There's something about an old, deserted cabin. It's not so much what it is as what it isn't. Men toiled and slept and ate and made lives inside these walls, and the structure remains but the life is long gone.
The Whisky Creek Cabin — and the rusty mining detritus lying around the clearing — bears mute testimony to the solitary men who eked out a hardscrabble living coaxing Whisky Creek to give up her gold. The two-room cabin dates from 1880, a generation or more after gold fever first lured men to the hills hereabouts. The builder seems to be forgotten to history, but the cabin was bought in 1918 by a man named Cy Whiteneck, who added a plank floor and a shed and worked the creek for 30 years.
Now a rustic museum accessible only to hikers or rafters, it's located three-and-a-half miles downstream from Grave Creek along the Rogue River Trail, making it a good destination for a winter's day hike.
Take Interstate 5 north to the Merlin exit, then follow Merlin-Galice Road west for 23 miles to the Grave Creek Bridge, boat launch and parking lot. The trail begins on the downstream side of the lot on the river's north side.
The narrow, rocky path skirts the canyon's edge closely, passing close by steep or even vertical walls. A stumble on a protruding rock or a misstep on loose scree could easily lead to serious injury or death. It has happened here. If you were hiking with kids you'd want them close at hand. And it wouldn't be a trail to do in the dark.
The forest here is mixed, with canyon live oaks and various conifers, some sprouting with determination from the almost sheer cliffs. Far below the Rogue hurries toward the ocean, and the white noise of one riffle or another is an almost constant companion.
On the day of our hike, several days after heavy rains, the river is the color of creamed coffee and high and swift, and each little side canyon has its seasonal creek crashing its way from above over the trail and foaming on down to the river. Some of these little streams require rock-skipping or wading to get across. But that's not a big deal on a calm day with the temperature in the 50s. Only one rivulet involving a little waterfall requires hikers to get wet — when the water is high — unless they choose to leave the trail and do some bushwhacking and a little rock climbing. Most months of the year you can do this hike without getting your shoes wet.
The trail rises and falls moderately as it winds its way west along the canyon. In a little less than two miles you come to Rainie Falls. It's not nearly as formidable-looking from the trail as it is from the water, more like a big riffle. For the best view of the falls, the trail on the south shore is better, but it ends here, making it a good hike to do with kids for whom a three-and-a-half-mile, round-trip hike is enough. The south trail is also cooler in the summer, because it runs along the canyon's shady north face.
There are no rafters this day. Another odd absence is the birds. There are few to be seen this day. A patient great blue heron is on the prowl at river's edge just below Grave Creek. A few LBJs (little brown jobs) in dense thickets. No egrets, no ospreys, no ravens or bald eagles, and the ubiquitous turkey vultures aren't due until February.
There's no particular point of interest after the falls — you pass through a little draw called China Gulch, but its main distinguishing characteristic is its colorful name — until you reach Whisky Creek a little less than three-and-a-half-miles from the trailhead. It's a big creek, and this day it's roaring down its canyon to its confluence with the Rogue.
There's an open area here at river's edge that makes a good spot for lunch. Kick back against a tree or pull up a boulder. But first, you'll want to explore the cabin.
Walk up the east side of Whisky Creek to a long, sturdy footbridge, then follow the spur trail on the other side up the creek a short distance. You truly can't miss it. An interpretive sign tells some of the history.
After Whiteneck came Lou Martin, who lived here beginning in 1957. Martin, too, made improvements, adding a solar shower (what did the other guys do?) and a double-walled pantry insulated with sawdust. In 1973 the Bureau of Land Management bought the deed, and the cabin became a public relic.
The cabin is a good turn-around point for a day trip, a hike of about seven miles. On the way back to Grave Creek you may find yourself reflecting on bygone times and the kind of men who chose to make lives out here.
Reach freelance writer Bill Varble at email@example.com.