Mountain & Trail News

    Hiker First to Traverse 800-mile Oregon Desert Trail

    Sage Clegg takes time out from the trail to flash a smile for the camera.

    Sage Clegg, 33, became the first person to traverse the entirety of the Oregon Desert Trail when she finished on July 11. According to the Seattle Times, Clegg spent 37 days on the trail before reaching the Idaho border, near where the trail ended. She walked most of the length, 600 miles, and rode a pack bike for the remaining 200. Clegg is one of the world’s premier backpackers and currently holds the women’s record for speeding through the so-called “Triple Crown” of hiking when she finished the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trail in less than 18 months. Even though the Oregon Desert Trail may seem small in comparison to the combined 8,000 miles of the three mega-trails, it can offer its own unique blend of challenges and opportunities.

    “I started out in the morning and I was not a minute out of camp when I almost stepped on a huge rattlesnake,” said Clegg said, recalling an event that happened near the end of her five-week journey.

    The Oregon Desert Trail is in development by the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) and runs through vast tracts of public land. Most notably, the trail winds through Fremont National Forest, Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, the Pueblo Mountains, Diablo Peak, and Steens Mountain. The route has long stretches of dry land and Clegg had to rely on water caches as she traveled in the late, hot months of June and July. ONDA’s Communications Director Heidi Hagemeier said that Clegg was working with the association to scout out the land and acted as a “trail editor.”

    A map of the trail can be seen below:

    The Oregon Desert Trail runs approximately 815 miles.

    The Oregon Desert Trail runs approximately 815 miles.

    “I’m really glad ONDA created this hiking trail. It’s a great way to get people to parts of eastern Oregon they may never visit,” said Clegg. “They’re exposing people to new places to fall in love with. There’s a lot of beauty to be found out here.”

    Using GPS and a cellphone Clegg remained in constant contact with ONDA. The hiker packed lightly and only carried tent materials, sleeping bag, clothing and food along with the usual hiking gear. Chances to resupply presented themselves in the handful of small towns along the route, which she came across perhaps once every week. For the rest of the trip Clegg was alone with nature.

    “It’s like a long series of four-day backpacking trips,” she said.

    A breathtaking view of Oregon's wilds.

    A breathtaking view of Oregon’s wilds.

    Long stretches of uninterrupted wilderness were punctuated by the friendliness of Oregon’s remote villages. Along the way Clegg recorded her experiences and kept a detailed inventory of the trail, which was shared with ONDA. The hiker also had encounters with the bighorn sheep, bobcats, and other desert creatures that make their homes along the trail. Clegg holds degrees in environmental studies and moonlights as a wildlife biologist. Currently, she is looking forward to resting her feet at home in Bend, Oregon before setting off on another adventure.

    The Oregon Desert Trail is open to hiking as well as biking, horse riding and kayaking in some sections. The trail also runs near the nation’s largest herd of California bighorn sheep in the Owhyhee Canyonlands.

    “We believe to know Oregon’s desert is to love it,” Hagemeier wrote to ActionHub. “This trail crosses through some of eastern Oregon’s most scenic landscapes, include key areas where ONDA works like the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, Steens Mountain and the Owyhee Canyonlands, which are Utah-esque but have no permanent protection. So while we’re inviting people to come get to know Oregon as a desert state, we’re also hoping that by knowing it they will want to protect it. It’s a trail with conservation at its core.”


    Images courtesy Sage Clegg/Oregon Natural Desert Association

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