This was our second foray into the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness, the first being a relatively straightforward hike to the old fire lookout on Abbott Butte. What we learned on this hike is that Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) “trail” building, and not maintenance of existing hiking trails, may be this ranger district’s higher priority. We also learned that treads may or may not be on any given map and may or may not in reality be where they’re mapped. In short, there are some really neat areas back in this wilderness but you have to approach hiking in to it as a bit of an adventure. Yesterday’s hike was inspired by one of the “other hiking options” that Sullivan attached to Hike #39 in his 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon (Third Edition).
Our trailhead for this hike was on Forest Road (FR) 6540-900 (off of Highway 230 about eight miles north of its junction with Highway 62) at its junction with FR 6540-950 – there’s an Alkali Falls sign at this juncture. Where we parked is where a now abandoned – but readily followable – piece of the Meadow Creek Trail (USFS #1044) drops down (in less than 0.5 miles) to a junction with the Muir Creek Trail (USFS #1042). The #1042 is a good trail,
that gave us great views of the creek and its surrounding meadows,
one simple crossing of Alkali Creek (a Muir Creek tributary),
then more views,
and a look at Muir Falls on the East Fork of Muir Creek,
before coming to the point where it is overcome by OHV “trail” #27. There’s a separate map for these motor trails – which isn’t topographic – and they don’t appear on either the Garmin or TOPO or USFS quad maps for this area. So where they are and where they go can come as a surprise to a foot-powered hiker. We followed the OHV trail for a short distance – there was no other choice –
to where the #1042 ends at its junction with the Buck Canyon Trail (USFS #1046). Here, we turned on to the #1046 as it started angling west, with one elevated,
and one not so simple crossing of Muir Creek.
We soon entered the wilderness, passed a junction with the Hummingbird Meadows Trail (USFS #1046A), and came to the east end of Hummingbird Meadows, a huge area of lush grasses and emerging plants.
We stopped for lunch near the Wiley Campsite – at a junction where the Wiley Camp Trail (USFS #1046B (#1042 on some maps)) leaves the Buck Canyon Trail (#1046) and ascends the ridge to the northwest. We continued on the #1046 up the canyon, past the Devils Slide,
an ancient landslide which dammed the creek and created a huge, beautiful subalpine meadow.
Up to our lunch stop, the trails had ranged in quality from good to great but after that we had to contend with a considerable amount of blowdown that both blocked and occasionally obscured the trail. The #1046 also started climbing, through the Upper Meadow,
and up to the divide (its high point at 6,000 feet) at the head of Buck Canyon. From here, the trail turned east and started down into the Alkali and Rock Creek drainages through a series of large meadows on the eastern slope, the biggest being Alkali Meadows. There was also much less blowdown on this section.
These open meadow areas allowed us to catch views of Mount Thielsen,
Red Cone in Crater Lake National Park,
and Mount Bailey, still holding some snow in this drought year.
We passed the Alkali Campsite, then turned south past the Rock Creek Campsite, to a junction with the west end of the Meadow Creek Trail (USFS #1044). Here the #1046 turns hard west toward its end at the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail (USFS #1470). We continued on the #1044 but lost its tread just past Bear Camp Spring due to trail faintness (the #1044 jogs up here but there is a prominent use trail going down) and thus had to do a little cross-country travel to finally arrive at the 1044’s trailhead on FR 6540-700. The #1044 used to be longer – it came all the way up from Muir Creek – but is now just a one mile stub connecting this trailhead and the #1046.
From here, Sullivan’s option has you continuing north to FR 6540-760, going downhill to its end, and then bushwhacking all the way down to the Muir Creek Trail. Well, things have changed since whenever he wrote this description. First off, roads 760, 767, and 768 are all but gone – due both to Forest Service closure activities and natural re-growth. Second, if you bushwhack straight downhill, you’re going to run in to FR 6540-900 before reaching Muir Creek (which is why we parked there). Third, road 760 and its cousins have been replaced by OHV Trail #27 which – as we later learned – is an easy path down to FR 6540-950 (red line on map below). Unfortunately, OHV #27 doesn’t appear on any map we had and so we were unsure of where it actually went. So we followed OHV 27 for a while and then – unsure of where it was taking us – struck off cross-country to intersept FR 6540-950 and follow it back to the car. The Loved One is NOT an ethusiastic bushwhacker, so this last bit of cross-country sorely tried her patience. Strolling along FR 6540-950, we passed the end of OHV #27, and only then realized that it was the easy way to complete this loop! While we could have finished this loop (13 miles; 1,800 feet of elevation gain) a little more elegantly, the sections along Muir Creek, through Hummingbird Meadow, and past the Devils Slide were great and well worth the effort!