Brandy & Fish Hook (Agness, Oregon) 04-Jun-2021

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.

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Rafting Oregon’s Illinois River IV 24-Apr-2021

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. 🙄

Breakfast at Horse Sign Creek
Our campsite just above the creek
Horse Sign Creek
Looking down river from the beach at Horse Sign Creek
Just a little farther
The take-out at Oak Flat
Bringing a raft up
Almost loaded
It was comforting to look back and see that it was raining where we HAD been…

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!

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Rafting Oregon’s Illinois River III 23-Apr-2021

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.

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Rafting Oregon’s Illinois River II 22-Apr-2021

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. 🙄

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Rafting Oregon’s Illinois River I 21-Apr-2021

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 wild section is roughly below “Illinois River”
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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
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Snailback Falls (Oregon) 22-Feb-2019

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).  The falls are only about 1.5 miles up from the paved Illinois River Road (Forest Road (FR) 4103) via an old mining road and some trail. This made them seem like a worthy, but not too difficult, goal.  And with all the weather we’ve been having lately, they were likely to be in full flow.  But, in our enthusiasm for something new and different, we blithely overlooked 🙄 all the lower-altitude snow we’ve been having this season – substantial amounts of which have accumulated below the base of the falls at about 2,400 feet.  But we needed a hiking endorphin hit, so off we went.

The informal trailhead for the falls is about 3.5 miles west of the blinking light in Selma on the Illinois River Road.  We parked at a small turnout on the road’s south side at an unsigned junction with FR 011 (Star Flat Road). A much larger pull-out can be found a little farther along the road to the west.  The hike starts on the north side of FR 4103, past a wooden log restoration fence. This was installed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to limit off-highway vehicle (OHV) access to slopes overrun by the Biscuit Fire in 2002 and then again by the Klondike Fire in 2018. The old mining road starts just on the other side of this fence. 

The old mining road starts directly behind the wooden fence

The fence seems to have done something to limit the maze of OHV tracks that used to plague this area, so the old mining road that was to be part of our trail was pretty obvious right from the start.

Starting up the old mining road
Higher on the old mining road
Looking west toward Pearsoll Peak from the old road
Looking west from where we reached the snowline at about 2,000 feet
Burned trees and snow

One thing about mining roads is that they don’t waste any time getting to the ore. So the old road took us almost 900 feet up in just 0.9 miles before ending – under about a foot of snow – on a ridge at about 2,400 feet.

View west from the end of the road on the ridge crest

After poking around a bit, we soon found the trail that contours north from the end of the road, past the Forgotten Copper Mine, to the base of the falls. This trail, despite being snow covered, was easy to see and follow to the old mine. Had it not been covered with snow, it would have been an easy stroll through a grand forest of soaring old trees that have easily survived the fires (which the brush build-up in the understory did not – this is a good thing). But the snow featured soft drifts, icy spots, and a breakable crust which made for cumbersome footing and some postholing.

Fire-touched but very much alive old Ponderosas along the trail

Even with this snow floundering, it didn’t take us long to get to the old mine whose claim, based on what we found nailed to a tree, had been recently renewed. There was supposed to be an old water wheel here about 20 feet up from the trail but we could find no sign of it. Beyond the mine, the trail became considerably less distinct and much more snow covered. Some of this snow hid fallen logs that acted as foot traps and potential ankle breakers. We pushed on to where we had a clear view of the upper falls, some 400 feet above us.

Upper Snailback Falls (arrow) from the trail
Close-up of Upper Snailback Falls

But the base of the falls was still some 500 feet or so farther on across snowy terrain treacherous with fallen logs and slippery surfaces. 😦 My back had already performed heroic duty getting us this far, so we called the hike here and headed back.

Starting back from our farthest point
Passing the Forgotten Copper Mine
One of the excavations at the mine
Back through the charred forest
And out into the sun, with Eight Dollar Mountain on the horizon
Looking east along the old mining road from the ridge crest
Down the old road through burnt shrubs

Had we gone to the base of the falls, the whole hike would have been just over three miles and, without snow but allowing for the steep climb, pretty easy. So we vowed to come back during that golden moment when the snow was gone and the creek was still gushing. 🙂 Then we made our way to Climate City Brewing in Grants Pass to gain energy for the drive home and to strategize about our next (snow-free) visit to Snailback Falls! 😀

Our track almost to the base of the falls
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Silver Peak-Hobson Horn Trail (Galice, Oregon) 27-May-2018

Silver Peak Hobson Horn Trail Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Oregon

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”

Sorry Hike, But Nice Flowers (Selma, Oregon) 11-Mar-2018

Illinois River Deer Creek Selma Oregon

We awoke under an overcast sky to find an hour missing from our lives (actually just borrowed – it would be returned in the Fall). All of the electronics in the house already knew this and had pro-actively deducted that hour for us. Something erie about this – a wisp of the Singularity? But at least we didn’t have to remember how to reset our few remaining digital clocks (…push the left button twice, while simultaneously holding the middle button down, then push…). Anyway, we responded to this sleep deprivation from the onset of Daylight Savings Time by picking a new (to us) hike right out of a guidebook. The hike’s write-up did warn us that it would be along a road that gets really rough, but we’d be going along the scenic Illinois River, so how bad could it be? Continue reading “Sorry Hike, But Nice Flowers (Selma, Oregon) 11-Mar-2018”

Illinois River Trail (Kalmiopsis Wilderness) 16/17-Apr-2016

Illinois River Trail
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.

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