Stein Butte (USFS #929) is one of the classic hikes in the Upper Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon. It was the last hike we did in 2014 (post), the first full hike we did this year, and one of our first hike & bike efforts (post), so it seemed only fitting that it be our last hike for 2016. The #929 trail is well-maintained, well-graded, and offers sweeping views once you reach the crest of Elliott Ridge.
It was a sunny, but cold, day, and a recent storm had accented the trail and its surrounds with just-the-right-amount of light, powdery snow.
Just enough snow to, once again, show us that we weren’t alone in the woods. Cue creepy, tingling feeling in back of neck while walking through the woods…
After 2.5 miles or so of steadily ascending through the forest,
we broke out of the clouds filling the valley and into brilliant blue sky atop Elliott Ridge, where there were views of the Red Buttes to the south in California,
of Grayback Mountain to the west above the clouds settled in the valley,
and of the Upper Applegate River Valley stretching out to the northeast, with Little Grayback Mountain the highpoint on the right.
We followed the trail along Elliott Ridge as it gained altitude steadily but easily, while offering plenty of views to distract us as we went along.
The snowy top of Stein Butte came in to view about four miles from the trailhead,
and soon we were on top.
A 10 foot by 10 foot L-5 cab fire lookout stood on the summit from 1936 until its removal in 1968 and all that’s left is a crude foundation wall and part of the (now crushed) stove pipe seen in the 1942 photo above. It was perfect weather on the summit – with the cold held at bay by the bright sunshine and lack of wind. So we had time for a snack on the lightly snowed summit; time for yet another grand view of the Red Buttes to the south,
of Wagner Butte to the east (with clouds creeping upslope from the valley),
and of Grayback and Big Sugarloaf Mountains on the horizon to the west, with the old lookout foundation in the foreground.
By the time we had finished snacking, the clouds that were creeping up the ridge finally reached the summit, enveloping everything in a hazy mist. Once the sunlight was blocked, the cold reasserted itself, and it was time to head back.
As we descended, the clouds dissipated to some extent, the sun reappeared,
and the day warmed just enough to melt the snow on the trees lower down the trail into a cascade of “rain” drops and clumps of wet snowballs. Sure, it’s winter, but we still needed our rain gear!
At 9.4 miles round-trip, with 2,400 feet of elevation gain, this hike of Stein Butte was a wonderful way to wrap-up our hiking for 2016. This year we did 105 unique hikes, totaling 912.7 trail miles, with 165,743 feet of elevation gain.