Sunday, April 28, 2013

Upper Table Rock

This was a short hike but that was because I had two short hikers with me: grandchildren Aiden and Coral Rae, aged 9 and 5 respectively. They were short on leg length but long on asking "Are we there yet?", "How much further?", and "When can we eat?".  over again and again like some endless tape loop. I think they take after my daughter (their mother).

View to Lower Table Rock
Eons ago, the Rogue River snaked its way through its valley when suddenly a lava flow oozed down like boogers from a runny nose, eventually filling the river's trough. Over time, the surrounding terrain was weathered away, leaving the hardened lava "river" snaking above the valley floor.  All that is left of this geologic plumbing venture are the two U-shaped Table Rocks, each an iconic landmark and a perfect (read "short") place to take little legs hiking.

Speaking of Disneyland
Summer had fired its first salvo of the year as the temperature was in the 80's when we disembarked from the car at the foot of  Upper Table Rock. This is a popular spot for Medfordians and the parking lot was full as we started out on a trail initially paved with flagstones.  I felt like I was hiking in Disneyland, all that was needed was an 8-foot Mickey Mouse greeting hikers.  

Elegant cat's ear
As stated, the trail sees a lot of use so the tread was wide and well-tamped out. That didn't stop the kids from walking along the edge, brushing by the thick stands of poison oak waving their fronds along the trail. In the grassy vales between oak and madrone trees, fuzzy elegant cat's ears and lavender camas lilies were in full bloom, further enticing off-trail kiddie excursions.

Are we there yet?
The trail was fairly steep, climbing 740 feet in just about a mile, it seemed steeper in the heat. Fortunately, the trail was well shaded most of the time. Lava rocks and formations showed up periodically and the kids climbed up them to enjoy the improving views of the Rogue Valley farmlands. Both of them were impressed by Mount McLaughlin, a perfectly symmetrical volcano looking like a snow cone. Not uncoincidentally, the kids demanded ice cream from their grandfather at this point.

Flat as a zombie's EKG
Just when there was about to be a rebellion, the uphill hiking ended and we strode out onto the top of Upper Table Rock.  No trees grow on top and the surface is flat as a...a...well, it's predictably flat as a table.  The vernal pools and ponds on top had all dried up but the camas lily had taken over, creating floral pools of purple flowers.  

This is why we hike
We walked to the edge of Table Rock and ate lunch.  Coral Rae was quite enthused about the views, the top of Table Rock, hiking, etc., and I uttered a silent "Yes!"  It's always gratifying to obtain a new recruit.  Aiden was gassed at this point, so he waited at a trail junction while Coral Rae and I walked to another viewpoint at the southern edge of the rim where we enjoyed further views of the Rogue Valley, Medford, Mount McLaughlin, and the imposing cliffs of neighboring Lower Table Rock.  The tree-lined Rogue River traced a weaving path through the valley with the snowy Siskiyous looming above.  

Mount McLaughlin, from Upper Table Rock
Coral Rae ran out of gas on the way down, complaining the trail was "too bumpy" for her feet while Aiden simply ran down all the way to the car.  After a series of protracted negotiations worthy of a multinational treaty, we settled on a place to eat that we all could agree on.  After I delivered on the promised ice cream, they decided they had a good time after all.

For more pictures of this hike, feel free to visit the Flickr album.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mule Mountain

It'd been about a month since my last hike (Stein Butte). The lack of exercise imposed by an injured wrist is turning me into an amorphous blob. Just the other day I looked at myself in the mirror and asked Mrs. O'Neill if my hiking pants made my butt look fat. She said no, "...but your butt makes the pants look fat". Regrettably, we have an honest relationship. And speaking of asses, fat or otherwise, I went for a hike on Mule Mountain last week.

Poison oak bouquet
Just like almost every trail in the Siskiyou foothills, the Mule Mountain Trail climbs 2,300 feet in about 4 miles. Poison oak grows everywhere along the trail so Mule Mountain hikers (Muleteers?) get to experience two of my favorite things on a hike: leg pain and itching. Some readers will detect the wry sarcasm in that last statement.

Manzanita, everywhere
It's hikes like Mule Mountain that cause me to have so little friends willing to hike with me but Edwin had never gone and he naively agreed to accompany me and my yellow cast. So we cheerily started out on private property next to pastures full of cows for a short distance before the trail inclined steeply up a forested ridge.

The trail had recently been maintained and we had no issues with encroaching poison oak or with fallen trees, the trail was in immaculate condition. Shooting stars were shooting and fawn lilies were fawning as we hiked past. I did not lie down next to them to take pictures like I usually do because of the bright and shiny red leaves of the poison oak all around.

And now we leave the forest portion of the hike

The trail eventually broke out onto a treeless slope on the west face of Mule Mountain and scraggly leafless oaks dotted the slopes, it was almost like an oak orchard. The slope was brushy with manzanita and ceanothus. Just so I don't get redundant with "..and there was poison oak" I'll just let readers silently add that phrase to each paragraph as they read. The manzanita and ceanothus were blooming and the hill was alive with the sound of buzzing bees.

Mule Mountain, behind the oaks
The path worked its way across a treeless and steep grassy south-facing slope of Mule Mountain while the grade eased up a bit in this middle section of the hike. The slope dropped precipitously away from our feet down to the Mule Creek canyon while prominent Little Grayback Mountain loomed on the other side, still streaked with snow. We explored a couple of old mining pits but did not find any gold.

View to Grayback Mountain

The Mule Mountain Trail blithely continued past its namesake mountain without so much as a second glance, continuing to the larger yet more disturbingly named Baldy Peak. The trail went steep again and I bravely tried not to cry as my quad muscles burned as we trudged under a cloudless sky. Fortunately, the temperature was cool as a brisk wind blew on the treeless slope, it can get pretty hot on the exposed and treeless slopes. A lone tree on a grassy saddle below Baldy Peak marked the end of the Mule Mountain Trail.

Admiring the view
Despite the agonizing climb, the views were stupendous. We were walking on a gigantic grassy slope with great views of the snowy Red Buttes and Grayback Mountain. The vastness of the grassy slopes made it seem like we were walking on top of the world.

This is why we hike

The Siskiyous had been dusted with snow the night before and Dutchman Peak was covered in the white stuff, rising like a ghostly pyramid upon the crest of the Siskiyou Mountains. It seemed like an opportune time to plop down in the grass and simply enjoy the view. Edwin, who does not have an injured wrist, had plenty of energy left and he took the short walk to the summit of Baldy Peak while I recuperated.

Amorphous blob
After a while, it was time to lose the 2,300 hard-won feet of elevation gained on this hike. Some hiking buddies suggested using a zip line (thanks, Dan) or flagging a helicopter with my yellow cast (thanks, Jim), while I figured an amorphous blob of goo such as I could simply roll down the trail. In the end, I opted to walk down, legs aching with the braking.

For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.