Southern Oregon Happy Trails (details) is the meet-up group for hikers in our area. We learned of it shortly after relocating here but, being unfamiliar with the meet-up group concept, thought we’d watch and wait until we’d gained some of our own experience with the trails in this area. Time passed. Then this week we finally decided it was time to give “meet-up” a try when a hike to the summit of Grayback Mountain was posted. At 7,050 feet, Grayback Mountain is the tallest peak in the Josephine County, Oregon. Back in the days of the Gold Rush (1850s-60s), miners were often hygenically challenged and thus irritated by lice, which they referred to as “graybacks.” The mountain is composed of a Paleozoic schist (formed by the metamorphosis of mudstone, shale, or some types of igneous rock) that is gray in color so, from a distance, it has the appearance of a lice-like gray lump – hence the miner’s name for it (oh, those romantic devils!). We’d been there before, via the southeast ridge (post), it was short enough so we’d be done before the day got really hot, and the group size was small (some meet-ups are just too big for our taste). When we signed up, there were seven people going. By the time I got to the meeting location, it was only myself and the hike organizer (the LovedOne having bowed out because of the heat). Still, the organizer – Joe – was keen to do the hike, as was I, so off we went.
We were able to drive to the upper O’Brien Creek trailhead – despite the impressive waterbar/berms that had been dug across the last mile or so of road – and were headed up the O’Brien Creek trail (USFS #900) by 0800 in the cool of the morning.
After going up along above O’Brien Creek, the #900 executes a number of switchbacks through the forest before breaking out into the open,
and reaching its end at a junction with the Boundary Trail (USFS #1207), which runs from the Tanner Lakes to Windy Gap.
From there, we went north through the forest on the good #1207 trail,
to where it “ends” at Windy Gap, the saddle between Big Sugarloaf Peak and Grayback Mountain. I say “ends” because from here you can now easily connect with the Grayback Mountain Trail (post) that goes down for about seven miles to near Williams, Oregon (BLM brochure). And, if you don’t want to summit Grayback, the view from atop Big Sugarloaf is a pretty good substitute.
From the cairn, we turned south and headed cross-country up through the trees on Grayback’s north ridge.
Pretty soon, we were out of the trees and on to the boulder-strewn ridge, with its great views (compromised somewhat by the haze) and welcome breeze.
The “boulders” were just the right size for walking-on and we made good progress. After passing by the false summit (Point 6966), we were in sight of the true summit,
and were soon standing on it, amid a swam of pesky – but non-biting – flies. There’s now a geocache box up here, which may account for the seemingly increased interest in this summit (summit geocache).
The summit is justifiably famous for its 360 degree views but today these were compromised by heat haze and smoke from some wildfires. Mount McLoughlin is usually a stand-out but today we could barely see it on the horizon.
Swan Mountain (post) and Pyramid Peak were also in view.
After waving away the flies and downing water and a small snack, we headed down Grayback’s southeast ridge. Joe wanted to revisit Cold Spring, a place where he and his dad had camped years ago. When the LovedOne and I had ascended this ridge just two years ago, there was little sign of a trail. Now Joe and I easily found a use trail marked with more than a few rock cairns – so we were soon back at the #1207 and at Cold Spring shortly thereafter. The spring is below the trail and faces east, so the LovedOne and I had missed it during our climb. I appreciated Joe being willing to show it to me.
From Cold Spring, we descended through the forest for a bit, then swung north out into the large meadow below the summit.
We went down the meadow,
past the site where the Krause family had a line cabin back in the day (the cabin has since been burned down),
through some more meadow,
to the Grayback Snow Shelter, which now looks like someone is squatting in it, since it’s stuffed with camping gear and food, with a tent sitting in front of it.
After that, it was back to the trailhead. Joe mentioned that he went up slowly but liked to run down. I took this as a figure of speech. But as Joe proceeded to bound gazelle-like down the trail, I realized he did mean run. I envied him his springiness as I plodded along trying to save my knees…sigh. Overall, a short (6.8 mile; 2,500 feet of elevation gain) but fun loop over the summit, with a visit to Cold Spring. And we got back to the trailhead before the heat of the day (records were being broken down in the valley) really kicked in. So a win-win in my book! While this was a really good hike, it hardly qualifies as a fair test of the meet-up group concept. So we’ll have to give that another try – probably when the weather cools a bit.