Sunday, October 1, 2017

East Applegate Ridge Trail

"New trail!" That's all I need to hear before responding "I'm in!". I don't even need to ask where it goes. The new trail could lead into a pit of venomous deer and it wouldn't make any difference, I'm still in. Fortunately, when Medford hiking buddies Glenn and Carol extended an invite to hike on the brand new East Applegate Ridge Trail, it didn't lead to any deer pit, although it did drop down into a valley.

Epic views, all day long
The Applegate Ridge Trail (ART) is the brainchild and pet project of the Applegate Trails Association and when complete, the 50'ish mile ART will connect Cathedral Hills (located south of Grants Pass) to the general vicinity of the quaint town of Jacksonville. But wait, it gets even better!

Glenn hikes through the madrones, oak, and conifer
The Siskiyou Uplands Trails Association is also at work making the Jack-Ash Trail happen. They already have installed a 12 mile section of trail connecting both ends of the Sterling Ditch Trail. When complete, the Jack-Ash Trail will make it possible to hike from Jacksonville to Ashland on continuous trail. But still, it gets better yet! Both the ART and the Jack-Ash Trails share the same terminus in Jacksonville so it will be possible to hike from Cathedral Hills all the way to Ashland. I can hardly wait!

Taking care of traihead formalities
The East ART is a 5.6 mile section of what will eventually be the full-length ART, and it contours above Bishop Creek and Poormans Creek's drainages and naturally, there is a trailhead at either end of the trail. So our choices were to start low and go high, or start high and go low. It really didn't matter all that much, because we were hiking this trail as an out-and-back and we would experience both the best and worst this trail had to offer, with respect to elevation gain and loss.

Didn't take long for the views to show up
Before we started experiencing that elevation loss however, the route was remarkably level for nearly the first three miles. The first view came maybe a quarter-mile from the trailhead and the epic vistas continued for most of the hike. Clouds covered up the sky for the most part but sunbeams leaked through and spotlit the bald grassy ridge we were contouring across.

Look, but don't touch!
Poison oak covered the hillsides in thick clumps, their presence quite striking due to the autumn colors of the accursed itch-spawning plant contrasting with the golden grasses waving in a soft breeze. Other colorful items were the dark red trunks and limbs of manzanita, and ditto for madrone trees, except that their trunks are colored orange just like the President's. Plus, a few oaks were letting the odd leaf here and there turn yellow. The lavender end of the spectrum was represented by a few specimens of coyote mint still in bloom.

I can see the town of Ruch from here!

The autumn plumage of (mostly) poison oak was nice and all, but really this hike was all about the stunning panoramas laid out before us. The hike started out peering down the deep canyon of Bishop Creek running into the much larger Applegate Valley. Looking like some out-sized quilt, the Applegate Valley was covered by a patchwork of farm pastures, some reposing luxuriously in a sunbeam while the rest shivered under a cloud's dark shadow.

Peaks of the Siskiyou foothills
Surrounding the valleys were a series of prominent peaks in the Siskiyou foothills. The geography of this area is not my strong suit but I believe we were looking at Miller Mountain, Mount Isabelle, and Woodrat Mountain. And as a personal slight to me, the Oregon peak-namers made sure that I also was looking at Mount Baldy AND Baldy Mountain. Ouch, they sure know how to rub it in! Behind the foothills rose the Siskiyou Mountains, their presence more felt than seen as they were mostly hidden in the clouds. The view of the valleys constantly changed, shifted, and ever exquisitely evolved as the trail twisted and turned on the grassy ridge.

Madrones reach for the sky
At the end of the level portion of trail, a strategically placed bench provided a place to contemplate the peaks and valleys laid out before us, and we took the opportunity to do that very thing. Just after the bench, the trail dropped down through a forest comprised of a mishmash of conifer, madrone, and oak. We almost mourned the loss of epic views but we were soon out of the forest within a half-mile and back in our happy place: hiking while oohing and aahing at the scenery. Much photography ensued.

Katy enjoyed taking her humans for a walk
Eventually the footpath morphed into an old roadbed, the downhill grade increasing markedly as the road had originally been designed for automobiles and not for hikers. We were nearing Highway 238 and as we sunk down into the valley, the vistas and panoramas were hidden from sight. But hey, at least there was lots of red-leaved poison oak to look at, sarcasm intended. We sat down and ate lunch about a half-mile from the lower trailhead. Katy (Glenn and Carol's dog) was well-fed as she successfully mooched from all hikers in our party.

Rain falls on neighboring mountains
I didn't know it at the time, but I was in the process of getting a flu bug. I had started out with a light headache and sniffles, but I definitely felt ickier once we started toiling uphill. Good thing I was hiking with friends who waited patiently for me as I trudged uphill, feeling like my head was an overfilled water balloon about to pop. Some relief came about halfway up, when the heavens opened up with about a 30 minute rainstorm. The rain felt good though, as it cooled off hot (and feverish) hikers walking uphill.

Autumn is the only time I like seeing poison oak
After a series of uphill switchbacks, we reached the scenic bench and sat down, watching the storm clouds break up after the rain ceased falling. The good news was that the next three miles were relatively level and we got to enjoy the awesome views all over again. From neighboring Woodrat Mountain, paragliders were floating around the summit, looking like multicolored gossamer-winged pterodactyls in search of hikers to eat.

Glenn and Carol hike on the edge of the world
This was an awesome hike and a shout-out to Glenn and Carol for expanding my hiking horizons. If the remaining sections of ART and Jack-Ash are anything like this hike, it will be one epic backpack trip. For now, my hiking list just got a few hikes larger: the completed section of the Jack-Ash trail is on tap, as is the full route when both trail projects are completed. Whoo!

Fellow hiker on the trail
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. It was beautiful. Glad you could come. Maybe we will have to join you on the Jack-Ash hike as it is on our radar too. Any chance you could email us the picture of Katie on the trail?

  2. Ha! Jack-Ash has got to be one of the best trail names ever! :)