An audience of 17 hikers stands in front of the McKee Bridge store in the Applegate Valley. It's a cool August morning and their leader, Janeen Sathre, is explaining the route for their imminent 90-minute drive over a series of dusty logging roads. The destination is an unmarked trailhead on the Pacific Crest Trail seen by few but the through hikers.
Sathre finally decides to bag the complicated instructions and gives a walkie-talkie to the last driver in the caravan so nobody will get lost. She leads trips for friends and neighbors on about a dozen weekends per year, something she's done now for more than a decade.
From Jacksonville, take Highway 238 to the community of Applegate. Turn south onto Thompson Creek Road and follow for 12 miles to an intersection. Continue another 2.8 miles on a gravel road. Turn right, crossing a bridge and turn immediately left onto Forest Road 1030 for 5.1 miles. Turn left onto FR 400 for 4.7 miles (turns into FR 1040). Park here and walk 0.6 miles (up the FR 800 road to the right) to the Fir Glade Trailhead or drive it if you have a high-clearance vehicle.
The remains of the cabin are one mile from the trailhead. Azalea Lake lies about 51ĀĄ2 miles beyond the cabin. The trail begins at 4,000 feet and passes through an old-growth forest of Douglas fir and sugar pine, dry and open areas, several ponds and many azaleas that provide spectacular viewing in the late spring.
A fifth-generation Applegate resident, Sathre has been hiking these local trails since childhood.
"As a kid, with my parents and grandparents, we would all go on a Sunday picnic, a lot of times to places where grandpa had worked," Sathre explains.
Her grandfather had traveled — and even help build — many trails during his career that included hard-rock mining at the Blue Ledge Mine and panning for gold. So when Sathre returned to the valley in 1991 after accompanying her husband, Dan, on his 20 years with the Coast Guard, she was curious.
"I want to revisit these places from my childhood, see if they still exist," says Sathre. "I didn't want to hike alone, so I'd call family or friends. It started off hit-or-miss and soon the whole summer was scheduled."
Each spring, Sathre emails her schedule to a list that includes an age range of 80-somethings down to teenagers. The tougher hikes may attract only 10, while as many as 40 people have arrived for the easier hikes.
"She keeps it fresh with new hikes every summer," says Marian Hadden, a regular over the past six years.
Hadden's passion is wildflowers but she enjoys also hearing the historical details that Sathre interjects along the trail.
"I like to ride with her in the car," says Hadden. "That's when we get the best stories."
On today's car ride, the drive to the trailhead first follows Forest Service Road 20, which eventually reaches Mount Ashland. Sathre pauses at a pass with a view of Dutchman Peak and its fire tower and points to the valley below.
"That's the Silver Fork basin where my uncle ran cattle," Sathre explains. "When I was young — I mean younger — I used to help. It has incredible wildflowers."
Sathre's dual passions of history and nature are evident along the hikes. She's studied up on her local geology, flora and fauna so she'll be a more effective tour guide.
"I like showing people who live here in the Applegate — or Rogue — Valley that there are some trails out here in the Applegate that are so different from the dry hillsides that you're looking at when you're down in the valley: high mountain meadows, summer snow," says Sathre. "Things people never dreamed were here."
The trip that generates the most excitement from Sathre's hikers begins at Mount Elijah and ends at the Oregon Caves National Monument. After a long afternoon on the trail, the group spends the night in the historic Chateau at the Oregon Caves and returns the next day.
Sathre's favorite "history hike" is Fir Glade.
"At one time at Fir Glade, the Forest Service had a fire guard station, and the remains are still there: an old door lying on the ground and some old posts, a few things left at the top of the meadow," says Sathre.
Fir Glade sits at the edge of the Red Buttes Wilderness and continues on to Azalea Lake. Sathre's family history is intertwined with the former guard station.
"My mother's brother spent a summer with his new wife there in 1939 in this cabin for the summer to keep the cabin open for the fire crews," says Sathre. "Not only my uncle, but my father had been on a fire crew there. We stayed at the cabin for a while one summer."
Many trails in the Applegate Valley are today becoming mere memories.
"Unfortunately, a lot of the trailheads are no longer marked," says Sathre. "Trail work is not a priority with the Rogue National Forest, so a lot of these trails are hard to find, even with a map."
For this reason, Sathre feels an urgency to share her knowledge of local trails.
"I want people to get out and enjoy these trails," says Sathre. "To get fired up about (not) losing these trails, to do things to help keep these trails."
People interested in joining one of Sathre's upcoming hikes can email her at email@example.com.
To read more about the Fir Glade guard station, read the 2009 story written by Janeen Sathre and her mother, Evelyn Byrne Williams, for the Applegater newspaper: www.applegater.org/pdf/2009/v02n01/v02n01p21.pdf
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.