Elk Creek Trail

I found another trail that is low enough in elevation to stay out of the snow but high enough to stay away from ticks. The Army Corps of Engineers has had active projects in the Elk Creek area since 1971. Originally to be developed for hydroelectric power and flood control, the dam projects ended up falling through for environmental reasons (mostly to protect anadromous fish). The area is now moving in a direction of being a outdoor recreation site.

I started at the Upper Elk Creek trailhead, named Homesteaders trailhead. This is the northernmost end of the trail. It starts off as soft gravel, but quickly turns into an old paved road. The old road is the “trail”, although there are human and deer trails that traverse the flats closer to the creeks edge, especially the further south you go.

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Starting off following the road very closely

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Elk Creek babbles below

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The spur trail to go to the “7-mile swimming holes”. I didn’t go because there were cattle in the way and I didn’t want the dogs to start any issues.

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The aforementioned cattle

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❤ ❤ ❤

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Getting closer to the lower trailhead

At almost exactly 5 miles in, I reached the Yellow Rock trailhead, which marked my turn-around point. I could see Yellow Rock Canyon on my phone’s map, so I did a little bit of exploring before I headed back (I didn’t see anything super special). It was good timing with the weather because the sun went behind the clouds and never game back, so I had to get back to my car before the rain hit. It sprinkled on us a little bit, but not enough to make it too cold or wet.

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Overall, this hike wasn’t bad. It was kind of annoying that I had to avoid cowpies so often, yet that’s kind of expected near so much private property. When I hike it again, I need to take the unpaved route as often as possible because the constant stepping on hard surfaces made my feet uncomfortable by the end. I could often see the trails, but I didn’t want to walk in all the mud and cow poop.

If you’re interested in this hike’s stats and map, here you go:

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10.70 miles, 289 feet elevation gain, 3 hrs. and 35 mins

Upper Rogue River Trail

After last weekend’s hike on the Rogue River and the tick attacks that resulted, I tried to find something that was a bit higher elevation this time around. A few days ago, I tried returning to Tom and Jerry Trail, which is pretty high up from the start. About a mile from the trailhead, the snow started getting deeper and deeper. In the end, I couldn’t even get my car to the trailhead. I actually got stuck in the snow for about 45 minutes and ended up going home in frustration after I finally got dislodged (note to self: don’t be cocky when it comes to driving on snow)

So, I decided to return to the Rogue, but further upstream where ticks can’t survive the cold. I don’t know how I’ve never done any of the Upper Rogue River Trail before, seeing as it’s fairly close to home and easy to get to. I think that I just wrote it off as “not that special”. I was very wrong.

I parked near Woodruff Bridge where the trail crosses Abbott Creek Road. This is a good entry point to go to Takelma Gorge downstream, but it is kinda far from Natural Bridge compared to its campground road (though that might’ve been closed this late in the year). Regardless, I ended up hiking in both directions to see both spots.

From the day-use parking, I followed the trail south traveling along the river. It was mid-morning and there was beautiful mist in the air that was caused by the cold, moist river air hitting the sunlight. I followed the trail for about 1.5 miles until the Takelma Gorge area came into view.

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Close-up of some lettuce lichen

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Some of that lovely mist

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The first view of Takelma Gorge

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Looking down the gorge

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Closer to the water

I turned around and headed back to the car, trying to decide whether or not I was going to go an extra 7 miles to Natural Bridge or just drive there. Since my guidebook said that the Upper Rogue River Trail was beautiful north of Woodruff Bridge, I took the trail.

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There were a lot of good camping spots that I saw on my way upstream. One in particular caught my interest about 1.75 miles in. There is a juncture in the trail — left to go out on a fat peninsula or right to continue upstream. The peninsula had a small camping spot that would be perfect for a late-season backpacking trip (maybe in December before I leave for Christmas??!!?

At about 3.3 miles, I reached a juncture with the paved path that leads towards Natural Bridge. Since I had never been here, I didn’t quite know what to expect. There were interpretive signs that described the geology of the area. Basically, the river runs through old lava tubes that go underground and out of sight. Being the wet season, the water was pretty high and so not all of it fit in the underground tubes. As a result, I couldn’t really see the “natural bridge” of land that it goes under. It was, however, phenomenal to see how fast the water got lost in the ground and how fast it came shooting out of the outlet downstream.

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Where the Rogue River flows into the lava tubes of Natural Bridge

If you’re curious about the maps and stats for this hike, here you go:

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To Takelma Gorge — 3.28 miles, 125 feet elevation gain, 1 hr. 27 mins.

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To Natural Bridge — 6.70 miles, 282 feet elevation gain, 2 hrs. 32 mins.

