Little Grayback Mountain (Southern Oregon) 12-Mar-2017

The Little Grayback Trail (#921), which is in the Upper Applegate Valley southwest of Jacksonville, Oregon, is one that does not show-up in many guidebooks. That’s too bad since it provides hiking access to the (now available for rent) historic lookout on Squaw Peak and is south-facing, so it’s usually clear of snow sooner and hence a good place for early season wildflowers. It may become more popular now that direct access to its companion trail in the Upper Applegate, the Mule Mountain Trail (#919), has been lost to private development.

The #921 doesn’t actually go to the summit of Little Grayback; for that you have to do a little cross-country travel. I first tried this in early 2015, shortly after we got here, when I was still following the Columbia Gorge dictum of “go to the top of the ridge, it’s usually easier” rather than the rule I’d learned in the Southern Sierra Nevada about staying away from the manzanita. So I went to the ridge and got shredded by live and dead manzanita and that special Southern Oregon addition: buckbrush. I got to the top but came home looking like a chainsaw test dummy. Oh, the shame.

A front rolled through here yesterday – bringing clouds and coolness – which made a hike on a south-facing slope pretty attractive. So, time for another go at Little Grayback – to show that I could get up there without significant blood loss (or any, for that matter).

I’d hiked this trail just six weeks ago and then the trailhead was blocked by snow and the trail above 3,000 feet was covered in snow. That’s all gone now – the melt has started and it’s moving fast.

Snow-free trail

I followed the #921 up to the 4,400′ contour and then cut uphill back toward the summit. The storm rolling in from the southwest over the still well-snowed Red Buttes looked more ominous than it turned out to be – there was some rain but not until I got back to the trailhead.

Storm over the Red Buttes

I had used my previous experience, and Google Earth, to pick out a path on open ground beneath the ridge crest, and got to the summit with no blood loss and only two ticks (these being the downside of warm weather and no snow). The summit itself is little more than an old triangulation pole and two witness marks,

The summit of Little Grayback

but it does offer views in all directions. Mount McLoughlin and Wagner Butte to the east,

Cloud-shrouded Mount McLoughlin (1) and Wagner Butte (2) to the east

the Siskiyou Crest and Applegate Lake to the southwest,

Siskiyou Crest and Applegate Lake

and of the storm now boiling over the Red Butte Wilderness to the southwest.

Red Buttes

I had used Google Earth to pick out a path – it’s surprising how well game trails show up in those aerial photos – along Little Grayback ‘s southwest ridge and then down to the trail. Looking back at Little Grayback ‘s summit (with snowy Wagner Butte on the horizon) it’s easy to see the brown open ground as opposed to the clumps of manzanita and buckbrush.

Returning along the open ridge

I was able to follow those game trails (“The Wisdom of Bambi” approach to navigation) along the ridge and then down to the main trail without any significant issues with brush (but with two more ticks). The critters who make these trails don’t seem any more interested in going through brush than I am. Lower down, the brush is replaced by an open Ponderosa pine forest wherein travel is easy.

Down into the forest to the main trail

So, a short (5.3 miles round trip; 1,900 feet of elevation gain) fun hike that provided good exercise and views, and allowed me to further work on my brush-free (but not tick-free) hiking skills. And no blood loss this time, to either brush or ticks! Even if you have no interest in this summit, this is a great trail for views and wildflowers, and one you can easily extend in to a visit to the lookout on Squaw Peak.

My track to and from Grayback

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