East Applegate Ridge Trail (Southwest Oregon) 28-Feb-2021

I first hiked the East ART, solo out-and-back from the (upper) Sterling Creek Trailhead, soon after the trail opened in 2017. In 2019, after the (lower) 238 Trailhead was finished, I coxed The LovedOne into a one-way downhill shuttle-supported hike between the two trailheads. The excellent weather we had on both these hikes favored the huge views of the Applegate Valley and the surrounding peaks you get from the upper half of this trail. When today was forecast to be cold (at least at first), clear, and sunny, we decided to reprise my first hike here, only this time out-and-back from the lower trailhead.

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Circling the Ditch (Southwestern Oregon) 29-May-2020

The Sterling Mine Ditch Trail is undoubtedly one of the best known trails in Southwestern Oregon. For some 21 miles, it follows the route of an old ditch dug (in the 1870s) to supply water from the Little Applegate River to a hydraulic mine in Sterling Gulch. Because of its linearity, doing a loop hike involving a long stretch of it requires some improvisation. So back in 2015, we figured how to do such a loop from the Deming Trailhead by combining a little road walking with the then newly opened connector trail from Wolf Gap. Although today was forecast as a hot one (some 20°F (12°C) above whatever passes for normal these days), the weather in the days ahead was forecast to involve exciting bursts of water and electricity, so we ventured forth today to repeat this loop.

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East Applegate Ridge Trail (Oregon) 11-Oct-2019

I first hiked the then new East Applegate Ridge Trail (East ART) in late 2017. The LovedOne couldn’t join me then due to pressing fiber projects (there’s a pun in here somewhere). Today was, however, a sweet spot for her between the library and the fiber, so we were off to enjoy the East ART in absolutely perfect hiking weather. 🙂 One thing I love about this trail – in addition to its great views – is its passage through a variety of our signature plant communities. Oak woodland, pine forest, madrone forest, grassy meadows, buckbrush thickets, alluringly colorful poison oak – this trail has them all.

I had hiked it as a 10-mile out-and-back from the upper trailhead, which necessitated a climb back. 😦 But with the recent completion of the lower trailhead off Highway 238, we were able to do a shuttle and hike one-way downhill. 🙂 This allowed us to focus on the wonderful views of the Applegate Valley and its surrounding peaks. And make it to Jacksonville in time for lunch. 😛 Maybe not the most arduous of hikes but a heck of a good one nonetheless. And judging from the width and compaction of the tread, and the cars parked in the lots, a pretty popular one too! 😀

The LovedOne ponders the hiking instructions at the upper parking lot
The oaks were tinged with their Fall colors
The Bishop Creek drainage and the Applegate Valley
Through some towering madrones…
Then some changing oaks (to the thump of falling acorns…)
And into the open…
A lone pine along the trail
The Applegate Valley
Local peaks: Whiskey Peak (W.), Mount Baldy (MB), Ben Johnson Mountain (NB), Grayback Mountain (G), Tallowbox Mountain (TB)
The Wellington Wildlands: Wellington Butte (WB) and Mount Isabelle (MI)
Leaving the views for a pine forest
Across open ground
Bird watching along the trail
Crossing the divide into the drainage north of Buckhorn Gulch
Descending through Fall colors
Descending, with the Wellington Wildlands on the horizon
More color along the trail
The new lower parking lot 🙂
Our shuttle-facilitated hike down the East ART
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Stein Butte (Southern Oregon) 28-Dec-2018

The Stein Butte Trail (USFS #929) is one of the classic hikes in Southern Oregon’s Upper Applegate Valley. It was the last hike we did in 2014, near to the last hike we did in 2015, and the last one we did in both 2016 and 2017. So, in the spirit of unimaginative repetitive behavior, it seemed only fitting that it be our last hike for 2018 as well. 🙄

Thanks to the Motorcycle Riders Association, who maintain the #929 for the Forest Service, it was in great condition and clear of obstacles (and snow). Today was a bluebird day between storms. Big, sunny, near cloudless views started on Elliott Creek Ridge and continued to the butte’s summit at 4,398 feet. From there, snow along the Siskiyou Crest to the south looked a little skimpy. The snow was noticeably deeper on Dutchman Peak (7,417 feet) to the east, suggesting that snow with some depth is thus far confined to 6,000 feet and above (which is why Mount Ashland’s ski area is going full tilt at the moment). But we’ll need deeper snow at lower altitudes if we want to snowshoe somewhere other than Mount Ashland or Crater Lake (when it reopens 😡 ). So, in the spirit of unsubstantiated optimism, here’s hoping that we soon experience more snow to give meaning to our snowshoes. o_O

