July 2, 2017
Day 36 Grouse Gap to Little Hyatt Reservoir, miles; 1708-1741
Distance 33, trail time; 8:42, average speed; 3.8, minimum elevation; 3720, maximum elevation; 6662, total ascent; 4983, total descent; 6992,
Oregon, sweet home Oregon. It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Stayed in the trees most of the day, which was nice in the heat. We broke out into the open often enough to keep the ride from getting boring. Most of the day we were in the Soda Mountain Wilderness. I’ve seen more day hikers the past two days than on all the rest of the trip. Janis explained it is the 4th of July weekend. I saw my first rattlesnake of the trip today.
The snake was a little bugger, maybe 18 inches, but fast. I was off leading Mercedes and had stopped to let her grab a bite if trailside grass. The bank on the high side of the trail was about knee high and the snake jumped out from under a bush, streaked across the trail and hid under a little fir tree just a foot or two off the trail. I tried to take a picture but branches were obscuring my view, l looked around for a stick to move them, but thought better of that plan when he gave me the rattle. Some things are just better left alone.
Five miles into the ride today Mercedes and I left the Rogue River Nat’l Forest and entered privately owned land. The trail paralleled and stayed close to Mt. Ashland Rd. from camp until we reached I-5, a distance of nearly 20 miles. Perhaps the local land owners have been taken advantage of in the past as there was an overabundance of No Trespassing and Keep Out signs. One property owner felt so strongly that a string of large boulders, complete with accompanying signs were situated in such a way that travelers on the trail were confined to a five foot wide strip between the rocks and the 50 mph traffic on Mt. Ashland Rd. All this in a place where there was a clear line of sight for a half mile and no residence, building or other sign of human occupation. It seems a shame to me that either the trail users are so ill mannered the land owner thought this their only recourse or the land owner couldn’t see their way to sharing 20 feet of their property for a national treasure.
Further down the trail we approached the I-5 crossing, for a short distance we were riding along one of those side hills where a misstep can result in a hundred foot fall. Only in this case instead of crashing into rocks or a tree we would land in the southbound lanes of I-5. Mercedes didn’t like those trucks rushing by one bit
Once across I-5 the vibe was a lot more relaxed. The day hikers, while surprised to see a horse, were friendly and inquisitive. I’m getting pretty good at explaining what I’m doing, why I don’t need a packhorse or even large saddle bags, what kind of horse Mercedes or BG is, and the like in five friendly, smiling sentences or less. I’d like to stop and visit for as long as they would like to, but I’ve got a long ways to go and I kind of need to stay with it. Sometimes they are just so friendly I linger awhile. All the same good manners are good manners and we need to make time to be ambassadors for all horse people.
There wasn’t a lot of trail water today and a lot of riding in the sun, Mercedes was glad to see her bucket and pan of mash.
July 3, 2017
Day 37 Little Hyatt Reservoir to Dead Indian Memorial Highway, miles 1741-1761
Distance; 20.4, trail time; 5:08, average speed; 4 mph, minimum elevation; 4485, maximum elevation; 6163, total ascent; 3786, total descent; 3024
And before someone brings it up, I did not name the highway, it is the only name used on three separate mapping applications, and you are right, politically incorrect at a minimum. I really don’t want to taint this column with politics, this bombshell was dropped in my lap and I’m not exactly sure how to get around it. In the most simplistic terms my philosophy is not to dwell on the past, we can’t change it anyway, best to move on in as positive of manner as we can. As my wise old grandfather always used to say sometimes “nuff said”.
Did I mention we are back in Oregon? And Oregon means trees, lots of them. BG and I were in the trees for all but the briefest of periods today. Nice trees, big trees, healthy trees. Except for one small reprod area of 20 year old trees and a couple acre patch of bug kill, the forest was beautiful. A local couple was out day riding today, I passed them as I was coming into camp as they were going out. They came over to our camp when they got back and we shared beers and tall tales. Turns out he is a forester for the Rogue River National Forest, assigned to this neck of the woods. He was naming off the different species we could see from where we were sitting, he named so many so fast, no way could I keep up with all but the most obvious, Doug Fir, White Fir, Red Cedar, Hemlock, Ponderosa Pine and as he said about every kind of fir you’ve heard of.
