In May of 2015, we did a loop hike through Buck Canyon, the only part of the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness that sits on the east side of the divide. We came in from Muir Creek and left via Meadow Creek, passing Wiley Camp along the way. I got to wondering if you could loop around Fish Mountain from the Wiley Camp Trailhead and today I decided to find out (The LovedOne opted for a library board meeting instead). It was a crisp, cool almost-Fall day for hiking. A change in the weather (and much firefighting) had reduced the smoke a lot but had also brought in a cloud cover. This made for a glaringly reflective sky that wasn’t conducive to photos but was still way better than being smoked. Further scouring of smoke and a few sunbreaks later in the day would reinvigorate memories of what hiking in clear air is like (since it’s been awhile).
The trailhead for the Wiley Camp Trail (USFS #1046B; but shown as #1042 on some maps), is on Forest Road 6560-870 off Highway 230. Judging from the hunting camps I passed on the way in, the season must have already started (or will soon). Thanks to a lot of horse traffic, the #1046B was easy to follow up to the divide, then became vague as it entered a meadow on the other side (this vagueness of trail in meadows would be a recurring theme for today),
but was always clear under the forest canopy.
After a short, steep descent, I crossed the West Fork of Muir Creek, only an inch or two deep this late in the season,
climbed up the bank to Wiley Camp (now littered with several fallen trees),
and soon reached a junction with the Buck Canyon Trail (USFS #1046; but incorrectly shown on some maps here as the #1044).
Fallen trees would be another theme for the rest of the day. Other than informal tree removal here and there by hunters, it didn’t look as though any of the trails I was on today, with the exception of the #1470, had received any maintenance in the three years since we last hiked them. I went up the #1046, through the forest, over and around fallen trees,
through meadows now fading with the change of seasons (but still hiding the trail),
past the Devils Slide, an ancient landslide which dammed the West Fork and created a huge, beautiful sub-alpine meadow,
and over a log sporting a duck-shaped fungus (too bad I’m a Beavers fan).
Past the Devils Slide, I made one last crossing of the West Fork,
climbed to another big meadow nestled on the southeast flanks of Fish Mountain,
climbed yet more to the divide between the West Fork and Rock Creek drainages,
descended through forest and past meadows to a crossing of Rock Creek, the only reliable water in this area,
to the junction of the Buck Canyon and Meadow Creek Trails (USFS #1044). We had completed our loop in 2015 by descending the #1044; today I continued west on the #1046. Up to this point, the trail, while crossed by fallen trees in places and vague through meadows, nonetheless looked like it got some use – most likely by hunters and their horses. However, from this junction to Hole-in-the-Ground, the trail, although not too hard to follow, was covered in ravel, collapsing in places, and obviously little used (although I did follow some boot and hoof prints to Hole-in-the-Ground). This slipping away of one of the few trails in this part of the wilderness due to lack of attention and maintenance made me feel very sad. Sigh. But I pushed on, heading due west through some old-growth,
with a gloomy view (to match my mood about the trail’s condition) of Crater Lake’s rim,
across a meadow momentarily brightened by a brief sunbreak,
and along a section of the trail impacted by one of the 2017 High Cascades Complex Fires (it looks like we’ll lose the smaller trees but the old, big ones will carry-on),
an ancient shallow glacial lake which has become a large, marshy (but not so much at the moment) meadow.
From here, I followed the #1470 – which looked as though it had gotten some attention – on a stiff, steep climb up the side of Fish Mountain, past more old-growth,
with view south to Jackass Mountain,
to the end of the single-track trail at Forest Road 6560-870, whose narrow alignment – a “cherry stem” road – to this point was apparently grandfathered in when this wilderness was created in 1984.
For the next mile, this road is the #1470, so I followed it down,
past Happy Camp – fully occupied by hunters and their RVs – to my truck at the Wiley Camp Trailhead; to complete a 12.9 mile loop with 2,800 feet of elevation gain. I drove home with mixed feelings – happy for a good hike without smoke but sad about the lack of attention given to all the trails I was on. It just breaks my heart to find irreplaceable trails being let go due to disinterest, whether on the part of hikers or the Forest Service. Hike ’em or lose ’em seems as how this might play out here (and elsewhere). The only way to ease a broken heart was to stop at Beckie’s Cafe in Union Creek for two pieces of pie and head home to enjoy them with The LovedOne.