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  • Writer's pictureScott Nechemias

Columbia Plateau Route Thru Day 3: Thirty Mile Wilderness Study Area

The third day of my route crossed from the Lower John Day WSA into the Thirty Mile WSA, and the character of the route changes as well. This section features many wide benches of old river bed perched some 400 to 600 feet above the river, making for easier travel and spectacular views. In order to reach the first of these benches I needed to have a nice little 700 foot morning climb, contour around Long Hollow, and descend into Bull Basin.

Skiers right in Bull Basin is an absolute nightmare of high angle loose scree, but by contouring around to the middle of the basin I obtained a relatively easy descent. Bull Basin is a unique little gem, I wish I had more time to hang out there. The high points on the plateau above it offer views all the way to the Cascades.

After the descent travel along the bench requires a fair amount of horsepower given the frequent drainages to cross, but eminently preferable to the character of the previous few days. A mile south of Fern Hollow there is a jeep road that leads to a boaters camp on the river, a beautiful spot for lunch and a long break after the first half of the day's exertions. Following the pleasant jeep road walk was a soul crushing series of ups and downs to traverse Buckskin and Potlatch Canyons, due entirely to a private property cut out among the shoreline, where there is a nice flat jeep road. I definitely struggled a little energy wise, but one of the main attractions of the hike lay just ahead: Horseshoe Bend.

At this point you've probably already gathered this part of the John Day is as apt to flow east or west as it is north, and calling one particular bend in the river 'Horseshoe Bend' seems oblivious in the extreme. There is a Nietzsche quote that was rattling around my head for much of this hike "Glance into the world just as though time were gone: and everything crooked will become straight to you." There is a lot to unpack there, but outside of anything philosophical it seems to map on to John Day River Country at literal face value.

I had a routing gaffe approaching the bend from too high, I wasn't exactly sure what elevation the bench of travel would be, and it turned out that lower and ramping up to it was the only viable option.

In the video of the Bend you'll see towards the end of the bench it detoriates into some rocky scree, traversing this was sketchy.

I ran into a herd of white tail on the bend, and they were forced to go all the way around the bend to avoid me, which I felt guilty about. Much to my surprise they had gathered near the river where I descended to make camp. I imagine it took them about 10 to 20 minutes to arrive at the spot, whereas it had taken me the better part of two hours. It was a very windy night, but I found a well protected spot to enjoy a high tarp pitch along the river to end a really fantastic day of hiking.

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