Whatever else you might say about 2017, it was a great year for new trails in Southern Oregon! Several hiking, biking, and equestrain trails came online in Prescott Park, Phase I of the Jack-Ash Trail was opened by the Siskiyou Upland Trails Association, and then the Applegate Trails Association weighed in with the East Applegate Ridge Trail, another addition to the still developing 50-mile long Applegate Ridge Trail (ART) system. It’s hard to keep up with all this trail activity and we were out fiddling with Point 5648 when Glenn & Carol and Richard ventured out along the new east ART trail. I hesitate to say that they “gushed” about their hike (even though it did rain some) but they were clearly captured by its smooth tread, vast views, open meadows, and transits of oak, madrone, and pine forests. We were consumed with envy. When today looked to be (and was) an amazingly bluebird perfect break in the atmospheric river of wet that has been coming our way lately, I went for it. The LovedOne stayed behind to make a dent in her growing number of fiber art projects, thus missing a great hike. So sad…
The East Applegate Ridge Trail runs between Highway 238 (lower trailhead) and Sterling Creek Road (upper trailhead). At present, however, trailhead parking is available only at its upper end; completion of the lower trailhead is planned for 2018. BLM Road 38-2-19.1 (which some douche bags have already used as a trash dump) connects Sterling Creek Road to the huge gravel parking lot at the upper trailhead where there is a sign but no amenities. The trail, and the land that it’s on, are administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The trail starts out through some forest but very soon breaks into the open and begins contouring across open, grassy slopes.
This was one of those days when the valleys were clogged with early morning fog but above 3,000 feet or so, all was blue sky. Clouds like this always remind me of camping at Camp Muir prior to climbing Mount Rainier and looking out from 10,000 feet over a sea of clouds stretching for miles and miles.
After a long stretch in the open, the trail turns a corner on to the wetter side of a ridge and passes into a pine forest,
hoary with moss and lichens of varying colors and shapes.
The trail then turns again, leaves the pines, passes through a stand of oaks and madrones,
crosses over the head of Buckhorn Gulch, then comes out again into open meadows of tall grasses that were glowing golden in the soft Fall light.
The big views also return,
and then the trail turns north, crosses the ridge and a faint old mining road (at 2.5 miles from the upper trailhead), then starts descending.
This crossing is the highest point on the trail – from here I would drop, gently but steadily, some 1,200 feet down to the lower trailhead. I knew this was coming, but I can’t say that the thought of having to regain this altitude sat very well. But I pushed on, now back into forest,
then across old BLM Road 38-3-13.1 (not shown on the last (1985) USGS topo map for this area but clearly visible on Google Earth), then, in 0.2 miles, across another, fainter old road (BLM 38-3-13.2), and then out into the open on south-facing (likely scorching hot in summer!) slopes.
Less than a mile further on, the trail follows another short piece of old road (BLM Road 38-2-18.0), then switchbacks down through a madrone forest, connects with another old road segment (BLM Road 38-3-14.1), and finally arrives at the lower trailhead – just a green gate at present – on Highway 238.
The trail had been remarkably quiet and peaceful up to this point, which made the car and truck noise coming from the highway all the more jarring. Seeking a return to solice, I decided to climb up from the highway a bit before taking a snack break. So, back up the old road,
up those open south-facing slopes,
and back into the forest for that snack break.
Continuing on I passed a couple of birdwatchers (judging from the size of the binoculars they were carrying) and a mountain biker, then regained the high point, now with a view south toward Wagner Butte and Mount Ashland.
There’s a strtegically placed bench along in here which I’ll admit to taking advantage of it for another break. My concerns about the 1,200-foot climb back up proved to be overblown – the trail is so well-graded that keeping a steady upward pace was not at all painful. From the bench, it was more golden grasses,
a last glimpse of Wagner and Ashland,
a last leaf in quasi-Christmas colors,
and then I was back at the upper trailhead. A total of 10.6 miles with 2,000 feet of elevation gain (that 1,200 feet plus some little ups here and there) on a well-constructed, easy-to-hike-on trail! Truly wonderful! Well done ATA! But to give credit where credit is due, let me quote part of the sign at the trailhead:
“…ATA has received grants from BLM Title II, the Schwemm Family Foundation, REI, and Travel Oregon and contributions from many citizens of the Applegate and Rogue Valleys. This financial support is greatly appreciated. There were many helping hands volunteering in the construction of the trail as well. Without them, this beautiful trail would not exist!”