After our exploration last week of the inside of Upper Table Rock, we (or at least I) thought it would be fun to do the same at Lower Table Rock. But there was a problem. The inside of Lower Table is covered by a conservation easement that does not allow for public access. So we couldn’t use the old road through there to reprise our Upper Table experience. BUT we could walk along the top of Lower Table since this is Nature Conservancy land open to public access. On Lower, however, there’s no old road on top, as there is on Upper, to make travel easy. So when I mentioned that this would be more of an adventure hike, the LovedOne decided going to the hairdresser was the smarter move and left me to face the wilderness alone. Sigh.
Brush thinning has been going on at the Rocks for awhile and today was slash pile burning day. So the hike up to Lower Table’s plateau was through a Mordor-esque gauntlet of smoke and flame. But the smoke had a nice woodsy smell…
There was another inversion fog in the valley today but the top of the plateau was above that. Thanks to the open sky, the vernal pools were slick with a thin layer of ice.
Once on top, I turned north, away from the landing strip and the well-trodden hiker paths, on a narrow use trail toward the plateau’s narrow end.
The grass-covered flat top of the plateau ends abruptly in a jumble of vegetation and crumbled basalt blocks.
I could see more flat, open plateau further on along the Rock, but first I had to get there through lots of vegetation and small boulders.
As noted for our Upper Table exploration, the cold of winter is really the only time a moderately sane hiker would try this route. Warmer weather (Spring through Fall) would bring out ticks, rattlesnakes, and poison oak (of which there is A LOT) to unnecessarily enliven your journey (and maybe for several days thereafter). The ominous phrase “rattlesnake den” kept intruding on my consciousness as I scrambled down and across slopes of frost covered boulders,
and past the still clearly visible trail that, until the mid-1990s, had been another way to reach the top from the parking lot. This trail looked intact enough to be followed down to the old road – which would allow you to by-pass some of the more challenging (OK, nastier) sections of the ridge. I didn’t because I don’t have property maps detailed enough to show where this old trail and road are relative to the forbidden conservation easement. But it’s a thought…
A little further along, I got a brief reprieve from the brush and boulders along a short piece of flat plateau with some great views to the east.
Then it was more brush and then a longer boulder field,
with a view to the flat top I was now yearning to reach,
and of the inside of Lower Table, which I wasn’t going to reach.
I kept running into stretches of remnant barbed wire and couldn’t decide it this was a helpful guide or an invitation to tetanus. It’s hard to imagine a cow finding its way through the brush and up the boulders to this fence but maybe bovines were sterner stuff back in the day?
After more ducking and weaving, I finally emerged on to the grassy, rocky, but delightfully open and flat, plateau at the north end of Lower Table. Here I was welcomed with a grand view of Mount McLoughlin, which would be a near-constant visual presence along this route.
With open vistas in all directions and easy, almost level walking, this part of Lower Table was a wonder. Well worth the thrashing needed to get here legally. I was thinking it was a pristine wilderness up here until a clutch of empty vodka and apple juice bottles disabused me of this conceit. What kind of deluded douche bags would mix vodka and apple juice? Oh, the horrors…
After a mile of buccolic walking with big views, I came to the where an old road crossed a saddle in the ridge. By 1938 (and certainly sooner) there was a trail to the top of the eastern side of Lower Table. In 1948, a road was built up the inside of the Rock to service an airstrip constructed on top of the eastern side by John Day, a local cattle rancher and developer. Sometime between 1954 and 1974, this road at the end of my journey was carved from the airport road over the plateau and down the west side of the rock.
By now, I was pre-occupied with the journey back and didn’t think to push on over open ground to the southern tip of this side of Lower Table. Well, maybe next time. Going back was much of the same, with another big view of Mount McLoughlin as a reward when I finally got back to the main trail.
A good adventure hike (6.6 miles roundtrip; 1,000 feet of elevation gain) with big views from a little visited (for good reason) part of Lower Table. Not a hike for those uncomfortable on uneven ground and not one to be done during the warmer months.