Hiking the Rogue River Trail: Part 1… Over the Side I Went!

The Rogue River is noted for both its beauty and its rapids. The Rogue River Trail has been cut into the steep sides of the canyon, providing spectacular views of the river as well as an introduction to the interesting plant and animal life of the region.


Peggy and I backpacked down the 40-mile Rogue River Trail last week. It has been on her bucket list ever since she rafted down the Rogue a few years ago. I, too, wanted to explore the area but also needed to do a conditioning trip for my thousand mile backpack trip from Mt. Ashland to Mt. Whitney this summer. My new gear and my 75-year-old body needed to be tested. Both worked, more or less. This is the first of 3-4 posts on the trip.

The Rogue River Trail starts from a large paved parking lot named Grave Creek.  (The daughter of a pioneer was buried nearby in 1846, thus the ‘Grave.’) The site is mainly used as a kick off point for people rafting the river. No surprise. This section of the Rogue is world-famous for its rafting. And the majority of people traveling this way prefer to have a raft carry their food and gear as opposed to carrying it on their back. As my friend Tom Lovering the boatman says, “Why wouldn’t they?”

We arrived at 11:00, an hour later than I had hoped, and the sun was beating down mercilessly. Summer had arrived early, it seemed. The day before had been yet another cool spring day. We had been whining that it was never warming up! Go figure. I could see the trail snaking up the side of the canyon without an iota of shade. Peggy and I futzed around: slathering on sun-block, filling our water bottles, putting on our boots, and taking advantage of the out-house (twice). But inevitably, the time arrived, as it always does; we shouldered our packs and headed up the trail.

The beginning of the Rogue River Trail as seen from the Grave Creek parking lot. Up and in the sun.

Face it, backpacking can resemble work. There’s a part of your mind that lets you know this when you load everything you will need to live in the woods for a week on your back and start hoofing it up a mountain in the hot sun. Mine usually has some unprintable comments for me. If it’s the first trip of the year, if you are out of shape, or if you are over 50, the mind might even say a bit more. Well, Peggy and I were in fairly good shape (score one for us), but it was our first trip of the year, and, at 67 for Peggy and 75 for me, we definitely resembled the over-50 crowd.

There are also rewards, of course, otherwise people wouldn’t go backpacking unless they were forced to— or had masochistic tendencies. “Ah yes, pain, bring it on!” They’d stay home in front of their big screen TVs and veg, or write blogs. While our trail shot up the mountain, it also provided us with great views of the Rogue River. And we soon noted an abundance of wild flowers. The trail even seemed to flatten out a bit and trees provided welcome shade.

Peggy at the beginning of the trail with the Grave Creek Rapids behind her. A few years earlier I had waved good-by to her as the rapids grabbed her boat.

The canyon walls were often covered with flowers, especially if springs provided a bit of moisture.

The yellow flowers above are monkey flowers, one of my favorites, as you’ve probably noted from past posts. A friend once told me you can hear them say “eek,eek, eek” if you listen. I’ve never heard them, but I still listen. (grin)

These colorful stonecrop flowers also decorated the cliff sides. Their succulent leaves provide water for dry times.

More shaded spots provided a variety of brightly colored iris flowers. This is a golden iris. We found several other varieties along the way. You will see more!

Shaded trails like this one provided welcome relief from the more exposed sections of the path.

As did the frequent cool streams along the way. We stopped often to refill our water bottles. (Water along the route needs to be filtered.)

Most of the streams have bridges built over them, which eliminates the issue of fording.  I’ll show several in the next posts. Many were quite attractive.

It was a river trail, however, and that means ups and downs. They come with the territory. I was on a down when the accident happened. The path had dropped to maybe 50 feet above the river and the sheer drop-off cliff had switched to a steep embankment. My left foot, i.e. the foot on the river side, slipped on some loose gravel. No biggie. Years of trail hiking have given me an automatic sense of balance and fancy foot-work to deal with such contingencies. This time, however, I was using walking poles and I set the left one to provide the necessary balance.

The next thing I knew, I was toppling over. Peggy, who was behind me, said it was in slow motion, like I had fainted, or suffered a heart attack, or had a stroke. You can imagine how she felt. I didn’t have a clue what had happened. All I knew was that I suddenly found myself stomach down, head first on a crash course for the river. You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes in such circumstances? All that flashed in front of mine was another 40 feet of rocky slope topped off by a cold bath. Not good. I would have loved to have had my pack where I could have used it for a brake. But it was on my back, along for a free ride. Whoopee! Packs are like that. I used my left arm instead, pressing it down. I could feel the rocks ripping off my skin. But it worked. I slid on for a couple of more feet and stopped.

“Are you okay?” Peggy yelled. Apparently, I didn’t answer quickly enough because she threw off her pack and scrambled down. I was busy checking out my arm. It looked a bit like hamburger. To paraphrase an old Tex Ritter cowboy song, there was blood on my pack and blood on the ground, there was blood on my arm and blood all around. But the arm felt fine. At least it wasn’t broken or gushing. Peggy helped me get my pack off and I stood up and carried it back to the trail while she gathered up my walking poles.

