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  • Boomers on the Trail

    Ten local friends, most of them baby boomers, recently hiked 51 miles along the lower Rogue River Trail
  • For more than 20 years, my wife, Barbara, and I had dreamed of hiking the trail along the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue River. In May, we made that dream a reality.
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  • For more than 20 years, my wife, Barbara, and I had dreamed of hiking the trail along the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue River. In May, we made that dream a reality.
    We have run the section several times, in hardshell and inflatable kayaks, camping along the river on gravel bars or sandy banks. But we had never hiked the Rogue River Trail from Grave Creek to Foster Bar, which the BLM website and Forest Service maps say is 42 miles long.
    I organized a four-day, three-night trip and invited four other couples to join us: my brother and sister-in-law, James and Annetta Stout, and friends Art and Carolee Buck, David and Skye Sugar and Chrissy Brown and her sister, Jody Clark. Most of us are baby boomers in our 60s, so in deference to our age and wisdom, we decided to stay in the river lodges instead of camping. It made our packs lighter because we didn't need to carry shelter and food, and we were rewarded each day with a hot shower, home-cooked meal and clean bed.
    We used hiking poles with shock-tips and chose ultra-light Osprey Exos backpacks, which weigh less than two pounds. In our packs, we carried a change of clothes, extra socks, rain jacket, 70-ounce water bladder, water filter, first-aid kit, minimal toiletries, sunscreen, Tecnu (a soap for washing off poison oak) and high-energy trail snacks. Filled, our packs weighed 25 pounds and they fit very comfortably, distributing the weight so evenly that we hardly noticed the load. I also brought my Oregon 650 Garmin GPS, so I'd know exactly how far we really hiked.
    The first day we hiked from Grave Creek to Black Bar Lodge, a distance, according to the BLM, of 9.4 miles; my GPS registered 11.34 miles. It turns out there is a big difference between river miles and trail miles. The trail climbs over a rocky path above the river and provides spectacular views of the rapids at Grave Creek, Whisky Creek and Rainey Falls.
    At places the trail is quite narrow and precipitous, so we had to gingerly pick our way along. The views were so breathtaking that we would often stop to take photos and simply gaze in awe. The canyon is wild and within a mile from the trailhead, we had entered a world of steep, forested slopes with the river shimmering below in the morning light, a flowing, blue ribbon in the wilderness.
    David is a botanist, and his knowledge of the flora in the canyon was helpful. The array of wildflowers was astounding. The first day we saw several vibrant purple flowers, which David told us were Forktooth ookow, a name as improbable as its beauty was to behold. We also had to be wary of poison oak, as it encroaches on the trail in many places.
    Black Bar Lodge is on the south side of the river, and to reach the river required a steep descent over rocky terrain. Once there, John James, the owner, ferried us across in his driftboat. Dinner is family style, and we ate like famished wolves, then went to bed right after dinner because we were so tired.
    Day 2 was the LONG day from Black Bar Lodge to Marial Lodge. The BLM map indicated 14.6 miles, so we started early right after breakfast. There was a light drizzle, but it was refreshing and soon cleared up. We were blessed with sunny weather in the mid-60s, which was perfect for hiking. The trail crosses many creeks that were gushing with spring run-off, so filling our water bladders was no problem. Some creeks we had to carefully ford and others had wooden bridges spanning them. The creeks were a cool oasis nestled in draws, covered with a riot of ferns and mossy trees. More wildflowers painted the trail with their bright colors: orange-red Indian paintbrush, yellow tarweed and purple harvest brodiaea.
    The changes in the forest landscape were dramatic. We'd be walking through mossy live oaks then round a bend in the trail and enter a large expanse of Douglas fir, only to emerge from the conifers into a vast, grassy meadow. It all depended on how steep the canyon was and where the sun bathed the slopes.
    We had the trail almost all to ourselves, encountering only a few other hikers. As there were five couples, sometimes we hiked together, sometimes in smaller groups and sometimes by ourselves. Each couple had their own rhythm, but we would always regroup for lunch. The best places to rest were by the creeks in a copse of ferns where we could listen to the soothing sound of water cascading over the rocks.
    After nine hours of hiking, we arrived at Marial Lodge absolutely exhausted. My GPS read 19.26 miles. No wonder we were tired. The hospitality and gourmet food served up by the owners, Pat and Laurie, made us feel like royalty. The lodge has been in their family for more than 50 years, and it is a labor of love for them. Marial also has an OLCC license, so we celebrated dinner with a bottle of syrah from the Rogue Valley.
    The third day took us from Marial to Clay Hill Lodge. The trail passes above Mule Creek Canyon and Blossom Bar, the signature rapid on the Rogue. Shortly after leaving Marial, we climbed above the river and entered Mule Creek Canyon, which is so steep that the river was in shade and the upper canyon walls were glowing in the morning light. The trail became extremely narrow and required close attention because it was uneven and a long drop to the river.
    We could hear rapids roaring below, and when we rounded a curve we saw the notorious Coffee Pot, a roiling, treacherous section where the river hydraulics can slam a raft into the rock walls or flip it in an instant. The river seemed transformed into a primordial beast waiting for unsuspecting prey.
    After Mule Creek Canyon, the river becomes placid for a mile or so, and then even before we saw it we could hear the rapids of Blossom Bar booming in the distance. The rapids look innocuous from upstream, but we took a side trail that brought us to a rock outcropping overlooking the rapids. Here we could see the full force and majesty of Blossom Bar, its severe hydraulics and the notorious Picket Fence. We traced the line through the rapids and imagined how we would do it when suddenly a rafter appeared and began his approach. The oarsman rowed across to the south side, hit the eddy and made the textbook move between Horn Rock and Goalpost Rock, running the tongue down Beaver Slide. We all cheered from our perch and he gave us a distant high five.
    The trail wound past Paradise Lodge, through more conifers and fern-covered creeks until it came to Clay Hill Lodge. The view of the river from the lodge is without equal. Looking downriver, it catches both the morning sunlight and the evening glow. Great blue herons and osprey cruised up and down the river in an endless ballet. We sat on the deck overlooking the river, soaking in the magnificent view and started reminiscing about our trip, knowing tomorrow was our last day.
    Then James spied movement on the hillside near the lodge, and as we looked, a black bear appeared, rambling effortlessly across the uneven terrain, pausing to dive into a patch of berries to feast. He ranged back and forth for about 20 minutes and then disappeared into the trees.
    The fourth day dawned clear and glorious and we were reluctant to leave. Once again the trail climbed several hundred feet above the river and then wound around Huggins Canyon through oaks and madrones. The highlight of the day was Flora Dell Falls, a 30-foot waterfall that pours into an aquamarine pool surrounded by ferns and mosses. It was so lush and green and cool that we stopped for a long rest and snacks to enjoy the setting. It is a perfect swimming hole, but the water was too cold for swimming.
    Towardsthe end of the trail, the canyon widens and the trail crosses a huge meadow that is part of a cattle ranch near Illahe. After a total of 51 miles of hiking, we arrived at Foster Bar. We waded into the river and performed a ceremonial baptism, laughing and shouting with glee.
    The hike was amazing, challenging and spectacular. For me it was a pilgrimage, but sharing it with friends made it the experience of a lifetime. The Rogue River Trail is a crown jewel in the State of Jefferson.
    Carlyle Stout lives in Ashland.
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