The 11-mile Mule Mountain~Mule Creek loop hike in Southern Oregon’s Upper Applegate Valley (USFS #919) used to be a winter/spring favorite owing to its accessiblity in winter and wildflowers in spring. Unfortunately, access to the bulk of the trail on federal land was across a 0.3 mile easement on private land. In 2016, when that private land changed ownership, the easement was revoked. While some people still seem to be using the trail, doing so technically constitutes trespassing – which may become more of an issue if the new owner takes up residence on the site. The U.S. Forest Service is supposedly negotiating for a new easement but, in the meantime, they suggest accessing the loop from its top via the Charlie Buck/Baldy Peak Trail (USFS #918). This approach does not have nearly the accessibility (it was closed by snow all winter) as did the old #919, but it’s what’s on offer at the moment.
To reduce this hike from an 18-mile extravaganza to a 9-miler suitable for mere mortals, I (The LovedOne having wisely opted to garden furiously instead) drove up and hid my bike off Forest Road (FR) 2010 at Hanley Gap, then drove back down to where FR 2000-940 (the gravel road up to the #918 trailhead) crosses Beaver Creek, parked, and started hiking from there.
Yes, it’s a road but the grade is moderate and there were lots of wildflowers along it to break the tedium. Down here, Henderson shooting stars were the most numerous wildflowers.
Despite the moderate grade, it’s still 2 miles and 1,200 feet up to the Charlie Buck trailhead. At the moment, however, FR 2000-940 is blocked by rocks and fallen trees about 0.5 mile from the actual trailhead.
However, the trailhead itself is clear and, despite numerous bullet holes (droolers at work), still has its sign.
The #918 itself is not signed with anything more than an arrow blazer but heads uphill just to the right of the big metal signboard (with more bullet holes) at the end of FR 2000-940.
The Forest Service describes the 1-mile, 1,200 foot climb up to just below Baldy Peak as one with a “healthy rate of climb” and that’s absolutely true. The trail goes up and just keeps going up – fairly steeply in places, switchbacks apparently not having been invented when it was built.
About halfway up, there is one nominally level stretch through a delightful grove of Ponderosa pines and here the dominant wildflowers were Henderson fawn lilies, including some of the less common white ones.
Eventually, and mercifully, the trail tops out and contours on the level below Baldy Peak.
After the work required to get here, I was rewarded by an expansive view of the still snowy Siskiyou Crest off to the west, on what was a perfect bluebird hiking day.
The #918 contours to a saddle on the south ridge of Baldy Peak, passes an unsigned junction with the Mule Mountain Trail (#919), then continues south along the west side of the ridge, across the upper drainage of Mule Creek, with more big views,
then through patches of forest and across open meadows (“balds”) where Rusty popcornflowers were the most obvious wildflower. From a distance they look like a bag of popcorn exploded all over the meadow but up close you can see the little yellow centers which make the individual flowers look like popcorn kernals.
The #918 ends at FR 2010-300 and I followed this road south, past the junction with the Mule Creek Trail (#920) to where an unsigned tie trail (still on the map and obvious once you find the start of it), continues south upslope to a junction with the Little Grayback Trail (USFS #921).
I followed the #921 east to where it ends at FR 2010-340, then continued east on that dirt road to Hanley Gap. After checking on my bike, I made the 500-foot climb up FR 2010-350 to the Squaw Peak lookout. For me at least, this last 500 feet up a road is always the sloggiest part of a hike to Squaw, regardless of how I get to Hanley Gap.
The lookout is supposed to enter the Forest Service’s lookout rental program and the new roof and construction materials inside suggest that it might be available for rental soon. I’m sure the bottle of red wine on the old fire finder table will make the work go just that much easier.
The lookout now shares the summit with a Remote Automated Weather Station (RAWS), which can be accessed online (Squaw Peak RAWS data), and that is how I knew it was 43ºF, with a 10 mph wind from the north, when I arrived.
Owing to the fine weather, the view in all directions was magnificant. Only Mount McLoughlin to the east was hiding in what few clouds there were.
After a sit in the sun and a snack, it was back down to Hanley Gap to retrieve the bike and glory in 7 miles of downhill coasting back to FR 2000-940. A fun, but sturdy (9 mile one way; ~3,900 feet of elevation gain), approach to Squaw Peak. Saner people may elect to establish a shuttle between the actual Charlie Buck trailhead (when the road is cleared) and Hanley Gap but I needed the exercise and the breezy bike glide back was a hoot! Additional hoots may have been had if that bottle of red wine had been left on the lookout’s porch rather than locked away inside.