In 2015, we backpacked the justifiably famous Rogue River Trail from Grave Creek to Foster Bar and had a wonderful time doing so (Rogue River trip). As I was researching that trip, I kept coming across references to the Illinois River Trail (USFS #1161; but the sign at the trailhead says #1162) as a worthy adjunct to the Rogue trail. The western end of the Illinois River Trail was designated as a National Recreation Trail because of its outstanding scenic qualities and the Illinois River itself was added to the National Wild and Scenic River System in October 1984. It is lauded as one of the best hikes in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, one that gives you a unique glimpse into the wonders of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, a 179,655-acre wilderness filled with deep gorges and rocky ridges and home to many rare plant species. So I put #1161 on the list for a try at it once the better weather of Spring 2016 became a reality – which happened this week. While planning for a two day backpack of the #1161, I was struck by how little detailed information (in this age of Internet-driven information overload) there was on a complete east to west through hike of it. [UPDATE: The #1161 suffered substantial damage north of Silver Creek during the winter of 2016-17. Expect slow, tricky travel – plan accordingly.]
The Soda Mountain Wilderness is a 24,707 acre area within the Cascade–Siskiyou National Monument in southwestern Oregon and was created by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. The 53,000 acre Monument was designated in 2000 to protect the extraordinary biological diversity in this area. Both are located in Oregon and are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Soda Mountain Wilderness is an ecological mosaic where the state’s eastern desert meets towering fir forests, and whose biodiversity includes fir forests, sunlit oak groves, meadows filled with wildflowers, and steep canyons. The area is also home to a spectacular variety of rare species of plants and animals including Roosevelt elk, cougars, black bears, golden and bald eagles, goshawks and falcons.
The Applegate Valley lies south of Grants Pass and just west of Jacksonville (Oregon). It’s lower (northern) portion is bisected by Highway 238 and its upper (southern) portion by Upper Applegate Road, which begins in the small town of Ruch on Highway 238. The valley is largely agricultural, with appropriate barnyard fauna (sheep, goats, chickens, llamas, etc.), as well as wineries and (now legal) recreational marijuana grows. After passing Applegate Reservoir, Upper Applegate Road ends at the California border. Along this stretch of road are some of the best low-altitude, all-year hikes in Southern Oregon – including the Mule Mountain-Mule Canyon Loop [closed as of January 2017 due to the loss of public access], with Baldy Peak as an extra (USFS #919), the Little Grayback Trail, (USFS #921), with Squaw Peak as an extra, and the Stein Butte Trail (USFS #929). However, with the exception of Mule Mountain, it’s hard to build loop hikes out of these trails without having to resort to friends and/or family car shuttles or extra long walks on roads. This would consign the solo hiker to just out-and-backs if it were not for – wait for it – the mountain bike! With a bike, it’s possible to make moderate loop hikes out of all three of these – allowing you to mix the contemplative pace of a good hike with the soul-searing excitment of a downhill ride on gravel forest roads or on some actual mountain biking trails. Hence the miracle of the hike and bike (H&B)!
Lava Beds National Monument is located in northeastern California, in Siskiyou and Modoc counties. The Monument lies on the northeastern flank of the Medicine Lake Volcano and has the largest total area covered by a volcano in the Cascade Range. We’ve made several visits to the monument to both explore some of the caves (which are actually lava tubes) and to do a short hike to Whitney Butte in the adjacent Lava Beds Black Lava Flow Wilderness Area. It should be noted that those caves along the Loop Road can be closed to entry to protect hibernating bats, so it’s not necessarily possible to visit all of them during a single visit. Also the recent appearance of White-Nose Syndrome (a fatal condition in bats associated with exposure to a fungus) in Washington State might eventually further complicate visiting these caves.
Mount Ashland is our local ski area and also a Sno-Park. During the last two drought years, it suffered mightily from a lack of snow – to the point where it didn’t open for skiing at all in 2015 and had to get an emergency loan to survive. This winter – thanks in large part to El Niño – there was plenty of snow and the lifts were running on a regular schedule. The two days of the week when the ski area is closed is a perfect time to use the Sno-Park as the starting point for cross-country skiing or (in our case) a snowshoe hike in the forests and snow-covered meadows to the west.