View from Stein Butte in Southern Oregon
The Red Buttes from along the trail
Red Buttes from Elliott Creek Ridge
Looking north up the Applegate Valley, with Baldy Peak (B) and Little Grayback Mountain (G) on the right
The essentially snowless summit of Stein Butte
Looking east: Mount McLoughlin (arrow), Wagner Butte (W.), and Dutchman Peak (D)
Looking south toward the Red Buttes (on the left)
Grayback Mountain and Big Sugarloaf Peak on the left, with depleted Applegate Lake below
FAREWELL 2018! YOU WERE FUN! 😎

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2019!

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Sundown Trail (Ruch, Oregon) 06-Dec-2018

A week or so ago, we hiked up Mount Isabelle in the Wellington Wildlands near Ruch, Oregon. The views from the summit were, as promised, excellent, as was the day. The Applegate Trails Association has developed other trails in this area, in conjunction with their work on the still evolving Applegate Ridge Trail (ART) system. One of these is the Sundown Trail, which runs along a ridge south of Mount Isabelle. We had to wait out several days of much needed rain (and snow – Mount Ashland opens tomorrow! 🙂 ) before we could give this trail a try.  But today’s sunny, cold, and cloudless break between storm systems was our chance to get in a little hiking absent “full conditions.”

Our original plan was to park at the Isabelle (Saddle) Trailhead, hike along the Sundown Trail to the Long Gulch Trailhead, explore a bit of the Heart Trail, and then return along Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Road 38-3-8.  What we discovered is that the Sundown “Trail” combines an old logging road and a user-created Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV, motorcycle) track. So we started out on an old road, then switched to the OHV track. That took us directly up to BIG views from the top of Point 3902. What struck us here was how much wood smoke – from residential heating, not wildfires – there was in the Williams Creek Valley. Wood smoke may be “natural” but it’s still not healthy to breathe a lot of it. o_O

A light dusting of snow on the old road not far from the trailhead
We found lots of cougar tracks in the snow!
Closing in on Point 3902
One of the big, open meadows on the southwest side of Point 3902
Grayback Mountain (center) with wood smoke filling the Williams Creek Valley below
Grayback Mountain and a smoked valley
Mount McLoughlin to the east, from the crest of the ridge

From Point 3902, we followed the OHV track southwest along the ridge, over Point 3992 (this hike’s high point), enjoying the big views, mainly to the south and west.  The old road ends just past the top of Point 3899 at a small logging landing which has now mostly disappeared under brush and small trees. Technically, the Sundown Trail ends here too.  But the OHV track makes a sharp turn to the left and plummets directly down Point 3899’s southwest ridge.  That didn’t look immediately inviting, so we went cross-country through the forest down the east side of the point to the Long Gulch Trailhead.  Along the way, we found an old BLM trail sign buried in the brush (but no trail) and later an old, overgrown (but still visible on aerial photos) log skid.

The old log skid – this is not the route you want
The kiosk at the Long Gulch Trailhead

With our cross-country adventure behind us, we headed southwest along the Heart Trail, a still passable (and seemingly used) double-track road.

Puddles along the Heart Trail

A half-mile down the Heart Trail, we came to a junction with the OHV track coming down from Point 3899. Here we abandoned our original plan and decided to see what it was like to hike back up the OHV track. In short – rutted and steep. OHVs apparently don’t like to be encumbered with switchbacks; those being only for “walkers” 😕 like us. The track took us down and across Balls Branch and then straight up along the ridge to the point. It was an aerobic experience.

UP! the ridge
One of the few level spots along the ridge
Looking west from below Point 3899: fog fills the Illinois Valley, snow dusts peaks in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, and incoming weather fills the horizon

Once we got back to Point 3899, our enthusiasm for up had diminished and we opted to return via the old road, which is less steep than the OHV track.

