McCloud River Falls (Shasta-Trinity Nat’l Forest) 23-Jul-2020

As we were leaving Mount Shasta for home, we decided to swing by and see the three main falls on the McCloud River. These get written-up in almost every tourist guide for the Mount Shasta area and we didn’t want to disappoint the local tourist bureau by not doing our bit as tourists. The falls are an easily accessible, extremely popular destination – rightfully so, but we hoped to see them without having to dodge milling crowds. Judging from the width of the formal trails – and the numerous intersecting use trails – these falls are probably over-run with visitors in a “normal” year. While these waterfalls undoubtedly deserve more time than we gave them, we were able to visit all three while encountering only a dozen or so other visitors. πŸ™‚

Lower Falls (15 feet / 4.5 m high)
Middle Falls (50 feet / 15 m high, 100 feet / 30 m wide)
Middle Falls
Upper Falls
McCloud River above the Upper Falls

South Gate Meadows (Mount Shasta Wilderness) 22-Jul-2020

We were originally alerted to South Gate Meadows by the Ashland Hiking Group and got the details from Hike Mt. Shasta. Older maps will show the springs in the meadow feeding Squaw Valley Creek, but that pejorative name has now been struck from Forest Service maps. We’d had a wonderful clear day on the east side of Shasta the day before and expected to have a similar one here on the west side today. We arose, however, from the embrace of Morpheus to find the sun an incandescent orange orb in a sky infused with orange-brown smoke from wildfires burning to the south and east. We drove up to the Panther Meadow Trailhead (at 7,400 feet / 2,255 m) hoping to get above the smoke. No luck. The whole place smelled like an old campfire. But there was a certain strange beauty in what the smoke was doing to the color of the light and to our views of the mountain, so we pressed on. I suppose that’s an upside to getting old – you just get on with it because you’re not quite sure you’ll get another chance. o_O

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Brewer Creek (Mount Shasta Wilderness) 21-Jul-2020

For our second foray in the Mount Shasta area, we once again relied on Hike Mt. Shasta to point us toward something interesting – in this case, the Brewer Creek Trail on Shasta’s east side. The promise (fulfilled!) of staggering glacier views was just too much to pass up. Getting to the Brewer Creek Trailhead entailed driving all the way around the mountain on a combination of paved, good gravel, and almost 4×4 dirt roads. The last three miles on long rutted switchbacks were particularly interesting. We arrived at the trailhead to find a pit toilet (with TP!), a kiosk, and various permit boxes. The free wilderness permit was self-issue and since we weren’t going above 10,000 feet (3,050 m), we didn’t need a $25 summit permit. The fact that this is a popular climber’s trailhead did lead us into doing a little unplanned cross-country travel.

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Kangaroo & Bull (Klamath National Forest) 20-Jul-2020

Remember business travel? How it was a necessary chore but one that now we (maybe) long for? The upside of those days was an accumulated a pile of hotel reward points that we planned to squander on some BIG TRIP of our own choosing. But, alas, no. 😦 So we spent some on our trip to the Oregon Coast in mid-June and the rest on a just completed multi-day trip to Northern California. But that’s only two hours from home you say! Yes, but we wanted to do a few hikes in and around Mount Shasta and didn’t want to spend four hours per hike commuting. So we made a surgically clean hotel room our basecamp for a few days. Which was good because the soaring afternoon temperatures made it really nice to have some A/C (and a shower). California has slipped back to only take-out or outdoor seating at restaurants, so we had some nice meals outdoors – just like camping but the cooking was way better. πŸ™‚ There were other tourists around but not nearly as many as in a “normal” year, so it didn’t hurt that we were there to pump a little money into the local economy.

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Mill Creek Lake (Trinity Alps Wilderness) 02-Jul-2020

Five years ago, we did a late-season loop hike to East Boulder Lake in California’s Trinity Alps Wilderness. Just over the ridge from East Boulder Lake are the Mill Creek and Washbasin Lakes. A trail, the Little Mill Trail #5572, connects these three lakes. We thought to take advantage of the excellent early summer hiking weather we’re currently having (not too hot (yet) and no smoke (yet – but hopefully never)) to hike the Little Mill Trail up to the Mill Creek Lake. The guidebook (Lewon’s 2014 Hiking California’s Trinity Alps Wilderness) indicated that we’d find subalpine meadows, wildflowers, views, and old mine relics (all of which we did). It also suggested that Mill Creek Lake is not often visited, located as it is at the end of narrow, somewhat rough Forest Road 40N16. Well, it’s probably less popular than East Boulder, but we still encountered seven other hikers during our visit. The trail from the trailhead to the lake, although temporarily covered by vegetation where it crosses the meadows, was nonetheless easy to find and follow. Above the lake it’s much sketchier until you get up on the bench with the Klatt Mine – then the route over to East Boulder is obvious.

