Saturday, March 16, 2013

Collings Mountain

"Enough!  Enough, I say!" This is the time of year where that's it: no more creek or beach hikes! Fueled by a sudden bout of springish weather, dreams of standing on top of mountains began dancing around in my hiking-addled head. Unfortunately, the Cascades are still stashed away in the icebox awaiting the sunny days of summer, just like last year's lamb chops. Ergo, it's now time to pay the Siskiyou Mountains a visit.

Spring is coming to the Siskiyous
In the summer, the Siskiyous are fairly hot and arid so spring is really the best time to visit this underappreciated mountain range in the southwestern corner of Oregon. And for our purposes, spring comes earlier to the Siskiyous than the Cascades and hikers can, by judicious trail selection, nibble at the retreating snow line and enjoy spring in the Siskiyous for the next few months.

Glenn and I perform the hiker's meet and greet

Collings Mountain is a smallish mountain, topping out at a humble 3,625 feet but since it is reliably snow free this time of year, it was a perfect destination to lead the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club to. At the trailhead, we were joined by fellow southwestern Oregon hikers and bloggers Glenn and Carol who on this day were deemed to be honorary friends of the Friends. Glenn and I have been acquainted via the Internet for several years but this was the first time we would actually meet and hike.

Uphill, what a concept

As stated, Collings Mountain is a humble little peak but try telling that to the hikers who cursed their hiking leader while winter-atrophied quad muscles burned with the "sweet" heat that only comes from walking on a trail that wastes no time in heading uphill. Actually, winter layoff had nothing to do with the burning legs: this trail was pretty steep, climbing 1400 feet in 2.5 miles. Doing the math, this was a 10% grade, a climb that would tax my little KIA Rio. Of course, level ground taxes my KIA, but the point is the trail was steep, regardless.

Applegate Lake, below the Siskiyou Mountains

As we trudged up Collings Mountain, the madrones and oaks thinned out, offering a magnificent view for those of us that had any strength to lift our heads up. The Red Buttes loomed tall and snowy in what looked like Oregonian Alps. Extending to the east were a chain of lesser snowy peaks that comprise the crest of the Siskiyous and us map geeks played the Name-That-Peak game. The centerpiece on this Siskiyou doily was Applegate Lake, its blue-green waters reposing in a myriad of spidery lake arms.  

The Red Buttes and Kangaroo Mountain
We ate lunch at what we thought was the Collings Mountain summit. Actually, it wasn't the true summit but instead the mere high point of the trail. The "summit" was forested and views were limited but we were just happy to sit down after the tedious slog up. The consensus was that everybody was looking forward to hiking downhill but I, having hiked this before, smugly advised all to be careful what they ask for.

Hello down there

Leaving the "summit", the trail hooked and headed briefly in the seemingly wrong direction while providing ample views of prominent and snow-covered Grayback Mountain, with lesser peaks (all equally snow-covered) Mount Elijah, Steve Peak, and Big Sugarloaf Peak looming above the rugged forested mountains and canyons. The rocky slope dropped steeply away from the rugged trail and we enjoyed an impressive vista to the idyllic farms and pastures of Baker Flat about 1,300 feet below.

A tree melts, just like my quad muscles
Our trail dropped quickly off of Collings Mountain, seemingly headed down to Baker Flat and I had flashbacks to when I first hiked this hike all by myself. At the time, I was quite concerned because Baker Flat is in totally the wrong direction and I began to question as to whether I had missed a trail junction and was hiking on a wrong trail. Sometimes, a little faith is needed as there are no trail junctions and the trail was merely rounding the backside of Collings Mountain.

Lots of fallen tree stuff on the trail
All that downhill was nice but there was a price to pay as the trail eventually angled back up to attain a saddle on the north side of Collings Mountain. The attaining thereof was a little bit tough as numerous madrones had fallen across the trail, knocked down by wind or snow or both.

Trail designers will not go to heaven
So there we were, on the saddle looking down at the Grouse Creek drainage, all we had to do was hike down the slope to where our shuttle vehicles were waiting. But no, that would be too easy. Instead, the trail began a tedious climb on a ridge covered by a stunted Siskiyou mix of madrones, tan oak, and laurel. Darn sadistic trail designers were doing it to us again.

What's to grouse about?

After Round 2 of trudging uphill on the rim of the Grouse Creek headwaters, the trail dropped down for good. All that wishing for downhill quickly became wishing for uphill as legs, tired from all the climbing, were severely tasked leg-braking down a steep descent into the bottom of the Grouse Creek drainage. I had always thought that Grouse Creek had been named after the bird but after listening to the grousing emanating from my fellow hikers, I now have a different theory on how the creek attained its name.

Sasquatch, anyone?
On the way down, a short side-trail took us to an interesting oddity: the Bigfoot trap. In 1974, the trap was built by a group looking to prove the existence of the legendary and elusive hominid. The trap was baited with carcasses but attracted only bear. I have often wondered what the proper bait would be as no one really knows what a Bigfoot eats, it may not be carcasses. Perhaps they should have tried bananas or cottage cheese. The reason the for the trap's particular location is that there had been stories of Bigfoot sightings near Grouse Creek. My theory is that any Bigfeet sighted were big feet, swollen from the pounding on the steep descent delivered courtesy of the Collings Mountain Trail.

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


1 comment :

  1. Richard, Carol and I had a great time with your group. Hope to do it again in the near future. Say hi to everyone for us.