Lightweight Backpacking After 60 in the Rogue Valley

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Canyon Creek: June 10-13, 2014

Hikers: Maria G., Steve W., Lois P., Mary K., George H., Linden C., Gretchen K., Harley K., Addie K.
Photo Credits: Mary, Linden, Steve

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TUE: We left Ashland around 7:15am and arrived at 11am at Canyon Creek trailhead @~3000′. (In earlier years, we’ve had a later start [2013], or car-camped the previous night [2011] at nearby Ripstein Campground). We had clear blue skies — no clouds or smoke; the south-facing canyon was snow-free and definitely hot by end of day. Sections of trail at lower elevations had some poison oak. Many wildflowers. Midweek, we saw few other hikers.

Our destination was the Boulder Creek Lakes trail junction, ~6.5 mi. from the trailhead @~5000′. Most of us camped at a spacious, flat, forested site off the trail between that junction and the Canyon Creek ford, while Mary and George opted for a more spectacular setting a few minutes uphill atop granite slabs. Addie, our newest member, a 11-year-old (77-year human equivalent) yellow lab-mix skipped clothing, a sleeping bag, and our various water filtration systems and cooking systems, thus keeping her base pack weight low; “kibble” might be the next new trend for backpacking food, greatly simplifying menu planning. Some mosquitos were around at dinner and breakfast times, though none on our final colder morning.

WED: After an immediate ford of Canyon Creek (this involved ‘croc-ing up’ then ‘re-booting’), we all ascended ~1.5 mi. to Boulder Creek Lakes (@5848′). Most opted to relax near the lakes; Maria and Lois trekked most of the way toward Forbidden Lakes (@6455′). Mary, George and Steve ascended steep slopes to Mt. Hilton (@8964′), which is the 3rd highest peak in the Trinity Alps; Mt. Caesar is only 2′ higher; Thompson Peak is highest (@9002′). An online route description had waxed rhapsodic: “you find yourself standing on the granite edge of time. The world falls away from beneath your feet in all directions on an inassimilable scale, deep, silent, distant, and timeless. Looking back down the route, you’ll see the irregular blue eyes of the CC Boulder Lakes lying on their back gazing quietly at the sky. The sky is a great blue cup inverted overhead, its apex directly over Mt. Hilton, its rim just touching the distant, miniscule horizon. A faint breeze born out of infinity bears the distant sound of falling water…It is a solid immensity, a feeling of penetrating openness. Infinitesimal perspective.” Wow, who could resist?

The Mt. Hilton description also stated “fairly easy” climb, but with few, vague details: “head for the skyline rocks that look like a castle wall to the east of the summit”. It’s true that route-finding to avoid cliffs and brush was not overly difficult (at least on the way up); the final gully they chose opened to some breathtaking views, but ended exposed, a few hundred feet short of the summit. Rather than continue with some risky 3rd/4th class moves, or backtrack to a different gully (which one?), they sagely decided to descend to Boulder Creek Lakes while aged legs still had energy. An exciting adventure, and as beautiful as claimed, but not “easy”: perhaps the author had suffered from hypoxia or mind-altering substances?

THU: We all hiked ~2 mi. further up the main canyon to Lower Canyon Lake (@5782′), then to Upper Canyon Lake (@5812′). We decided not to trek cross-country to L Lake (done by some in 2011); there had been a proposal to climb to a saddle to view Thompson and Caesar Peaks, and Mirror and Sapphire Lakes, but this was abandoned due to lack of time, tiny climbing quorum and sore legs. Instead, much “lizarding”, i.e., finding of flat surfaces on which to bask, at a beach at Upper Canyon, then later back at Lower Canyon Lake. After dinner, a dice game of Farkle kept us awake awhile longer.

FRI: We decamped before 9am, stopped a few times to admire waterfalls and scout future campsites, saw many hikers coming in, departed the parking lot ~12:30, and ate lunch in Weaverville at the La Grange Cafe. Overall, we all agreed that it was a great trip.

