Monday, January 19, 2015

Sterling Ditch

Where have you been all my life, Sterling Mine Ditch Trail? Why have I never hiked you before? Why all the questions? And who am I talking to? So many questions to ponder in that that internal dialogue that takes place when one spends way too many miles alone in the woods.

Picturesque madrone
So much of the Siskiyou Mountains culture and landmarks involve mining in one way or another. The tectonic processes that created the Siskiyous also extruded heavy metals to the surface. The shiny metals embedded in the mountains were then (and are still being) harvested although nowadays we are somewhat more environmentally circumspect than in the days of yore.

A squadron of oaks
There already had been mining in the area of the Little Applegate River but when gold was discovered on Sterling Creek in 1854, the boom town of Sterlingville sprung up to support the sudden influx of prospectors. The town went bust about 50 years later but hydraulic mining continued another 50 years or so, much to the detriment of the Little Applegate River and surrounding topography. To facilitate the mining, in 1877 a 26.5 mile long ditch was dug to divert water from the Little Applegate to the Sterling Mine operations.

Part of the uphill walk up to the ditch
Nowadays, the ditch no longer carries water but the overgrown ditch still is in evidence today and the downhill-side bank makes for a wonderfully level trail for hikers and bikers. Of course the ditch is halfway up Goat Cabin Ridge which meant a brisk walk uphill from the Little Applegate River was required to reach the ditch. But then again, it's just not a hike unless it goes uphill.

View to Bald Mountain
Even though we (my internal dialogue avatar and I) were hiking in the Siskiyou foothills and not the mountain range proper, tall peaks still surrounded the Little Applegate valley. Open and grassy (read: treeless) slopes provided ample views thereof all during this walk. To the west were grand vistas to Point Mountain and the disturbingly named Bald Mountain. Further up the Little Applegate Valley was the tall snow-dusted mountain of Wagner Butte, a totally awesome hike in its own right. 

It was simply a gorgeous day
For the first couple of miles, the trail ambled alongside the ditch but alas, private property intruded into all the pleasant walking. In order to contour around the property line, the trail parted ways with the ditch and headed several miles uphill through grassy slopes studded with leafless oaks, orange-trunked madrone, and equally orange colored ponderosa pines, all situated under a gloriously blue sky.

A tree clings to life on a steep slope
What goes up most come down or so they say. And who are "they" anyway? Why do we care what "they" say? More mindless questions with which to ponder away the miles, but I digress. Anyway, at a wooded saddle, the trail plunged precipitously down into Muddy Gulch, trading sunlit grassy slopes for murky woods. At the bottom of the trail plunge our friend Sterling Ditch rejoined the trail, giving me something to share rambling soliloquies with.  

Trail, next to Sterling Mine Ditch
Most hikers on the Sterling Ditch Trail begin at the Tunnel Trailhead. When the ditch was constructed, a tunnel was bored through the aptly named Tunnel Ridge. The historical oddity of the tunnel is the main destination for hikers but I had started from the Little Applegate Trailhead, about 6 miles away from the tunnel trail. At this point, I had about 5 miles in but the shadows through the trees were getting longer. Unless I wanted to hike back to the car in the dark, I'd have to turn back soon.

The tunnel was a little underwhelming
Fortunately, at the 5.3 mile mark, a small little hole in the ground marked the seemingly insignificant tunnel entrance.  That was good enough for me and I turned around and began walking quickly back to the car. Well, I walked quickly until the trail and ditch split ways again. Remember that steep plunge down Muddy Gulch? Now it was a steep climb out of the canyon, gaining about 500 feet in 0.6 miles.  At least it was short, distance-wise.

The afternoon glow on the way back
It was a magnificent next few miles as afternoon headed into twilight. Shadows lengthened across the grassy slopes while I re-enjoyed the expansive views of the Little Applegate Valley and the surrounding peaks on Goat Cabin Ridge. Isn't Goat Cabin Ridge a cool name? Do goats really build cabins? More questions, I know, and while I don't have the answer as to why I've never hiked the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail before, rest assured I'll be back to further explore this superb hiking destination.

Conversations I have
with myself when I hike
For more pictures, please visit the Flickr album.

1 comment :

  1. Wish we knew you were coming down as we are planning on hiking the Sterling Ditch trail too as well as giving Mule Mountain a shot. Hope to do both in February and/or March. Looks like it was beautiful!!!