Summer hiking season has arrived in the Blue Mountains. Across the region, the high elevation snowpack melted a bit earlier than average this year after a record heat wave kept temperatures above 100 degrees in the valleys for over 10 days in June and early July. At least for a few weeks, it appears we'll be back to cooler weather on the trail. However, the heat dome and subsequent thunderstorms started fire season in earnest. With multiple fires burning near Hells Canyon in Idaho, smoky conditions currently prevail over parts of the Blue Mountains, and the large fires burning in southern Oregon are blowing eastward as well. The past two weeks cement an important consideration when planning your Blue Mountains Trail hike. Regardless of how much time you plan to spend on the trail, pay close attention to the current conditions and the forecast. Plan accordingly, and be flexible. Reschedule if need be. The Blue Mountains Trail isn't going anywhere.
With this season's hiking maps and databook available upon request, the first hikers are now out on the trail. Most people this year will attempt to section hike the more well-established and less-exposed sections of the Blue Mountains Trail, and some highly experienced thru hikers have begun their preparations to take on the full trail. We've hired a summer trail coordinator, Pip Redding, to join the effort. Pip will be assisting hikers with planning and resupply logistics, and he'll be out on the trail, providing temporary markers for some of the more confusing trail sections and doing some trail maintenance along the way.
As we connect with hikers, we'll be reminding everyone who plans a longer hike this year just how challenging some sections can be. While we work to improve route marking and trail conditions, keep in mind that the trail is very much a work in progress. Some of the more difficult wayfinding happens where cattle grazing intersects with decommissioned forest service roads. Trying to discern which path is "the route" is nearly impossible without regularly confirming your coordinates with a GPS device. Trail conditions can include thick ceanothus and lodgepole pine that crowds the footpath, miles of trail where downed trees (especially lodgepole) are incessant, and wilderness "trails" that currently only exist on the map.
While we do the work to provide some visual marking on the wayfinding challenges, it will take a lot of effort to do a full trail clearing - years in fact. This year the request to hikers is simple. Will you take along a set of ultralight loppers or a small folding handsaw (provided by us) and pick a section of trail, be it just 1/4-mile, to help brush and clear? We'll be asking this question of every hiker who requests access to the trail resources. Together we can all pitch in to help move the Blue Mountains Trail effort forward for next year's hikers and beyond.
This month, Sawyer, Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort, and The Trailhead joined the Blue Mountains Trail effort as our newest business sponsors. We are honored to have their support. We'll be joining Sawyer and Six Moon Designs, our inaugural business sponsor, at this year's PCT Days festival in Cascade Locks, Oregon this August 20-22. Come join us and meet some of the thru-hikers who completed the route last year. PCT DAYS is free to attend, with a suggested donation of non-perishable food, personal care products, or a monetary contribution to the FISH food bank, which serves the local community. Overnight camping is available for a fee, and the event is family-friendly.
A return to in person events was kicked off in earnest recently in La Grande. I had the honor of sharing our work on the trail with a group of long-time GHCC and Blue Mountains Heritage Trail supporters in the backyard of Charles and Emelie Jones (Charlie is a GHCC board member). We were joined by Betty Hughes and her son Lantz. Betty is the wife of Loren Hughes, and the Blue Mountains Trail owes its existence to his vision and countless hours spent figuring out how to make a long distance route through the region. While today's route deviates from what Loren, Dick Hentze, and their friends developed, the motivation is the same. Betty shared her thoughts and support, and then, when the 104 degree heat turned to a downpour with ample thunder and lightning, we all rejoiced with the break from the incessant heat.
To close out the summer update, we recently started an Instagram account for the Blue Mountains Trail. Please follow us and share your photos of the trail and the region using #BlueMountainsTrail. And if you would like to support our work on the Blue Mountains Trail, or GHCC's broader mission to connect, protect, and restore the Greater Hells Canyon Region, please consider becoming a member today.