The full conditions we “enjoyed” recently on Roxy Ann brought enough snow – at least to the high country above 6,000 feet (1,829 m) – for our local ski area to open tomorrow. 😊 More storms are expected next week, hopefully bringing more rain 🙂 and more snow 😁 to our still parched region. So we wanted to do a longer hike before being confined to quarters by these oncoming Winter storms. Something long but not too hard, with little or no snow, no cross-country, and no anxiety (Lord knows there’s enough of that going around these days) about route finding. The nearby Sterling Mine Ditch Trail came immediately to mind. 😃

In 1877, a 26 mile (42 km) long ditch was constructed to convey water from the Little Applegate River to a hydraulic mine in the upper reaches of Sterling Creek. Both the ditch and the mine were out of business by the 1930s, but the ditch tender’s trail alongside it remained. In recent years, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Siskiyou Upland Trails Alliance (SUTA) have worked to make this trail one of the iconic hikes in Southwest Oregon. It’s long (but easy), open all year (but hot in summer), and is now accessible from seven trailheads. It was the first hike we ever did down here and we’ve hiked it a lot since. So it was sort of a sentimental journey today as we did a loop from the Deming Gulch Trailhead, over Wolf Gap, and back through Armstrong Gulch.

It was cold as we hiked up the Armstrong-Deming Road to Wolf Gap. But the south-facing slopes on the other side of the Gap were warm and inviting. The clouds, while artistic, did not block the sun and, more importantly, did not dissolve into a photo-killing opalescent overcast. 😎

On the cold road to Wolf Gap
A star on ice
Sunlight on the south side of Wolf Gap
Descending the Wolf Gap Trail
Mare’s Tail Clouds (Cirrus uncinus) and a view to the west: (1) Whisky Peak and (2) Lake Mountain
Crossing the big meadow
Another view to the west
Sunlight on the trail
An oak in winter

About 3.1 miles (5 km) from the Deming Gulch Trailhead, we reached the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail (SMDT). From here, we’d make an almost imperceptible descent back to Deming Gulch.

On the SMDT
Looking west with sweeping clouds overhead
On the SMDT
Looking east toward the Siskiyou Mountains
Along an avenue of madrones thick with their bright orange berries
Madrone abstract
Sunlight and clouds
Clouds over the Siskiyous
Shadows

About 4.5 miles (7.2 km) from the Wolf Gap Trail, the SMDT turns a corner and starts trending north. The warm, dry, south-facing slopes are replaced by a wetter, colder, less sunny environment that favors tall trees and lush undergrowth.

We head north through a different terrain
Bright green grasses are still with us in December
To the west: (1) Grayback Mountain, (2) Burton Butte, (3) Mount Baldy, (4) Ben Johnson Mountain
Oregon-Grape (Hollyleaf Barberry)
Holiday colors along the SMDT
Continuing on…
Woodrat Mountain, a popular hang glider launching site
Another tiny mushroom
Almost back to Deming Gulch
End of the trail

This loop totaled 11.1 miles (17.8 km), with 1.8 miles (2.9 km) uphill (970 foot (295 m) of gain) on a gravel road and the rest downhill or essentially level on great single-track trail. We encountered a big, friendly dog and one breathless mountain biker during the day; otherwise the trail was ours. Our legs got a good workout and now we’re ready for the rigors of the holiday celebrations ahead. 😁

Our loop: Black track is the road walk, Blue track is the Wolf Gap Trail and the SMDT
Trail Name: Yo Ho Ho
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