TheBigOutside Blog

Michael Lanza, creator of and Northwest Editor of Backpacker Magazine, writes about hiking, backpacking, climbing, backcountry skiing, paddling and other self-powered outdoor adventures

Going Deep–Backcountry Skiing in Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains

We reach a high saddle between two peaks, where the wind has sculpted the snow into stationary, perpetually cresting waves several feet high. Treeless slopes of clean, untracked powder fall away beneath us. Our group of several friends and a few guides have been climbing uphill in this remote corner of northeast Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains for more than two hours, ascending some 3,000 vertical feet under a clear, ice-blue winter sky, amid scenery that looks like a post card from an Alpine resort, but without the ski lifts and quaint villages.

Then we look up at the final grind awaiting us: a ridge of crusty, windblown snow rising another seven hundred feet to the 9,555-foot summit of Red Mountain, one of the highest in the Wallowas. It looks steep.

My companions all strap their skis onto their packs and begin kicking steps in the snow on a long slog that will consume almost another hour. Reluctant to carry skis—maybe reluctant to a fault—I keep mine on my feet and make hundreds of zigzags uphill, like a mechanized duck in a shooting gallery, an effort that one of the guides will later claim earns me the dubious distinction of making Red’s first ascent entirely on skis. She generously makes it sound like a proud accomplishment, but part of me prefers to believe that there must have been at least one person before me who was dumb or stubborn enough to try it.

At the top of Red, where it’s cold and breezy but not intolerably so, we hang out for a little while to soak up the views. The Wallowas sprawl to far horizons, an amazing panorama of jagged ridges capped with scalloped snow and rocky peaks jutting out of the white. Much of the range lies within the Eagle Cap Wilderness, 350,000 acres without any sign of civilization. To the northeast, the snowy and craggy Seven Devils Mountains of Idaho rise across the brown, 8,000-foot-deep trench of Hells Canyon.

It’s probably a safe bet that there aren’t another 20 people in this entire mountain range today, and possibly no one besides us. There certainly isn’t another soul in our corner of them.

Read the entire story and see photos and a video from this trip at See other stories about outdoor adventures at



  The Joyful Shoehorn wrote @

The Wallowas sounds absolutely beautiful and remote. I can’t wait to make it out to that corner of Oregon some day – but I think I might wait until summer for that adventure.

  thebigoutside wrote @

Hi Kelsey, yes, well worth dayhiking or backpacking the Wallowas in summer.

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