Opting Outside Inside Upper Table Rock 29-Nov-2019

I have been a member of REI for a long, long time. Possibly only velociraptors might have had lower membership numbers? They were pretty good hikers too, right up until that unfortunate thing with the asteroid. So sad. 😦 Anyway, when REI came up with the idea (#OptOutside) of closing on Black Friday – so we (and their employees) would likely visit Nature rather than join a mob to buy yet more unneeded stuff (Does Marie Kondo hike?) – we were all in. The LovedOne had some library tasks to perform in the afternoon, so we opted to reprise a short hike we’d done two years ago through the inner reaches of Upper Table Rock. We just reversed the hike’s direction this time.

The Table Rocks are among the most popular hiking destinations in the Rogue River Valley and can be right busy when wildflowers and vernal pools emerge on their tops in the Spring. At this time of year, however, things are much quieter. But then the ticks, rattlesnakes, and poison oak are quieter now too, which allows for some suffer-free cross-country hiking. The freezing inversion fog that smothered the valley floor and the Rocks (but dissipated when we got back to the car 🙄 ) lent this hike a chillingly moody, noire vibe (cue The Crawling Eye soundtrack).

The brave hiker smile in place at 29°F
Cold, darned cold…

The route to the flat top of Upper Table is on an established trail maintained by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). We noticed that they had installed some new wooden fences to keep people from stomping all over the unique species inhabiting the vernal pools (those species are here even when the pools are dry). From the end of the official trail, we wandered through the mists along the abandoned part of Pumice Road.

Near zero visibility on top of Upper Table
Old fencing from when cattle were grazed on Upper Table and its slopes
The abandoned part of Pumice Road
Branches in the mist…

The abandoned part of Pumice Road ends at the VORTAC station, an aircraft navigation beacon. It’s not a small building but it was so foggy that we couldn’t see it until we got within 100 feet or so of it.

It’s a frosty old piece of pipe that looks like a lamprey

Pumice Road south of the VORTAC station is still in use and maintained so that service personnel can reach the station.

Along the maintained part of Pumice Road

Just short of a mile south of the station, an old road – faint at first but soon obvious – leaves Pumice Road heading east. It dodges through some buckbrush (a species of Ceanothus) and then descends into the “horseshoe” that is the “inside” of Upper Table. Here we came across a huge flock of robins (the first of several we’d encounter) flitting through the trees, eating madrone berries, and chirping loudly. Seems like a good place for them to spend the winter months.

Descending the old road to the inside of Upper Table
A leaf dares to be different…
Along the old road inside of Upper Table

Once inside, the old road contours north and then ends after abruptly cutting uphill. We left the road at the start of this uphill section and did a rising climb around the inside of Upper Table – following deer trails to get around the buckbrush (it may be named for them but deer seem no more interested in plowing through it than we are). The trick here is finding that one gap in the rim where it’s fairly easy (and safe) to climb through the cliffs to the plateau. Along the way, we crossed two benches (one swarming with robins) that reminded us of the pond on the big bench on the east side of Upper Table.

Still cold
A moss garden on a bench inside of Upper Table
Emerging on to the plateau

We’d hoped that the inversion would have dissipated by the time we got back to the plateau but that was not to be. The sky was maybe a little lighter but not by much. So we returned under the gloom. The inversion cracked during our drive home and by the time we got there – less than a half-hour later – the sun was shining. 🙄 😎

The gloom persists
Descending the official trail

This loop is just short of seven miles (with 900 feet of gain) and we did it on an established trail, old roads, and deer trails. This way we avoided the buckbrush (one of Nature’s malignancies) on the inside and didn’t trample any sensitive vegetation elsewhere (it’s physically impossible to trample buckbrush). As noted, this loop is best done in the dead of winter. During the warmer months it’s usually too hot. That’s also when Nature’s special little friends are most active and waiting to pierce, suck, or poison you. :\

Our loop through inner Upper Table Rock
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2 comments

    1. The Table Rocks are good in winter. Same for Cathedral Park, Bolt Mountain, and Mountain of the Rogue. You can also usually access the lower trails around Lost Creek and Applegate Lakes when there’s snow higher up.

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