A Cabin in the Wildlands (Oregon) 23-Apr-2019

Old-growth in the Wildlands deserves our love and protection!

There is an old cabin deep in Southwest Oregon’s Wellington Wildlands. Likely an old miner’s cabin. A low structure. More of a dugout really; now with a partially collapsed roof. Nestled in a grove of spindly tall madrones adjacent to a perennial water source. Probably built in the 1920s or 30s. Now a reminder of those who sought (usually in vain) to draw riches from the fickle geology of this region. The cabin is located far from any trail or road and getting to it is quite a cross-country adventure. The LovedOne has grown leery of my using adventure and hike in the same sentence, as that has, too often, heralded a sufferfest on her part. So she opted to stay home and do some gardening, leaving me to confront very steep slopes, abundant poison oak, and rapacious ticks on my lonesome. A good call on her part. When I finally reached the cabin, from the Isabelle Trailhead and the Sundown Trail, I found it to be a charming old structure; a piece of history worthy of the adventure required to visit it.

The snowy Red Buttes (L) and Grayback Mountain (R) from the Sundown Trail
Henderson Fawn Lily
A slope carpeted with white Popcornflowers; Grayback Mountain on the horizon (L)
A mixed forest of pines and madrones
Applegate Paintbrush
Front of the cabin with ruined storage locker to the right side
Interior, with shelves on the left
Interior
Log detail with clay chinking
Nestled against the slope
Downhill side of cabin
The roof on the uphill side has collapsed
Water is close by (at least until summer)
A shady spot deep in the forest
Not a wildflower
Green fields, white flowers, and blue skies
Clouds from the Sundown Trail
Mount McLoughlin from the Sundown Trail

It’s still a little early in the season, but a number of wildflowers (Great Hound’s Tongue, Blue Dicks, Mountain Monkeyflower, Menzies Larkspur, Western Peony, Henderson Fawn Lily) have already put in an appearance and their presence enlivened this adventure quite a bit. 🙂

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Wellington Butte (Ruch, Oregon) 13-Dec-2018

The collection of short, but view-filled, trails near Mount Isabelle in the Wellington Wildlands west of Ruch, Oregon includes the Isabelle Peak and Spring Trails, the Sundown Trail, and the Heart Trail, the latter planned as a principal part of the central section of the Applegate Ridge Trail (ART). With rain due in tomorrow, I used today’s bluebird weather to hike the Heart Trail and take in the view from atop Wellington Butte (3,710 feet). After yesterday’s snow frolic, The LovedOne decided she needed to stay home and sew another blouse.

I started from the Long Gulch Trailhead and went south on the old mining road (now BLM Road 38-3-7.1) that is the Heart Trail. A half-mile along, I passed the motorcycle trail we’d used to make a loop with the Sundown Trail. I dropped to a saddle north of Point 3298 and then climbed very gently along the steep north side of Wellington Butte. About 1.6 miles from the trailhead, I crested the ridge running west from the butte. This ridge would be my approach to the top of the butte. But first, I continued west on the trail, which got narrower and more hemmed-in by vegetation the farther west I went. The Heart Trail officially ends 2.5 miles from the trailhead at an open area 0.4 miles west of Point 3224. Trying to go farther would have taken me into more encroaching brush and onto private land.  There are some views along the trail and pretty good ones from the open area at its end.  But I was guessing views from the butte would be better, so I turned around here and went back to climb the butte’s west ridge.

Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
Long Gulch Trailhead
Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
The giant mud puddle
Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
Despite being an old road, the trail is a pleasant walk
Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
Thick forest on the north side of Wellington Butte
Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
Looking southwest from below Wellington Butte
Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
West of the butte, vegetation starts to close-in on the trail
Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
The open area at the end of the trail; Grayback Mountain is on the horizon to the left
Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
The open area; the trail continues (for a bit) through the dark spot in the vegetation

The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) recreation map for this area shows a camera symbol (indicating a viewpoint) on the butte but doesn’t show a way to reach that point. Once back at the crest of the ridge, I faced a daunting tangle of trees and shrubs apparently blocking my way forward. But I soon spotted a game trail (thus heeding the wisdom of the bambi) that, with just a little ducking and weaving, got me around the brush and up the ridge to a rocky outcrop. It was open meadows from there on, which made easy work of reaching the wonderful views from the butte’s summit.

Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
A rock crop halfway up the ridge leads to open, brush-free ground
Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
The view west from the open part of the ridge
Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
Outcrops and clouds along the ridge
Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
There is a superb view of Mount McLoughlin from Wellington Butte
Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
Looking south from the butte into the Applegate Valley
Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
Grayback Mountain from Wellington Butte
Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
Looking west from Wellington Butte

Instead of back-tracking down the west ridge, I continued along the ridge to the east and then descended directly down Wellington’s north face to the trail. The slope was steep and littered with a melange of slippery fallen branches – not hard to descend but I’m glad I didn’t come up this way!

Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
An old madrone along the ridge
Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
A steep descent on Wellington’s north side

Once off the slope it was an easy walk back to the trailhead, for a 5-mile round-trip, 800-foot elevation gain morning. As noted, despite being along an old road, this is a pleasant walk with a few viewpoints. But making it up to the open views from Wellington Butte lifts this hike from the good to the very good category. On the drive out, I got a shot of Mount Isabelle, the peak that started our much appreciated exploration of the trails in its vicinity. 🙂

Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
Mount Isabelle from the road to the Long Gulch Trailhead
Wellington Butte Mount Isabelle Ruch Oregon
My track along the Heart Trail and over Wellington Butte
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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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