Sterling Mine Ditch Trail (Tunnel Ridge) 05-Oct-2013

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon
We were down in Jacksonville, Oregon on business (and enjoying the sun) but had time for a quick hike (there are many to chose from in this area). After consulting the guide and a local, we decided on doing a portion of the trail that follows along the abandoned Sterling Mine Ditch – which has now been restored as a hiking trail. This is Hike #62 in Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon (Third Edition). The full hike is 17.1 miles but we went for the 4.7 mile loop that included a hand-dug, through-the-ridge tunnel. This is a very nice trail and it was somewhat encouraging to find ones’ tax dollars actually being used for something constructive and fun.

It was a true bluebird day, with clear skies and sun, but still a low 40º F when we left the Tunnel Ridge Trailhead and headed up the access trail.

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

A cold start on a shady access trail

But soon we were out in the sun moving through groves of pines and madrones,

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

We soon reached warm sun

with a nice view down the valley of the Little Applegate River,

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

The Little Applegate River Valley

and up through the large meadows along this stretch of the trail. These were now all golden for Fall but in the Spring they will be a riot of various wildflowers.

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

Blue sky over a large meadow

We reached the junction of the access trail and the Mine Ditch trail at 2,810 feet on top of Tunnel Ridge.

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

The top of Tunnel Ridge

However, beneath the ridge is a 130-foot long tunnel that had been hand-dug through the ridge in 1877 to keep the ditch at just the right gradient for moving water to the Sterling Mine – the largest hydraulic mine in Oregon in its day.

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

The tunnel in Tunnel Ridge

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

The light at the end of the tunnel…

From the tunnel, the mine ditch trail goes along the side of the now abandoned ditch – east to the Little Applegate Trailhead and west to (eventually) Grub Gulch past several intermediate trailheads. We turned west and were impressed by the remarkably good shape of the ditch for being almost 140 years old and not maintained for the last 80 years or so.

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

The ditch just west of Tunnel Ridge

Along the trail we passed a very large madrone tree (the LovedOne is 61 inches tall),

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

A very large, old madrone

with its characteristic highly abstract, artistic, and architectural bark.

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

The many textures of an old madrone

At one point, the ditch builders had thrown a wooden flume (now gone except for a few rotting boards) to carry the ditch over a particularly steep and unstable area of side-hill.

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

The remains of the flume

The tree-lined trail then continued contouring along,

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

Hiking along the ditch

and was just visible from one ridge to the next.

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

The ditch (arrow) contours along the slope

Too soon we reached our return point at Bear Gulch,

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

The junction with the access trail to the Bear Gulch Trailhead

and headed down to the access trail to the Bear Gulch Trailhead and then along Little Applegate Road back to the Tunnel Ridge Trailhead. Along the way, we took in the Fall colors that were just starting to spread,

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

Hiking along under Fall colors

enjoyed more tree-lined trail,

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

Hiking through a park-like forest

and continued to dodge (we hope) another of the many, many opportunities along this trail to “experience” poison oak. Beautiful but itchy…

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail Oregon

My toxins yearn for your flesh…

A short (4.7 miles roundtrip; 550 feet elevation gain), but sweet, hike. Great Fall colors this time of year but it’s supposed to have wonderful wildflowers in May and June – something to think about when Winter is still hanging out in the Columbia River Gorge up north.

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