Apparently, Keeps Mill was a stop on an alternative route around Mt. Hood on the Oregon trail. If that’s true, how people got wagons in and out of here, I do not know. The hillsides rise quite quickly from both sides of the river. The White River flows from the White Glacier on Mt Hood. Keeps Mill is a primitive, secluded campground at the end of Forest Road 2120 (note to self: Watch for speed bump at end of pavement). The last mile is down a rocky, narrow, steep, exposed hillside. Did I mention a really tight switchback and talus fields?
Come along on another short trip to Mt. Hood National Forest; west of Portland, Oregon. This trip (Oct 2018) was to Keeps Mill on the White River on the southeast side of Mt. Hood. High clearance, 4-wheel-drive, and narrow vehicle all came in handy – more later.
- Signs, but no information
- Heat but no fire
- Passing etiquette on one-lane cliff-side roads
Many sources say that Keeps Mill is historic because it was part of the Oregon Trail of the old west. There is a historic marker at the campground, which states that the campground is historic. But I could not find the story about why it is historic, even online when I got home. A Bureau of Land Management document says “Keeps Mill Campground provides an aesthetic setting while protecting the riverbank and other Outstandingly Remarkable Value features. Rustic signs interpret the site’s historic aspects.” Maybe there were other signs that I missed, but the temperature was dropping and dinner was calling.
The campground is at the bottom of a deep gorge carved out by Clear Creak (from Clear Lake) and the White River (from White River glacier). Clear Creek flows into White River at the campground. The last mile of Forest Road 2120 is a fairly rough road that switchbacks down the side of a steep hillside with 100+ foot drops to Clear Creek below. It was a road with a “view”. It made for some exciting moments. I didn’t take any photos because slopes never look as steep in a photo as they do in real life. I learned that from my mountaineering days – incredible to be there, but lame in photos.
The campground is scenic, woodsy style. No wifi or cell signal here. Wonderful. Every campsite is spacious, fairly flat, and next to the river, with tall pines all around. I was the only person there. However, it was definitely not quiet. White River, about 40 feet away from my camp, was a constant roar. Even though the sun was still up, the camp was shaded and cool – jacket required. I explored the campground and read the historic marker to kill time before dinner and bed. There were not any signs of wildlife except for the occasional bird and errant chipmunk.
Dinner was a small smoked salmon filet and wine. It was too chilly to sit outside without a fire so I “went to bed” about 7 pm – it was already dark and getting colder so I set up my new propane heater (mrheater) inside by Jeep Liberty, where I sleep FYI. The heater shuts off if it tips over or if oxygen level gets too low. Obviously it worked, but I still cracked the windows for some ventilation just in case.
There was enough battery life on my iPad to keep me occupied for awhile; I didn’t want to go to sleep too early. But settling down at 7 pm has a major problem. At some point, one will have to get up to relieve oneself (twice). I turned the heater on for awhile, as a test, but it was a bit too warm. I turned it on again for good at about 1 am or so and it was still going when I woke up about 8:30 am. I was comfortable, but not overly warm as I awoke to sun streaming though distant trees. It was plenty cold outside of my little jeep, though.
Morning. I made coffee, boiled in my percolator coffee pot. Very nice. Some day I will have to experiment to see if camp coffee is really better than home coffee. It was too cold for yogurt so breakfast was a banana and a bite of fresh beef jerky. I packed up and planned to drive to nearby Little Crater Lake. I was not looking forward to the first mile of my drive, the narrow, exposed part.
As fate would have it – about half way up the first bit of road, the most exposed and narrowest stretch, I met a truck coming downhill. Backing up was not a desirable option for either of us. So, he got as close as possible to the outside edge of the road (the exposed side) and I drove my left wheels up onto the inside rock hillside, tilting slightly to the right. Crazy, but I was thankful for 4WD and a narrow vehicle.
The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful, except for the part, way off road again, where I thought my transmission quit working (another story to be discussed with my mechanic). Little Crater Lake was beautiful; a must-go if you live nearby. The lake is clear and fairly shallow and you can see all the way to the bottom.
Thanks for joining me.
FYI: The salmon and jerky were from http://meatingplacepdx.com. I don’t get anything for free from them, but they are a local butcher shop so I wanted to give them a mention.
Next trip: Plan is for November. Any suggestions for Oregon or Southern Washington National Forests?