Those who have been fortunate enough to raft the Rogue or Illinois Rivers, or backpack these river’s namesake trails, have likely experienced Bear Camp Road. Also dubbed Forest Road (FR) 23, this narrow, twisty – but paved – road runs between Galice on the Rogue River, over the mountains, to Agness, near the confluence of the Rogue and Illinois Rivers, not far from the Pacific Ocean.
It’s not open year-round, but in the summer, it’s the quickest way back to the Rogue Valley from a take-out at Foster Bar or trail’s end at Oak Flat. It was still closed when we did our trips on the Rogue and Illinois this year, so an extra two hours or so were added to our returns from these trips.
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.
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.
Snailback Falls, when conditions are wet, cascades down a steep rocky ravine in the Illinois Valley just west of Selma, Oregon. It’s not much to look at in the depths of summer but during and after winter storms the falls cascade over 400 feet and can be seen from quite a distance. We first heard about them from a 2011 Medford Tribune article by Gabe Howe (Siskiyou Mountain Club).
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.