Oregon, Ho!: Emigrant Hill
Shortly after cresting the mountain at Deadman's Pass, the descent begins. This summit is known as Emigrant Hill for the Oregon Trail that winds precipitously down into the valley where Pendleton now lays. It is often referred to as 'Cabbage Hill', curiously named for a large area on top of the hill where a woman grew cabbage for market. But on the topo maps the summit of Cabbage Hill is south of Emigrant Hill's summit.
This hill would strike both awe and terror in the emigrants. The original trail can still be followed with Oregon Hwy 30 and County Road 937 into Pendleton. It literally snakes down the slope with a drop of over 2,000 feet in about 7 miles. Many wagons and lives of both humans and animals were lost in navigating this section of the trail.
Interstate 84, which closely follows the Trail on the southern slope (in between Emigrant and Cabbage Hills), is also notorious for treacherous conditions, especially in winter, because of the steep double hair-pin downgrades. Most of the accidents involve out-of-state freight trucks, 59% attributable to brake failures.
This section of I-84 is widely divided between east and west-bound traffic, each with their own safety rest area. Cut into the slopes, the paved area provides the most magnificent views of the valleys below. On a clear day, the Cascades loom on the western horizon.
I found a quote from the diary of an emigrant on the Oregon Trail that aptly describes this mountain and its descent. I can empathize. Yet another vista was to rival that, and win, many days later on the top of Steens Mountain.
The sight from this mountain top is one to be remembered while life lasts. It affects me as did my first sight of the ocean, or again, my first sight of the seeming boundless treeless plains before we saw the Platte River…Looking across this grand valley westward the dark blue line of the Cascade Range of Mountains appears a forest-clad and impassable wall, out of which arise two immense white cones called, as I subsequently learned, Mount Hood and Mount Adams.
--John Minto, 1844