Sundown Trail (Ruch, Oregon) 06-Dec-2018

A week or so ago, we hiked up Mount Isabelle in the Wellington Wildlands near Ruch, Oregon. The views from the summit were, as promised, excellent, as was the day. The Applegate Trails Association has developed other trails in this area, in conjunction with their work on the still evolving Applegate Ridge Trail (ART) system. One of these is the Sundown Trail, which runs along a ridge south of Mount Isabelle. We had to wait out several days of much needed rain (and snow – Mount Ashland opens tomorrow! 🙂 ) before we could give this trail a try.  But today’s sunny, cold, and cloudless break between storm systems was our chance to get in a little hiking absent “full conditions.”

Our original plan was to park at the Isabelle (Saddle) Trailhead, hike along the Sundown Trail to the Long Gulch Trailhead, explore a bit of the Heart Trail, and then return along Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Road 38-3-8.  What we discovered is that the Sundown “Trail” combines an old logging road and a user-created Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV, motorcycle) track. So we started out on an old road, then switched to the OHV track. That took us directly up to BIG views from the top of Point 3902. What struck us here was how much wood smoke – from residential heating, not wildfires – there was in the Williams Creek Valley. Wood smoke may be “natural” but it’s still not healthy to breathe a lot of it. o_O

A light dusting of snow on the old road not far from the trailhead
We found lots of cougar tracks in the snow!
Closing in on Point 3902
One of the big, open meadows on the southwest side of Point 3902
Grayback Mountain (center) with wood smoke filling the Williams Creek Valley below
Grayback Mountain and a smoked valley
Mount McLoughlin to the east, from the crest of the ridge

From Point 3902, we followed the OHV track southwest along the ridge, over Point 3992 (this hike’s high point), enjoying the big views, mainly to the south and west.  The old road ends just past the top of Point 3899 at a small logging landing which has now mostly disappeared under brush and small trees. Technically, the Sundown Trail ends here too.  But the OHV track makes a sharp turn to the left and plummets directly down Point 3899’s southwest ridge.  That didn’t look immediately inviting, so we went cross-country through the forest down the east side of the point to the Long Gulch Trailhead.  Along the way, we found an old BLM trail sign buried in the brush (but no trail) and later an old, overgrown (but still visible on aerial photos) log skid.

The old log skid – this is not the route you want
The kiosk at the Long Gulch Trailhead

With our cross-country adventure behind us, we headed southwest along the Heart Trail, a still passable (and seemingly used) double-track road.

Puddles along the Heart Trail

A half-mile down the Heart Trail, we came to a junction with the OHV track coming down from Point 3899. Here we abandoned our original plan and decided to see what it was like to hike back up the OHV track. In short – rutted and steep. OHVs apparently don’t like to be encumbered with switchbacks; those being only for “walkers” 😕 like us. The track took us down and across Balls Branch and then straight up along the ridge to the point. It was an aerobic experience.

UP! the ridge
One of the few level spots along the ridge
Looking west from below Point 3899: fog fills the Illinois Valley, snow dusts peaks in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, and incoming weather fills the horizon

Once we got back to Point 3899, our enthusiasm for up had diminished and we opted to return via the old road, which is less steep than the OHV track.

Returning along the old road
The view northwest from the old road
Along the old road with Mount Isabelle in the distance

All told, we did six miles with 1,750 feet of elevation gain, with a little exploring but without switchbacks – us being walkers and all. 🙄  The weather was perfect and the views were really big and nice.  Old roads and OHV tracks aren’t trails per se but are currently the only way to access these views. The proposed Center ART would run from the Isabelle Trailhead along the south side of the ridge (below the old road and OHV track) to the Heart Trail. By doing so, it would keep the views but avoid a lot of elevation changes along the ridge.  Hopefully it will get built!

Our exploration of the Sundown Trail (purple) and the part of the Heart Trail we missed (black dots)
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4 comments

    1. The roads to the Isabelle Trailhead shouldn’t be a problem for any 2WD sedan. The first mile of Forest Creek Road off of Hwy 238 is paved and from there up to the Oregon Belle Creek Access Road is good gravel. The Oregon Belle road is one lane of well-worn asphalt, with its share of potholes – just take it slow.

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