Upper Lower Table Rock (Southern Oregon) 21-Dec-2017

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

After our exploration last week of the inside of Upper Table Rock, we (or at least I) thought it would be fun to do the same at Lower Table Rock. But there was a problem. The inside of Lower Table is covered by a conservation easement that does not allow for public access. So we couldn’t use the old road through there to reprise our Upper Table experience. BUT we could walk along the top of Lower Table since this is Nature Conservancy land open to public access. On Lower, however, there’s no old road on top, as there is on Upper, to make travel easy.  So when I mentioned that this would be more of an adventure hike, the LovedOne decided going to the hairdresser was the smarter move and left me to face the wilderness alone.  Sigh.

Brush thinning has been going on at the Rocks for awhile and today was slash pile burning day. So the hike up to Lower Table’s plateau was through a Mordor-esque gauntlet of smoke and flame.  But the smoke had a nice woodsy smell…

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

Slash pile burning along the Lower Table Rock Trail

There was another inversion fog in the valley today but the top of the plateau was above that. Thanks to the open sky, the vernal pools were slick with a thin layer of ice.

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

A cold vernal pool

Once on top, I turned north, away from the landing strip and the well-trodden hiker paths, on a narrow use trail toward the plateau’s narrow end.

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

A use trail heads north

The grass-covered flat top of the plateau ends abruptly in a jumble of vegetation and crumbled basalt blocks.

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

A forest at the end of the flat plateau

I could see more flat, open plateau further on along the Rock, but first I had to get there through lots of vegetation and small boulders.

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

More flat plateau was visible in the distance

As noted for our Upper Table exploration, the cold of winter is really the only time a moderately sane hiker would try this route. Warmer weather (Spring through Fall) would bring out ticks, rattlesnakes, and poison oak (of which there is A LOT) to unnecessarily enliven your journey (and maybe for several days thereafter). The ominous phrase “rattlesnake den” kept intruding on my consciousness as I scrambled down and across slopes of frost covered boulders,

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

A boulder field along the route

and past the still clearly visible trail that, until the mid-1990s, had been another way to reach the top from the parking lot.  This trail looked intact enough to be followed down to the old road – which would allow you to by-pass some of the more challenging (OK, nastier) sections of the ridge.  I didn’t because I don’t have property maps detailed enough to show where this old trail and road are relative to the forbidden conservation easement.  But it’s a thought…

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

Lower Table Rock trails in the mid-1990s (from C. Reyes, “The Table Rocks of Jackson County” (1994))

A little further along, I got a brief reprieve from the brush and boulders along a short piece of flat plateau with some great views to the east.

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

Upper Table Rock and Mount McLoughlin from Lower Table Rock

Then it was more brush and then a longer boulder field,

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

A rocky crossing

with a view to the flat top I was now yearning to reach,

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

The flat continuation of Lower Table from the boulder field

and of the inside of Lower Table, which I wasn’t going to reach.

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

The inside of Lower Table from the boulder field

I kept running into stretches of remnant barbed wire and couldn’t decide it this was a helpful guide or an invitation to tetanus. It’s hard to imagine a cow finding its way through the brush and up the boulders to this fence but maybe bovines were sterner stuff back in the day?

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

Barbed wire – friend or foe?

After more ducking and weaving, I finally emerged on to the grassy, rocky, but delightfully open and flat, plateau at the north end of Lower Table.  Here I was welcomed with a grand view of Mount McLoughlin, which would be a near-constant visual presence along this route.

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

Mount McLoughlin from the north end of Lower Table

With open vistas in all directions and easy, almost level walking, this part of Lower Table was a wonder. Well worth the thrashing needed to get here legally. I was thinking it was a pristine wilderness up here until a clutch of empty vodka and apple juice bottles disabused me of this conceit.  What kind of deluded douche bags would mix vodka and apple juice? Oh, the horrors…

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

Passing above the inside of Lower Table

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

Detail of the basalt spires at the south end of Lower Table

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

The flat plateau and Mount McLoughlin

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

Looking west into Sams Valley

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

The other side of Lower Table and Mount McLoughlin

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

More Mount McLoughlin

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

More flat plateau

After a mile of buccolic walking with big views, I came to the where an old road crossed a saddle in the ridge. By 1938 (and certainly sooner) there was a trail to the top of the eastern side of Lower Table. In 1948, a road was built up the inside of the Rock to service an airstrip constructed on top of the eastern side by John Day, a local cattle rancher and developer. Sometime between 1954 and 1974, this road at the end of my journey was carved from the airport road over the plateau and down the west side of the rock.

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

Where an old road crosses the plateau

By now, I was pre-occupied with the journey back and didn’t think to push on over open ground to the southern tip of this side of Lower Table. Well, maybe next time. Going back was much of the same, with another big view of Mount McLoughlin as a reward when I finally got back to the main trail.

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

Safely back on the trail…

A good adventure hike (6.6 miles roundtrip; 1,000 feet of elevation gain) with big views from a little visited (for good reason) part of Lower Table. Not a hike for those uncomfortable on uneven ground and not one to be done during the warmer months.

Lower Table Rock Medford Oregon

My track along Upper Lower Table Rock

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