Monday, May 30, 2016

Grasshopper Mountain Loop

I often joke that I hate hiking. But, really I don't, I just complain in my own humorous self-deprecating way about the travails of the trail. But on a recent hike to Grasshopper Mountain I was serious, I really did hate hiking and it wasn't much fun at all. It wasn't like I hadn't been warned: Lane had emailed me that this was a tedious hike. But then again, he shrieked like a little girl at a teensy-weensy gopher snake so how reliable was his warning, really? Very reliable, as it turned out.

Rhododendron was putting on a show
Southern Oregon was experiencing a heat wave and it was warmer than a tortilla fresh off the comal on a stove burner. In fact, I pretty much felt like spicy meat wrapped up in a tamale of heat as I sallied forth from Skimmerhorn Trailhead. Good thing the forest was shady! Underneath the trees, rhododendrons were blooming en masse and it was slow going due to rampant photography. Blooming closer to the ground, were woodland phlox, Columbia windflowers, and Oregon grape, just to name-drop a few.

The unusual snow plant
The first time I hiked on the Lakes Trail, many years ago, the rather unusual red snow plant was sprouting everywhere on the forest floor. In the intervening years, several forest fires had come to visit and, while not as plentiful as before, there were still several specimens of the bright scarlet saprophyte coloring up the otherwise drab forest in the burn zone.

Uphill in the burn zone
Where the fire had burned hottest, the trees did not survive and all that is left of the forest are acres of ghostly black snags. However, new trees are sprouting and growing rather vigorously, too. Despite the dead trees, the open slope is bursting with life. Unfortunately, some of the life had thorns and my shins were raked by brambles and gooseberries on more than one occasion as I hiked up the steep slope under the hot sun. Yes, I am complaining but have not yet gotten to the I-hate-hiking point.

Gotta love those vine maples
Once up and over the open burn zone, the path entered a forest where the vine maples were just leafing out. I swear, vine maple has to be one of the most photogenic trees around what with their numerous leaves catching what little sunlight makes it to the forest floor. The air was suffused with a soft green light due to the galaxies of lime-green leafy constellations  and stars overhead. Who could ever hate hiking when there are vine maples to hike under?

Cliff Lake, below Grasshopper Mountain's cliff
The trail passed by lakes Buckeye and Cliff in quick succession, each reposing below the massive cliff of Grasshopper Mountain. At a trail junction after Cliff Lake, a right turn got me onto the Grasshopper Trail and that was where the fun started. First of all, the trail went steep in the stultifying heat and dripping sweat made my eyes burn. Still, it was nothing out of the ordinary as I climbed up.

This was where I started to hate hiking
Then a fallen tree lay across the trail. No problem, I scrambled over it and continued on. Ten yards later, there was another tree. Ten yards later there was another...and another...and another. Eventually it was three to four trees in a pile every few yards or so. At times, the trail disappeared under the jumble of wood and it was getting harder and harder to resume the tread on the other side of the piles. My shins were bleeding and sore from barking them on the fallen timber. Progress was slow and nigh negligible.

It's official, I'm getting a hiking divorce
It was like some kind of exponential logarithmic thing in that the closer I got to the Grasshopper Mountain summit, the more trees there were in the way. Finally the trees pushed me off the trail altogether and I tried walking cross-country but there were fallen trees there too. I had enough and made a solemn vow to myself that if I encountered three more piles in the way, I would give up the quest for the summit, even though I was quite close. And sure enough the third pile had like ten trees involved and that was it for me.

Grasshopper Meadows
I had some sort of vain hope that the Acker Divide Trail would be more hiker friendly so rather than return the way I came, I continued forward for a 10'ish mile loop hike. It wasn't too bad dropping off the mountain to scenic Grasshopper Meadows but alas, the Acker Divide Trail was in worse shape than the Grasshopper Trail. And for an added factor of misery, the forest was full of mosquitoes. I just wanted to be someplace else other than here, somewhere where I didn't have to scramble over and around trees. Someplace with pavement, even. 

A trio of morels
This 9.9 mile hike took over 7 hours to complete and I was exhausted when it was over. To speed things up, at one point I stowed my camera in my pack and did not take any photos from Grasshopper Meadows on forward. You know it's bad when I put the camera away, that never happens! Lane may shriek like a little girl at snakes, but maybe I'll heed his warning next time. Assuming there will be a next time, because I hate hiking, you know.

Bridge over Cliff Lake's outlet creek
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Ok we know there will be another's just a matter of time. Sometimes I think we hikers should invest in a lightweight powerfull chainsaw and get paid to hike and cut the trees from the trail. Seems like some trails take forever to get cleaned up. Hang in there, and keep hiking and posting!!

  2. Aww, I get nostalgic about grasshopper mountain! I don't remember it quite like this, though. I suppose you could bring a Pulaski, but not too fun packing it in, ask one who knows!

    1. I should have brought both you and your Pulaski with me!

  3. A few days ago, I hiked up the Golden Stairs trail (what's left of it) and west along the Rogue-Umpqua Divide trail to the trailhead at Huckleberry Gap. Lots of fallen trees up there too! So it was slower going than expected. I worry that the USFS won't have the resources to clear many of these?

    1. That's too bad Bruce, the Golden Stairs is a favorite trail of mine. This last weekend we ran into the same fallen tree problem going into the Sky Lakes. Debris on the trail seems to be the theme this year, unfortunately. I too worry about the USFS's ability to clean up the mess, hopefully we don't lose trails in the process.