As we’ve noted in previous posts, we have a project underway to at least visit all of Oregon’s 45 established and open federal wilderness areas that we’d missed visiting in years past. We started this project in January 2016 with 18 wilderness areas remaining and closed out that year with just two left: the Menagerie and the Middle Santiam. The Menagerie Wilderness is another of those small (4,962 acre), fairly obscure, wilderness areas whose primary human purpose is watershed protection and not recreation (it’s popular with rock climbers). There are only two trails in this wilderness – the Trout Creek (USFS #3405) and the Rooster Rock (USFS #3399) – of which the Trout Creek Trail (6.6 miles roundtrip; 2,400 feet of elevation gain) is the longer, but easier, one and hence was our choice. Why we hiked this wilderness before the nearby Middle Santiam Wilderness is a twisted tale of plans (and karma) temporarily gone awry.
The Trout Creek Trail trailhead is on U.S. Highway 20, 19.8 miles east of Sweet Home, Oregon, and across the highway from, and east of, the entrance to Trout Creek Campground. The trail starts out in the exuberant vegetative lushness of a temperate rain forest,
and pretty much stays in that green tunnel even as the hanging moss gives way to huge, overarching trees higher up.
After 3.3 miles of steady climbing – with a little extra steepness in the last half mile – we came up to Rooster Rock, an enormous pillar of andesite and basalt, popular with rock climbers. It’s pretty spectacular when viewed from afar but its soaring bulk is mostly obscured by trees when viewed from the trail.
An eight by eight-foor frame cab fire lookout was built on the Rock in 1927. It was accessible via a 100-foot series of ladders up the rock pillar (today this is a 5th Class rock climb). An L-4 cab was added in 1935 and then the lookout was abandoned in 1963.
The trail ends just a little further along at an opening on the ridge where the base cabin for the lookout used to stand. From here, the only view of note was east to North Sister and Middle Sister in the Three Sisters Wilderness.
After gazing at the sky for a bit (the only other view),
we started back down through the green tunnel.
All was going well until, not far from the trailhead, the LovedOne caught her boot on a small rock and executed a full face plant into the middle of the trail. After a heart-stopping moment to realize what had happen, I rushed forward to help get her back on her feet. Fortunately, other than for a few cuts and scrapes (and later bruises), she didn’t seem to have suffered any serious injuries. We limped back to the car, drove back to where we were staying in Lebanon (Oregon), got her cleaned-up, and grabbed two seats and attendant libations (purely for medicinal purposes) at the hotel’s bar. It was the end of a long and dramatic day that had started hours before during our first attempt at the Middle Santiam Wilderness…