Oregon’s Rogue River flows some 215 miles from its headwaters at Boundary Springs within Crater Lake National Park to the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach, Oregon. Although not as large as the Columbia or the Willamette, it is nonetheless one of Oregon’s iconic rivers. It’s been in our hearts for years but only recently have we had the time to give it the attention it deserves. Between 2012 and 2016, we hiked (in sections) the entire Upper Rogue River Trail (USFS #1034) as it roughly parallels the river from near Boundary Springs to Prospect, Oregon. In 2015, we backpacked the famous Rogue River Trail (USFS #1160) from Grave Creek and Foster Bar (post) and also did a rafting day trip from Robertson Bridge to Grave Creek. In 2016, we bolstered the local economy again with a multi-day rafting trip on the Wild and Scenic Rogue from Grave Creek and Foster Bar (post). After attending a presentation earlier this year by Gabriel Howe of the Siskiyou Mountain Club on their 2015 restoration of the Wild Rogue Loop, we knew we had to hike it. With lingering snow keeping us from the High Cascades and parts of the Siskiyou Crest, now seemed like just the time to do this lower-altitude loop.
Whisky Creek Cabin is the oldest known still standing mining cabin in the remote lower Rogue River canyon. It sits just above the iconic Rogue River Trail (BLM, USFS, Our Trip) about 3.5 miles downstream of the put-in at Grave Creek and makes a great goal for a moderate and educational dayhike in all but the summer months, when it can be brutally hot in the canyon. With the remnants of the Great Storm of 2017 (now referred to locally as the “Big Dump”) still stifling access to higher elevations, we figured, based on a previous hike there (post), that the Rogue River Trail, which is south-facing and at an elevation of only 600 feet, would allow us to do a snow-free out-and-back hike to the cabin. The drive over to the trailhead was on roads disconcertingly lined with a foot of more of snow but when we got to Grave Creek, we found it and the trail almost entirely clear of snow! The added bonus for hiking at this time of year was a chance to see the Rogue at high water – it had come down some since being in flood just two days ago but was still impressively high.
As the Northern Hemisphere enters its inevitable transition from Summer to Winter, the usually mellow weather here in Southern Oregon becomes conflicted, turbulent, truculent, and garrelous. Weather fronts sweeping in off the Pacific Ocean interact with our variously oriented and variously elevated mountain ranges to make local weather predictions tricky at best. Deep conversations about white-outs and snowshoes once again enter the conversation and sneaking in just one more summer-like hike becomes a crap shoot. But when all the different weather prognosticators seemed to agree that the remainder of this Thanksgiving Week was going to be locally frought with storms, rain, and snow, we decided to try for that one last snowshoe-free hike of the season. With the weather being difficult, we weren’t going to go all in for a big hike and so cast around for something short and close but (maybe) with a view. After consulting the oracles, we settled on Boccard Point from a new (for us) trailhead.
As we’ve noted in previous posts, we have a project underway to at least visit all of Oregon’s 47 established federal wilderness areas that we’d missed visiting in years past (less the two – Oregon Islands and Three Arch Rocks – that are closed to public entry). We started in January 2016 with 18 wilderness areas left to be visited and it looked like we would get to visiting all of these this year – until other hiking and travel opportunities diverted us and we lost monentum. So when personal business took us up to Portland, Oregon (aka the “big city” now that we live out in the provinces), we grabbed the chance to visit the Lower White River Wilderness. This is another of those small (2,871 acre), fairly obscure wilderness areas whose primary human purpose is watershed protection and not recreation. There is a small USFS forest camp (Keeps Mill) at its north end but no established trails in the wilderness itself. A use trail goes a short ways downstream from the camp, and you can go cross-country if you’d like (Koda’s trip report), but, again, this one is about watershed protection not hiking.
Last July, I did an out-and-back hike in the Sky Lakes Wilderness from the Nannie Creek trailhead (USFS TH) to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). At the time, it occurred to me that I could use the PCT to loop around Luther Mountain and down past a few of the lakes in the Sky Lakes Basin that we hadn’t visited before. This wilderness, despite its more than 200 pools of water, good camping, and easy hiking, has a deservedly fearsome reputation for hoardes of ravenous mosquitos in July and August. But on a crisp, sunny, clear day in early October, with all of these perditious pests gone to whatever reward awaits them, there is simply no better place to hike in Southern Oregon. Unfortunately, its also the ideal time for Fall planting and gardening, so my attempts to lure the LovedOne from her botanical tasks failed and I was (once again) left to face the wilderness alone (double sigh).
Brown Mountain is a small, youthful looking, basaltic andesite shield volcano located in Oregon’s Klamath and Jackson counties, directly south of its more prominent neighbor, Mount McLoughlin. Brown Mountain is only between 12,000 and 60,000 years old with the last eruption taking place about 15,000 years ago. Much of it is bare, unweathered, dark-colored, block-lava, with a glacial valley carved into its northeast flank. Its summit benchmark is 7,311 feet but it’s actually a bit higher than that – the northeast edge of the 50-foot deep cinder cone on its summit is at approximately 7,340 feet. There is no maintained trail to the summit and a climb up to it in the summer months is mostly a scramble over blocky, sharp talus. During the winter and early spring, however, snowshoes or crosscountry skis are a really fun way to reach the summit (post). Having already been to the summit, and not wanting to scramble over vast lava flows to do it again, we looked around for another way to enjoy the mountain. While doing so, we came across a report (post) of an out-and-back hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) along the west side of the mountain. A quick look at the map showed that we could circumnavigate the mountain by going south and east on the PCT from the Summit Sno-Park (details), then north on the Brown Mountain Trail (USFS #1005), and then east back to the Sno-Park on the High Lakes Trail (USFS #6200). And so it was.
Our quest to visit all of Oregon’s federally designated wilderness areas eventually brought us to the Hells Canyon Wilderness, which encompasses a total of 217,497 acres: approximately 83,811 acres on the Idaho side of the Snake River and approximately 133,686 acres on the Oregon side. Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America: approximately 8,000 feet deep measured from He Devil Peak (in Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains) to the Snake River (in comparison, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River is “only” 6,000 feet deep). This wilderness is a subset of the much larger (652,488 acre) Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, which straddles the border of northeastern Oregon and western Idaho and is split into two distinct halves by the Wild & Scenic Snake River. Recreational activities in Hells Canyon include fishing, jet boat tours, hunting, hiking, camping and whitewater sports (like rafting!). Much of these activities rely on the Snake River, whose pre-dam erosive capabilities esentially created Hells Canyon. The river is home to numerous fish species, an abundance of class II-IV rapids (some of largest in the Pacific Northwest), diverse wildlife, and miles of trail systems.