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2019 ~ Adventures with The LovedOne

Another year passes and The LovedOne remains unconvinced as to her photogenicity. Her attempts to out-hike the camera were working…until…I bought a telephoto lens! Ha! Another (probably temporary) victory for technology!

JANUARY: We took advantage of direct flights to go hiking in the Las Vegas area. We got in several good hikes before a foothold broke off beneath me while canyoneering. The resulting back injury (since healed) limited our hiking for awhile. 😦

On the Fire Canyon Loop, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
On the Fire Canyon Loop, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

FEBRUARY: With my back still recovering, we contented ourselves with some short, local hikes. Things got more interesting when the weather brought gobs of snow to the hills near us.

After a snow storm on Roxy Ann Peak, Medford, Oregon
After a snow storm on Roxy Ann Peak

MARCH: Still coddling my back, we stayed with local hikes, seeking out ones that were longer but not overly rugged, like the Blue Grotto and the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail.

On the North Shore Trail to the Blue Grotto, Lost Creek Lake, Oregon
On the North Shore Trail to the Blue Grotto

APRIL: We had waited three years for sufficient runoff to allow us to run the Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon and a bad back wasn’t going to interfere with that. So, equipped with a generous supply of ibuprofen, we went with Momentum River Expeditions for a wonderful float down the Lower Owyhee.

Morning coffee below Pruitt's Castle on the Lower Owyhee River
Morning coffee below Pruitt’s Castle on the Lower Owyhee River

MAY: I had been invited to give a talk about Oregon Wilderness Areas at the Siuslaw Public Library, so we combined that with some hikes at and near the beach. Excellent weather and we were ahead of the summer crowds. πŸ™‚

On the Oregon Coast at Fivemile Point
On the Oregon Coast at Fivemile Point

JUNE: The entire month was given over to a rafting trip (with OARS and our friends Wayne & Diane) celebrating the 150th anniversary of John Wesley Powell’s first descent of the Green and Colorado Rivers. In 28 days, we went from the cold, clear waters near Flaming Gorge Dam to the considerably warmer and murkier waters of Lake Powell. Truly a trip of a lifetime!

On the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam
On the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam

JULY: We had barely returned from our J. W. Powell rafting adventure when it was time to head East for our nephew’s wedding. After those festivities, The LovedOne spent some time at WEBS in Northampton, Massachusetts. Then, reeking with lanolin, we continued north for hikes in Acadia National Park and New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Standing in front of WEBS, Northampton, Massachusetts
There was NO WAY we were going hiking unless we stopped here first.

AUGUST: After two months of travel, we opted to hike locally. Classic Boccard Point in the Soda Mountain Wilderness and the Little & Big Duck Lakes in the Russian Wilderness were good choices. The decision to stay local was made easier by the lack of wildfire smoke this year (unlike the choking miasma that plagued the last two summers).

The brave hiker smile at Boccard Point, with Pilot Rock in the distance - Southern Oregon
The brave hiker smile at Boccard Point, with Pilot Rock in the distance

SEPTEMBER: We have long admired Theodore Roosevelt for his contributions to our National Parks and Monuments. So we did a hiking roadtrip that took us to Mount Rushmore, Wind and Jewel Caves, Devils Tower National Monument, Badlands National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and the Black Elk Wilderness.  

Hiking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Hiking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

OCTOBER: We spent this month doing a little local hiking and then I addressed a medical issue that had come as a surprise. This put a dent in hiking but opened-up an opportunity to visit some previously overlooked local attractions.

On the trail to Sugar Lake in California's Russian Wilderness
On the trail to Sugar Lake in California’s Russian Wilderness

NOVEMBER: We took a chance and went ahead with a long-planned trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas. Our timing was excellent as the weather was perfect for hiking and sightseeing. 😎 We did several short canyon hikes and then a longer one into the Chisos Mountains to see its unique forests and some of its wildlife – including two bears! 🐻 🐻

At the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park, Texas
At the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park

DECEMBER: Winter weather finally arrived, so we shelved plans for sneaking in some hikes at the coast (as we’d been able to do in December 2017). But the snow that dropped at higher elevations wasn’t quite ready for snowshoes. 😦 So we contented ourselves with reprising some of the classic lower altitude hikes near home. πŸ™‚

Strolling into winter at Prescott Park, Medford, Oregon
Strolling into winter at Prescott Park

