Wild Rogue Discovery

Wild Rogue Discovery

Virgin forests, oak savanna

And history still alive

For the Siskiyou Hiker
By Gabe Howe, executive director

23 February 2015 | Marial, OR — Last weekend SMC crew leader Aaron Babcock and I led a scouting mission through the Wild Rogue Wilderness, inventorying the Panther Ridge Trail, Clay Hill Trail, and upper section of the Mule Creek Trail. We found a lot more than trail conditions.

On Friday we arrived at what I call Panther Ridge Trailhead East, at the terminus of FSR 5520-230. From there we walked south on the trail toward Hanging Rock. The trail was pretty brushy, but easily passable, with a few trees down.

The side hike to Hanging Rock was a breezy ascent that afforded views of the entire wilderness, and a glimpse of the Rogue River near China Bar. To the south was untrammeled forest spanning as far as the eye can see.

“The Wild Rogue is a lot more than a river,” I told Aaron as I gazed down into the Blossom Creek drainage breaking off into also Burns, Paradise and Jackson Creeks.

Aaron is an avid rafter. Him and 1000s of other boaters embark on the lower Rogue each year. They load up into boats for a 3-4 day trip down a wild canyon coveted by locals and outdoor enthusiasts nationwide. But very few venture far from the famous corridor.

“So is that Mt. Bolivar?” he asked.

I gazed across the draw below us at a rocky, rugged mountain top. “No. That’s Mule Mountain,” I said.

We continued westward along the Panther Ridge Trail, breaking into lush fir forests full of randomly spaced old-growth kissed by flames from the 2005 Blossom Fire.

“Most of the old growth is in the Cascades now,” Aaron told me gazing at a very fat fir with deep, roughened furroughs that folded and fan like woody bunting. “There’s not a lot of low-elevation old-growth like this left in Oregon.”

Elk sign and historic blaze marks led us west through some more brushy sections, all the way to the Clay Hill Trailhead, where we slept for the night on a breezy ridge top.

With your help we can save interior trails in the Wild Rogue Wilderness. Make a tax-deductible contribution now.

The next morning we followed signs to the Clay Hill Trail and found a wide path I suspect was laid by Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. The conifers became even more impressive, with many spanning at least 6 feet across as we descended at a steep yet manageable grade.

“This is a black oak,” Aaron said, revealing downed leaves with sharper edges than a white-oak. “It’s hard to tell how old these trees really are because they re-sprout. They don’t really die.” Some of them spanned more than 10 feet at their base.

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The trail descended out of a rocky-type area into meadows with more elk sign. At the benches in the ridge, the trail became undefined, and we searched for the original path. We got to a more pronounced plateau near the upper parcel of the Clay Hill property and stumbled into green grassy meadows whose breath moved with a sweet and cool February wind.

The trail ran up to a flat, rolling meadow with a stream running through it, and an old cabin site. It snuck its way through cliff bands back into the steep, grassy slope peppered by primeval oaks. This was the most beautiful scenery I found all weekend. Conditions got increasingly worse as we walked from the meadow into more old-growth shade and finally to the Rogue River Trail.

The 3000 ft. ascent back to camp was respectable, but it wasn’t too drawn out. It’s thought-provoking, to travel from river canyon, through oak savanna, into ancient old-growth habitats in one day. But the transition here feels so seamless and unplanned. And this interior recess of the Rogue feels wild.

On Sunday we headed back to Panther Ridge Trailhead East and wound our way down the Mule Creek Trail. It connects Panther Ridge to the Rogue River Trail near Marial, and is sustaining damage from the 2005 Blossom Fire. While there is a lot more canopy here than in the Kalmiopsis, downed stacks of tanoak, knobcone pine, live oak and madrone feel very reminiscent of Biscuit Fire aftermath.

Save the Wild Rogue loop. Make a tax-deductible contribution now.

This is going to be a cool loop,” Aaron told me as we walked back along the headwaters of Mule Creek. “It’s going to take a lot of work,” he said, pondering another field season working in high-country heat of the Siskiyou.

I can only speculate now about the history of these trails, but whoever built them, built them right and spared nothing. They didn’t cut corners or fuss over time. And their engineering has withstood the test of time and disaster. These historic paths have held up to fires, windstorms, and decades-long maintenance droughts.

So when our Corps Crew takes out a crosscut to buck out a fallen fir, or a volunteer spends a day swinging a pulaski to recover a section of lost tread, we are paying homage to the laborers and engineers who laid these trails out so consciously. We’re sharing in their experience, and preserving their legacy.

More importantly, we are creating pathways for the next generation, so they can come and discover a piece of history, too, and enjoy wilderness that is their birthright as Americans. We restore trails so our children can stumble upon virgin forests, listen to the breathing meadows, and discover the mysteries that are still so alive in places like the Wild Rogue.

“It’s going to take a lot of work,” I said in agreement with Aaron. “We’re going to need a lot of help.”

Learn more about the Wild Rogue Loop