Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness: Muir Creek Loop

Looking east towards Crater Lake along Trail 27
The Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness is a short 10 miles directly west of Crater Lake, but is a world away from the crowds that descend upon Oregon's only National Park. The Muir Creek trail follows its namesake for approximately 3.9 miles before it's terminus with the Buck Canyon Trail. As you set out on the Muir Creek trail you will be treated to beautiful views of the meandering stream and perhaps grazing elk. 

Muir Creek along the Muir Creek Trail

Muir Creek trail meandering along Muir Creek
After nearly 2.8 miles you will hear Muir Creek Falls to your right. Watch for faint trails through the alder that lead to a few seldom used campsites and a view of Muir Creek Falls. The thick riparian vegetation made photographing the waterfall difficult, but if it was mid-summer instead of mid-October one could easily ford Muir Creek for a better view. 

Muir Creek Falls along the Muir Creek Trail

The 10 foot Muir Creek Falls
The waterfall is located on a tributary of Muir Creek known as East Fork Sherwood Creek. It was possibly only because of the drought but upstream of the waterfall Muir Creek was merely a trickle. I was using Bill Sullivan's Muir Creek Trail so it came as a surprise to me , that shortly after Muir Creek Falls to the Buck Canyon Trail cutoff the trail is also an ATV trail. Don't be confused though, continue upstream along this now 6 foot wide track until you reach the Buck Canyon Trail. 

Muir Creek upstream of Muir Creek Falls

Muddy ruts from OHVs

The beginning of Buck Canyon Trail 
If you're only out for a day hike this makes for a decent turn around point. If you're completing the loop head straight onto the Buck Canyon Trail. Approximately 1.5 miles from the end of the OHV section you will see the well signed junction with the Hummingbird Meadows trail. The drought has made some of the normally reliable water sources further up Buck Canyon dry, so I would recommend filling up in West Fork Muir Creek 1/10 of a mile down the Hummingbird Meadows trail. In a normal water year or even earlier in the year I suspect that water would be flowing in many more places further upstream. The section of trail from the Wilderness sign to Bear Camp Spring had many beautiful meadows and a large rock slide that had previously dammed West Fork Muir Creek. 

Large western hemlock and Douglas-fir line the Buck Canyon Trail in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness

Murphy enjoying some cold clear water from West Fork Muir Creek

The broken Rouge-Umpqua Divide Wilderness sign along the Buck Canyon Trail
Every Wilderness Area is individually designated by Congress and so there will often be contingencies in the legislation that is seemingly at odds with wilderness values. The Rogue-Umpqua Divide still has a grandfathered grazing allotment, so it is likely that you will come across cattle or at least cow pies and trampled riparian vegetation. Be sure to treat your water in this area. 

Murphy checking out the cattle along the Buck Canyon Trail

Cattle grazing in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness along the Buck Canyon Trail

Cattle in the foreground and quaking aspen across the meadow
There are several small patches of quaking aspen along the Buck Canyon Trail. Quaking aspen provide many benefits for animals including thermal cover and forage, more can be read about quaking aspen here. On top of being great for many animals they provide beautiful fall color. 

Quaking aspen along the Buck Canyon Trail in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness

Massive Douglas-fir along the Buck Canyon Trail in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness

I was torn on camping at Wiley Camp or pushing on towards the headwaters of West Fork Muir Creek or Alkali Meadows. Shortly before reaching Alkali Meadows you reach the nearly 6,000 feet, which is the high point of the loop. Unfortunately the majority of springs were dry until shortly before the junction with Meadow Creek Trail. I would recommend camping at Wiley Camp or plan to push to what I named Cedar Meadow near the junction with Meadow Creek Trail.

One of the dry meadows near the base of Fish Mountain in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness

Looking back down on Buck Canyon from near the high point of the Muir Creek Loop in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness
 It was a surprisingly cold night, but sleep came easy because of the several thousand feet of elevation gain and nearly 12 miles of hiking. I absolutely love hiking in fall, but the lack of daylight is something I never seem to account for when planning my camping spots. After turning left onto the Meadow Creek Trail you will come to a road junction in 1 mile. 

