Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail ~ Southwest Oregon (October 2020)

The #1470 from Yellow Jacket Camp to the Rocky Rim Trail #1572 was restored by the Siskiyou Mountain Club during July and August, 2021.

The Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail (#1470) runs, as its name suggests, for some 30 miles between Huckleberry Gap and Three Lakes along the divide between the Umpqua and Rogue River watersheds.  The Forest Service describes it as the primary route through the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness. We’ve spent the last five years hiking almost all of it in sections. By doing so, we got to experience the #1470 directly and also ponder the future of our trails that aren’t social media darlings. So here are some thoughts about the #1470 as a whole, with particular emphasis on where the Service’s sometimes overly hopeful descriptions of it depart from its reality. But let’s be clear here: this is a personal reminiscence, not a guidebook and should not be relied on as such. Just saying…

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Buckneck Mountain (Rogue-Umpqua Divide) 05-Oct-2020

The Forest Service bills the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail #1470 as the primary route through the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness. Two week’s ago we hiked the section from Forest Road (FR) 37 toward Three Lakes, the trail’s northern end. Despite this section of the trail having been ceded to motorcycles, that hike went well. That left just one major section (there are a few minor one’s we’ll likely never hike) left – the one past Buckneck Mountain between Fish Creek Camp on FR 870 and FR 37. We set out to do that today, ahead of real rain forecast to arrive (ha!) later this week.

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Rim Rock (Umpqua National Forest) 27-Sep-2020

The Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail (#1470) runs, as its name suggests, for some 30 miles between Huckleberry Gap and Three Lakes along the divide between the Umpqua and Rogue River watersheds.  I have a love/sadness relationship with this trail.  Sections of it are in good condition with big views, while others are viewless brush-choked slogs that haven’t seen maintenance in years and years.  We’ve spent the last five years hiking it in sections.  Today’s effort was to explore the section north from Forest Road (FR) 37 to Three Lakes.  The LovedOne was joining me on this ramble and I worried that we’d experience one of those brushy slogs she detests.  But no worries.  This section of the #1470 is outside the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness and the Umpqua National Forest has opened it to motorcycles.  So, in short, thanks to use by responsible motorcyclists, this section of the #1470 proved to be brush-free and easy to follow, with only deep ruts in a few places.  It had obviously been ridden recently but we encountered no motorcycles during today’s visit.

Continue reading “Rim Rock (Umpqua National Forest) 27-Sep-2020”

Yellow Jacket Camp (Rogue-Umpqua Divide) 06-Jul-2020

I have a conflicted relationship with the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail #1470 which runs the length of Southern Oregon’s Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness. On one hand, the Forest Service’s website styles this trail as the “primary route” though this wilderness, but only a few sections of it appear to have seen any maintenance for a long, long time. On the other hand, it provides access to views, old lookout sites, meadows with wildflowers, and otherwise inaccessible parts of this wilderness. But, like that famous “box of chocolates”, you’re never quite sure what to expect – easy movement on good trail or an arduous slog on dim, overgrown tread over, under, and around fallen trees of varying sizes. Today’s adventure (which The LovedOne wisely decided not to get sucked into) was to see what the #1470 was like between Yellow Jacket Camp (not to be confused with the Yellow Jacket Loop Trail #1522) and Anderson Mountain.

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Donegan Prairie (Umpqua National Forest) 25-Sep-2019

I first came across this short hike in John & Diane Cissel’s Old Growth Forest Hikes (2003) and then found it listed as the Donegan Prairie Trail #1431 on the Umpqua National Forest’s website. It provides access to large meadows (full of wildflowers in season), a rare dry meadow community, and large stands of 300-400 year-old trees. Unfortunately, the website said it was presently closed due to fire damage. Well, I had to see for myself what “damage” entailed (The LovedOne, sensing a possibly painful adventure, opted to have her hair done instead).

The #1431 has two trailheads – neither with signs nor amenities – but the eastern one is closest to the meadows, so I started there. For the next mile-and a-half, I went past or through several large, moist meadows on a tread that was clear and easy to follow. It’s not the season now, but these meadows must be spectacular when they’re full of wildflowers in the summer. After the last big meadow I began to lose the trail to low-growing brush but easily found it again when it passed through patches of forest. Finally, about two miles from the eastern trailhead, the trail pretty much gave it up to encroaching brush and a few fallen trees. Here navigation was by looking for where fallen trees had been cut. After about a half-mile of this, the trail reappeared as it passed by a rare dry meadow, then promptly disappeared again as it crossed an area damaged by a 2017 spot fire. I contoured cross-country through the fire area to where the trail crossed Dead Horse Creek. Past the creek, the trail was fairly easy to follow (except for a few fallen trees near the creek) as it climbed to the western trailhead on Forest Road 800. Then a walk along that road back to the eastern trailhead.

