In late 2015, as we were assembling our hiking to do list for 2016, it occurred to us that we had yet to at least visit all of Oregon’s 47 established federal wilderness areas (there are three proposed ones but, with Congress now at peak efficiency, who knows when or if these will ever be established?) (OR wilderness). Two of the 47 (Oregon Islands and Three Arch Rocks) are closed to public entry (and would require amphibious operations even if they were open). Of the remaining 45, we had hiked, as of 2015, all but 18. So we planned some trips to visit these. We’re not philosophers (the pay is horrible) but suffice to say that wilderness exists just to be wild, irrespective of human needs or wants. So we understood going in that the primary “human” purpose for these lesser visited wilderness areas is to protect a watershed or a threatened and endangered species or a terrestrial habitat or a fish habitat or all of the above and not for our hiking pleasure. Several have no trails and in those, cross-country travel opportunities vary from good to heroically difficult. So we weren’t planning on long day hikes or multi-day backpacks, just a visit and, if possible without heroics, a short hike. So far our efforts have entailed a lot more driving than hiking – think a road trip punctuated by short walks.
Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge (NAR) is a 280,311 acre (438 square mile) piece of high desert located 65 miles east of Lakeview, Oregon. Its western side is a massive fault block ridge that ascends abruptly nearly three-quarters of a mile above the Warner Valley floor in a series of rugged cliffs, steep slopes, and knife-like ridges. Since its creation in 1936 as a range for remnant herds of pronghorn antelope, management of the refuge has broadened to include conservation of all wildlife species characteristic of this high desert habitat and restoration of native ecosystems (details). Warner Peak (8,017 feet) is the highest point in the Refuge and one of Oregon’s top 100 peaks (#87) and is also sought after as an Oregon Prominence Peak. Reaching its summit is an easy, partially on-trail, partially cross-country dayhike that combines peakbagging with the opportunity to see some of the plants and animals that live in the Refuge’s backcountry. It truly is in the middle of nowhere as reaching it involves a 5-7 hour drive from most of Oregon’s population centers and the closest town of any substance is 65 miles away. Still, it was someplace we’d always wanted to visit and, with a high pressure ridge in place for a couple of days, we decided to go for it.
Lost Creek Lake is a 3,340 acre (when full) reservoir situated on the main stem of the Rouge River in a scenic valley basin approximately half way between Crater Lake National Park and Medford, Oregon. It was created in 1977, mainly for flood control and power generation purposes, with the completion of the William L. Jess Dam. Since then it has become a major local recreation area, with boating, fishing, beaches, and miles of lakeshore trail (for hikers, runners, equestrians, and mountain bikers). Situated at about 2,500 feet elevation, the trails are open year-round, even when snow closes those further up in the Cascades. But, like most of the water management reservoirs in our area, the level of this lake rises and falls some 60 feet with the seasons – going from a mud-rimmed bathtub in winter to a “real” lake during the summer.
The Upper Rogue River Trail (USFS #1034) is a National Recreation Trail that closely follows the Rogue River for about 47 miles from its headwaters at Boundary Springs in the northwest corner of Crater Lake National Park to to the North Fork Dam Recreation Area outside Prospect, Oregon. The trail can be day hiked in sections between readily accessible trailheads. Today we did the short (~7 mile) Foster Creek to Big Bend section and allowed for slow going due to winter storm damage and limited trail maintenance. We parked one car at the Big Bend trailhead along Forest Road (FR) 6510 about one mile off Highway 230 and were planning to park the other car a mile up FR 6530, also off of Highway 230, and walk the short ways to the actual trailhead. But we found FR 6530 still closed due to fallen trees for as far along it as we could see. So we had to park on Highway 230, right at the trailhead. All those fallen trees on FR 6350 were an omen – one we blithely ignored. The sad condition of the sign at the trailhead was yet another omen – also ignored. To be fair, trail maintenance in this area doesn’t really get going until early June but we could tell from the start that this section of trail hadn’t seen much maintenance for quite a while.