Returning along the old road
The view northwest from the old road
Along the old road with Mount Isabelle in the distance

All told, we did six miles with 1,750 feet of elevation gain, with a little exploring but without switchbacks – us being walkers and all. 🙄  The weather was perfect and the views were really big and nice.  Old roads and OHV tracks aren’t trails per se but are currently the only way to access these views. The proposed Center ART would run from the Isabelle Trailhead along the south side of the ridge (below the old road and OHV track) to the Heart Trail. By doing so, it would keep the views but avoid a lot of elevation changes along the ridge.  Hopefully it will get built!

Our exploration of the Sundown Trail (purple) and the part of the Heart Trail we missed (black dots)
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Mount Isabelle (Ruch, Oregon) 25-Nov-2018

Our persistent search for yet another new hike eventually took us to a short loop on Mount Isabelle, in the Wellington Wildlands near Ruch, Oregon. The views were reported to be spectacular (and they were 😀 ). The Applegate Trails Association has developed several trails in this area, in conjunction with their work on the still evolving Applegate Ridge Trail (ART) system. Since the route to the summit is only a mile long, we added a short cross-country section to connect with the Isabelle Spring Trail, which we used for our return. These trails are at the north edge of the Wellington Wildlands, one of only two Bureau of Land Management (BLM) roadless areas over 5,000 acres in the entire Applegate Valley. Local efforts are underway to save and preserve the wilderness characteristics of these wildlands. The walk up to the summit is short but steep, so we managed three miles, with 1,000 feet of elevation, for our morning’s work.

The Wellington Wildlands are an integral part of the Applegate-Rogue Recreation Corridor
The “trail” to Mount Isabelle is the service road to the comm facility on its summit
The road climbs steeply; some 900 feet in a mile
Mount McLoughlin, with fog in the Bear Creek Valley
Mount McLoughlin (m), Brown Mountain (b), and Aspen Butte (a)
Red Buttes (R), Kangaroo Mountain (K), Tallowbox Mountain (T), Whiskey Peak (W), Figurehead Mountain (A), Pyramid Peak (P), Big Sugarloaf Peak (B), and Grayback Mountain (G)
Into open, rocky ground near the summit
Grayback Mountain (center), with fog in the Illinois Valley

Today the summit is home to a huge, new microwave communications link.  But from 1933 until 1967, it boasted a 50-foot wood pole tower with a 12-foot by 12-foot cab (until 1959), with an L-4 cab thereafter. The lookout was intentionally destroyed in 1967.

The comm tower on Mount Isabelle today
The fire lookout tower on Isabelle, c1960 (Oregon Department of Forestry photo)

The view from the summit, particularly to the west and north, was, as promised, huge.

Looking due west from the summit; fog fills the Illinois Valley
Looking northwest from the summit

After a short visit on top, we started the cross-country portion of our loop by dropping off the summit. The original plan had been to descend the crest of the northwest ridge directly to the north end of the Isabelle Spring Trail. But dodging around (or pushing through) various brushy obstacles forced our line into a due west direction. The going was steep but not too loose or brushy and we soon intersected the  Isabelle Spring Trail just short of its north end. One thing this cross-country excursion did was reveal the many huge old-growth trees on this side of the mountain.  Several that we passed had been marked with blue paint, which usually means they would be destined for harvest 😥 if this area is not protected in some way.

Starting our cross-country descent
Working our way across rocky, but otherwise open, terrain
The love affair with old-growth continues…

We soon intersected the Isabelle Spring Trail and followed it for a short way to its end at BLM Road 38-3-6.  We then turned around and headed back, passing five motorcyclists (we offered to step aside but they were already stopped, so we edged on by) and Isabelle Spring on the way. This box spring was developed in 1940 to serve the lookout. It was still putting out a few drops of water despite the lateness of the season and the drought! We couldn’t have timed this hike better, given that when we got back to town the in-coming high clouds had pretty much killed the views. A good day on a new trail for us! 🙂

On the Isabelle Spring Trail
North end of the trail
Heading back
High cirrus clouds started wafting-in as we made our way back
Isabelle Spring
Return to the trailhead at Isabelle Saddle
Our short, but fun, loop over Mount Isabelle
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Tallowbox Mountain (Ruch, Oregon) 29-Dec-2017