The eastern trailhead, marked only by remnant signposts (but no sign)
The first of the large meadows at Donegan Prairie
The first 1.5 miles of trail were easy to follow
Another meadow
And yet another
Near the last of the meadows
Sentinel tree – the trail starts to fade past here
The trail (arrow) fades…
But comes back as it traverses a patch of forest
Mushrooms fill-in for wildflowers in the Fall
Following the trail by looking for cut trees (arrow)
Fall color
A ghost or lunar mushroom
The trail comes back (briefly)
Fire damage
Here the trail was almost impossible to find
The trail climbs up from Dead Horse Creek
The signless western trailhead
Returning on Forest Road 800
View of the Crater Lake Rim from Forest Road 800 (L: Llao Rock, S: Mount Scott, U: Union Peak)

If all you want to see are wildflowers in large meadows then this a great trail for that – just start at the eastern trailhead and double back after about 1.5 miles when the trail starts to become hard to follow. Following the whole trail should wait until there’s been some maintenance in general and repair of fire damage in particular (being flattened by a falling fire-killed tree would hurt, to say the least). Unfortunately, a stand of large incense-cedars and Douglas firs was partially damaged (or destroyed) by that spot fire but there are still some live ones left that are worth seeing. Walking back on Forest Road 800 would probably be easier than trying to drive a low-clearance, 2WD vehicle along it to the western trailhead.

Following the Donegan Prairie Trail

Grasshopper Mountain (Rogue-Umpqua Divide) 27-Aug-2019

Today was forecast to be the hottest day of the year in the Rogue Valley. 105°F (40°C) was on offing. So, of course, I had to go hiking. Yes, I’d certainly get sweatier than a tree fungus but so it goes. The LovedOne wisely decided to stay home instead and work on a sweater (in anticipation of winter).

It’s just over a two hour drive to the Skimmerhorn Trailhead at about 3,600 feet on the edge of the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness. If I thought altitude was going to save me from the heat, that notion was quashed as soon as I stepped out of the truck into what felt like a warming oven. Fortunately, much of this hike is in deep forest and that took the bite out of the warmth. Later there would even been a reasonably cool breeze at my goal – the old lookout site on Grasshopper Mountain.

From the trailhead, I climbed up through the recovering burn scar of a 2002 fire on what seemed, judging from its width, to be a pretty popular trail. Sweating occurred while traversing the relative open ground in the scar. But then it was into the deep forest and on to first Buckeye and then Cliff Lake.

Up through the old burn scar
Bright white Quartz Mountain (Q) is easily visible through the remaining snags

In the distant past (some say 1,000 years ago, others 6,000 years) the northwest face of Grasshopper Mountain collapsed, damming the flow of Fish Lake Creek, and creating a sheer cliff southeast of Cliff Lake.

Buckeye Lake with Grasshopper Mountain looming in the distance
Buckeye Lake
The outlet from Buckeye Lake
Cliff Lake
Cliff Lake
The sheer cliff of Grasshopper over a field of thistles at Cliff Lake

After its initial climb through the burn scar, the trail had been mostly level as it passed the lakes. But beyond Cliff, the climbing started – some 1,300 feet in the next two miles. The trails were clear and well-graded [except for a short bit just below the summit] so it should have been easy. Except… Except for the sensation of being a PopTart in a microwave. The forest cover (and a little breeze) helped a lot but it was still HOT – hotter than a Costco rotisserie chicken hot. But by combining tough with stupid, I was able to slog on to the summit where I was refreshed by the views, the site of an old fire lookout, and another quart of Powerade. 🙂

A meadow along the Grasshopper Mountain Trail
The trail is vague through here, just 500 horizontal feet from the top
Summit! No more climbing!

A fire lookout camp had been set on top of Grasshopper in 1912 and a cupola cabin built there in 1925 (photo to the left). This was followed in 1933 by an L-4 cab which was replaced in 1958 by a 10-foot R-6 flat cab (the parts of which were lifted to the summit by helicopter). All the structures were removed in 1977. All that remains today are the four concrete foundations of the 1958 lookout.

The 1933 lookout in 1942 (USFS photo)
The 1958 lookout in 1964 (USFS photo)
The 1958 lookout foundations with Highrock Mountain in the distance

The lookouts may be gone but the big views remain, as no trees have grown-up in the intervening years to block them. Aside from the fire history, the views are well worth the climb.