Sunrise near the junction of the Buck Canyon Trail and Meadow Creek Trail in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness

Beautiful multi-stemmed incense-cedar

A small meadow along the Meadow Creek Trail in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness
Upon reaching road 700 you will turn left and walk past an incredible incense-cedar and about 100 yards after there will be the start of OHV trail 27. OHV trail 27 will take you to FR 950, from there it's either a short bushwack or following an abandoned trail back to the Muir Creek Trail. After walking short distances up and down FR 950 I was unable to find the trail, so I just set out down hill near a cattle guard. After a short distance I found pink flagging that marked the trail. My guess is that the trail starts slightly north of where OHV trail 27 puts you out on FS 950.

Directions from Eugene:
Follow I-5 south for 6.5 miles, take Exit 188 onto Highway 58, follow Highway 58 for 86.2 miles, turn south(right) onto Highway 97 and follow for 17.5 miles. Then turn right onto onto Highway 138, follow for 17.8 miles. Turn left onto Highway 230 and follow for 13.5 miles, the trailhead is just after a bridge on the right.

Hike Distance: 16.4 miles round trip

Hike Type: Loop

Elevation Gain: 2,736 Feet

Trailhead Elevation: 3,800 Feet

Usage: Light

Difficulty: 4 out of 5

Fees: None


Friday, April 24, 2015

Badger Creek Wilderness Loop: Little Badger Creek and School Canyon Trails

Sunset in the rock garden in the Badger Creek Wilderness

Badger Creek Wilderness is located within a very interesting and strikingly beautiful ecosystem. Near the eastern boundary drought stunted Oregon white oak populate the grasslands, while the western portion is home to western juniper, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, and grand fir. Stunning views east to the 'Oregon Plains' along with beautiful and varied forest make this a great destination for early season backpacking.

A fairly large ponderosa pine along Little Badger Creek

Little Badger Creek along the Little Badger Creek Trail

After pouring over maps for a few days and endless web searches Caitlin and I decided to start our hike at the Little Badger Creek Trailhead. Since it was only going to be about 9 miles round trip we were unsure if we wanted to camp at the Rock Garden or along Little Badger Creek near the dilapidated cabin. The road to Little Badger Creek Trailhead is well maintained and could easily be accessed with a 2wd car. From the trailhead the trail starts to climb slightly while closely following Little Badger Creek. After about one mile you will enter into a lightly burned area that is rapidly recovering. There are also many Oregon white oak near the top of the ridge.

Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine seedlings quickly establishing themselves in a burn area

Nearly a pure stand of Oregon white oak along the Little Badger Creek Trail

Oregon white oak and ponderosa pine along the Little Badger Creek Trail

After walking along a ridge for about one mile you start to descend towards Little Badger Creek where there is an old mining cabin and a mine shaft. We thought about camping near the old cabin, but because of the stream and dense forest it was fairly chilly. There is also an incredibly steep .7 mile climb that didn't want to start the next day with. If you want to check out the mine walk about .1 mile along the well established trail west from the cabin.

Oregon white oak along the Little Badger Creek Trail

Early season wildflowers

Old Kinzel mine cabin along the Little Badger Creek Trail

Kinzel Mine entrance along the Little Badger Creek Trail
After making our way up the nearly 1000 foot climb in about 7/10 of a mile, we set out for the spring that is just passed the Rock Garden. We came across a few guys who were camped near the spring so we ended up camping at the old Helispot Viewpoint. From here we had about a 2/10 of a mile walk down to the spring and incredible views of the Rock Garden and east towards the plains. 

Western juniper along the Little Badger Creek Trail

Looking up the steep section near the old mining cabin

Campsite in the Rock Garden

View from the Helispot Viewpoint
Both sunrise and sunset were incredible from the Helispot. After a quick breakfast we set out east on the School Canyon Trail. I couldn't find any rational for why the trail was named this unfortunately. Areas that rapidly transition from one forest type to another quickly are always incredible to me. Portions of the School Canyon Trail have been burned, but the now open forest provides beautiful views to the north and east.

