Friday, May 27, 2022

Rogue River Trail (backpack)

So there we were on the last day of our Rogue River Trail backpack trip, eating lunch in the shade and sitting next to the trail. A fellow backpacker came up from the opposite direction and as is customary, we greeted each other, he by giving us a friendly nod and a curt acknowledgment of "Gentlemen". Three out of the four people in our party thought it no big deal while one was singularly nonplussed. The one irritated member of our quartet was not gentleman nor man and Missy was fuming at being so mistaken for a member of the male species. "Couldn't he see that I'm not a man?" she wailed, our laughter no tonic for her discomfiture. We decided Missy's trail name could be Sir or Mister, but looking at her long braids draping over the front of each shoulder, I'm of the opinion that our erstwhile dude could have no greater honor than to accept with pride, her given trail name of  "Willie Nelson".

Day 1

Golden iris put on a show for
the entire time of our visit

The first day of our forty mile journey was overcast but we (Rogue River Trail newcomers Missy, Mike, and Terry) were off and hiking anyway, except for yours truly, who had to backtrack to the car to retrieve a rain hat, which would be sorely needed on this trip. But at least I get the Golden Boot Award for hiking farther than everybody else. 

Whiskey Creek, as we arrived

All participants were familiar with the first three miles to Whiskey Creek, but once we passed that first major stream, it was all new trail for my Rogue River Trail newbs. However, by the time we reached Whiskey Creek, we had all become accustomed to the basic pattern of the trail, consisting of a climb to a cliff overlooking the river in its canyon and then a descent down to a tributary creek, followed by another climb away from the creek to a cliff overlooking the river. Up and down, in and out, and repeat for forty miles. Also repeated for forty miles were the soft caresses of poison oak leaves on our arms and legs as that pernicious shrub was constantly encroaching the trail.

These flower smelled lovely, Blogger
needs to add a scratch n' sniff option

We passed creeks Whiskey, Alder, Russian, Bronco, and Bunker over the first nine miles of trail and so far so good as far as my aged legs were concerned. However, the next three'ish miles had some pretty steep grades and by the time we reached Horseshoe Bend I was thoroughly pooped, but on the plus side, we had knocked off nearly twelve miles which wasn't bad for us old hikers.

Day 2

A cloudy dawn yet Terry said
the storm was dissipating

Day 2 will live in infamy in the memories of all participants. Although, there were just some clouds in the sky when we struck camp, the day would soon be as wet as the interior of a water balloon, Terry's cheery and overly optimistic prognostication of "it's dissipating" notwithstanding.

Missy has a bonding moment with the wet earth

After an hour or so of hiking on a trail covered with numerous piles of bear poop, the first raindrops began to fall. We hiked another hour or so before we all began to feel the need to put on raingear. Missy should have put on mud gear too, for she took a spill crossing a creek and suffered an ignominious sit-down upon the wet earth. 

OK, it's raingear o'clock

One highlight of the second day was a side trip to Zane Gray's cabin, a rustic ramshackle cabin in the middle of a grassy meadow where the famed author stayed when he fished the Rogue. Shortly after leaving the cabin and resuming our hike on the Rogue River Trail, we ran into a party of about eight day hikers. It was our friends, the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club, day hiking to the cabin and they looked wet. They probably thought we looked wet, too.

The rain did not dissipate

After exchanging pleasantries with our friends, we continued on and at the eleven-mile mark, we arrived at the Rogue River Ranch, now a historical backcountry museum. And that was when the wind started. We were all soaked at this point, having hiked in the rain for the last six hours or so, and that wind had us all shivering in no time flat. Backpacking is so much fun!

Arrival at Rogue River Ranch

We went to the ranch and sat on the porch with about a half-dozen other backpackers in a vain attempt to seek shelter from the elements. The caretaker offered the services of his wood stove to dry out clothing and gear but we all politely declined for there's no wood stoves in backpacking. He was a nice guy though, and it was a relief to know hikers in trouble could have a place to go to for help, if needed. At any rate, we camped by the river and all of us were in our tents by three o'clock in the afternoon, listening to the wind and rain raging on the other side of our flimsy tent fabric.

Day 3

Still not dissipating, Terry

The ranch caretaker did share with us that the storm would abate this morning, but you'd never know it from the rain that was still vigorously pelting our campsite. Humorously enough, we held a quick meeting to decide that we'd start our hike later in the morning when the weather would break, the humor being that the meeting was held verbally, each one of us participating from inside one's own tent. It was like the backpacking version of a Zoom Meeting.

Overjoyed when the sun broke out

From the ranch, there is a short road walk to the Marial Trailhead and it was somewhere around there that the mid-morning sun came out, warming limbs and souls alike. From Marial, the trail entered an amazing world comprised mostly of black jagged rock at the bottom of the river canyon. Here, the Rogue funnels into narrow Mule Creek Canyon, famed as a formidable challenge for rafters. The precarious trail is etched into a cliff face and you really want to watch your step here, for the drop-off from the trail is sheer. The highlight of this section is Stair Creek, which tumbles into the Rogue in a series of awesome waterfalls. One other highlight was that because of the sun, we removed rain gear, jackets, pant legs, and applied sunscreen to our pale and pallid skins. 

Precarious trail etched onto a cliff

Continuing onward, we passed through the grounds of Paradise Lodge, which was not as backpacker friendly as it had been in years past, although they graciously let us picnic on their deck. From there it was the usual up and down ramble over flowing creeks, through lush forests, and across dry and open cliffs. At the ten mile mark, we set up camp at Tacoma Camp, well populated with rafters camping there.

Day 4

Tacoma Rapids as we began the hike out

Day 4 was getaway day. It also was our shortest day, coming in at a paltry 7.9 miles. Good thing too, because hiking in wet shoes during Day 2's deluge had given me some blisters. Of course, the last and easiest day also had the best weather, something that had also occurred during my two other through-hikes of the Rogue River Trail. It must be a rule.

Peaceful Flora Dell Falls

The main highlight as we left Tacoma Camp was Flora Dell Falls, where Flora Dell Creek tumbles over a cliff to splash into its basin. The weather wasn't particularly warm but the cool spray blowing off the picturesque cascade still felt refreshing.

Pathway through the woods

The remainder of the hike crossed several creeks and was mostly wooded. The Rogue had been the official Wild and Scenic Rogue River during our hike but here, the river widened and began flowing a lot more in keeping with its now ponderous bulk. Welcome to the Tame and Civilized Rogue River, boys and girls. We did have two steep uphill sections to hike over though, as the trail had to detour around some private property parcels, much to our annoyance.

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The end of the Rogue River Trail was pretty spectacular, though, as it went through a long extended pasture in a valley ringed by forested mountains.  As we hiked by, appreciating the postcard view under a blue sky, incurious cows impassively gazed at us. The trailhead put an official end to the Rogue River Trail but we still had a short walk on a roadway to where my car was waiting for us at Foster Bar.

We did it!

We did it! Even though this was my third go-round with the Rogue River Trail, I still felt a profound sense of accomplishment. No doubt my newbs felt a similar sense of accomplishment, unburdened by the ennui that multiple hikes on the same trail can engender. And as a reward, we stopped in Gold Beach for barbecue sandwiches that were to die for, in our deprived post-hike condition. There are some things about civilization that you just appreciate more after a long backpack trip.

Elegant brodeaia, looking elegant, as always

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

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