Grayback Mountain (Southwest Oregon) 18-Aug-2021

Wildfires seem to have gotten worse around here since 2014 and this year is no exception. Our valley has been filled with varying concentrations of smoke for weeks from wildfires raging to the north, east, and south of us. Yesterday’s morning of clarity in the Bear Creek Valley was an exception, since, by afternoon, the smoke was back. So it’s entirely on me for not doing an air monitor check before driving all the way to a trailhead. 😥

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Green Valley to Mount Elijah (Oregon) 31-Jul-2019

We returned from the East to find the Rogue Valley buried in smoke from the Mile 97 Fire burning to the north.  The smoke was thick enough to abort our first attempt at landing.  We made it in on the second try after returning to Portland to refuel.  By today, aggressive firefighting had brought the Mile 97 to bay and the smoke had diminished.  Leaving The LovedOne to her air conditioned library duties, I headed to the Siskiyou Crest to do an out-and-back from Green Valley to Mount Elijah on the Boundary Trail #1207.

The Green Valley Trail #904 is another one of those trails (like the Steve Peak Trail #908) that still appears on USGS and Forest Service maps but has been dropped from the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest’s inventory (and website).  It no longer receives any maintenance but has been kept alive by hunters who have marked key turns in its tread with large cairns.  The trailhead on Forest Road 1030-500 (easily accessible to 2WD vehicles) is marked only with some metal tags nailed to a tree on the bank of a spring-fed babbling brook.

The Green Valley Trailhead is marked only with metal tags (arrow)
You immediately cross a small spring-feed creek after leaving the trailhead
In some places the old tread is clearly visible
In open areas you have to look for cairns (arrow) to stay on the trail
Wildfire smoke in the Rogue Valley

From the trailhead, old #904 soon crosses a spring-fed creek and then climbs quickly (700 feet in 0.7 miles) to a vague and unsigned (except for a rock cairn) junction with the Boundary Trail in Green Valley.  Up here there was little smoke and a lot of fragrant wildflowers being worked over by flocks of butterflies and bumble bees.

Green Valley
Green Valley sits below Swan Mountain
Woodland Penstemon with guests

From its junction with the Green Valley Trail to its junction with the Mount Elijah Trail #1206, the Boundary Trail was free of obstacles and easy to follow. This openness is thanks mostly to the motorcycles which are allowed to use the trail at certain times of the year. There aren’t enough hikers to keep it clear of fallen trees and brush nor does the Forest Service give it much maintenance. The Siskiyou Mountain Club has worked on part of it but the trail is long and their resources are limited. I guess the good news is that there were only a few places where the motorcycles had really dug in and gouged the trail – a lot of the time I could hardly tell they’d been here.

On the Boundary Trail heading toward Craggy Mountain

On my way north, on the side of Craggy Mountain, I did a short bushwhack to the remains of Denman (or Craggy) Cabin. It had been built as a line shack around 1940 and used for decades thereafter by hunters. Today it’s just a pile of kindling mixed with a few old stove parts. 😦

Denman Cabin today

Past the cabin site, I traversed through the large, wildflower-filled meadows around Horse Spring. If there’s any surface water here, it’s not obvious.

The smokey Illinois Valley and the Klamiopsis Rim from near Horse Spring
Wildflowers at Horse Spring
Indian Paintbrush and fading Corn Lilies
The Boundary Trail carves a narrow corridor through the wildflowers

From Horse Spring, I continued on past Elkhorn Prairie to the Boundary Trail’s now less-than-obvious (I seem to recall it was more evident back in 2015) junction with the #1206. The #1206 switchbacks (seemingly endlessly) up to a junction with the Lake Mountain / Bigelow Lake Trail #1214 on the east side of Oregon Caves National Monument. From there, it was short walk to the higher of the two Mount Elijahs.

Open ground at Elkhorn Prairie
Smoke obscures the view of the Kalmiopsis Rim from Mount Elijah
Lake Mountain from Mount Elijah

After a brief stay on the summit for a snack and the view, I retraced my steps back to Green Valley and the trailhead. I’d carefully noted the junction of the Boundary and Green Valley Trails because there’s not much there to signal a turn and going right by it is a possibility.

