Friday, August 12, 2016

O'Brien Creek Trail

The WWE has its Friday Smackdown and so does hiking: the smackers being hot weather and a steep trail and me being the pencil-necked geek smackee. I had harbored ambitions of summiting Grayback Mountain but within 10 yards of hiking, I could tell I had forgotten to pack my uphill legs in the daypack. Oh, well.

Be cool, grasshopper!
Ray and I had attempted Grayback once before, but an early summer snowstorm drove us back to the Sturgis Fork Trailhead, although we did make it as far as the meadow on Grayback's east-facing slope. But this particular August Friday would be different and boy was it ever! The temperature was nearing 100 degrees and the steep slope with hot sun won out and once again, I tapped out on the east-facing meadow on Grayback's slopes.  

Up, up, up...
After driving several miles up a very rough road to the trailhead, I parked in the shade where it was 89 degrees at mid-morning. The O'Brien Creek Trail immediately headed uphill on an old and rocky road bed through the manzanita shrubs and fir trees. Right away, my legs went as wobbly as a cooked spaghetti noodle and my shirt was immediately soaked in perspiration. But, hey, I had all day to get there so I just plodded along at a slow pace, stepping aside on occasion to let the faster slugs and snails pass by.

The shade was not as cool as it looks
O'Brien Creek does not provide a a lot of creek time on its namesake trail,  the trail instead spends most of its time in a dark and shady forest. Normally, I'd say something like "...and I was grateful for the cool shade" but on this day it was hot shade that provided little or no succor. Oh, by the way, the trail was a steep one, gaining approximately 1500 feet in a little over 2 miles.

Ocean spray
Despite the flaming hot conditions, flowers were happily blooming alongside the trail. I'd bloom too along the trail if I didn't have to hike up it on a hot day. Sprays of ocean spray did not live up to their cool, wet, and misty ocean name but they did put on a floral display for the camera. Beetles, bees, and wasps cavorted and frolicked upon the large flowery heads of cow parsnip. Lesser white-colored flowers such as hawkweed and pearly everlasting also made an appearance here and there.

Snow shelter below Grayback Mountain
After a mile or so of grudging progress up the trail, a side trail led to the snow shelter, a small rustic cabin on Grayback's slope. Krause Cabin's site was nearby, but the cabin had burnt down in 2001, giving rise to the construction of the current shelter. At any rate, the shelter's amenities did not include air conditioning and ice cold beer, so my needs remained unrequited.

Pearly everlasting
Returning back to the O'Brien Creek Trail, it was ever and upwards into the hot forest as the trail switchbacked back and forth before spitting me out into a semi-dry meadow where the trail petered out altogether. Unbeknownst to me, I had left the trail when I inadvertently continued straight on a switchback, but I just figured I'd just walk up the meadow to the top of Grayback.

However, the hot sun pinned me down like Hulk Hogan wrestling a 98 pound weakling. As I made slow and painstaking progress up the steep slope, it got to the point where I really was not feeling well because of the heat. At the point where I recrossed the Boundary Trail in the meadow, I sat in the shade and ate lunch, hoping the rest would allow me to continue, especially since my destination was within sight.

Hooded ladies' tresses
I rested by taking pictures of meadow wildflowers still flowering in late summer. On my blog post from Park Meadow, I mentioned that until then I had never seen a small flower by the name of hooded ladies' tresses. Yet, here on Grayback Mountain, the small orchid was growing everywhere. The yellow end of the color spectrum was well-represented by groundsel, sneezeweed, and goldenrod.

Grayback near, yet so far
Although we don't have any wildfires burning nearby, the valleys were quite hazy due to smoke from some wildfire somewhere. Accordingly, Mount McLaughlin was just a rumor in the haze but nearby Big Sugarloaf Peak was enjoyably visible. Not so enjoyable a view however, was the formidable rock wall of Grayback Mountain looming behind me.

Even in the shade of a small tree, it was still too warm so I did the sensible thing and headed back the way I came, but on trail instead of meadow. Better to live to hike another day, even with the imposing destination in sight. At least on the way down, I understood why I had been so tired coming up: that was one steep trail! And by the time I got in the car, it had warmed up to 95 degrees in the shade and by the time I reached the small town of Applegate, it was up to 103. So I'm 0 for 2 as far as summiting Grayback Mountain goes. Darn snow and heat, what's next? If I wind up getting shut out a third time it'll no doubt be due to a swarm of locusts. Or maybe pestilence.

Western bistort, gone to seed
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. There's nothing I hate more than trudging up a steep climb in blazing heat. You did the right thing by turning back.

    1. No doubt in my mind, I've always said and practiced that knowing when to turn back is part of hiking safe