Words and photos by Mati Bishop
We stepped out of the forest and onto a series of ledges carved in the side of the Rogue River Valley that brought back memories of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Rafts floated through the rapids below. It was only a mile before the glee of our first steps on the Rogue River Trail was burned away by the scorching Sun and the triple digit heat of the July afternoon.
We were only sampling a few miles of the 40.5 mile Rogue River Trail through hike that starts at the Grave Creek Boat Ramp and follows the length of the river until it reaches the Foster Bar Camp Ground. An article on OregonLive.com suggested entering at Marial, which is about 23 miles into the through hike, and hiking west through an “easy” stretch of the trail.
We got off of I-5 at Glendale, drove past a lumber mill and weaved through an hour and a half of mostly paved roads in a land that God had forgotten. Entire forests had been turned into grasslands dotted with tree stumps to satisfy the hunger of the mill. We saw evidence of large hills and small mountains that were washed away with water to feed the gold rush 100 years ago and saplings that had been planted on the clear cuts giving a glimpse of hope for the future of the valley.
Our decent to the Rogue River Ranch returned us to the forest and brightened our mood. Impressed by how remote the trailhead was, we packed heavy for the six-mile hike to Paradise Lodge and back. The afternoon heat gave us pause, but having spent over two hours getting the trailhead, we decided to set out to see as much as we could see.
Our Jack Russell Terrier, Ace, trotted along joyfully through the early potions of the trail. We kept a watchful eye out for rattlesnakes enjoying the afternoon Sun but were spared a sighting. The first mile of our journey was bliss.
At Inspiration Point we looked down at Stair Creek Falls into water so clear that we could see trout feeding in the eddies. We were sold on the Rogue River Trail and mapping our plans for a return to hike the full 40-mile stretch. The trail after Inspiration Point took a turn and left us exposed to Sun for long stretches.
Ace went from overjoyed to overburdened as he worked low across the heat scorched ground. His eyes were barely open as he ran, then walked, then stumbled.
“I don’t want to kill our dog today,” said my wife as we sat in a tiny patch of shade, nursing him back to health with sips of water. We had consumed two liters of water within the first mile of the hike. It was over 100 degrees in the valley and the trail was largely exposed.
After 20 minutes, Ace was showing signs of recovery. We pushed forward remembering a sign we had seen earlier showing two miles to Blossom Bar. If we could find a spot where the sheer cliffs between us and the water relented, we could get the dog cooled down. It seemed like a better option than turning back through the heat that wiped us out.
As the valley opened, we saw a spot where the tree line stretched to the water. After a mile of hopping from shady spot to shady spot, we arrived at the small bridge over Burns Creek. The dog recovered almost immediately upon getting in the water. So did we.
We followed the stream past a campsite on our way to dip our toes in the Rogue River itself. On our way back to the trail, convinced that we were going to complete our mission of reaching Paradise Lodge, the dog was stung by a wasp. He refused to use his right forepaw and we wondered if dogs could be allergic to wasp stings.
We took turns carrying him in our arms. Working quickly back over the sun baked terrain. We consumed most of our water during short breaks in the shade where we would set him down and wait for a miracle recovery. Each time he refused to use his injured leg we scooped him up and pushed on with more intensity. The Sun and the pace were taking their toll when just before Inspiration Point, it happened. The dog started to walk again.
We missed the mark of getting to Paradise Lodge, but were in good spirits, buoyed by Ace’s recovery and the solitude and beauty of the trail. We arrived at the trailhead and laughed at having been so desperate to get out of the car and now being so thankful to get back into it.
Check out the Rogue River Trail Day Hike on the Bivy App: