Saturday, November 3, 2007 I left my house in Medford, Oregon and drove about 68 miles to the Briggs Creek trailhead for Bald Mountain. It was a nice morning, with a little overcast when I arrived at the trailhead. Amazingly, I saw no hunters on the drive up Illinois River Road and no other cars on the road. I knew I had a long hike ahead of me and daylight was limited. I packed my stuff and headed across the Briggs Creek bridge at about 8:15AM.
The bridge has several holes burned in the bridge boards from the Biscuit Fire of 2002. Nothing big enough to step through, but it is interesting anyway. Hopefully the forest service has checked out the understructure for the bridge because it is a bit of a drop down into the creek.
This is a good trail that heads into the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, but instead of losing elevation as you follow the Illinois River downstream you gain elevation. The trail traverses steep hillsides for several miles and has great views of the river and in some places you can see Bald Mountain far ahead. The trail is good, but there are places that it would ruin your day to step off towards the river. I made good time for me and the miles passed quickly. Soon I reached the fork at 4.9 miles where the Illinois River Trail goes to the right and Pine Flat Trail goes to the left.
I chose the left fork because I wanted to hike the loop and come back on the trail that goes right. This is a long hike and I wanted to get the hardest part of the hike out of the way before I was too tired. The Pine Flat trail drops down to the Illinois River and it loses elevation quickly. I was glad I was going down this part and not climbing back up. At the bottom of the hill there is a large cairn to mark the trail, but the trail is hard to see because of the leaves that have fallen from the oak and madrone trees. I rock hopped across Pine Creek and followed the faint trail westward. The trail veered out towards the river and for a few hundred yards the trail was in the riverbed rocks. There were a few cairns here, but in high water it would have been under water.
I kept following the faint trail out of the riverbed and into a large meadow where I passed the Weaver Ranch site. It’s very peaceful here and a great place to camp and fish. Maybe someday I will come back and just camp here for a few days. There was a big hornets nest in an oak tree that hung over the trail, so I gave that a wide berth. Hornets are vicious.
After I crossed Florence Creek, the trail left the Illinois River and started to ascend the south ridgeline towards Bald Mountain. The trail is difficult to follow as it ascends steeply. It has not been maintained and you have to be very alert so as to not lose the trail. There are a few large cairns and several surveyor flags hanging from tree limbs. I slowly made my way up this ridge. It is a long pull up from the river. I kept going and eventually the slope flattened out a little. I passed by some elk sign and that surprised me. I heard there were elk in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, but had never seen any animals or sign before. They must be just in this northern portion of the wilderness.
The summit of Bald Mountain was not burned off during the Biscuit Fire. There are some great old growth trees near the summit. The trees have large diameter trunks, but not too tall. The winter storms really blow in from the Pacific and this area gets loaded with snow also. Usually the old growth trees are in the creek beds and ravines protected from the wind.
Once up to the top of the ridge, the last mile is easy hiking to the summit of Bald Mountain and the trail is easy to follow. On the summit the views are limited by the trees, but it is still a special place. It took me about 5.5 hours to get to the summit. I did the math and knew that I couldn’t goof off too long on the summit otherwise I would be hiking back to the trailhead in the dark. I ate lunch, called my wife on my cell phone and told her I would be late, and then headed back down the trail.
I took the formal Illinois River Trail back towards Briggs Creek instead of the trail back down to Pine Flat. This is the longer leg of the loop but the trail is much nicer. I made good time and covered the 7.1 miles back to the Pine Flat fork in just under 2.5 hours. I didn’t rest here. I continued on my way towards Briggs Creek. I arrived there 4.2 hours after leaving the summit. I had covered 12.0 miles and it was just dark when I got to my truck. This is a really nice hike, a bit long at 22.6 miles, gaining 4,800 ft in elevation, and took 9.6 hours plus my lunch break.
I was surprised that the Biscuit Fire had not burned more of trees in the area. The views are good and the solitude complete. I had not seen anyone all day on the hike. Someday I will go back and camp in Pine Flats, and then again on Bald Mountain, before heading down to Agness.