Climbing Barnes Butte is worth the challenge
"It's a nice hike," she said. "It's not too long, and it's got a nice wide trail."
That's what my wife Karlene said when I asked her what there was that I might be able to do for a recreation column with so many things closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Part of it is pretty steep, though," she added almost as an afterthought. "I'll walk it with you if you want."
I hesitated since the hike in question starts in town. However, I remembered that all the state parks are shut down, and in the end, it sounded like a pretty good idea.
So, Friday morning, I left the office and headed for home. I packed my backpack with water, a sandwich, an orange and, of course, my camera.
Karlene said just give her a 10- or 15-minute head start before I drove to the trailhead, and she would start the walk from home. We could see who got to the top first.
"Didn't you already run this morning?" I asked.
The answer was yes, so I thanked her very much for the offer to walk "with me" and said that was OK, I would take the hike by myself.
Karlene is a competitive runner, and I know from years of hiking with her that she walks faster than I do.
Not only that, but I stop to take photos, and she just keeps right on going. On a typical hike, either I will have to run down the trail attempting to catch up, or I just give up, and she finishes the hike and waits for me in our car, reading a book.
I remember one day in the distant past where we had taken our kids to the coast over spring break.
They were young at the time, so it must have been more than 20 years ago. Still, I remember it like yesterday.
We drove to a secluded part of the southern Oregon coast and parked at a trailhead a couple of miles from the ocean. The idea was that we would have the beach all to ourselves.
The problem is that as often seems to happen on our vacations, it was pouring down rain.
Karlene and the kids got out of the car and headed down the trail while I worked to waterproof my camera bag and our lunch.
By the time I was ready to go, they were out of sight down the trail.
I loaded up my gear, locked the car, and promptly dropped the key in a mud puddle.
By the time I finally found the key, I was soaking wet, and I knew I was never going to catch up.
Eventually, I got to the beach, answered the query about what took me so long, and was told that they were going to eat lunch in the car.
I seem to remember seeing the crashing waves, but I missed the entire walk on the beach.
It's an all too common theme.
Then, there was the time that we decided to do a road race as a family. We drove to Madras and entered a 10K race. The race ran down a hill to Madras High School.
Three miles into the race, I was leading the family, but they were gaining.
Shortly after we hit the flatter portion of the course, my youngest daughter passed me, then my wife, then my oldest daughter.
I guess it isn't a good idea to start too fast, but it was all downhill, and that's where I'm at my best in a cross country race. As I plodded toward the finish, I saw both of my daughters standing beside the road, cheering me on, or more likely they were jeering. In any case, the family still laughs about how everyone beat me, and I haven't run a race since.
Not wanting a repeat, I was just fine with taking the hike by myself. That way, I could go at my own pace, and I could spend as long as I wanted eating lunch and admiring the view. And to tell the truth, who wants to lose a race to someone who had a longer hike and more of a climb? I certainly don't.
So, I drove from our house to the Barnes Butte Trailhead alone and started toward the summit.
At the time, there were just four cars counting mine in the parking lot.
It's hard to believe that I have lived in Prineville much of my life and have never been to the top of a butte that is so prominent, but then the trail to the top wasn't really open to the public until fairly recently.
The trail is nice and flat initially, and, like Karlene had said, it's wide.
In this age of social distancing, that's important as it is easy to remain 6 feet from anyone you meet on the trail.
At the first junction in the trail, I turned left and headed north.
Up ahead, I could see two hikers who had left the trailhead earlier than I and were stopped exchanging pleasantries from opposite sides of the trail.
Eventually they stopped talking and walked in opposite directions. Shortly after that, one of the hikers passed me, and we said hi.
Between a quarter- and a half-mile after the junction, there is a green gate on the right-hand side of the trail.
Most hikers that use the Barnes Butte Trail System stay on flat ground, but if you turn through the gate, there is a clearly marked path up the side of the butte.
Actually, it's an old single lane road. Turning through the gate, I started to climb toward the summit.
Early on, the grade is gradual and the trail is smooth. Slowly the trail steepens and gets rockier.
As you climb, the views get more and more sweeping.
Then comes the historical portion of the trail. On the right-hand side are what remains of a pair of old mine shafts. The shafts are blocked off so no one can enter, but you can still see the narrow tunnels into the side of the mountain.
As I continued to climb, the trail became steeper and steeper, while the view continued to improve.
Eventually, I hit a saddle between the north and south summits of the butte. At the saddle, I heard something crashing through the brush just off the trail. I initially thought I had spooked a deer. Instead, it was another hiker who was taking social distancing to the extreme as he avoided passing me on the trail.
The north summit is both higher and more picturesque, so I turned left and continued up the trail. Eventually the trail ends a few feet below the summit. To reach the actual summit and see a 360-degree panorama of the valley requires a simple scramble up the rocks to the top of the cliff.
The view from the top is worth the work; however, I would say that Karlene's idea of a little steep and mine are slightly different. To me, part of the trail seems very much like climbing stairs.
After eating lunch, I started back down. I passed a couple of hikers, but mostly had the trail to myself. Still, by the time I returned to the parking lot, it was at least half full, so a lot of people must have been using the lower portions of the trial.
The entire hike, counting the time it took to stop to take photos and eat lunch, took just over an hour and a half. That means Barnes Butte could be climbed in well under an hour.
If you hike from downtown Prineville, the hike includes an elevation gain of 681 feet. If you hike from the Barnes Butte Trailhead, the elevation gain is somewhat less.
The butte's summit is at an elevation of 3,549 feet, and it truly does have a great view.
If you want a harder hike, just climb both summits on the same trip.
If you decide to go, happy hiking. Just make sure that you keep your distance from others. Anything else risks the trailhead being closed.
Enough recreational sites are already closed. Please help keep this one open. We all need the fresh air and exercise.
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