Earlier this year, we did an out-and-back hike along the Layton Ditch Trail above Williams, Oregon. That trail is a piece of Southern Oregon’s mining history, as is the Chinese Wall it crosses. After plotting our track for that hike, I got to looking at maps for other possible hikes in the area. One that caught my attention was along the ridge east of Ferris Gulch, with a return via Ferris Gulch Road – about an 8 to 9 mile loop. The LovedOne was up for a not-too-long, not-too-far away hike, so we decided to capitalize on the continuing perfect Fall weather to have a go at this Ferris Gulch Loop (which seemed particularly fitting since one of the LovedOne’s most favorite movies is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).
The Upper and Lower Table Rocks are well known (and well used) hiking and wildflower venues just north of Medford, Oregon. They present different, but always attractive, short- and long-distance vistas throughout the year. By Fall, the expansive wildflower meadows that graced the plateaus in Spring have gone fallow. Any surface water has been supplanted by hardened soil and the color palette has shifted from multiple colors to various muted hues of yellow and gold. Reasons enough for a return visit (one of many to date) to Upper Table Rock. This Rock is horseshoe shaped, with the legs of the “shoe” pointing south. Popular guides to this area usually mention only the short hike (3 or so miles round-trip) to the tip of the eastern leg. But you can craft a longer (8 or more miles roundtrip) and more varied hike by venturing over the top of the shoe and out to the tip of its western leg. So, on a day with near perfect weather for hiking, I (today being one of the LovedOne’s library volunteer days) set out to enjoy the colors of a different season, and a longer hike, on Upper Table.
In July of this year, thanks to the efforts of the Siskiyou Upland Trails Association (SUTA) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Phase 1 of the Jack-Ash (Jacksonville – Ashland) Trail was completed from Griffin Lane to Anderson Butte Road, about ten miles west of Ashland, Oregon. This new (yeah!) trail connects with the well known Sterling Mine Ditch Trail, a trail which, since 2013, we have been able to hike all parts of, including the segment between the Deming Gulch and Grub Gulch Trailheads. In addition, I used sections of the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail to craft a loop over Anderson Butte to and from the Wolf Gap Trailhead. Based on these previous wanderings, and with the Jack-Ash now available, further map-gazing suggested a loop involving it, Anderson Butte, and the mine ditch trail. And so, on a Fall day with near perfect weather for hiking, we set out to explore this loop (and the new trail).
A few days ago, I did a loop hike that included a brief visit to Point 5648, a surprisingly interesting rock formation just downslope from Vulture Rock in Southern Oregon. My attempt to reach the spot elevation on this Point was rebuffed due to risk aversion (or common sense, one is never quite sure which), but a later look at Google Earth suggested that maybe that spot wasn’t the highest point on the formation. Vows were made to return! As luck would have it, today’s unsettled weather coincided with the LovedOne’s temporary release from library volunteerism to form the perfect excuse to spend a couple of damp hours conducting further explorations around the Point. The exertions associated with those explorations would then serve as justification (as if we needed any) for a restorative lunch with beverages at Caldera Brewing in Ashland, Oregon. So, win-win!
While we were hiking in Nevada, a couple of cold fronts swept through Southern Oregon and Northern California, clearing out the choking smoke and bringing rain to stifle the many wildfires plaguing our area. Although the rain helped a lot, it wasn’t sufficient to put the fires dead-out, so several national forest and wilderness area closures remain in effect (likely till next Spring in some cases). This required a major re-think of our Fall hiking plans. Fortunately, the nearby Soda Mountain Wilderness was still open for business. It’s adjacent to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which is now under threat from the current administration’s utterly misguided belief that we have too much wilderness and not enough clear-cuts. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is more of a threat to our outdoors – wildfires or politicians? To assuage this unsettling thought, I headed out (the LovedOne having resumed her volunteer duties at the county library) to visit the various “pilot” rocks and peaks dotting the Soda Mountain Wilderness.
After two partially successful attempts – hikes of Aspen Butte and Mount Ashland – to get above the wildfire smoke that has been choking Southern Oregon and Northern California for several weeks, we were finally faced with Mount McLoughlin, the sixth highest Cascade peak in Oregon. At 9,495 feet, it just had to be high enough to be above the smoke. It just had to be (sob)! If I (the LovedOne having demurred on a grueling ascent in favor of air conditioning at home) got above the smoke, I would (hopefully) be rewarded for the nearly 4,000 of elevation gain this summit demands (making it one of the toughest hikes in Southern Oregon) with BIG VIEWS in all directions. It would also be the first time in many years that I’d climbed it under totally snow-free conditions – which, to me, makes the climb both easier and harder for different reasons.
I opened the online edition of our local paper this morning to find that, considering those in Southern Oregon and in Northern California, there are now 500 square miles of wildfires burning around the Rogue Valley. The air quality index (AQI) for the valley was on its way up from 187 (unhealthy) as I read the paper. But the LovedOne – having temporarily satiated her library volunteer urges earlier in the week – was now keen to get outside rather than hunker in the bunker breathing through wet towels until this winter’s rains (eventually) cleared the air. So we bet that reasonably close Mount Ashland, at 7,532 feet, would be high enough to poke above most of the smoke and, with an early start, would also be cool enough for us to dodge heat stroke. Well, ya laces your boots and ya takes your chances on the trail…