Jenny Creek – which has been proposed for designation as a Wild and Scenic River – flows south out of Howard Prairie Reservoir in Southwestern Oregon for approximately 22 miles until it empties into Iron Gate Reservoir on the Klamath River in Northern California. Along the way, the creek passes through the eastern edges of both the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and the Soda Mountain Wilderness. Jenny Creek and its tributaries (Keene, Corral, Johnson, and Beaver Creeks) are separated from the Klamath River by two waterfalls (a 15-foot lower and a 40-foot upper) that were created as the creek carved through a lava flow that occurred approximately 5 million years ago. By separating the upper reaches of the watershed from the river, these falls have given rise to the Jenny Creek redband trout, a unique lineage of trout found only in the upper creek. Hence many good reasons to appreciate these falls in person. Only one tiny problem – how to reach them?
Local groups occasionally lead hikes to the falls but the route (or routes) they take are only sketchily described (I reached out to one group for clearer directions but received no reply). So, after a lot of map gazing and Google Earth twirling, I came up with two options: from the north via powerline and other old roads plus cross-country (this route is used by kayakers and (I think) those local group hikes) or from the south via other powerline roads plus cross-country. The northern route, although longer, has the benefit of being (mostly) on public lands, while the shorter southern route crosses some private land (or at least land under powerlines) and may not be fully legal. In January, I did a recce of the southern route up to a saddle just north of Point 3178 and, after having the abyss of the canyon stare back at me, decided to try again another day.
Today was that day and I (The LovedOne had to sew her outfit for this weekend’s ComicCon) was back at the now almost full reservoir under clear, warm, sunny skies for another go at the southern route.
I’m still not sure about the legality of this route (there are no “no” signs) but I was willing to assume that no one was going to get too upset if I walked through cow pies on a road under a powerline.
The old road runs along the east side of Point 3176,
to a point where I could see the falls on Fall Creek across the valley. Fall Creek runs through a powerhouse before reaching the reservoir.
The old road peters-out as it approaches the rim of the canyon,
and is gone before you reach a newish barbed wire fence which I think marks the monument boundary (again, no signs). From here I could (once again) peer into the canyon, with its very steep sides. No matter how you approach the falls, the excitement starts at the rim.
The sides of the canyon are STEEP, but not impossibly so. But they consist of loose dirt, unstable rocks, slick grass, voracious ticks, bounteous poison oak, and (possibly) a shy rattlesnake (or two), so travel along them is not easy and requires caution.
I had to pay absolute attention to where my feet were going the whole way down. The descent to the creek is only 400 feet but it seemed longer. I angled down the slope on grasses and rocks, dodged some brush, flicked a tick or two, crossed a lava field (a collection of various sized boulders whose stability varied considerably), and finally arrived at the pool at the base of the lower falls. Wow!
If this seems like a lot of work just to watch water move, then Nature holds no mystery for you. After extended water-gazing, I climbed the steep slope on the east side of the falls,
to the top of the lava flow that had created the falls in the first place. From here I could look downstream,
and also directly at the upper falls. Wow again!
More water-gazing ensued and then it was time to think about getting out of the abyss. I was reluctantly considering retracing my steps across the lava field when I saw a faint track and some cairns trending upstream. I followed these just long enough to conclude that they probably marked the way in from the north, before abandoning them and climbing directly up toward the rim. There was some dodging and weaving and Class 3 moves involved in this but I eventually reached a grassy slope,
with a view down-canyon to the west,
and soon thereafter the top of the plateau near Point 3274.
From the plateau, I followed cow paths through buckbrush back to the old road. Buckbrush is hideous vegetation to move through but at this time of year it’s loaded with blooms that put out a wonderful fragrance that (almost) makes up for its obstructiveness.
All in all, a short (3.5 miles round-trip; 1,400 feet of elevation gain) but INTENSE journey to a delightful pair of waterfalls. I like waterfalls in general but these seem special because they are NOT EASY to reach and have contributed to a new line of trout. Only two ticks, no rattlesnakes, and any effects from poison oak are still TBD. The southern route may (or may not) be legal. If it’s not, then plan on coming in from the north and allow extra time for the journey.