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Round and round Round Mountain

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Photo by Lee JuilleratGary Vequist shows good form climbing over a fallen log.
Photo by Lee JuilleratThe view south from Round Mountain shows forests and farmland.
Photo by Lee JuilleratAmong the early bloomers on Round Mountain are plantainleaf buttercups.

It wasn’t part of the original plan, but when the road to the Bad Lands became, surprisingly, too snowy, we made a U-turn and wondered where to go next.

The Bad Lands is a little-visited area on a finger of the Fremont-Winema National Forest east of Klamath Falls. Remote and seldom visited, it’s accessed from Forest Service Road 22, a dirt and gravel road that begins off Bliss Road (shown by its former name, Squaw Flat Road, on many maps) off Highway 140 a few miles east of Dairy to the south or north from the community of Sprague River. Road 22 begins near the Devils Garden, where a trailhead connects with the OC&E-Woods Line trail.

The Bad Lands, spelled as two words on Forest Service maps, is an area ripe for exploration, a geologically interesting area without roads or trails. Friends and I have visited the Bad Lands other times, but not this time.

After a round of discussion, trip leader Bill Van Moorhem suggested hiking up nearby Round Mountain. He’d been there before, but most of us had not. So, sure, why not?

Round Mountain, with a top elevation of 5,425-feet, is one of the high bumps seen from Bliss Road. It’s possible to drive up Forest Service Road 550 about a mile south of the Devils Garden/OC&E Woods Line parking area, but the rumbly road is 4-wheel-drive steep and rocky. And, less than a mile up it’s blocked by a series of fallen trees. To make things more difficult, the Road 550 sign is not visible from the highway but is posted a short walk or drive up the road.

We parked off the highway and walked. Up and up. And up some more, always staying on the road. Always until Bill and others used their GPS units to locate the way to Round Mountain’s summit, which isn’t visible from the road.

Because spring has barely sprung, the landscape is mostly colorless. But Gary Vequist, who carried his “Common Plants of the Upper Klamath Basin” book, insists it will be blooming with a variety of wildflowers in a few weeks. We did find and identify some flowers, including a yellow bell, also known as a yellow fritillary, and a plantainleaf buttercup.

Once off the road was more uphill, often requiring bushwhacking and creating a path around brush and trees, sometimes correcting our make-do trail until reaching the extended, stony, jagged summit ridge.

Round Mountain isn’t round, but is a high point among a series of crags. Some of the group decided to avoid the steep final climb, one that requires some wriggling up narrow passages, and stay below. The reward on top, marked by a circle of stacked rocks just below the high point, were long-distance views west and south.

Our retreat was made easier by winding around Round’s summit, a route that avoided the ragged crags. As we wound ‘round Round, we eventually found the tracks we’d created on the way up. Once back on Road 550 it was easy going.

The only disappointment was at an open area off Road 550 not far above Bliss Road — a sprawling debris field where thoughtless slobs have discarded all sorts of garbage — remnants of televisions, tires and more. Ironically, it had to be a much greater effort to drive miles to and up the out-of-the-way spur road than instead of simply going to a landfill.

Back at the car, Bill’s GPS indicated that the elevation gain was around 780 feet — “It felt like more,” he said — and that we covered less than four miles for our Round Mountain round-trip hike.

Next time we’ll head for the Bad Lands. But in our roundabout way, we enjoyed our merry-go-Round.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.