Sunrise from the Helispot Viewpoint in the Badger Creek Wilderness

Looking northeast along the School Canyon Trail

Clear view towards the northeast along the School Canyon Trail
As you make your way around Ball Point and begin to descend views of Mount Jefferson (Seekseekqua) and the Three Sisters appear to the north. The transition from conifer dominated forest to shrubby Oregon white oak is quick as you make your way across the flat near the School Canyon Trailhead.
Mount Jefferson (Seekseekqua) and the barely visible Three Sisters

Shrubby Oregon white oak along the School Canyon Trail
After reaching the School Canyon Trailhead we walked for about 3/10 of a mile and then turned south towards the Little Badger Creek Trailhead. The road walk along Forest Road 27 wasn't too bad, the gravel is relatively small, so it didn't tear up our feet. 'Bushwhacking' down to the trailhead turned out to be really easy with the exception of a short steep section. We ended up shooting slightly west of the trailhead and came out back on the Little Badger Creek Trail about 1/10 of a mile from the trailhead.

Caitlin 'bushwhacking' back towards the Little Badger Creek Trailhead

Directions from The Dalles: Follow Highway 197 south for 26.9 miles, turn right on to Shadybrook Road, follow for 1.1 miles, turn left onto Fairgrounds Road, follow for .6 miles, turn right onto Badger Creek Road/Happy Ridge Road, follow for 8.1 miles. The trailhead parking is on the left and the trail starts on the right side of the road.

Hike Distance: 9 miles round trip

Hike Type: Loop

Elevation Gain: 2,000 Feet

Trailhead Elevation: 2,100 Feet

Usage: Light

Difficulty: 2 out of 5

Fees: None

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pickett Canyon: South Fork Crooked River Wilderness Study Area

Found near the geographic center of Oregon, the South Fork Crooked River Wilderness Study Area (WSA) offers high desert beauty and solitude. Currently there are no official trails through the South Fork Crooked River WSA, but cross country travel is relatively easy. I had decided to start my hike at Furnace Waterhole, which was an adventure to reach. A high clearance vehicle is necessary because of the large rocks that you must drive over- you will not be able to make it here in a passenger car. There was also several large and fairly deep puddles that would have stopped a low clearance vehicle. If you don't have a high clearance vehicle available to you, you could park ~3 miles before Furnace Waterhole and walk in.
Furnace Waterhole 
Heading down Pickett Canyon
Unfortunately because of the long drive I started hiking down Pickett Canyon about an hour before dark. This canyon was pretty easy to make my way down, but there was some pretty sketchy patches of ice. When I reached the confluence of Pickett Creek and the South Fork Crooked River I spotted a nice campsite among a few western junipers.

Campsite near the confluence Pickett Creek and South Fork Crooked River

Sunrise looking south from the confluence of Pickett Creek and South Fork Crooked River
After studying my topographic map I decided to hike upriver for a little over a mile and then make my way up a canyon to South Dagus Reservoir. The ground was frozen and ice covered nearly everything, which made for an incredible sunrise. Walking along the river was fairly easy because of the trail made by both domesticated and wild animals.

Sunrise on the South Fork Crooked River

Heading up a canyon towards South Dagus Reservoir
As I neared the top of the canyon near South Dagus Reservoir, I came across a fence that has a gate near the southwestern corner. From the reservoir I simply walked across the flat back towards Furnace Waterhole. Along the flat there were several herds of mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and wild horses.

Looking back down towards the South Fork Crooked River

South Dagus Reservoir

Wild horses in the South Fork Crooked River Wilderness Study Area
If you're looking for high desert solitude the South Fork Crooked River WSA will definitely deliver. This area should definitely be designated a Wilderness Area. 

Well defined 'game' trail

Expansive views looking towards the Gerry Mountain Wilderness Study Area
Directions from Bend: Follow Highway 20 east for 51.3 miles to Van Lake Road, turn left, follow for 19.3 miles, turn right onto Bear Creek-Fife road, follow for 1.6 miles, follow for 8.5 miles turn left onto unsigned Upper Table Road, follow for 3 miles, Furance Waterhole is on the left. If you reach the ranch on GI Road turn around and back track about two miles until you see a small road with an access allowed sign.

Hike Distance: 6 miles round trip

Hike Type: Loop

Elevation Gain: 500 Feet

Trailhead Elevation: 4,500 Feet

Usage: Light

Difficulty: 3 out of 5

Fees: None