Quartz Mountain (Q) to the northwest
Buckeye Lake (L) and Cliff Lake (R) below
Highrock Mountain to the east

After making a determined, but somewhat futile, attempt at complete hydration on the summit (and a small snack), it was time to head back. Let me just note that downhill went a lot quicker and easier than did uphill on this oven of a day. After 8 miles round-trip and 1,900 feet of gain, the nearest cold soda proved to be on Highway 62 some 40 miles away (Tiller may look like the closest town but today it’s almost a ghost town). That soda didn’t rise to the level of pie but it was still good… 😀

Cool leaves on the forest floor

Wiley Camp Loop (Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness) 11-Sep-2018

Wiley Camp Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness Oregon

In May of 2015, we did a loop hike through Buck Canyon, the only part of the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness that sits on the east side of the divide. We came in from Muir Creek and left via Meadow Creek, passing Wiley Camp along the way. I got to wondering if you could loop around Fish Mountain from the Wiley Camp Trailhead and today I decided to find out (The LovedOne opted for a library board meeting instead). It was a crisp, cool almost-Fall day for hiking. A change in the weather (and much firefighting) had reduced the smoke a lot but had also brought in a cloud cover. This made for a glaringly reflective sky that wasn’t conducive to photos but was still way better than being smoked.  Further scouring of smoke and a few sunbreaks later in the day would reinvigorate memories of what hiking in clear air is like (since it’s been awhile).

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Anderson Camp (Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness) 01-Jun-2018

Anderson Camp Trail Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness Oregon

The Forest Service styles the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail (USFS #1470) as the primary route through the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness.  This may be true in concept but, in practice, they seem to have given little, if any, attention to its maintenance.  We have been exploring it in sections for the last few years and have found tread ranging from good (from its southern trailhead to Abbott Butte Lookout) to non-existent (between Falcon Butte and Abbott Butte).  It would be the obvious thru-hike for this wilderness if one could trust the tread (and also find water sources).  But our explorations continue, this time between Anderson Mountain and Hershberger Mountain, with a visit to Anderson Camp, Anderson Prairie, and the site of the Anderson Mountain fire lookout. Continue reading “Anderson Camp (Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness) 01-Jun-2018”

Highrock Mountain (Rogue-Umpqua Divide) 23-Aug-2016

In 2015, I did two dayhikes in Oregon’s Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness (details): an out-and-back on the Rogue-Umpqua Divide (USFS #1470) and Rocky Rim (USFS #1572) Trails (post) and a loop hike around Fish Lake (post) on the Rocky Rim, Rogue-Umpqua Divide, and Fish Lake (USFS #1570) trails.  Highrock Mountain (6,195 feet) is a prominent feature visible from various points on all of these trails.  While not the highest point in this wilderness (that honor belongs to Fish Mountain, at 6,789 feet, about 4 miles to the northeast), it stands out from other peaks in the area because of its hulking rockiness and nearly treeless summit.  It’s such an obvious, exposed peak that I fully expected to find a route description for it in one of the usual places – Summitpost, Peakbagger, Peakery (where its listed as the 561st highest mountain in Oregon), etc. – but there was nothing.  When a Google Earth-based survey suggested that there were no obvious cliffs or drop-offs blocking a Class 2 scramble to the top via its southeast ridge, we decided to go see for ourselves if its summit was accessible as a non-technical dayhike. {UPDATE: The area described herein was burned in 2017 by one of the High Cascade Complex Fires.}

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Golden Stairs Trail (Rogue-Umpqua Divide) 22-Jun-2016

Golden Stairs Rogue-Umpqua Oregon

This trail is described in a few hiking guides for Southern Oregon, but those descriptions are more than a little out of date with its current state.  Of course, I didn’t know that at the start, so this hike became a bit of an adventure rather than just a walk in the woods.  There are no actual stairs, so it’s not clear whether “Golden Stairs” refers to the trail’s steepness, to the yellowish rock on some of the rock formations it passes, or to an alleged gold mine (there being no genuine gold mines in the Cascades) owned in ages past by the Abbott Brothers (who named a great number of places in this area).

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Rattlesnake Mountain (Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness) 27-Oct-2015

Rattlesnake Mountain Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness Oregon

Even though it’s written up in two prominent guidebooks (Hike #40 in Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon (3rd Edition) and Hike #30 in Bernstein & Urness’ Hiking Southern Oregon (2014)), this is one of those quirky little hikes that wouldn’t necessarily be on your “must do list.” But it exploits a weakness (more like a failing) in the wilderness designation system that lets a forest road (Forest Road (FR) 870) penetrate deeply into the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness, which gives you access to big views with minimal hiking effort. So it seemed like a interesting short hike we could do before an approaching weather front reached us. Continue reading “Rattlesnake Mountain (Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness) 27-Oct-2015”