SANDY BUTTE — Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2005
A short, steep route-finding exercise to reach a close-up view of the north face of Gardner Mountain. The access road, FS 100, leaves SR 20 about a half mile west of the side road to Mazama. Some Forest Service maps show a connection to Rd 100 near Early Winters Campground or the Freestone Inn on adjoining private land, but they are wrong. You can reach Rd 100 from Freestone Inn, but only on foot. Rd 100 climbs the steep hillside south of Early Winters about 5 miles to the unmarked intersection with Rd 145 on the right. If you thought Rd 100 was bad, Rd 145 is worse -- rocky and washed out. Walk or drive Rd 145 another mile to its end near a hunters camp and small stream. Don't cross the stream, but follow one of several unmarked trails (cow paths?) to your left up onto the ridge. Here you should find the remnants of an old stock drive that climbs the east ridge of Sandy Butte. The stock drive is not really a trail. It is marked occasionally with faded yellow signs, and it's cleared in places, but this is mostly a route-finding drill. The stock drive generally follows the ridge line up, although the ridge itself seems to keep shifting to your right. If you lose the stock drive, do not despair. Like a game trail, eventually it will show up again if you keep drifting to the right but don't dive over the edge into the steep stream valley. After about a mile, watch for where the stock drive stops climbing and starts to contour around the east side of Sandy Butte. Find more elusive tracks that climb through increasingly open country up to your right to the top of Sandy Butte. When you reach the top you will have gained 1700 feet in a bit over a mile. Sandy Butte's summit is flat and mostly open, with parallel ridges of gravel that probably give the butte its name. In winter Freestone Inn helicopters guests somewhere near the top so they can ski down where you came up. A faint trail wonders across the top of the butte through trees and eventually down its west ridge. Does anyone know where that trail goes? The views on that west ridge trail are even better than on top of Sandy Butte because you look right across the canyon of Huckleberry Creek up at Gardner and North Gardner only three miles away. I have not continued past Sandy Butte on the stock drive, but old maps show it going all the way to Wolf Creek.