Buckneck Mountain (Rogue-Umpqua Divide) 05-Oct-2020

The Forest Service bills the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail #1470 as the primary route through the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness. Two week’s ago we hiked the section from Forest Road (FR) 37 toward Three Lakes, the trail’s northern end. Despite this section of the trail having been ceded to motorcycles, that hike went well. That left just one major section (there are a few minor one’s we’ll likely never hike) left – the one past Buckneck Mountain between Fish Creek Camp on FR 870 and FR 37. We set out to do that today, ahead of real rain forecast to arrive (ha!) later this week.

The three miles of trail between FR 870 and FR 37 should, in theory, be a short, easy walk. Except…except…for the effects of the 2011 Umpqua Complex Fire which had seared the forest along two-thirds of the trail. Fallen trees, choking new growth, evaporated tread were all to be expected in the burn area. So, in anticipation of the worst, we planned our return (should we actually be able to make it all the way) on roads – FR 870 and 800. Signage isn’t always plentiful on trails in Southern Oregon, but one was visible right at the trailhead on FR 37.

The sign at the start of the trail

What was also visible were quad ATV tracks tearing up the trail – plowing through meadows and creek beds along the way. Douchebags! 😡 Responsible hunting is fine – just try walking for a change!

Following ATV tracks at the start of the trail
Thanks(?) to the ATV traffic, the trail was extra wide
Fall is here – maybe some snow later in the week?

The ATV tracks veered off the trail, across a meadow, and into a camp about 0.4 miles from the trailhead. We had to search around some to find the #1470 continuing on, in good shape, as a single-track. The forest through here was still intact and host to some impressively big cedars. It makes a jarring contrast with the “forest” of burned snags we’d soon confront.

Through the forest
A gigantic – and still very much alive – cedar
One last bit of green forest

A little over a mile in from the trailhead, we reached the edge of the 2011 fire and were soon searching for the trail. In the nine years since the fire nothing has been done to revive or clear the tread. This wasn’t too surprising since maintenance hasn’t occurred on long stretches of the #1470 for years. We eventually found and were able to follow a pale shadow of the trail that once was.

Into the area of the 2011 fire
Mount Bailey (arrow) from the burned area
Entering a less impacted area with new growth

The trail climbed a bit and, after less than a half-mile, started traversing the boundary between the burn area and some still intact forest. We hopefully fooled ourselves into thinking the worst was over.

Along a “better” section of trail
Cut logs (arrow) were often the only clue to where the trail went

At about two miles in, we reached the wilderness boundary, marked by a surprisingly intact wooden sign. Charred forest all around but not a blemish on this sign! We took it as a favorable omen of clear trail ahead. Well, with that omen and $5 you can get a latte, because the trail soon evaporated – again.

The trail just past the wilderness sign looked promising…
Until it disappeared under fallen trees, ravel, and new growth

Tiny pieces of the trail would reappear from time to time. Mainly we just aimed toward the point on Buckneck’s north ridge where the trail started its descent into Fish Creek Valley. There we were able to reconnect with a pretty much intact piece of trail and follow it uneventfully down to FR 870.

On the trail into the Fish Creek Valley
Even this piece of trail had its moments
Going back on FR 800

At FR 870, we had a snack and then walked it and FR 800 back to the truck. Despite it being hunting season, we had these roads to ourselves the whole way. This loop, trail and road, came to 7.2 miles, with just 840 feet of gain. Returning via the road kept us from the travail of climbing back to the ridge and then trying to find the trail going in the other direction. What to say? It would take a lot of work to restore this section of the #1470 and then periodic maintenance to deal with the snags that will fall across it for several more years. Most of it is hard to follow now; a condition that will only worsen sans maintenance. So, from a realistic hiker’s perspective, following this piece of the #1470 is not, at present, worth the effort. 😦

Our track on trail (red) and road (black); colored blotches mark the 2011 Umpqua Complex Fire; “H” is the douchebag’s hunting camp

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