Arnold Mountain from along the Boundary Trail
The junction with the Green Valley Trail is marked only with a cairn (under the arrow)

This turned-out to be a surprisingly excellent hike (12 mile round-trip, 2,900 feet of gain). 😀 The burned campfire smell of wildfire smoke was below me, leaving the pleasing fragrances of piney woods and wildflower meadows. The weather was excellent – cool and breezy most of the day, only heating-up just before I got back to the trailhead. The Green Valley Trail, although faded and steep, is a great way to visit some of the big wildflower meadows between Green Valley and Elkhorn Prairie. 🙂

My track from Green Valley to Mount Elijah
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Elk Creek to Grayback Mountain 29-Jun-2017

Elk Creek Trail Siskiyou Crest Oregon

The Elk Creek Trail (USFS #1230) is an odd little trail in that it has a website and a trailhead sign but does not appear on any USGS or USFS maps. In reality, it’s a somewhat worn, moderately steep, but easy to follow trail that climbs from Forest Road (FR) 079 along Elk Creek through heavy woods to a junction with the Boundary Trail (USFS #1207) on the Siskiyou Crest. We first learned of it from Roether’s 2006 Williams Area Trail Guide (Hike #3) and have used it as a shortcut for a hike of Mount Elijah.  Both that guide, and the Forest Service website, intimate that you can also use it to reach Grayback Mountain (post), some three miles to the north.  So we decided to go see about that for ourselves and also check the condition of the Boundary Trail along the way. Update: Part of the #1207 close to Grayback Mountain was burned by the 2017 Creedence Fire.

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Grayback Mountain (Siskiyou Mountains) 18-Aug-2016

Grayback Mountain Oregon

Southern Oregon Happy Trails (details) is the meet-up group for hikers in our area.  We learned of it shortly after relocating here but, being unfamiliar with the meet-up group concept, thought we’d watch and wait until we’d gained some of our own experience with the trails in this area.  Time passed.  Then this week we finally decided it was time to give “meet-up” a try when a hike to the summit of Grayback Mountain was posted.  At 7,048 feet, Grayback Mountain is the tallest peak in the Josephine County, Oregon. Back in the days of the Gold Rush (1850s-60s), miners were often hygenically challenged and thus irritated by lice, which they referred to as “graybacks.” The mountain is composed of a Paleozoic schist (formed by the metamorphosis of mudstone, shale, or some types of igneous rock) that is gray in color so, from a distance, it has the appearance of a lice-like gray lump – hence the miner’s name for it (oh, those romantic devils!).  We’d been there before, via the southeast ridge (post), it was short enough so we’d be done before the day got really hot, and the group size was small (some meet-ups are just too big for our taste). When we signed up, there were seven people going. By the time I got to the meeting location, it was only myself and the hike organizer (the LovedOne having bowed out because of the heat).  Still, the organizer – Joe – was keen to do the hike, as was I, so off we went.

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Grayback Mountain Trail (Williams, Oregon) 29-Mar-2015

Grayback Mountain Trail Williams Oregon

The Siskiyou Crest Trail – which circles the Red Buttes Wilderness to the south and west – is an amalgam of different trails, which we have been enjoyably cherry-picking for several months now. On most maps, and in the Forest Service literature, the northern terminus of the Crest Trail (where it is the Boundary Trail (USFS #1207)) is at Windy Gap just north of Grayback Mountain. It always seemed odd that the trail would just end at some saddle in the mountains. So I dug a little deeper and discovered that this abrupt end was true up until 2006, when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and volunteers from Williams, Oregon finished the Grayback Mountain Trail from outside Williams up to Windy Gap – thus extending the Crest Trail to a length of almost 50 miles from Cook and Green Pass to Williams. None of the topo maps, and only one of the guidebooks, for this area seem to be aware of this trail. Thus we had to go explore it. Continue reading “Grayback Mountain Trail (Williams, Oregon) 29-Mar-2015”

Swan Mountain (Red Buttes Wilderness) 25-Feb-2015

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon

Although most of the Red Buttes Wilderness is in Northern California, a small chunk of it is in Oregon, between Tanner Mountain and Sucker Creek Gap. The Steve Fork Trail or Steve’s Fork Trail (USFS #905) provides the shortest access to Sucker Creek Gap from the east side of the Siskiyou Crest. From the gap, it’s a short hike to views from Swan Mountain (which is, sadly, not in the designated wilderness area). Continue reading “Swan Mountain (Red Buttes Wilderness) 25-Feb-2015”