During short, winter days when the valley floor won't warm up and the thick fog won't rise, this moderate to difficult, four-mile hike on the "Jabberwocky" trail offers relief and much-needed sun.
Use my online Google map to find this unmarked, unlisted trail at the south end of Ashland. Wear shoes suitable for slanted tread and steep grade. The initial ascent is about 1,200 feet in less than two miles, so be ready to sweat a little. Also be ready for some navigation, as there are many unmarked junctions.
Find a GPS track of the Jabberwocky Trail with a USGS Topo overlay at: http://tinyurl.com/78wsq52
See pictures at: http://picasaweb.google.com/howegabe/jabberwocky
From the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, follow Fork Street uphill. It turns to gravel and then merges into Glenview Drive. At the 500 block of Glenview is a small turnout on the road's west side just above Ashland's popular swimming reservoir. If you descend to the reservoir's gated entrance, you've gone too far.
Across the street from the turnout is a yellow fire hydrant next to a large madrone tree. Look for a gate and pass it, staying right at the small turnout.
Just beyond the turnout is a sign for the "Ashland Forest Fire Ecology Trail" with some interpretive information. After a few minutes, approach a junction with the BTI trail (named after Bicycle Technologies Incorporated) to the left, which is this route's eventual outlet. Veer right, maintaining a flat grade.
The trail parallels a city access road and Ashland Creek for about another third of a mile before again splitting. Head left, uphill and southeast; heading right will send you to the road. Ascend at a manageable grade, and at the next junction stay right and closer to the creek on tread narrower than that to the left.
This small, unnamed tributary of Ashland Creek feels wild for being only a stone's throw from town. The granitic soils here erode easily, and soil conservation in the Ashland watershed is an ongoing challenge for land managers. Give them a hand and stay on the trail.
About 60 paces after passing a steep switchback eroded by mountain-bike use, encounter another junction and head right and uphill on the most distinguished trail. As the trail ascends, the forest becomes more diverse, the trees become larger, and the speciation appears more natural. Deep-rooted hardwood species hold slopes like this in place, but after logging projects they were mostly replaced with commercial conifer species that don't offer the same service.
The Ashland watershed is littered with historic trails and renegade tread etched in by clandestine forest users. Along this stretch are too many faint junctions to mention, so just stick to the most distinct path along the creek's north bank. Also dismiss the flagging which is being used to identify speculative trail construction.
Out-of-control, kamikaze mountain bikers often descend this trail at speeds so fast they can't avoid hikers, so be prepared to avoid them. Listen for the whistle created by air screaming through their spokes.
"We're working on creating separate trails for bikers and hikers," says Nathan Riddle of the Ashland Woodlands Trails Association. "We're working closely with the Forest Service to create a plan that works for everyone. There are just more and more users out here."
Continue ascending to the tributary's head and run into Ashland Loop Road. Head left and northerly; heading right will take you higher into the watershed and on a long chase of Mount Ashland's summit. After winding around the ridge, pass another locked gate, look for a sign for the Alice in Wonderland Trail and follow it downhill.
This section of trail is lined with manzanitas whose trunks contort, twist and turn. They grow larger in this area than most anywhere, but are subject to removal by fuel-reduction projects because of their flammability. Follow signs toward Glenview Drive, soon descend to one of the first junctions you encountered and head north toward the parking turnout.
For how much the Ashland watershed is mentioned in local media, it sure can be elusive. Its lower reaches at the edge of town, though, are quite accessible for those willing to navigate through unmarked mazes of trails.
Freelance writer Gabriel Howe lives in Ashland and is founder and chair of the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.