Monday, January 23, 2017

China Hat: Bessie Butte

China Hat is a spot that I've been wanting to explore since moving to Bend last summer. I've heard people talk about it a lot, seemingly because China Hat hosts any activity under the sun (and moon), including hiking, caving, camping, snowmobiling, skiing, shooting, hunting and unfortunately even dumping. The drive is easy from Bend. From my place I can be on China Hat road in 5 minutes. The drive out to Bessie Butte will depend on the road conditions, but is generally around 10 minutes upon reaching China Hat Road (in winter it can be sketchy because the road is not plowed). This ease of access is one reason this area is so popular. The other reason is that it seems far less regulated than other national forest lands in the area.

Three Sisters in the background.
In a land formed by lava and dominated by buttes, Bessie Butte is not one of the tallest. It does however stick out like a sore thumb due to a fire a few years back that really thinned out the plant life immediately surrounding it. Because of this, from the road Bessie Butte appears much larger than the surrounding buttes. We had the trail to ourselves as we made our ascent in freezing temperatures and a bitter wind. I was immediately struck by the absolutely eye-popping views. Even in winter the 1.5 mile hike to the top was easy. On this day we didn't need snowshoes or traction devices, but sunglasses and a beanie were a must. But those views!! It was a perfectly clear sunny day and those Cascades were majestic.

Almost to the top.
At the top the views were even better. Mount Bachelor, the Three Sisters, Jefferson and even Hood were all clearly visible. Literally, on that fine day, we could see as far as the eye could see in any direction. It was totally awesome, and one of the best views I've had in Bend thus far. 

View east from Bessie Butte summit.
The top of Bessie Butte is big. We saw a couple fire rings and I thought it would make an excellent spot to overnight. The views at dawn and dusk would be totally epic. We also saw a rock pile and a makeshift cross fashioned from twigs. The dogs took a keen interest and were trying to overturn rocks to get at whatever was underneath. I guessed the grave contained someone's pet, but who knows. Regardless, I cant think of a better place to be buried. Shoot, I'd like to be buried there.

Grave on Bessie Butte
The hike was short and easy, but the views make it absolutely worth it. Weather permitting, I would like to get out to China Hat again and explore more. There are a handful of caves I want to check out, and of course, never ending buttes. There are some drawbacks about recreating in China Hat. For starters, there are a lot of forest roads, and therefore a lot of offroad style vehicles that make a lot of noise. Also, apparently China Hat is the premier local spot for shooting. We heard plenty of gunfire and saw people parked off the side of the road just shooting into the forest. Hiking in an area that people use to shoot can be a little unnerving, especially when you see people not being responsible about it. Also, in my experience, areas that see high amounts of recreational shooting also see high amounts of trash from shooting, like spent casings, shot-up bottles and cans, and remnants of clay pigeons. Didn't see any of that first hand in China Hat, and hopefully I never do.

Bessie Butte descent.

Clarifying place names - "China Hat" is an area of the Deschutes National Forest just south of Bend, Oregon. The specifics of location are difficult to define because China Hat is not the official name. Rather, it's the name given to the area by locals. If a local says, "I'm going hiking in China Hat," they are referring to a large geographical area with undefined borders. China Hat is named after the best road that runs roughly north/south through the area, China Hat Road, which is in turn named after China Hat Butte. China Hat Road and China Hat Butte are defined places found on a map or Google search. China Hat is not. Unofficially, China Hat is bordered by Bend to the north, Highway 97 on the west, and Newberry National Volcanic Monument south and west. The eastern boundary is even more challenging to define, but I'll say that if you reach Horse Ridge Natural Area, you've gone too far. If you feel this description is incomplete or inaccurate, please feel free to send me an email with your thoughts. writerinthewild@gmail.com