The Collings Mountain Trail (USFS #943) is one of several trails in the Upper Applegate Valley that offer hikers a low-elevation option in the winter months. The trail was named for two brothers who mined in the Upper Applegate Valley in the 1850s and 1860s. The hike up past Collings Mountain is a fairly easy one (if done clockwise) through now rare undisturbed low elevation forest, with occasional views both east and west. Today I combined it with the Da-Ku-Be-Te-De Trail (USFS #940), which traverses the western shore of Applegate Lake between Hart-tish Park and Watkins Campground, to make a nice 11 mile loop hike. This loop hike is described in Ruediger’s The Siskiyou Crest (2013) and is Hike #64 in Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon (3rd Edition) but was inexplicably left out of Berstein and Urness’ 2014 Hiking Southern Oregon guide. This is a sad and questionable omission given that this Southern Oregon hike passes by what’s believed to be the world’s only Bigfoot Trap!
With morning air temperatures barely making it into the high teens, luring the LovedOne from under the down comforter and on to a trail would have been harder than trapping a Bigfoot. Plus she had the excuse of this being one of her days to volunteer at the Library. So, yet again, I was compelled to venture forth alone – comforted only by my Dutch Brothers double chocolate mocha. Oh, the privations one must endure for the trail! This loop starts at the Hart-tish Park trailhead, which, in winter, is closed – so you have to park – carefully – along the side of the road at the trailhead sign. From there, I headed south on the Da-Ku-Be-Te-De Trail, which is similar to the Payette Trail (post) on the lake’s east side in that it too contours along above the maximum pool elevation.
A couple of miles along, the trail turns a corner and opens on to a view of the snow-covered Red Buttes looming above the southern end of the lake. We’ve recently had a lot (3 to 6 inches) of rain in the surrounding mountains, and the runoff from that deluge pushed the pool elevation up 30 feet, riled up the bottom mud, and covered part of the lake’s surface with logs and other flotsam.
The recent rains also watered-up many of the side streams entering the lake; making for burbling cascades that are entirely missing in the summer months.
Between Hart-tish and Watkins, the trail crosses the paved Copper Boat Ramp, once the road that served the town of Copper – which existed from the 1890s to the mid-1970s, when it was purchased by the Corps of Engineers and demolished. It’s former site now lies at the bottom of the reservoir. At 3.6 miles from Hart-tish, I crossed a small footbridge and took the right (uphill) fork in the trail up to Watkins Campground, which is closed (except that the closure gate has rotted and collapsed). After crossing the frozen campground and Upper Applegate Road,
I started up the Collings Mountain trail, through avenues of incredibly tall madrones,
past a frozen puddle (there being no real lakes or ponds along the trail),
and a tiny mushroom,
to one of the few spots on the trail with a clear view of the peaks to the east out over Applegate Lake (post).
The trail doesn’t go to Colling’s actual summit but this time I made a point of making the short cross-country detour to the top – simply because it’s there. No views from here and not much else to see except a USFS boundary marker.
After working my way back to the trail, I followed it across the ridge, down a bit, and then started contouring north along the west side of Collings. Along here, there are a few spots where you can get a view of some of the peaks to the west (post).
By this point, the climbing was behind me and I was going north along the ridge between the Applegate River and Carberry Creek drainages. Along the ridge just north of the summit, I passed over the faint outlines of the trail that used to cross the ridge from the Applegate River to Baker Flat on China Gulch – a shortcut before the road was built up Carberry Creek. This trail shows on maps dating back to the early 1900s. The Collings trail continues along the ridge,
and then begins a steep descent into the upper reaches of Grouse Creek. Interestingly, this is another case where the trail as built does not follow the trail as mapped – even on the latest USGS or USFS maps – in that it goes down rather than first making a loop around Point 3153 as shown on the map.
On the way down, I passed one of this trail’s lesser tourist attractions – an old adit that had been dug along a rock layer in yet another forelorn attempt at finding gold.
Further down the trail, about 0.5 miles from the trailhead, I came to the world famous Bigfoot Trap – probably the only reason most folks even know about the Collings Mountain Trail. The trap is a wooden box approximately 10 feet by 10 feet made of 2 inch by 12 inch planks bound together by heavy metal bands and secured to the ground by telephone poles. It was built in 1974 by the now-defunct North American Wildlife Research Team in what was then (before the construction of the Applegate Dam) a remote location, one chosen based on Bigfoot “sightings” here dating back to 1895. It was baited with carcasses for six years, but caught only bears. The trap, abandoned from its original purpose since 1980, has now become a tourist attraction and is visited annually by hundreds of people. Our immediate thought on first seeing this extremely sturdy structure was that if Bigfoot was fearsome enough to warrant a trap sufficient to hold an angry rhinoceros or a Cape buffalo, then we’d lock ourselves in the “trap” and wait for Bigfoot to go away!
From the Trap, it was a short hike to the trailhead, with a few simple crossings of seasonally fast-flowing Grouse Creek enroute. This is a good, sturdy (11 miles round-trip; 1,700 feet of elevation gain) loop hike, generally open all year, with a nice walk along the lake (if you can get past it really being a reservoir), some views to the east and west, and, of course, the Trap.