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Environment | NW Life | Fish & Wildlife | Oregon Field Guide

Hidden Beauty: The Palisades of Trout Creek

Producer - Jule Gilfillan
Videographer & Editor - Todd Sonflieth
Videographer - Michael Bendixen
Grip/Rigger - Sean O’Connor
Photos Courtesy - Chris Zier

The first thing that strikes you is the unbelievable beauty of the place – majestic golden basalt columns set against the delirious blue of the eastside skies.

And the second thing is: How do people not know about this place?

Well, the climbers and anglers in-the-know like it that way, including climber Jeff Wenger, who first spotted Trout Creek — located at the apex of an equilateral triangle pointing east of Warm Springs and north of Madras — while fishing the Deschutes with his dad back in 2001.

“I asked around town a little bit, got permission from some of the older guys to come out and replace their manky old bolts, and it started there,” recalls Wenger.

Since then, it’s been a sort of secret playground for Wenger and his crack-climbing friends.

In 2002, Wenger wrote what he calls “a sort of anti-guidebook,” basically asking people to keep the place under wraps. Wenger wanted to “preserve the isolated feel of climbing and the nature of the experience.”

Today, Wenger acknowledges that Trout Creek is an “internationally known climbing destination.” But that’s probably still a pretty inside crowd. On our three visits there to film this story for Oregon Field Guide, we saw only a handful of other folks.

Still, there are enough people coming out to “Trout” for recreation that even when the area is closed, their presence is enough to disrupt the resident Golden Eagles’ nesting patterns.

That spurred the Bureau of Land Management to close the area to all activity in early 2012. The sudden closure triggered a heated and public flurry of activity spearheaded by the Portland-based environmental legal aid group Crag Law Center and climbing advocates the Access Fund.

The pressure was effective and within a few weeks, the BLM and the climbing community had worked out a voluntary closure arrangement that they hoped would protect the raptors while ensuring appropriate access for the climbers. The climbers even helped police the closure.

“We never observed any climbing activity on the area. We did observe some hiking,” recalls BLM wildlife biologist Cassandra Hummel. “We also observed some folks above one of the nests throwing rocks over the top of it, which would very likely flush an eagle off the nest.”

The voluntary closure’s lack of success led to a more codified seasonal closure policy, which the climbing community has also agreed to, although some more reluctantly than others.

“Some people, you know, this is like church to them and it was hard to think that in some of the best seasons [it] would be off limits [to climbing] every single year,” explains climber and Access Fund regional coordinator Eric Sorenson. “It used to be open year round. Now it’s open half the year and that’s okay. I mean, if that’s what’s best for the eagles, that’s the bottom line.”

The agreement ensures that for all intents and purposes, Trout Creek is once again a hidden gem … at least part of the year.


Oregon Field Guide documents traditional crack climbing at Trout Creek.

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Oregon Field Guide documents traditional crack climbing at Trout Creek.

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Most Recent Broadcast: November 7, 2013