Sterling Mine Ditch (Oregon) 26-Mar-2020

Our governor’s shelter-in-place order went into effect on Monday, with the now all too familiar (and painful) public closures, stay-at-home injunctions, and self-isolation directives. But, hiking, running, and biking are still encouraged PROVIDED you maintain a 6-foot (2 m) “alone cone” around yourself. Basically, just stay away from other people. And we’ve been good about that, as neither of us wants to give the Big V a shot at our decrepit immune systems. So, except for brief forays out for groceries, liquor, prescription refills, and the occasional take-out, we do not leave the house. Hiking is the one big exception. When doing so, we now have to think carefully about when and where to go – and be willing to abandon or revise a planned hike if trying to do it would compromise social distancing.

Right after the shelter-in-place order went into effect, the weather stepped-up to enforce it with rain, snow, and low clouds. When today was forecast as a break between weather systems, we planned a hike. Because it’s at low altitude and nearby, we laid-out a loop on the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail. It’s usually a popular trail at this time of year so we weren’t sure what we’d find as we approached the Tunnel Ridge Trailhead. Well, no one. There was, however, a fresh, shallow blanket of snow on all the north-facing slopes – an exquisite tracery of light powder snow on the still leafless branches of the oak trees. Beautiful!

We went up the Tunnel Ridge Trail to the Ditch Trail itself, then along that to the Little Applegate Trailhead, and then back along the road to where we’d left the truck. We only passed four people (and a dog) the whole day. They were carrying large backpacks and seemed intent on camping somewhere along the Ditch Trail. A brief conversation ensued (from 6+ feet away) wherein we learned they were from Colorado and did not know that potable water sources along the trail were scarce to non-existent (particularly now that we’re in a drought). We left them to their adventure, thinking: Maybe they can melt snow?

Starting out on the Tunnel Ridge Trail
Light snow on last year’s oak leaves
A bee fly frozen to a stem
Clearing over the Tunnel Ridge Trail
Snow melting on Henderson Shoot Stars
Nearing the top of the Tunnel Ridge Trail
The Little Applegate Valley from Tunnel Ridge
Along the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail
Madrone abstract
Snow along the Ditch Trail
Climbing Goat Cabin Ridge
Through tall trees on Goat Cabin Ridge

Aside from being outside on snow-dappled slopes on a crisp, sunny day, we were also lucky to sight a herd of 20+ elk on a distant hillside and a small flock of wild turkeys in the brush near the trail. Both sets of critters were equally skittish and offered us only a brief glance of their presence.

A herd of elk on the ridge
Cresting the top of the ridge
Back along the ditch
Wild turkeys running wild
A last patch of snow before we reached the road

This loop (including the road walk) came to 7.8 miles with 1,000 feet of gain and was a wonderful tonic for the anxiety and worry the Big V has brought to (all) our lives. 🙂

Our loop from Tunnel Ridge Trailhead (1) to Little Appelgate Trailhead (2) on trail (red line) and road (black line)
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2 comments

  1. We did. It was good to walk in the sunshine. And thanks for the info on these new Ashland trails. Since these are closer to town – and thus possibly busier – we’ll probably wait awhile before giving them a try.

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  2. Looks and sounds like you had a great hike. Yes in these time creativity is key in finding a path without others or at least room to avoid others. By the way, the trail from the Fairy Ponds to the Wonder Trail in Ashland is done. Of course it is not a wide trail, so that may be an issue currently. There are some roads in the Ashland Watershed that you can hike and form a good 7 – 9 mile loop through the woods which we may try. Stay safe.

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