Rumor has it that we are about to run into more snow, soon. I hope to make it to the horse camp at Four Mile Lake tomorrow. We should know more when we get that far. Think warm thoughts, no snow, no snow…
July 4, 2017
Day 38, Dead Indian Memorial Hwy to Fourmile Lake, miles; 1759-1779
Distance; 22.6, ride time; 8:14, average speed; 2.7, minimum elevation; 4955, maximum elevation; 6263, total ascent; 2825, total descent; 2398
Happy 4th of July. Mercedes and I had a pretty good day today, no super climbs, and no steep descents. We started out riding through the same big timber as yesterday but that didn’t last long. According to the map we were traversing the side of Brown Mountain, a volcanic cone whose slopes are covered with dark boulders and rocks.
The trail itself is really amazing when you stop to consider the amount of labor that went into its construction. In the first place this trail is remote, judging from the trees it has never been logged and is miles from any road. All the labor must have been manual, all materials probably packed in on horses and mules. Rocks, some as large as washing machines were rolled down from the high side of the trail tread to form a shelf on the lower side.
In places, where the natural grade dipped below the desired tread elevation, rock walls, the tops of which were about six feet wide were built up to form the trail. The rocks creating the trail are so large they would be difficult, indeed dangerous to walk on not only because of all the foot trapping holes but the rocks themselves want to (oh I can’t help myself) rock and roll under foot. The solution the builders came up with was to pack in small red pumice gravel, from who knows where, to pour over the trail tread until the holes quit swallowing it up and a nice gravel walk way was fashioned. I’m not talking 50 feet or a 100 yards, I’m talking miles and miles of it.
Somehow in the middle of all that rock plants started to grow, given enough time leaves and needles fell, filling up the holes between the rocks, more plants and trees took root and now there are tree islands dotting the rocky slopes. Some are quite small, a few square feet with a couple of tough little alpine firs; others are a half acre or more and contain trees 60 inches in diameter and larger.
It is these big trees that bring me to the point of this rant, when one falls across the trail the only way by is to cut it out or scramble through the rocks with no neat little foot path around the tree. And that is why it took me over eight hours to go 22 miles. Mercedes and I took no breaks for snacks, there was precious little for her to munch on anyway.
I was led to believe that no trail maintenance, tree clearing, has been done in many years in this area. That is not exactly true; there are ample signs of logs recently cut from the trail. There are signs of trees cut last year, and from what I believe to number in the thousands since I got to Oregon many have been cut in the past 10 years. The problem is there are so many more that have fallen since. And when they fall they fall across logs that had already fallen so that to get around the tree in the trail you might have to work your way around 10, 20 or more other trees, often in not the most hospitable locations. Thick brush and steep hillside add to the length of time it takes to navigate.
Not that I’m complaining, we knew we were in for an adventure from the beginning. You can’t have good times if you don’t have hard times to compare them to. On the bright side, the snow after Hwy 140 has failed to materialize, we walked on dry dirt all day.
Tonight we are at Fourmile Horse camp. I spent an exciting night here some years ago, but that is whole ‘nother story, what I remembered was a really nice horse camp. The camp is still here, however now it is open to all campers, not just those with livestock. Most of the corrals have been removed, judging from what we saw today, burnt for firewood. The remaining corrals are in poor condition, doesn’t matter all of those sites are occupied by boaters. We did get a nice “for people” site with a couple of well positioned trees suitable for highlining. No one seems to mind as we haven’t been asked to leave.
Tomorrow the trail climbs to 7000 feet and may tell a different story – stay tuned.
July 5, 2019
Day 39 Fourmile Lake Horse Camp to Luther Mtn to Cold Spring Trailhead, miles; 1779-1792
Distance; 25.1, trail time; 8:07, average speed: 3.1, minimum elevation; 5652, maximum elevation; 6818, total ascent; 2877, total descent; 2628
Today was all about work. I had my head down, concentrating on the task at hand, putting one step down after another. Only took eight pictures instead of my usual 50 or more. The number of down trees is amazing. I doubt that my longest tree free stretch was over a quarter of a mile, fifty feet or less was far more common. BG and I went over, under, around and way around countless logs. I cut at least 20 that we had no other way to get past.