Rogue River Trail – Grave Creek to Whisky Creek

With snow blocking a lot of the higher-elevation hikes, I decided to go low and hike a section of the Rogue River Trail. I’ve been to a section of the Rogue that is further to the west, near Marial (Inspiration Point) and it was pretty amazing. Also, this trail starts right across the river from the trail for Rainie Falls so I knew I would like this.

The morning journey started out foggy and beautiful. It didn’t really cause any problems because it only loomed up in the mountains and stayed out of the valleys where the roads are. There was a wild turkey that almost ran into my car, though. Arriving at the trailhead, I found that the fog had started to lift a bit.

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Starting out at the trailhead

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Beautiful macro details

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There was a spur trail that went down to Rainie Falls, which piqued my interest, but I kept going. I was determined to make it to the Whisky Creek Cabin, which is an old cabin from the 1880s that now is a sort of museum.

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Some serious of shelf fungus

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More macro beauty

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About 3.55 miles in, I came to a bridge to cross Whisky Creek.

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Whisky Creek from the bridge

I ended up going past the turnoff for the cabin, then backtracking and trying to take a shortcut to get to it. When I realized I was on an old logging road (or maybe campground road?) above where I needed to be, I could see that the cabin didn’t look that impressive and there was a group of people camping outside. I decided to turn around and head back. I was OK with it.

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The bridge right by the trailhead

By the way, the amount of ticks I encountered on this hike was surprising! I did not expect to see any of those parasites in mid-November at 35 degrees, but I picked at least 20 off of each dog. Gross.

If you’re curious to see the map and stats for this hike, here you go:

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I think the fog messed up my tracking at the start LOL 7.74 miles, 1342 elevation gain, 2 hrs 44 mins

(Almost) Paradise Lake

The rainy season has started, which means that the mountains are getting packed with snow and hiking opportunities are growing thinner by the day. I chose a Marble Mountains hike that is accessible through mid-November in hopes that it wasn’t too late in the season for a mountain lake hike. Starting my day off as early as possible, I found that the whole area of Northern California was such a foggy mess that I couldn’t tell how much snow I could expect until I got closer to the trailhead.

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The view of Kings Castle from the trailhead — didn’t bode well for the amount of snow I was about to encounter

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Foggy beauty at the trailhead

Since there was so much snow off in the distance but not much in the foreground, I reassured myself that I wouldn’t deal with a lot of it, at least not until later in the hike. The first mile or so was pretty snowless, but sure enough, it soon got to be a constant presence. I was wearing some new ultralight hiking boots, so it concerned me that I would be slipping around on frozen feet. Luckily, the boots did their job better than I anticipated.

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Happy to have free hands thanks to my awesome camera holster

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In my new Xero DayLite Hikers — surprisingly good at snowy and icy conditions. And no, I was not paid for this advertisement 🙂

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The “trail” (in the middle of the picture) was easy to track for the most part

As usual, I was following my progress on my phone and inching closer and closer towards Paradise Lake as the snowpiles grew. There were spots where it got up to knee high, but Grace and I kept trudging along. Before long, Kings Castle came into view again, this time much closer.

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Kings Castle — just about .15 miles from the lake

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Though I tend to have quite a bit of patience when it comes to climbing through deep snow, about .15 miles from the lake, it got precarious enough for me and the dog that I had to turn back. I knew that I was just around the corner from the lake, so it caused major hiking blue balls to not finish that last bit; mountain lakes are often most breathtaking in the wintertime and I know that I missed out on a big payoff. I’ll have to revisit this area in the spring when there is a little less snow.

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Grace loves snow, but she’d had enough

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On the drive back down

If you’re interested, here’s the map and stats for this hike:

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It hurts how close I was and how everything else was downhill to the lake. 3.93 miles roundtrip and 1310 elevation gain in 1 hr 47 mins.

 

Sky High Lakes Basin

Another weekend, another snowy lake basin. I couldn’t do much of anything on Saturday since it was rainy everywhere in the area. I saw a window of opportunity today when I looked at the weather map and saw that there were little to no clouds south of the Oregon border. I decided head south to tackle one of the longer hikes in the Marble Mountains Wilderness, Sky High Lakes.

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Grace blends in with the leaves — a very fall complexion she has

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Some fungus

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Grace loves snow. At first sight, she has to roll on it.

As I climbed higher, the fog got thicker. I didn’t know what to do with my camera because the wind kept spittling all over the lens and camera body, so I just took off my hat and wrapped the camera up when I wasn’t taking a picture. Still, it was difficult to get clear pictures with all that moisture blowing around.

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Some lovely stairs that I got to climb up

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Senior portait moment

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Gate Lake, around 5.5 miles in

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The closer I got to the lakes, the wetter it became

When Lower Sky High Lake came into view, the wind was pelting me with all sorts of ice and water. At that point, I couldn’t really see any trail, so I just made my way to the other lakes via GPS.

