We had gone all out yesterday to get within two, rapidless, miles of the take-out at Oak Flat. Which is also where the Illinois River Trail ends. So we got a somewhat leisurely start and were rowed on out. Momentum’s van and trailer arrived not too long after we did and it didn’t take long for the guides to get everything loaded. The bad news was that the Bear Camp Road was still closed and we’d have to return via Highway 199 – which added about two hours to our drive. The good news was that it was only pouring rain along the coast, not inland. Rebekah got dropped off in Grants Pass, us in Medford, and the rest continued on to Ashland. We were home by 6:00PM, just in time to keep our adorable new cat – Sofie – from trashing another ball of The LovedOne’s yarn stash. She is temporarily my cat when things like this happen. 🙄
A highly technical river like the Illinois was a completely different experience from the ones we’d had on larger rivers like the Colorado, Snake, and Salmon. This smaller, but highly convoluted, water was more intense and exciting and intimate than bigger waters and it was a privilege to be able to experience it. Running the Green Wall would have been a plus but not doing so didn’t detract in the least from what was, for me at least, exactly the trip I’d anticipated. After hiking the trail, I wanted to see the Illinois up close and that’s exactly what happened. The scenery – although a little scorched – is wonderful. And the startlingly clear water, with its various undulating shades of greens and blues, is absolutely amazing. Despite the drought, the side creeks were running well and almost all were decorated with colorful pink Indian Rhubarb. A bald eagle also made an appearance. It also didn’t hurt that we were a small, experienced group on a river that we had all to ourselves. In sum, it was a truly magical trip.
But we owed the positiveness of this experience to the professionalism, skill, and experience of our four guides. There are also really good, affable people – and good cooks. This is our second trip with Momentum and we remain impressed that this small, local company can attract such skilled and personable people. So much so that we’re scheduled (thanks 🙄 to last year’s virus debacle) to hike the Rogue River with them next month!
This section of the Illinois contains eight named rapids, including the famous Class V Green Wall. If yesterday had been a wet, but easy, day, today was expected to be a hard and wet day. We prepared for the ordeal ahead with meditation and stretching.
The run from Pine Flat to South Bend, where we would camp tonight, has several rapids, but no named ones. That said, two of us (me included) managed to get shot out of our raft when it collided head-on with the side wall in one of the rapids. I was expecting to have to ride the waters to the eddy below the rapid but Jonathan managed to pull both of us back aboard fairly quickly. Still, it was a character building way to start the day. 😳 And it did clear up any lingering personal hygiene issues. 🙄
Oregon’s Illinois River stretches some 56 miles (90 km) from its headwaters east and south of Cave Junction, Oregon to its confluence with the Rogue River near Agness, Oregon. The Wild and Scenic Section of the Illinois flows through a steep canyon for 29 miles (46 km) between Briggs and Nancy Creeks. This section features 150 rapids, of which 11 are Class IV and one is Class V. It is reputed to be the most remote, inaccessible river segment in the continental United States. Compared to the bigger rivers we’ve rafted, the Illinois is a very technical one, with a great deal of skill (the guides, not ours) required to weave through its boulder-strewn rapids.
Our first attempt at reaching the base of Snailback Falls, in the Illinois Valley just west of Selma, Oregon, was rebuffed by deep snow on a sketchy trail. Now, a month later, all that snow is gone and the falls are still running well. Obviously time for a rematch. After failing 😦 to rekindle any enthusiasm in The LovedOne for another hike here, I found myself alone 😥 at the informal trailhead for the falls on the Illinois River Road about 3.5 miles west of the blinking light in Selma. There was fog in the valley as I started up the old mining road that is the beginning of the trail. But once I’d gained 500 feet or so, I was in sunshine. Contrary to a slight chance of rain in the forecast, these bluebird conditions would last the whole day. With the snow gone, it was easy to see where the old road gave way to the good trail leading to the site of the old Forgotten Copper Mine. Past the mine, the quality of the trail deteriorates, with some narrow and loose spots and some clambering around fallen trees. Nonetheless, I was soon at the putative end of the trail at the base of the falls. From here, I scrambled up along the creek a bit for a better view of the falls. Since the series of cascades that form these falls extend some 400 feet or so up the side of the canyon, I could have done quite a bit of climbing. But I opted not to since the footing was damp and loose and hadn’t been helped by damage from a fire here last year. So, with the falls visited, it was time to drive farther south for a short hike along the Osgood Ditch Trail.
When I hiked the Illinois River Trail in 2016, I passed the western end of the Silver Peak-Hobson Horn Trail (USFS #1166) on the ridge north of Fantz Ranch. I didn’t have time to think much about it then but later it popped-up when I was looking for different trails to explore. The #1166 traverses one of the most remote and pristine areas in the North Kalmiopsis Roadless Area, has had quite a convoluted history, and has a real world condition that diverges sharply from that which appears in internet searches. Of course, we didn’t know that going in, so it was just as well I billed this hike as an exploratory adventure and we did it on a clear, mild day under wide-open blue skies. Update: Almost the entire length of the #1166 was impacted by the 2018 Klondike Fire.Continue reading “Silver Peak-Hobson Horn Trail (Galice, Oregon) 27-May-2018”→
2020 Update: The Siskiyou Mountain Club has now repaired and restored the #1161, which was damaged by wildfires and landslides. They also restored the Florence Way Trail #1219A, which had been impassable for a decade or more.
In 2015, we backpacked the justifiably famous Rogue River Trail from Grave Creek to Foster Bar and had a wonderful time doing so (Rogue River Trail). As I was researching that trip, I kept coming across references to the Illinois River Trail (USFS #1161; but the sign at the trailhead says #1162) as a worthy adjunct to the Rogue trail. The western end of the Illinois River Trail was designated as a National Recreation Trail because of its outstanding scenic qualities and the Illinois River itself was added to the National Wild and Scenic River System in October 1984. It is lauded as one of the best hikes in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, one that gives you a unique glimpse into the wonders of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, a 179,655-acre wilderness filled with deep gorges and rocky ridges and home to many rare plant species. So I put #1161 on the list for a try at it once the better weather of Spring 2016 became a reality – which happened this week. While planning for a two day backpack of the #1161, I was struck by how little detailed information (in this age of Internet-driven information overload) there was on a complete east to west through hike of it.