Middle Fork Applegate River (California) 29-Nov-2015

Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California

The arrival of shorter, colder (it was 17ΒΊ F at our house this morning) days had us casting around for some short hikes that we hadn’t already done this year and which didn’t involve significant snow travel. The Middle Fork Applegate River Trail (USFS #950) is truly short (7.2 miles out-and-back) but parallels an interesting rocky stream as it passes through some large, old-growth forest. It’s easily accessible on paved and good gravel roads and is very popular in the summer months as a swimming / picnic destination (it’s part of Hike #68 in Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon (3rd Edition). However, with the air temperature stuck below freezing for the whole day, it was ours to explore in solitude.

The #950 runs along the river between a lower trailhead and an upper trailhead, both on Forest Road (FR) 1040. We started at the lower trailhead under bracingly brisk conditions,

Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
A cold welcome at the trailhead

walked up the remains of an old road,

Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
The trail starts as an old road

passed a fridged fern grotto,

Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
A Fern in Winter

and ambled alongside the river for 0.6 miles,

Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
Middle Fork Applegate River

before arriving at one of the summer-favorite swimming pools along this stretch.

Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
Not the day for a swim

After that, we were on a real trail for another 0.6 miles,

Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
The trail was now a single-track

to a creek crossing (there used to be a bridge here but it was removed a while back). Crossing at low water wasn’t hard and, if hiking in the summer, wading across would probably be a welcome cool moment.

Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
Crossing the Middle Fork at low water

The trail runs along a fairly narrow canyon, so there were no big views to distract us from the little things along the trail.

Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
A completely frozen root fungus,
Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
Quite frozen
Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
An iced-over mushroom
Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
A rotting leaf spotted like a fawn,
Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
A mushroom bearing up under the weight of winter.

The trail climbs gradually in elevation from 2,600 to 3,700 feet and near the end, we were starting to encounter some snow – not much though, as the real stuff is at 5,500′ feet and above.

Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
The trail close to its upper end
Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
The tributary creek from Frog Pond Gulch

At about four miles from the lower trailhead, we came to FR 1040, a good gravel road that loops back to the lower trailhead. Just prior to this point, The LovedOne’s knee starting acting up (again, 😦 ). So, rather than retrace the trail (getting out along it with a bum knee would have been awkward at best), we thought it prudent to return via the road – longer but less likely to twist the knee. If the knee went anyway, I could more easily go get the truck for a self-rescue. Fortunately, this didn’t become necessary and so we ended up doing a pleasant walk along a gravel road. FR 1040 provides access to three popular trails: the Middle Fork Applegate Trail (#950, the one we were on today), the Frog Pond / Cameron Meadows Loop Trail (USFS #953), and the Shoofly Trail(USFS #954), which has become a quick access point for the Butte Fork Trail (USFS #957). During our walk on FR 1040, we were distracted by the potholes in the road that had frozen into a fascinating array of shapes and designs.

Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
Ice abstract I
Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
Ice abstract II

So, what was intended as a 7.2 mile out-and-back became an 11 mile (1,000 feet of elevation gain) loop. But we got back with the knee still functioning! So win-win and we’ll likely revisit this area once summer rolls around. πŸ˜€

Middle Fork Applegate River Northern California
Our unanticipated loop around the Middle Fork

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