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Huffing and puffing up to Baldy Peak

We had been warned, but still it was a surprise.

In announcing our hike up Baldy Peak, Hans Kuhr, who organizes outings nearly every two weeks for the Southern Oregon Happy Trails hiking group, cautioned the trek would be moderate to strenuous, warning, "If you have not been hiking, this could be a very difficult hike."

He wasn't kidding.

It's about 3.4 miles from the trailhead, at an elevation of about 1,790 feet, to Baldy Peak's summit, which most maps list as 4,645 feet, an elevation gain of 2,855 feet. The original plan was to stop for lunch at an overlook along a ridge that crosses under Baldy because it offers panoramic views of the multitudes of neighboring peaks.

A few people did stop there. Some nibbled a quick lunch before the final climb up Baldy, while some were content to make it their turn-around spot. Reaching the ridge crest was a challenge, being three miles and 1,900-feet above the trailhead. But most of us didn't hesitate, trudging onward and steeply uphill to Baldy where, despite its name, views from the peak are semi-obscured by trees.

The trail we followed is officially named the Charley Buck/Baldy Peak Trail. The first nearly 1½ miles from the parking lot climbs and meanders along Charlie Buck Road to the actual trailhead. Some people drive part way up the road and park along the few sections wide enough for safe U-turns. About a mile up, the road is blocked by a fallen tree at a place where trying to turn around is dangerous because of the narrow road and steep cliff.

From the actual trailhead, the hike begins no-nonsense style, immediately climbing steeply. With only a few exceptions, the trail is seriously Shasta steep, with only a few not-really-that-helpful switchbacks as it enters the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Along the way, occasional clearings provide scenic overviews, and good excuses to catch a break while enjoying views of the Upper Applegate Valley below.

We huffed and puffed to a potential turnaround spot, then continued across the well traveled trail that traverses under Baldy Peak to the more open lunch stop. While crossing the trail, faster hikers looked like a parade of ants as they made their way up the final push.

It's named Baldy Peak, reportedly because its south and west slopes are grassy meadows with smatterings of oaks that give it a bald appearance. But Baldy's north and east slopes are heavily forested, with its top covered with trees and bushes wrapped over like a wig on a bad hair day. There is no classic summit, so there are no gee-whiz panoramic views.

According to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest website, Charlie Buck/Baldy Peak is a combination of two trails that were realigned to provide continued access to the Baldy Peak area and eliminated nearly two miles of the old Charlie Buck Trail. The current trailhead was established in 1994. Charlie Buck, the website tells, was a 1900s settler, and he and his family owned several properties along the Applegate River near McKee Bridge. Located just off Highway 238, the covered bridge was built in 1917 but for decades has only been used by pedestrians. The picnic site and day-use area, which has a restroom and offers fishing, swimming and wading in the Applegate River, is itself worth a visit.

But that came later. We enjoyed our time at Baldy's top, eating lunch and exploring the not-so bald summit area before lengthening our hiking poles and reversing direction for the downhill drop. After the challenge of hiking up Baldy Peak, going downhill was definitely uplifting.

— Reach freelance reporter Lee Juillerat at juilleratlee1@gmail.com or 541-880-4139.