Tallowbox Mountain Lookout Ruch Oregon

Although the atmosphere has thus far regaled us with clouds and inversion fogs and winds and heavy mists masquerading as rain, it has yet to throw any meaningful amounts of snow on the local mountains. Our snowshoes and poles and pole snow baskets sit in the garage alone and unused. Incantations are undoubtedly being said on Mount Ashland – as I write! – to encourage mana from heaven in the form of frozen water.  While we wait for this miracle, we’re doing the positive spin thing by visiting some local sights that might otherwise have been by-passed in favor of a good snowshoe.
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Hiking the Mule Mountain Loop from Above 19-Nov-2017

Mule Mountain Mule Creek Trails Oregon

The Mule Mountain Trail (USFS #919) used to be one of the most popular trails in the Upper Applegate Valley. Then the Forest Service lost its easement through private property to the low-altitude start of the trail on public land. The Forest Service’s suggested alternative, the Charlie Buck/Baldy Peak Trail (USFS #918), starts higher up, where it might be closed by snow in the winter, and involves a heart-wrenching 1,200 feet of gain in its first mile from its northern trailhead! Having done this before (post), I thought it might be easier to reach the Mule Mountain and Mule Creek (USFS #920) Trails from the #918’s southern trailhead at the end of Forest Road (FR) 2010-300.  There was just time to give this a try ahead of an incoming  stretch of hiking-unfriendly weather. The LovedOne has always maintained that hiking should be fun rather than character building, so she buried further under the covers and offered up a muffled “good luck with that” as I headed off into the freezing fog outside our garage.
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Stein Butte Loop (Southern Oregon) 02-Apr-2016

Stein Butte Southern Oregon
The Upper Applegate Road begins in the small town of Ruch, Oregon on Highway 238.  Along this stretch of road are some of the best low-altitude, all-year hikes in Southern Oregon.  It is, however, hard to build loop hikes out of these trails without having to resort to friends and/or family car shuttles or extra long walks on roads.  This would consign the solo hiker to just out-and-backs if it were not for – wait for it – the mountain bike!  With a bike, it’s possible to make moderate loop hikes out of many otherwise loopless hikes – allowing you to mix the contemplative pace of a good hike with the soul-searing excitment of a downhill ride on gravel forest roads or on some actual mountain biking trails.  Hence the miracle of the hike and bike (H&B)!

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Mule Mountain to Little Grayback Loop (Southern Oregon) 31-Mar-2016

Mule Mountain Trail Applegate Valley

As of January 2017, there is no longer access to this trail from the Upper Applegate Road.  The area previously used as its lower trailhead is now on private property for which the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest does not currently have an easement. Please respect the landowner’s wishes and access this trail from its upper reaches via the Charlie Buck / Baldy Peak Trail (USFS #918).

The Upper Applegate Road begins in the small town of Ruch, Oregon on Highway 238.  Along this stretch of road are some of the best low-altitude, all-year hikes in Southern Oregon.  It is, however, hard to build loop hikes out of these trails without having to resort to friends and/or family car shuttles or extra long walks on roads.  This would consign the solo hiker to just out-and-backs if it were not for – wait for it – the mountain bike!  With a bike, it’s possible to make moderate loop hikes out of many otherwise loopless hikes – allowing you to mix the contemplative pace of a good hike with the soul-searing excitment of a downhill ride on gravel forest roads or on some actual mountain biking trails.  Hence the miracle of the hike and bike (H&B)!

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Mule Mountain to Charlie Buck Loop (Southern Oregon) 29-Mar-2016

Mule Mountain Trail Applegate Valley

As of January 2017, there is no longer access to this trail from the Upper Applegate Road.  The area previously used as its lower trailhead is now on private property for which the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest does not currently have an easement. Please respect the landowner’s wishes and access this trail from its upper reaches via the Charlie Buck / Baldy Peak Trail (USFS #918).

The Upper Applegate Road begins in the small town of Ruch, Oregon on Highway 238.  Along this stretch of road are some of the best low-altitude, all-year hikes in Southern Oregon.  It is, however, hard to build loop hikes out of these trails without having to resort to friends and/or family car shuttles or extra long walks on roads.  This would consign the solo hiker to just out-and-backs if it were not for – wait for it – the mountain bike!  With a bike, it’s possible to make moderate loop hikes out of many otherwise loopless hikes – allowing you to mix the contemplative pace of a good hike with the soul-searing excitment of a downhill ride on gravel forest roads or on some actual mountain biking trails.  Hence the miracle of the hike and bike (H&B)!

Continue reading “Mule Mountain to Charlie Buck Loop (Southern Oregon) 29-Mar-2016”