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Lower Sky High Lake

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Frying Pan Lake (handle on far side of lake)

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Upper Sky High Lake

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Although the weather makes it challenging to hike at the end of October and into November, whenever I can endure the cold misty rains, there is always a great payoff.

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I don’t know how this happened, but I could see a patch of clear sky from under the clouds I was walking through. Crazy!

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Perseverance

If you’re curious about this hike’s stats, here you go:

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13.17 miles, 2316 ft elevation gain, 4 hrs and 57 mins

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Blue Canyon Basin

I love a hike that lets you see five (or more) lakes on one trail. Sky Lakes Wilderness is a place I usually avoid in the warmer months just because it gets so damn buggy. Plus, there are usually a lot of people and we know about my aversion to people. But, seeing as it’s mid-October and the first snows have started to fall in the mountains, I wanted to check out the Blue Canyon trail before it became impassable.

When I got to the trailhead, there was a group of 6 or so about to start hiking. The ice and snow in the trees was warming up and ice chunks were hitting their cars hard, which I don’t think they realized. I backed up my car enough that it wouldn’t be affected as badly and took off down the trail with the dogs.

About 1 mile in, Round Lake appears on the left side of the trail. The sun was starting to melt and evaporate some of the snow and the surface of the lake was cold enough that it made for some really pretty fog.

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Enough snow to make it more difficult to hike, but not so much that it required snowshoes

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First view of Round Lake

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Fog rolls over the lake

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More fog

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After another mile, around 2.10 miles in total, I reached Blue Lake. Although there are clearly signs prohibiting camping, there were tons of campsites everywhere. The group of six was yelling across the lake as they searched for the perfect spot to camp.

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Blue Lake

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The trail follows the shore of Blue Lake for a while, then there’s a fork. The left goes to Mud and Beal Lakes, whereas the right goes between Blue and Meadow Lakes, heading for Horseshoe and Pear Lakes (I know, so many freaking lakes!). I decided to go right.

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Meadow Lake, obviously in a meadow

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More pretty fog

Before long, Horseshoe Lake came into view. Whenever I go to a Horseshoe Lake, I have to go to the middle of the U. I don’t know why, it’s just a thing. So, I found a somewhat trail that led to a flooded camp in the middle of the U, then came back to get some last pictures of Horseshoe Lake and go home.

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Horseshoe Lake as I headed for the middle of the U

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More Horseshoe Lake

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At this point, I had to decide whether or not I was going to go the extra .6 miles to get to Pear Lake. The sun was getting lower in the sky and that extra mile meant I could be pushing dusk by the time I got to the car, especially if I had any issues. Yet, I couldn’t pass up seeing one last lake. Plus, I was looking at the map and it looked like I would get a good view of the full length of the skinny lake, so I went the extra bit to see Pear Lake.

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Looking down the length of Pear Lake. Look how there are two suns in the water!

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In 4 short miles, I saw 5 new lakes and I could’ve seen more if I’d hiked a bit further. Heading back home, I started getting into the golden hour and the light was amazing. What a wonderful hike in the snow!

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One more shot of Horseshoe Lake

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Mt. McLoughlin ❤

If you’re curious, here’s the map and elevation profile for my hike:

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7.49 miles, 922 ft elevation gain, 3 hrs 19 mins. That’s Four Mile Lake at the bottom and Island Lake at the right.

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Cowhorn Mountain…again

I recovered enough from last week’s strenuous hike to Grizzly Lake so I decided I should get my hiking muscles moving again with a dayhike. I tried Cowhorn mountain twice last year (here and here) but I never was able to summit due to deep snow.

In my head yesterday I was thinking, “It’s only September, so Cowhorn should be summitable still.” The reality of it is that it’s late September, which is pretty much October, so the snow has already started to hit the higher Cascades. If you go during a warm spell in the fall, you might be able to catch the mountains with few snow patches and be able to hike pretty far. If you go when it’s been cold, however, obstructions due to snow are basically a given. These are all things I should’ve thought about before choosing my gear yesterday.

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Following footprints in the snow

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Not the proper footgear for this much snow…and I had Yaktrax in the car!

Regardless of the slidy, slushy mess that resulted from wearing tennis shoes in snow, I was able to get closer to the summit than I ever have before. I could’ve tried to get to the top, but I like being alive. There’s always next summer.

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The view from 2 miles in

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Probably .2 miles away — as close as it gets when you have tennis shoes, an expensive camera, and a dog

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Looking down over Crescent Lake toward Mt. Bachelor and the Sisters

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Off in the distance, Mt. Thielsen on the left and Bailey in the middle

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In total, 8.33 miles and 1800 elevation gain — just shy of the summit