We didn’t hike as much in 2019 as in prior years – only 102 unique (based on either location or season) hikes, covering 576 trail miles, with 94,800 feet of elevation gain. But six weeks of raft trips, plus other adventures and a wedding, more than compensated for this ambulatory shortfall. For 2020 all we’ll promise are more adventures, some of which are sure to involve hiking. πŸ˜€

A heart drawn in the snow, Medford, Oregon

Sugar Lake (Russian Wilderness) 01-Oct-2019

A cold storm rolled through our area last weekend. It brought with it the first, fleeting snows of the coming winter. Elevations above 6,000 feet were nicely dusted with powdery white stuff. The storm passed. It left behind the cool, cloud-flecked, sunny weather that warms the soles of Fall hikers in our area. We decided to celebrate with a short (6.2 mile round-trip; 1,200 feet of gain) hike to Sugar Lake in Northern California’s Russian Wilderness. This beautiful little lake is nestled just below Eaton Peak over the ridge from Big Duck Lake. After Taylor Lake, Sugar is probably the easiest lake to reach in this wilderness. What makes the stroll to the lake special is your passage through the “Miracle Mile” of very high conifer diversity – some 18 species having been identified in the Sugar Creek drainage. We weren’t up to identifying them all but it was good to know they are here and that special places like this still exist. πŸ™‚

Driving directions to the trailhead abound but the trailhead itself is marked with only one small sign. Once we found the trail it was clear and easy to follow all the way to the lake. About 1.3 miles in we passed a three-rock cairn beside the trail that marks the junction with the now long-abandoned trail to South Sugar Lake. This trail last appeared on maps in 1986 and going to South Sugar now is mostly a cross-country adventure. Mushrooms have taken over for wildflowers and we spent time on the forest floor marveling at the variety of fungal colors and shapes. After reaching the lake and gazing at it admiringly, we snacked, then ambled back. This excellent day in the woods was accentuated with a simple dinner at Caldera on the way home. πŸ˜€

Starting up the Sugar Lake Trail #5584
Entering the wilderness
Fall leaves
An easy trail through a variety of conifers
Some really big fallen trees had been cut to keep the trail clear
Sugar Creek
One of the many kinds of fungus along the trail
First snow of the season!
Sugar Lake with a dusting of snow on the Salmon Mountains
Sugar Lake
Sugar Lake
Sugar Lake with clouds
The granite outcrops of Eaton Peak loom above the lake
Ponderosa abstract
Strolling back through the conifers

Little & Big Duck Lakes (Russian Wilderness) 19-Aug-2019

We capitalized on a rare break in The LovedOne’s busy library volunteering schedule to hike (10 miles round-trip; 2,200 feet of gain) to the Duck Lakes (Little & Big) beneath Eaton Peak in the center of California’s Russian Wilderness. Although these beautiful little lakes are in the heart of the wilderness, they don’t get nearly the attention as do Big Blue and Paynes Lakes to the north or Bingham and Russian Lakes to the south. A good description of this hike can be found at Northern California Hiking Trails.

From today’s trailhead on Forest Road 41N14, we climbed steeply on the Duck Lake Trail #5509 as it made use of some abandoned logging roads to reach the pre-wilderness area trailhead high on the ridge (back then, you could drive to this point). From there we did a short, nearly level, stroll on an old road to an unsigned junction with the Eaton Lakes Trail #5510 and a signed one with the Horseshoe Lake Trail #5512. From here on, the #5509 to the lakes became a single-track trail that climbed through the forest to a signed junction with the Little Duck Lake Trail #5511. We opted to visit Little Duck first and found it to be a stunning aquatic jewel nestled in a cirque of glowing white granite. Clear, with a rocky bottom, it would be great for swimming and fishing. After a snack, we dropped down and then back up to visit Big Duck Lake. It was equally as wonderful as Little. After gazing at its sparkling clear waters for awhile, we retraced our steps to the trailhead.

