Grub Gulch Loop (Southern Oregon) 09-Nov-2020

The Sterling Mine Ditch Trail is one of the premier hikes in Southwestern Oregon. The trail follows the alignment of a ditch dug by hand in 1877 to divert water from the upper reaches of the Little Applegate River to the Sterling Creek Mine. As built, and allowing for its ins-and-outs through canyons, it’s pretty linear from the Little Applegate Trail on one end to the Grub Gulch Trailhead on the other. This makes forming loops a bit of a challenge. There are short ones at its east end between the Little Applegate, Tunnel Ridge, and Bear Gulch Trailheads. And we’ve done one from the Deming Gulch Trailhead by adding a road walk up to the Wolf Gap Trailhead. And I did one to Grub Gulch from Deming Gulch with a return on the Jackash Trail, Sterling Creek Road, and the dirt road to the trailhead. But was there a way to do a loop from Deming to Grub without much road walking?

If all disaster movies start with the scientists being ignored (usually about atomic radiation), then adventure hikes usually start with gazing too long at maps and aerial photographs. But I have a degree in science, so I have an excuse. 😦 Anyway, where the mine ditch trail crosses Deming Gulch there’s an old road shown going east part-way up the gulch. And the aerial photos show a double-track trail running along the ridge above it to the north, past Points 4209 and 4232. Connect the two with a short, but steep, climb and I (The LovedOne being busy with library stuff) could loop from Deming to Grub with only a short walk on gravel Grub Gulch Road (Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Road 38-2-26). And so, after a weekend with rain and some snow, I set out to give this loop a try.

The day was sunny 😎 in the morning, overcast in the afternoon, and steadily cold. Which is perfect weather for exploring cross-country in terrain enlivened with poison oak and ticks in the warmer months. The trail from Deming Gulch Trailhead to the old road in the gulch was littered with huge, bright yellow big leaf maple leaves. The cold snap and rain over the weekend seemingly got them to all cut loose at once.

On the mine ditch trail
The big leaves have fallen
On the old road up the gulch

About at the point where the old road faded into a single track, I turned north and started up the slope. It was a steady climb, at first through (or around) low-growing manzanita, then through a delightful little oak forest, and then out on to the grassy slopes just below the ridge. I was ahead of the overcast that would eventually obliterate the views, so those just got bigger and bigger the higher I climbed.

Looking west: Ben Johnson Mountain (1), Mount Baldy (2), Tallowbox Mountain (3), Grayback Mountain and Big Sugarloaf Peak (4)
The oak grove about halfway up the slope
It’s more level here; a nice break in the climb
Grayback Mountain and Big Sugarloaf Peak (1)
A recent snow-covered clearcut (left) and Sterling Creek Valley (center), with snowy Grayback Mountain and Big Sugarloaf Peak on the horizon
On to the grass slope, made lumpy with hidden rocks and squirrel burrows
Wispy clouds, snow, and Fall colors

I got up to the ridge to find a trail that alternated between single- and double-track. It’s basically a use trail that connects with the Grub Gulch Road at both ends. Because of the views, following it along the ridge proved to be the actual and figurative high point of this hike. Although the sun and overcast were doing their pearly opalescent photo-killing thing to the south, all other directions were open.

The track along the ridge
Looking west
The Siskiyou Crest, from Red Buttes (R) to Grayback and Big Sugarloaf (G)
Our recent snow still lingered in some of the shadier spots
Looking northwest
Looking back (east) toward Anderson Butte
Woodrat Mountain

The track dropped me at a bend in Grub Gulch Road and from there it was an easy, if not very scenic, stroll down to the Grub Gulch Trailhead. By the time I got to the open slopes along the Grub Gulch Trail, the overcast was in full control, the views were shot, and I got distracted by little things along the trail.

Walking down the road
Stuck along the Grub Gulch Trail
Heading back on the mine ditch trail
Fall colors along the trail
An oak in Fall
A maple leaf has fallen…

I expected the climb up to the ridge to be a struggle but it wasn’t. What brush there was could be easily circumvented, the oak forest was a pleasant break in the ascent, and the grass slopes were not too hard to walk on. And the views were excellent. But there’s enough poison oak 😥 on the lower half of the slope to suggest not trying this in the Spring or summer when it leafs-out. This loop came out at 10.6 miles (17 km) with 1,750 feet (533 m) of gain, with only 1 mile (0.6 km) of it off-trail (all on that slope). The only living creature I saw while on the hike was an irritated blue-jay. Not a bad way to spend the day! 😀

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