Wagner Butte: Another Rogue Valley Classic 20-Oct-2016

Wagner Butte Rogue Valley Oregon

Every place we’ve lived has had a favorite local hike – one that is close-by, accessible, and short – so that you can get out into the woods for a leg stretch without committing to an epic journey.  There are actually several such hikes here in the southern Rogue River Valley but one that is mentioned in every local guidebook,  in several newspaper and magazine articles, and on numerous websites, is Wagner Butte on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest just west of Talent, Oregon (and just northwest of Ashland).  After a four-day siege of wind, rain, clouds, and gloom, a hike of Grizzly Peak the day before, and the LovedOne still composting in the garden, I set out (solo) for the longer ascent of Wagner Butte, now wearing a good coating of snow from the recent storms.

This hike is a little tougher proposition (~10 miles round-trip, with 2,200 feet of elevation gain) than Grizzly Peak but the views – when available – are spectacular in all directions.  On a clear day, you can see every major mountain in the area, from Mount Shasta to Mount Ashland, from the old lookout site at 7,140 feet (the actual summit of the Butte, at 7,255 feet, is about 0.5 mile to the south of the lookout site). We’ve been up there several times in all seasons and have never failed to secure one of these views – until today.  The weather cooperated for yesterday’s short loop on Grizzly but for today’s climb of Wagner, clouds were rolling in by the time I reached the trailhead (USFS TH). The trailhead is poorly marked but its parking lot, on the right side of Forest Road 22, is obvious due to its collection of impressively large potholes!

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

Potholes, not ponds, at the trailhead

The trail itself (USFS #1101) is also obvious, although steep and narrow in spots, all the way to the old lookout site.  Along the way, I took in some of the impressively large Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines that line the trail and somehow have escaped being logged.

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

A large Douglas fir (hiking stick is 5 feet long)

I also stumbled (they heard me before I saw them) upon a small herd of elk, presided over by a magnificently huge bull elk who was a bit camera shy.

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

A bull elk crosses one of the meadows along this part of the trail

After 3 miles through the forest, I reached Wagner Glade Gap at around 6,600 feet, and took in an astounding view of…clouds!

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

A viewless Wagner Glade Gap

There’s a trail junction at the Gap and the trail to the old lookout site heads left (north) from here.  If you continue straight ahead, you’ll be on the revitalized Wagner Glade Gap trail that goes down to Forest Road 2060 in the Ashland Watershed.  The USFS and volunteers rebuilt it in 2008 and 2009 (story) and it is now part of the Pine to Palm 100-mile endurance run, as is the old lookout site (P to P 100). From here, the Wagner Butte trail (#1101) contours north through the forest,

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

Through the forest on the Wagner Butte trail

and past a tree growth of a type I’d never seen before (and hadn’t noticed here before).  This is the stuff of “B” sci fi films – as in hiker absorbed by alien pod and so on.

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

An unusual growth on one of the trailside trees

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

An enhanced close-up of that unusual growth

The old watering trough at Cold Spring signals that you’re not far from the lookout site. This was about the time the snow started getting deeper, 8 to 12 inches or so from here on.

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

A Winter’s trough

When you come out of the trees just beyond the water trough you have, on a clear day, a great view off and up toward the rock outcropping that used to anchor the old lookout,

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

Approaching the lookout site on a CLEAR day

but today was not one of those days. Sigh.

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

Approaching the lookout site today

After a short scramble up the snow-slick rocks of the outcropping, I reached the old lookout site and a view mostly obscured by clouds. More sighs.

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

At the old lookout site today, with Pilot Rock and Mount Ashland dimly on the horizon

Had it been a clear day, I would have been treated – as on all our past trips here – to expansive views.

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

At the old lookout site on a CLEAR day

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

Looking south toward Mount Ashland and Mount Shasta on a CLEAR day

After a 1910 forest fire burned much of Ashland Creek’s canyon and threatened Ashland, the USFS agreed to establish a fire lookout out here on the Butte and an open-air observation post and rag camp (canvas tents) were set up in 1915. The first permanent structure, a D-6 cupola cabin, was built in 1923.

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

The 1923 cupola cabin

After winter storms blew parts of this structure off the mountain, it was replaced with an R-6 flat cabin in 1961. This cabin was only in service for a few summers before it was intentionally burned by smokejumpers in 1972, leaving only foundation piers, melted glass, and an iron railing.

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

The 1961 flat cabin (note the guard rail which is still there)

While I was trying to enjoy my summit snack, even more clouds blew through and visibility dropped to zip. It seemed time to head down, even though I KNEW that the sun would be out as soon as I’d gotten just a short ways from the top. And, sure enough, by the time I got back to the Gap, the clouds were breaking-up and the landscape was dappled with sunshine. Nature can be so cruel sometimes. Triple sigh.

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

Clearing clouds at Wagner Glade Gap

By the time I’d reached the site of the 1983 Sheep Creek Slide, I was in full sun and contemplating sunscreen!  In May 1983, heavy rains saturated this forested slope, triggering a huge slide of trees, debris, and soil that roared down to the Applegate River destroying everything in its path, including parts of this trail and FR 22.

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

Site of the 1983 slide

The sunlight now streaming into the forest backlit the gills on the undersides of several large mushrooms growing out of trees next to the trail.

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

Mushroom gills

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

Mushroom gills

After picking-up some trash alongside the trail, it was back to the trailhead and its potholes. A classic and always fun hike, even when the weather refuses to cooperate with the views!  I should note that the USGS topo map for this area needs an update, as it shows FR 22 as a trail, doesn’t show the #1101, but does show the now recovered Wagner Glade gap trail.  The USFS topo map for here gets the roads right (with a MapBuilder overlay) but labels the now #1101 (which only shows with MapBuilder) as #972.  Fortunately, you don’t need a map to do this hike (Gasp!  10 essentials heresy!) as long you stay on the trail and it’s not snow-bound.

Grizzly Peak Jackson County Oregon

My out-and-back track to Wagner Butte

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