Starting up the Duck Lakes Trail in the cool of the morning
Along one of the old roads higher on the trail
Duck Lake Creek at the junction with the Eaton Lakes Trail
Little Duck Lake
Little Duck Lake
Little Duck Lake
The LovedOne contemplates Little Duck
Through white granite boulders on the way down to Big Duck
Big Duck Lake
Big Duck Lake
The cool, clear waters of Big Duck
The LovedOne contemplates Big Duck

On the way down, we were passed by a pack train composed of goats! We’d read about goatpacking but had never seen it in action. We were charmed! πŸ™‚

A pack train of goats on the way to the lakes
Along one of the old roads on the way back
Mount Shasta from the trail

We’d come up in the cool of the morning, which was perfect for hiking. Our descent in the afternoon, despite being mostly in the shade, was a heated one. So much so that we were forced – forced I say! – to stop at Caldera Brewing in Ashland for refreshments and sustenance before heading home. πŸ˜€

Our track to and from the lakes (this 1986 Eaton Peak quad shows the old roads that are now part of the trail)

Wards Fork Gap Loop (Siskiyou Mountains) 15-Jul-2019

Between Devils Ridge in Northern California and Ashland, Oregon, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) threads its way east-west along the crest of the Siskiyou Mountains. This stretch of the PCT offers, when the clouds and sun angle cooperate, some impressive views of Mount Shasta, the Trinity Alps, and the Siskiyou Wilderness. We’ve hiked sections in this area before, mostly around Mount Ashland, Big Red Mountain, Siskiyou Peak, and Observation Peak. Today we went a little farther west into Northern California to hike the section between Wards Fork Gap and Point 6892.

You can reach the Gap from Highway 96 to the south or from the Applegate Valley to the north; we came in from the valley. From Ruch, we went south on Upper Applegate Road to Beaver Creek Road (which is also Forest Road 20) and followed it (starts off paved but soon becomes washboarded gravel) for 14 miles to Silver Fork Gap. There we veered off on to signed FR 2025 for 6.7 miles to signed FR 48N16 and descended that for 1.5 miles to the Gap. A carefully driven 2WD car could manage all of these gravel/dirt roads but a high clearance one would be a comfort on FR 48N16. Along the way, a well nourished black bear 🐻 ran across the road in front of us – for our fifth bear sighting this summer!

Once at the Gap, we opted to go out by road and return on the PCT, so we started southwest on FR 40S01. This dirt road is signed and easy to follow as it climbs along the crest. The only trick is that, 1.7 miles from the Gap, you need to make a hard right turn and head uphill – miss this turn and you’ll wander among several other old roads (some not mapped) that are not the ones you want. There are some views from 40S01 but you’re still walking on a road. So as soon as we got close to Point 6892, we left the road and climbed up to the PCT running along the ridge above. Here, despite some clouds, the big views opened up as promised. We took the PCT back and the views along it lasted until we started sharply downhill past Big Rock. Along the way we passed two thru-hikers (who just scowled at us – obviously not a happy day on the trail) near Bearground Spring and a small herd of large cows wearing clanking bells. Despite a long drive on gravel roads of varying quality, it was good day on the trail – 9 miles round-trip with 1,700 feet of gain – to big views as promised.

The road runs past several large meadows carpeted with Cushion Buckwheat
A large moth enjoys the flowers
The view from near Point 6892: Preston Peak (P), Red Buttes (R), Scraggy Mountain (S)
The obviously Red Buttes (R) and Preston Peak (P) in the Siskiyou Wilderness
Clouds over Condrey Mountain
Mount Shasta from the PCT
Mount Shasta and clouds from the PCT
Clouds over the PCT
Mount Shasta and a PCT cairn
The PCT starts its descent
One last look at a meadow completely covered with Cushion Buckwheat
Out by road (black), back along the PCT (red) – exclamation point is turn you don’t want to miss

Three Sisters Loop (Lava Beds Wilderness) 31-May-2019

These are not the Three Sisters in Oregon you are seeking. Rather they are three small cinder cones a few miles north of the visitor center in Lava Beds National Monument. The loop past these Three Sisters got added to our hikes list after it appeared in the November 2018 issue of Backpacker magazine (yes, how quaint, printed material). The trick was to find a time that was optimal re: the weather – not too hot, not too cold. Now seemed like that time, what with snow still blocking trails in the high country and thunderstorms keeping the desert cool. With The LovedOne mired in running the library’s quarterly book sale, I made the two hour drive to the monument alone. 😦

Because of concerns about White-Nose Syndrome (a disease fatal to bats), you’ll need a cave permit even if you are just hiking and don’t plan on entering any of the monument’s caves. Obtain this permit (free) at the entrance station or the visitor center.

This 10-mile loop – mostly through the Lava Beds Wilderness – winds its way along all or parts of the Lyons, Three Sisters, Bunchgrass, and Missing Link Trails. There is a trailhead in Loop A of the campground but I couldn’t find anywhere to park there that didn’t look like it wasn’t part of a campsite. Instead, I parked at at Skull Cave and started the loop on the Lyons Trail from there. So, north to an unsigned junction with the Three Sisters Trail, then a big “U” out and back on that trail to the campground. A short paved walk through the campground was required to reach the Bunchgrass Trail, which starts from the group campsite on the west side of Loop B. A short stroll down the Bunchgrass brought me to the Missing Link Trail and that one took me back to Skull Cave – just in time for a school bus parked nearby to disgorge 40 kids on a field trip to the cave.

