Monday, September 19, 2022

Upper Rogue River Trail (Crater Rim Trailhead)

Rough Rider Falls is like the hiking version of Moby Dick. Ever elusive, the cascade remains an obsessive quest for me and if I don't ever get there, it won't be for lack of trying. Maybe my new trail name should be Captain Ahab. Although, I prefer to think of the unobtainable waterfall as the hiking equivalent of the Holy Grail, if only because Sir Galahad is a much cooler trail name than Captain Ahab. At any rate, my Rough Rider Falls saga continued with yet another attempt to get there.

Wet from the morning rain

Faithful readers (all three of you) will recall that on two previous occasions I had tried to hike to the falls on the Upper Rogue River Trail (URRT) via Hamaker Trailhead. The same readers will also note that the attempts both failed when huge piles of fallen trees blocked further progress along the trail. So, why not try it from the upper end of the URRT? What could ever go wrong?

Pretty much all the 10 mile hike was like this

Missy, Terry, and I set out from the Crater Rim Trailhead with a cheery "Call me Ishmael". That only makes sense if you've read "Moby Dick", which might explain the puzzled looks received from my two companions. This area had been totally charred in the 2015 Crescent Fire, and a new forest is sprouting below the acres and acres (and even more acres) of dead lodgepole pine trees. This hike would be all about hiking in a burn zone in both a good and bad way.

Fortunately, we didn't have to dodge lightning bolts

The Crescent Fire had been set alight by a lightning storm and coincidentally, there was a chance of lightning in the current forecast. The day was dark and cloudy, but electric death rays from the sky never materialized and while we did get a few drops of rain, the day went sunny at one juncture too. At any rate, we hiked on a wildly spectacular cloud day.

The massive canyon of the Upper Rogue

Just a few miles removed from its inception at Boundary Springs, the Rogue River flowed below the trail. The soil here is all pumice and soft volcanic ash, delivered no doubt when Mount Mazama experienced the cataclysmic eruption that created Crater Lake. Soft soil is no match for persistent running water, and consequently, the river has carved out an incredibly deep gorge north of Crater Lake. Since there was no more forest to clutter up the view, thanks to the Crescent Fire, we enjoyed constant views of the massive canyon.

Cottonwood Creek's canyon rivaled the Rogue's in size

We were basically following the gorge's rim but at one point the trail peeled away from the rim and commenced a rather lengthy detour around Cascade Creek. Soft volcanic soils are no match for persistent creeks either, and Cascade Creek had carved out its own gorge, rivaling the Rogue's in deepness and size, yet totally incommensurate with the creek's small water flow.

Hiking on an increasingly sketchy trail

The farther we hiked from the junction with the Boundary Springs Trail, the sketchier the path became. Fallen trees were strewn about, and the hike became all about getting over, under, or around them. No trees means increased sunlight, which means increased vegetation, which in turn means a disappearing trail. However, the Siskiyou Mountain Club had cleared this trail several years ago and we navigated by looking for log cuts and stumps left over from their handiwork. If we couldn't find those signs, then we just simply walked along the rim until we did.

The trail disappeared from view at times

We did find the trail going down into the canyon, but it was in poor shape. Besides the obligatory fallen trees and encroaching vegetation, we had to contend with scrabbling across a couple of small landslides. When we reached the bottom of the canyon, a short confab was convened where I consulted with my GPS to see where we were in relation to the falls.

Down in the Rogue's canyon

Things I learned about GPSs and online maps because of this hike: If you switch to street map to topographical to terrain view, objects (like Rough Rider Falls) can appear and disappear. The same thing can occur if you zoom in or out. The practical application of all this took place on the trail when I could not locate Rough Rider Falls on my GPS (because I had zoomed in). I could see an unnamed waterfall upstream of us but getting there was impossible because of the amount of fire debris and downfall clogging up the river canyon. As it turned out in hindsight, the falls were only about a third of a mile on the trail ahead of us. So close! 

Bushwhacking, if you overlook the lack of bushes

Believing that we could not get to Roughrider Falls, we turned around and headed back through the many miles of dead trees. At Cascade Creek. Missy suggested we go cross-country to the URRT and that sounded fun so off we went. I hesitate to call it a bushwhack because that would imply bushes, and there really weren't any. Also, it wasn't like there was that much difference between our overland route and the trail anyway.

Fireweed thrived in the burn area

So, the URRT is where hiking dreams go to die. But not completely, though. A friend of mine did reach the falls by starting at milepost 115 on the nearby highway, and then bushwhacking to the trail.  Armed with this knowledge, I can already envision a fourth attempt to capture my great white whale of a hike. Aargh, just call me Captain Ahab.

This was the closest we got to the Rogue River

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

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