Little Grayback Mountain (Applegate Lake, Oregon) 08-Jan-2015

Little Grayback Mountain Applegate Lake Oregon

The Little Grayback Trail (USFS #921) is another trail that starts in the Upper Applegate Valley and climbs up to a ridge near Hanley Gap. The fact that it doesn’t seem to go anywhere in particular may have kept it out of many guidebooks. However, Ruediger, in his book The Siskiyou Crest, considers it to be the most botanically interesting trail in this area. Later I would learn that, if you add in a little road walking, this trail a great way to reach the old lookout on Squaw Peak. So I decided to check it out. As an added (but ultimately painful) bonus, I decided to summit Little Grayback Mountain as well. That the trail doesn’t go very near this summit seems to have eluded me. Ah, hubris… 🙄

Getting to the trailhead from Applegate Lake is via a one-lane dirt road that can be managed by a sedan if you’re careful.

Little Grayback Mountain Applegate Lake Oregon
The trailhead

The trail itself is a gem – a well-graded and maintained tread that climbs steadily, but gently, through forests of pine and madrone.

Little Grayback Mountain Applegate Lake Oregon
Along the trail

But the trail breaks out into meadows from time to time, which gave me some good views of Grayback Mountain to the west,

Little Grayback Mountain Applegate Lake Oregon
Grayback Mountain (with snow)

the Red Buttes to the southwest,

Little Grayback Mountain Applegate Lake Oregon
Red Buttes (with snow)

and the old, but still intact, Squaw Peak Lookout (Update: It’s now part of the Forest Service’s rental program.) to the east,

Little Grayback Mountain Applegate Lake Oregon
Squaw Peak Lookout (arrow)

About two miles up the trail, I turned north and headed cross-country directly upslope toward the summit. As I climbed higher, Wagner Butte came into view to the east,

Little Grayback Mountain Applegate Lake Oregon
Wagner Butte (with snow)

and some really interesting horsetail cloud formations started to pass over me.

Little Grayback Mountain Applegate Lake Oregon
Horsetails

After reaching the summit ridge a few hundred yards east of the summit, I tried following the top of the ridge to the summit. Perhaps a good idea in the Northern Oregon or Southwest Washington, but a bad one down here – and one that my years of climbing in California’s Southern Sierras should have stopped me from acting on. The subsequent laceration by live and dead manzanita and buckbrush branches exposed not only my flesh but also my hubris for not adjusting my hiking to local conditions. 😳 Lesson learned – by painful experience, as usual. 😥 But I did eventually get to the summit, with views in all directions.

Little Grayback Mountain Applegate Lake Oregon
Wavering contrails to the north
Little Grayback Mountain Applegate Lake Oregon
Bald Peak (L foreground), Medford under a white inversion layer, Mount McLoughlin (far R)

I got off the summit and back to the trail by side-hilling below the brush-choked ridge – this was easy going and seemingly the way to do it in this brushy terrain. Thanks to all the cuts and scratches, I lost interest in continuing on to Hanley Gap, so I bailed, making this a short (6 miles round-trip; 1,800 feet of elevation gain) hike that I’ll likely be doing again (but sans summit – one teachable moment, with first aid, is enough!).

Little Grayback Mountain Applegate Lake Oregon
To the summit!

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