Unlike the caves, which are the main attraction at this monument, this loop hike is all about big views in all directions. I passed some inaccessible lava tubes but mostly just gazed out over sagebrush and through junipers to watch Schonchin Butte first recede and then gain on the horizon. Watching the thunderheads build steadily all around me added a certain electrifying frisson to the hike. But no rain was shed or bolts flung until after I’d made it back to the parking lot. Otherwise the hiking weather was perfect, with sunshine 😎 and a cooling breeze on an easy trail. Too bad The LovedOne missed it. 😦 But the book sale went real well, so I suppose literacy is a fair trade for a hike. πŸ™‚

Schonchin Butte from the Lyons Trail
Looking west along the Lyons Trail
Threadleaf Phacelia
Looking west from the Three Sisters Trail
The Three Sisters
The Three Sisters
Clouds over Schonchin Butte
Looking west from the Three Sisters Trail
The Three Sisters Trail turns to the south
Then it turns to the west, toward the campground
Schoncin Butte (again) from the west-bound Three Sisters Trail
Schoncin Butte (yet again) from nearer the campground
One of the caves (collapsed lava tubes) along the Three Sisters Trail
Along the Missing Link Trail
A last look at Schonchin Butte from the Missing Link Trail
The Three Sisters Loop

Osgood Ditch Trail (California) 31-Mar-2019

The history of Southern Oregon is defined, in large part, by the search for gold. Here, the principal form of mining was hydraulic, where copious amounts of water were used to wash a water-sediment slurry through sluice boxes to capture the gold. All this water was usually conveyed to the mines via ditches, with a berm on one side along which ran a trail for the ditch tender. The best known, and most popular of these ditches for hiking and biking, is the Sterling Mine Ditch near Jacksonville, Oregon. A lesser known one of these ditches, despite being on the National Register of Historic Places, is the Osgood Ditch in Northern California, which was used to convey water to mines in Southern Oregon.

Although it probably contained portions of an earlier ditch, the Osgood was apparently constructed in about 1900 in conjunction with the hydraulic development of the High Gravel and Cameron Mines in Southern Oregon. It remained in operation between 1900 and 1942. South of the California border, the Osgood used a combination of wooden trestles and flumes to cross streams and deep ravines. Sadly, most of the thirteen trestles and flumes on the ditch burned in the September 1987 Longwood Fire. The Osgood is (or was) 10.1 miles long but the Osgood Ditch Trail (USFS #1276) only follows 1.6 miles of the remnant ditch between Forest Road 4904-011 and the East Fork Illinois River Trail (USFS #1274). While the ditch itself has suffered from the harsh winters in the very steep and rugged terrain it traverses (it’s in much worse shape than the Sterling Mine Ditch) it is a very pleasant way to cross steep slopes through Port Orford cedars, pine, fir and chinquapin, and an understory of oaks.

Here are directions to the trailhead from the Highway 199 website: Drive about six and a half miles south of Cave Junction on Highway 199 and turn [left] on [to] Waldo Road (also called Happy Camp Road). This is the beginning of the Jefferson State Scenic Byway. Drive about 5 miles [east] to the stop sign at Takilma Road. Turn right on Takilma Road and drive 3.6 miles to the fork in the road. Go right at the fork and drive about 0.3 miles to the bridge. Immediately after crossing the bridge, go to the left on the dirt road. It is two miles from the bridge to the Osgood trailhead on this road. […] Watch for the Osgood Ditch trailhead on the left [there’s a small sign] as you approach mile 2. The parking area is just past this on the right.

The trail starts by crossing the small creek in Bybee Gulch
Just past Bybee Gulch: trail on the left, remnants of the ditch on the right
Farther along the trail
Along the trail under chinquapins and madrones
A narrow, rocky section of the trail (the ditch would have bridged this with a flume)
Crossing a small creek just before trail’s end
The ditch continues but the trail ends at a signed junction with the East Fork Trail
End of the ditch trail
Heading back

The Forest Service (and others) suggest combining the Osgood and the lower end of the East Fork Illinois River Trail to make a full day hike loop. If this seems attractive remember that, even in summer, there are two stream crossings on the lower end of the East Fork Trail that require wading in swift water as deep as 1.5 feet deep – an activity not to be taken lightly. These crossings would be extremely dangerous, if not impossible, during high water.

East Fork Illinois River
Along the Osgood Mine Ditch