Not all who wander are lost. Except on the OBDR.
Sorting all the kinks in our 1986 VW Vanagon Syncro took months, but we finished in high time to rally it and another mobile office, a Parliament JK Wrangler, on Oregon Backcountry Discovery Routes 3 and 6.
Our friend, Jesse Rosten, brought some two-wheel perspective on his kitted Husqvarna TE610. And so began the misfit caravan of a new, heartily equipped Jeep, a 30-year-old toaster on BF Goodrich All-Terrains and a Swedish trail annihilator.
Backroads to nowhere.
The state’s longest trail system, the Oregon Backcountry Discovery Routes are six sections of untamed off-road public forest service and logging trail covering over 1,500 miles of natural Oregonic wonder. Route 3 traverses many of the Cascade Range’s snowy volcanic peaks and national forests while Route 6 explores a complex of alpine lakes and rivers before crossing the Coastal Range to its seaside terminus.
Setting off for three crowned gals.
We hightailed south toward Santiam Pass and dipped into the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. Right away boozy wafts from the Jeep proved 60 mph was too much hustle for fragile liquor. Hoochless, we soldiered on to a decimated Ponderosa and Lodgepole pine forest, victim of the massive 2003 B & B Complex wildfire. It felt like a ghost forest — acres of bony white tree skeletons jutting from a vibrant green sea of successional underbrush. Stopping to cut trail-blocking timbers, we took in the fire’s magnitude with the snow-capped triplets in the distance.
Trail takes, river provides.
Thick vegetation narrowed the trail, claiming the Syncro antenna and pin striping its panels. After a few dead-ends and an oceanic downpour, we got our bearings and made way to Wychus Creek to make camp and fish. Flowing fast and clear, we worked the creek a bit and found some rainbow trout hanging in back eddies.
You have to earn it.
We decamped and took the opportunity to explore Three Creek Lake, some seven miles due east of South Sister. Map navigation was difficult and tested patience with each dead-end, but the process eventually led to a massive uphill climb. Two-foot ditches and boulder-laden rock gardens slowed the Syncro’s arduous progress. The reward was atop — a snowy June view of lakes speckling the topography below.
Stuck is part of the fun.
At nearly 6,000 feet the trail turned completely to snow. The Jeep simply plowed through, but the Syncro couldn’t. So we propped it on sand ladders and winched with the Jeep. Eventually, nature came to the rescue—pine branches grabbed enough tread to free the beast. The triumph of escape hinted at the very snowy struggle ahead, so we rerouted to lower elevation to cover more ground, faster.
New route, same bloody story.
The detour put us on Route 6 just south of Crescent Lake, our halfway point. Heading west we climbed trail cut with spines and deep ditches, the Syncro barely clearing one to only get stuck in another. It took everyone’s grit to get the old box through.
Chasing the light.
To make up time we hauled ass racing against the setting sun, its rays peaking between firs and spotlighting alpine lakes. Marveled by the beautiful stillness, we eventually stopped at an unnamed lakeside spot, just a few feet from the water.
Nature’s best B&B.
Waking up on the lake and unzipping the fly revealed mystical fog lifting off the water. It felt like a dream if not for the piercing cold air. We quickly stoked a good-morning fire, set a new course and packed up. The area’s beauty deserved exploration but we couldn’t linger; there was still plenty of ground to cover.
You shall not pass.
Obstacles are par for off-road courses. When fallen timbers blocked passage, we hacked them up one by one and winched it out. Nothing could have prepared us for the one hundred-foot behemoth, though, not even a burly logger with a chainsaw. Trail improv is inevitable, and fortunately, we came prepared with forest service maps.
Detour to destiny.
Some reroutes unknowingly add headaches, but USFS 2120 delivered panoramic views of Willamette National Forest splendor. Climbing the wall-to-cliff rim called Juniper Ridge overlooked rolling green blankets of valleys and mountains. At noon, we stopped to scamper up a rocky perch and enjoy lunch for miles.
Discovery is round trip. This time.
The Oregon backcountry is raw yet magical. Even with muscley, well-equipped vehicles the going was tough. Naturally, it made the journey all the more rewarding. Pushing pause on work to jumpstart weekend adventure brings the crew together in new ways. This time was survival.
Until we route again.