Trip ReportI had a friend, Layne, come to Southwestern Oregon on business from Northeastern Colorado and he wanted to climb one of the nearby County Highpoints. Access to the County Highpoints is difficult in April, but I suggested we try Grayback Mountain in Josephine County.
April 6, 2006 he arrived at the Rogue Valley International Airport in Medford. We knew time was going to be critical, so he quickly rented a car and we headed out to the O’Brien trailhead. We have had lots of snow this year in Southwest Oregon, so we were curious how low the snow line was. We hit snow at about 3,400 ft elevation and about 2 miles from the upper O’Brien Creek Trailhead.
We parked along the road, quickly put on our boots and packed our snowshoes on our packs. It was 2:45 PM when we started the hike and we knew we had to be back by dark at 8:00PM. I was wearing my Mountaineering boots and carrying my big Gregory Denali pack, because I am training to go to Denali next month. We put on the snow shoes about ¾ of a mile from the car. Well, Layne is about 25 years younger than me and by the time we got to the Lower O’Brien Creek trailhead, I was huffing and puffing pretty good. Layne hadn’t broke a sweat yet. I told him to go ahead and he did.
I struggled along, but by 5:00PM I was only up to 4,900 ft elevation and I knew there was no way I was going to make the summit. I turned around and slowly made my way back to the car. I waited for Layne to show up and about 7:15PM he made it back to the parking area. He had made it all the way to the summit and back down in 4 ½ hours.
April 8, 2006 I decided to give Grayback another try and I would have all day to do the hike. I parked at the same place we had parked on Thursday and I headed up the road. The climbing was uneventful and I was making good progress when I noticed that the snowshoe prints from Thursday’s climb had toe and claw marks at the end of the prints. That’s strange I thought. I saw a couple more of these tracks and determined that a big bear had followed our prints for about ¼ mile along the road. They looked fresh, but I didn’t see the big guy. These bears in Southwest Oregon are not aggressive and usually run away as soon as they see you. He was postholing in spots, so he must have been a good size bear.
I continued up following our trail from Thursday, past the point where I turned around. I found the sign that directs the hiker towards the Kraus Cabin or up to Boundary Trail. I could see that Layne had taken the fork to the Kraus Cabin, I turned in the opposite direction and headed up to the Boundary Trail. Here the trail became less distinct and I soon lost trail. No problem, just keep heading up, heading west, picking the easiest path through the beautiful snow covered trees.
In only about 200 yards, I picked up Layne’s trail again. The Kraus Cabin trail wasn’t heading in the right direction, so he followed his GPS towards the summit. I followed his trail and was grateful he had broken the trail. The snow was softer here and I was sinking in about 6 inches with my snowshoes. The terrain was more open in places and I think these areas are covered with talus in the summer. The talus slopes made a great route with this much snow covering the rocks. This slope is much steeper here, but it wasn’t too difficult. I almost lost Layne’s trail a couple times, because the tracks had filled in with wind blown snow.
At the ridge line, there is a small cornice and I lost Layne’s tracks. I traversed below the cornice towards the summit. Once I was able to get around the cornice, I made it up to the summit ridge and picked up Layne’s trail once again. I followed it the last couple of hundred feet to the summit. It had taken me just under 4 hours to make the summit.
On the summit it was a winter wonderland with all the trees packed with snow and ice. It was only 26 degrees and the wind was blowing about 15 mph. It was snowing lightly and it looked like more weather was on the way. I didn’t stay long and I was soon heading down.
The trip back to the car was uneventful. I got back to the car in only 2 hours. I had covered 8.35 miles and climbed 3,650 ft. What a great way to spend a Saturday.