Three Days in Christmas Lake Valley

Kel wanted something special for her 70th birthday and was adamant about not getting any more “stuff”. We really enjoyed our time in Christmas Lake Valley, in south central Oregon, a couple of years ago, but it was too hot to do much hiking. This time we chose the last possible time for good weather before the onset of the cool/cold season and hit it perfectly. Kel’s main birthday wish was to hike Hager Mt., a 7,185′ peak overlooking the valley on the SW side.

We booked a couple nights in the little town of Christmas Valley, planning to hike a couple of small peaks along the way, in particular, Sand Rock. Kel found this interesting little bump-in-the-desert in one of William Sullivan’s hiking books and I agreed, it looked intriguing. It appeared that a more efficient way to get to Sand Rock would be to enter the valley via Hwy 20, not the usual way via Hwy 31 so that’s what we did. A side benefit would be we would pass directly by a little peak called Frederick Butte. It turned out a little shorter to do it that way, but the downside was over 60 miles of gravel and dirt road!

Arriving at Frederick Butte, Kel decided to save her energy for the next day, but I went ahead and climbed it, entirely on cow paths, no trail, taking an hour and a half while she explored the desert around the car. We then headed out to find Sand Rock and despite miles of rocky, dirt road, we made it to its base just before sundown. This was only about a mile, total, out and back and I made the summit just as the sun was setting. Kel got there shortly after, and we headed down and drove out in the dark. Arriving in Christmas Valley, there were no open restaurants, so we ate at a gas station. Anything is good if you are hungry.

The Lakeside Terrace Motel had been completely renovated since last we were there and it’s a surprisingly nice place now with great views of a little lake in the center of town.

The next day we got an early start and hiked the 8 miles round trip and 2,100′ EG to Hager Mountain seeing only one other person the entire trip.

We found the only open restaurant that evening, a little Mexican place, and got great service and really good fare.

Leaving the next morning we headed straight for Fort Rock, exploring an old cemetery along the way.

Fort Rock is an ancient tuff ring, formed hundreds of thousands of years ago when magma broke through the bed of the ancient ice-age Christmas Lake. (Sand Rock is composed of the same but is an oval shaped lump now, having been much eroded over the eons.) I stopped by Fort Rock in August of 1969 but didn’t do much exploring and no climbing so now was our chance. We spent a couple of hours exploring and called it a day.

By now, we were tired out and ready to transition to a wet and familiar fall season.  On the drive back to town, we could see the wildfire smoke on the horizon and the incoming clouds promising the start of the long anticipated rainy season.

Frederick Butte, 1.8 miles RT, and 687′ EG.

Summit rocks of Frederick Butte:

Sand Rock:

Summit of Sand Rock:

The view from the motel:

Hager mountain from the valley:

Views along the trail up Hager Mountain:

An interesting mix of ponderosa pine, juniper, sage brush and fir.

A local in town told us that these meadows were flush with wildflowers in the summer:

Near the summit, a picnic table with arguably the best views in the state:

A view from the summit:

The summit from a little side peak to the north:

Kel, approaching the side peak’s summit:

We could see all the peaks from Mt. Shasta to Mt. Jefferson. Also, the peaks on the rim of Crater Lake. They don’t show up well in a cell phone’s wide-angle view, but we could see them just the same.

The next day we headed out to Fort Rock:

A little cemetery at the base of the rock:

My Gaia app indicated the rounded dome at center was the HP, but once there, I could see it was not. The west side looked higher so down I went and up the west side.

A view from the true HP:

The western, and true HP from near the faux HP.

Some of the terrain reminded me of some of the scenes from the Alien movies.

The final pitch to the summit. Good holds, solid rock, but don’t slip!

On the way home we could see the smoke rolling over the passes and the welcome rain clouds in the distance.

Three days, 4 hikes, 14.4 miles, 3,694′ EG, 689 miles driven.








Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *