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.


  1. I enjoyed the report and your photos at Flickr. "It's hikes like Mule Mountain that cause me to have so little friends willing to hike with me..." That is why 4,000 foot Bob has to hike with me, not because I want 4,000 feet, but he does, and one of his old hiking partners evidently won't hike with him anymore. I'm not sure why I tolerate that punishment. I have been fighting a cold and sinus infection for a week as of today, and am sitting around so my pants will likely make my butt look fat.

    Bob got an invite from a big time mountain climber (former Mt Climber?) to hike the Grande Canyon and has suggest the when he returns he wants to get together with me for some early season hikes. Jim

  2. It's always fun to read your account and see the photos. Glad to see your pose is still intact. I've been under weather for a couple of weeks, but now ready to try some Ventana peaks.

  3. Glad to see you back out on the trail, even if it is was an illegal hike per the doctor. That cast is pretty fancy and brightly colored...I'm sure it will scare bears and cougars off the trail ahead of you.