It got to the point I wouldn’t have minded a huge snow field blocking my way. Eventually I got my wish. We started running into patches of snow as low as 6000 feet in deep shade or northern exposures, nothing too tough, nothing I even felt the need to dismount for. We worked our way to 6800 feet mostly on east or west exposures. When we reached a saddle near the top of Luther Mountain the trail doubled back on itself across a full northern exposure in a heavily forested deeply shaded area. According to the maps, the trail maintained that course for a mile as it gradually climbed four hundred more feet in elevation. The trail then remained at about 7000 feet for four miles after that.
What I saw looking down the trail for as far as I could see, which admittedly wasn’t far, was a solid snow bank reaching above and below where I believed the trail to be until it disappeared into the trees. I know a volcano cone has sides of 30°. Rock slopes can be even steeper up to 60°. But when you are standing there staring at a snow bank that you are contemplating traversing, a snow bank covered with 2 inches of ice, and you look down at your Rebook tennis shoes and BG’s plate shod feet, it sure looks steeper. No place for an old man in tennis shoes, BG didn’t sign on for anything like that, the only rational decision was to turn around, and turn around we did.
I texted Janis our new meeting site and bless her she was there waiting as BG and I rode into the Coldsprings Trailhead. I write this while over-nighting at the Klamath Fairgrounds. Tomorrow we will go back to Mount Lassen where we started north a few weeks ago and start riding south. Hopefully I can get five full days in before we run into snow on the north end of the Sierras. Then we will head back to the Castle Crags and ride to where we started last week at Seiad Valley. Then maybe if all goes well the trail will be open past Crater Lake all the way to the Columbia River.
Think warm thoughts, but not too warm, it is hot out there on the trail. No snow, no snow.
July 24, 2017
Day 54 Cold Springs TH to Seven Mile Trailhead, miles; 1788-1802
Distance; 20.9, trail time; 7:03, average speed; 3, minimum elevation; 4865, maximum elevation; 7420, total ascent; 2659, total descent; 3698
What a difference a couple of weeks can make in trail conditions. The first seven miles of today’s ride were over the same trail that I had to ridden a little more than two weeks ago. Earlier I had to find routes around what seemed to be countless downed trees. This time the trees were still down, but enough hikers have gone by that go arounds are well established, no need for raw bush whackin’, which really speeds up progress. Also this time the snow was totally gone on the part of the trail I had ridden before. I did have to cut a few trees out of the way, though none were over 12 inches.
There was still one treacherous bank on the saddle over Devil’s Peak, I thought we could traverse it following the footsteps of earlier travelers but Mercedes was having none of that. The next safest option was to skirt the edge around the top of the bank, about a hundred feet up, then down through loose shale back to the trail, about a hundred and fifty feet down. The going up wasn’t too bad except for the steepness of the slope and the lack of oxygen at that altitude. Finally we crossed the top and got a good look at what we would have to go down, and Mercedes said no way again. I tied her reins to her lead rope to make a longer lead, then I managed to flip the bigger pieces of shale down the slope, where they bounced and crashed for a good long ways, creating a path through smaller rocks. I got at the far end of the lead giving Mercedes room to pick and choose her path.
Hesitantly she took a few steps, I moved a few steps, she took a few more steps moving onto larger rocks that she would slide down, get traction again in the smaller rocks, step on another big one, slide, dig in, repeat. I was kept busy trying to stay ahead of her and not let her get tangled in the ropes. I’m thinking if we had it to do again she would probably traverse the snow. The rest of our ride was uneventful, the trail more dirt than rock, even the downed trees seemed less in number and easier to get around.
While we were riding south in California the temperature was in the 90s at elevation and pushing the 100s down lower. I traded in my Levis for shorts finding them to be ever so much more comfortable. The last couple of days in the Marble Mountains cooled down and I went back to jeans, though now here in Oregon I’m about to make the switch again. The only problem with riding in shorts is no one really believes I’m the horse-guy, they want to see Levis along with the Straw hat.
We are camped at Sevenmile Horsecamp. It is a nice big gravel lot with plenty of room for even the biggest of rigs. Though there aren’t any kind of horse amenities, and it is three quarters of a mile removed, it is still an improvement on the original trailhead which is a little tight. Storm coming!