one car from a distance all day. The weather was cool and it rained a couple of time on me. I stopped by a couple of cow tanks. One had less than an inch of rain water and the other had red bacteria gowing in it. Both of these are unreliable water sources. I have included a few photos. Eventually I made it to my next water cache at the Squaw Flat. There was a earthen waterhole for cows to drink out of here as well but it was muddy cow shit water that I was thankful for the water cache that Travis and Melissa set up for the group of hikers this year.
I then headed cross country to meet up with a road that goes around Green Mountain. At this point I felt an incredible pain in my right foot. Turns out that I got a blister on the ball of my right foot. The next 4 days would require me to tend to my foot on breaks to keep it from getting infected. I set up camp at the NE corner of the Green Mountain lava field and went to bed.