Saturday, March 23, 2013

Stein Butte

This was a tough one.

That was my opening sentence from last week's Collings Mountain Trail posting to the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club website. That statement was also made before my hike to the top of Stein Butte the following weekend. After Stein Butte, Collings Mountain is now deemed to be as tough as a marshmallow and I have acquired new definition of what constitutes a tough hike.

The Pillsbury doughboy 

Speaking of marshmallows, my physique resembles one as I've had to give up mid-week racquetball due to a dislocated wrist suffered in last August's bicycle crash. I've sort of deceived myself into thinking I was in reasonable hiking trim as I've been hiking on flat beaches, as I am wont to do in winter. However, the doughy flaws in my pancake batter of an exercise regimen were exposed in all their flabby glory a mere half-mile into the hike to the Stein Butte summit.

How hard can a little butte be?
Stein Butte, like Collings Mountain, is an unassuming little foothill next to Applegate Lake and is dwarfed both physically and visually by its snowy Siskiyou big brother peaks. As an aside, I know just how that feels. At any rate, while Stein Butte tops out at a modest 4,398 feet, there is nothing modest about the 2,400 foot climb to the top of the butte. 

"I'll be keeping me pant legs on" he said 
The day of the hike dawned sunny and beautiful; it also was colder than an ex-wife's heart. Well, if it actually had a heart, that is. It was 25 degrees at the start and icicles formed on mossy rocks and my nostrils. All notion of offering my pasty-white legs to the sun gods were stashed at the bottom of my daypack, to be used at some future warm date.

Madrone canopy
The trail quickly headed up through a cold and shady forest as it switchbacked back and forth across the face of Elliott Creek Ridge. There were plenty of fallen trees and branches strewn across the trail by the chaos of winter, but there wasn't anything a one-handed gimp like me couldn't handle.

Alder bud
Spring seems to be a late arrival this year and the forest floor was totally devoid of any of the usual early spring wildflowers. No lilies, no ground cones, no snow queen, nor any of the other usual spring suspects. However, there were other signs spring is coming as shooting star seedlings were sprouting and poison oak was budding. Hmm, maybe spring's arrival might not be all that, now that I think about it, but the fine folks that make Tecnu soap for the poison oak afflicted should be happy.

The Red Buttes Wilderness
At the two mile mark, the trail attained the crest of Elliott Creek Ridge and the open areas on the crest provided marvelous views of the snowy peaks of the Red Buttes Wilderness. The vegetation changed, too, with less trees and more leg-scratching tick-harboring manzanita encroaching the trail. The vibe was California-ish which was appropriate as the Oregon-California border was just a pee stream distance down the slope dropping away from my feet.

Spring comes to the downtrodden
The next few miles were a continuous uphill push past a couple of knobs atop Elliott Creek Ridge. Paralleling the crest of the Siskiyous, the views became more expansive of the mountain range just across the deep Elliott Creek canyon. And finally, wildflowers made an appearance in the form of green-leaved manzanita. Practicing a vegetative form of apartheid, the green leafed manzanita were on the left side of the trail while the blue leafed manzanita grew on the right. I'll leave it to the readers to decide which species is the oppressed and which is the oppressor.

Hey, you're not Stein Butte!

Since I'd hiked this trail before, I was not fooled by the knobs. Ever hopeful that one of the two knobs would turn out to be Stein Butte, newbies always wind up crying wet girly tears when having to hike up and around the knobs with their shattered remnants of crushed hopes. Stein Butte is such a cruel taskmaster but the grade did ease up which is kind of like saying your colonoscopy prep is slowing down. Disgusting poopy similes aside, the third knob does turn out to be the rare and elusive Stein Butte summit.

Just when it couldn't get any steeper...
A steep and sketchy goat path up an oak studded rock slope delivers hikers to the Stein Butte summit. Tired, I just kept my eyes on the ground until all the bad uphill stopped. Sitting in blessed relief on a windbreak made from the former lookout's foundation stones, I gratefully took about an hour to appreciate and soak up the mesmerizing panorama that make this hike so worthwhile. Well to be completely honest, I took an hour waiting for the blood flow to return to my legs.

Applegate Lake, below Grayback Mountain
The Siskiyous, snowy-white under a mostly blue sky, inscribed a near circle of Siskiyou peaks beginning with Grayback Mountain and culminating with Dutchman Peak. The tips of farther and taller mountains (such as Mt McLaughlin, Pyramid Peak, and Prescott Peak) showed their pointy little heads above their less tall mountain friends. And let us not forget the many-armed Applegate Lake in glorious turquoise repose at the foot of Stein Butte.

Bye, hiking!
All good things come to an end and since I am adverse to gearless mountaintop camping in 25 degree nights, I gathered my things and began the long and equally tiring descent down to my car. Four days hence, I would be submitting my damaged wrist in anesthetized acquiescence to the surgeon's knife followed by what will be a fairly lengthy period of hike-free recuperation. I'm going to wind up with more spare tires than an 18-wheel Peterbilt.

For more pictures of this challenging 9.5 mile hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Yes, Stein Butte is a butt-kicking hike!! Carol and I did that hike two years ago and we were exhausted. Had to rest our knees for a week from the descent alone. Views of the mountains from the lookout make it worth the hike though. Hope all goes well with the surgery and knowing you, the trails won't have long to rest from your presence.

    1. Yup Glenn,it's a butt-kicker but I'm sticking with "I'm out of shape" theory of why I was so tired

  2. Nice hike! Everything a Richard hike ought to be - steep, views, tiring. Same as a Richard/Ray hike. Was it you, me, and John? Sounds like a NR article coming up.??
    I may do some hiking for you, but I sure as hell won't do the recuperation thing for you. I'll see what I can do.
    Get Well

    1. Yup, one time John, you, and I hiked it. We didn't see squat, if I remember right, due to cloudy weather. You probably saw the NR article, the one with the headline: "Soft, white legs survive butte hike".

  3. Question..How long approx did it take you to get up to the top?