May 31, 2014: Long Gulch & Trail Gulch Lakes

Hikers: Maria G., Steve W., George H.
Distance: ~8.7 mi.; Elevation: ~2200′
Summary: Trinity Alps in May! no people; no smoke; (almost) no snow; strenuous but very enjoyable
Driving: <2 hrs (95 mi.) from Ashland to Carter Meadows (toward Cecilville/Somes Bar, from Callahan on CA-3)
Description: Sullivan (2nd ed.) #94 (pp.222-223); or see Planning 2014

This last-minute (announced via email) day hike was originally to Ostrich Peak (in Ashland hills); however, given a flexible group, entire day available, great weather, minimal Google Earth snow coverage, and desire to scout for a future day hike, we decided to re-route. Two years ago, we backpacked to Long Gulch Lake and camped for 2 nights. When we couldn’t locate the ridge trail (connecting counterclockwise to Trail Gulch Lake — or maybe we were deterred by elevation gain w/ backpacks), we returned to west trailhead, drove to east trailhead and dayhiked to Trail Gulch Lake. There was an unfulfilled desire to connect the dots…

So, on this day trip, we hiked the complete loop in clockwise direction (much easier to find/follow in our opinion, though there is now a sign at meadow at end of Long Gulch Lake); we preferred the ascent/descent profile clockwise from Trail Gulch to Long Gulch.

Ashland: 8am
East trailhead (5500′): 10am
Trail Gulch Lake (6410′): 1.5 mi. (at junction, we skipped 0.3 mi in/out to lake itself)
Pass above Trail Gulch (7000′): 1.0 mi. (lunch)
Pass above Long Gulch (7400′): 1.1 mi. (break)
Long Gulch Lake (6440′): 1.3 mi. (few small snow patches on trail; water break at previous campsite)
West trailhead (5265′): 3.2 mi.
Back to car at east trailhead (5500′): 0.6 mi. (uphill on road; car shuttle?); 4:30pm
Dinner at Etna Brewing Co.: 5:15pm
Ashland: 7:30pm

For those, who’d like shorter, easier in-and-out day hikes:

  • East trailhead: Trail Gulch Lake: 3.6 mi. RT; ~900′ elev. gain

  • West trailhead: Long Gulch Lake: 6.4 mi. RT; ~1200; elev. gain

Note: the two lake names have been reversed over time, which can be confusing!

  • on the East: Trail Gulch Lake (newer signs/guidebooks); Long Gulch Lake (older topos)

  • on the West: Long Gulch Lake (newer signs/guidebooks); Trail Gulch Lake (older topos) — possible mnemonic: current Long Gulch has the Longer trail.

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Lower Rogue River: Mule Creek to Brushy Bar; May 13-15, 2014

Backpackers: Maria G., Steve W., Lois P., Linden C., Carol M., Dami R.
Distance: ~6.5 mi. each way, plus optional day hike

We’ve backpacked this favorite mid-section of the Wild and Scenic Lower Rogue River several times — between Mule Creek TH (near Marial Lodge) and Brushy Bar CG (with dayhike downriver to Clay Hill Lodge). We won’t repeat trip details, which you can find in our 2011 and 2012 reports (and for BIG members, 2014 plans); instead we’ll highlight some differences from previous trips.

We cancelled our first reserved dates due to rain. Our second reserved dates didn’t work out as well for everyone, so Gretchen and Harley K. backpacked the trail on their own on May 10-12, and Dami hiked in with the main group, but returned by herself on Wed.

Tue. On our drive into Marial, we saw the devastation of last year’s fires west of Glendale, and a bear cub who scampered up a tree.

Compared to 2 years ago, poison oak seemed more pervasive along the trail, though a little easier to avoid, esp. in Blossom Bar section. TecNu application assured that even super-sensitive Maria did not react.

Weather was in 90s, but we had plenty of water from lodge/cabin taps and filtered from cool creeks. The Rogue was lower than usual, so we could access a small beach area right at our Brushy Bar campsite. We encountered a rattlesnake near our tents, who decided we looked too scary and disappeared for the remainder of our stay. A raccoon or Sasquatch stole one cooking set (pot&cups) overnight.

Wed. Maria, Lois, Linden and Carol day-hiked to Clay Hill Lodge and a creek beyond; Steve and Dami hiked the ‘shortcut’ over Devil’s Backbone Ridge; while Dami continued back to the trailhead, Steve ascended Deak’s Peak, then picked up several sodas and Caldera beers at Paradise for happy hour later at our camp (don’t expect this service on possible future trips ;-)).

A Portland group backpacking the entire 40 miles in 3 days (10-15 mi./day) pitched their half-dozen tents at the other side of Brushy Bar campground, and shared the bear locker and outhouse.

Thu. We ate lunch at Blossom Bar rapid (site of 2 deaths last summer). We saw many more hikers on the trail, many raft-assisted. This trail is likely to become even more crowded/popular, after this Mail Tribune article appeared the next day: Step by step along the Rogue: Local expeditions let visitors run or hike the Rogue River Trail with support from experienced guides.

Photo credits: Linden, Dami, Steve

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