We hiked back up to some shade and I took out my water bottle and washed my arm off. Good news. It was mainly a scrape with some 14 small cuts providing the blood. Only one seemed worthy of attention. Another couple came by at that moment. “My husband is a nurse,” the woman announced. He glanced at my arm, pronounced “You aren’t going to bleed to death,” and hurried on. So much for the medical profession, I thought. Peggy smeared on Neosporin and slapped a band-aid on the larger cut. We were good to go.

We hiked down a few feet and I picked up my walking poles. One was considerable shorter than the other. And then it struck me. The left pole had collapsed when I had shoved it into the ground for balance, and I had collapsed with it. There is probably something in bold letters, or at least the fine print that suggests you check them before use. Otherwise, the poles would be a lawsuit waiting to happen. I was relieved to know that the cause of the fall was the poles and not me!

Eventually we reached our first night’s camp, a lovely tree-shaded site below Whiskey Creek. Booze Creek is the next stream down, which may say something about the early gold miners that populated the area. We got out our flask of Irish cream liquor and toasted them— and ourselves, for surviving day one. Chores that evening included setting up camp, a quick, soap-less rinse of our clothes and selves in the icy river, and dinner. At one point, I had the mother of all cramps, as my leg protested against what it was sure was abuse. Were we having fun, or what? It was early to bed. Peggy crawled in at the sign of the first mosquito. I hung out for another hour or so.

Every bird in the world arrived at our camp at 5 a.m. the next morning and immediately burst into song. It was a virtual cacophony of noise as each bird competed with the next over who could trill the loudest and the longest. I rolled over and pretended to go back to sleep.  We crawled out at six and started our second day.

It was a lot like day one except I managed to stay on the trail. The trail continued its ups and downs, climbing down to cross streams and immediately back up afterwards. Once again it was hot. We were treated to great views of the river.

There were many more views of the river on the second day such as this, which featured rapids that the river runners love so much.

At one point, I spotted a snake out of the corner of my eye beside me on the trail. There is something primeval about seeing snakes, especially when they surprise you. Alarms go off deep in your brain while your leg muscles bunch up for a humongous leap. Almost simultaneously, I recognized that this fellow was one of the good guys, a king snake. I thought ‘photo-op.’ It’s difficult to photograph snakes when Peggy is around. She gets nervous. “Don’t get too close, Curt,” she urged. “It might bite you.” Possibly, if I grabbed it by the tail. But king snakes prefer to crush their food, winding around them like a boa constrictor. That’s what they do to rattlesnakes, even rattlesnakes that are bigger than they are. And then they swallow them, whole. I’d like to see that. Apparently, they are impervious to the venom.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a snake making its way along the edge of the trail…

Having noticed me, the snake made his way up the cliff, providing ample opportunity for me to take pictures. The closer I got, the more nervous Peggy became. I don’t know what the snake thought.

Later, Peggy noticed a large slug. At first we thought it was a banana slug, given its size. Banana slugs are well known as the mascot of the University of California at Santa Cruz, a fact I love. You really have to like a college that selects a slug as its mascot. But our guy/gal lacked the characteristic yellow color. It seemed fat. “Maybe she’s pregnant,” Peggy mused, which led me to wonder how slugs mated. “Slowly,” Peggy suggested.

This large slug checked out Peggy while I took its photo. The walking pole is Peggy’s. Mine stayed affixed to the back of my pack after the accident for the whole trip.

Our greatest excitement of the day was getting from the trail down to our campsite at Horseshoe Bend. It was a long way down, and apparently, the Bureau of Land Management adheres to the philosophy that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  Anything resembling a switchback was totally coincidental. The trail was so steep in places that we had to side step. We eventually arrived in one piece and discovered a new way of protecting our food from bears. It was shocking. BLM had created a small enclosure with an electric fence. I sat up that evening hoping to see a bear try to break in. No such luck.

Peggy provides her commentary on the trail down to Horseshoe Bend.

The electrified enclosure built to keep hungry bears away from rafters’ and backpackers’ food.

Do you think bears can read?

Our new, ultralight Big Agnes tent overlooking the Rogue River at Horseshoe Bend. We love the tent! It is big enough for the two of us (we like each other), and light enough that i can carry it to use as a solo tent.

The view from our campsite…

And finally, for those of you who were concerned about Bone being left behind this summer, here he is, happily ensconced in one of my belt pouches, peering out like a baby kangaroo.


FRIDAY’S POST: Smelly chemicals and long dead frogs discourage me from pursuing a career in science in the MisAdventure series.

TUESDAY’S POST: Part 2 of the Rogue River Trail series.

54 thoughts on “Hiking the Rogue River Trail: Part 1… Over the Side I Went!

  1. Oh my goodness Curt! You are a great story teller! I’m ever so glad that you were ok. Loved every bit of this post. Beautiful images. Looking forward to the rest of the story….. 🙂

    • Not quite so much excitement on the rest of the series, Sylvia, thank goodness! 🙂 But there are a few fun stories and much more beautiful scenery. Thanks. 🙂 –Curt

  2. The guy who won the Nathan Hot Dog Eating Contest was asked what he did in order to win the competition. “I ate 30 hot dogs before the start” he answered.
    I couldn’t stop thinking same way about you LOL You are now “training” with more miles before the big hike But you actually need a warm up
    Gorgeous views of the river!! Hope your scratches are gone by now
    Take care. Christie

    • Laughing, 30 hot dogs on my layover days might be just what I need to avoid wasting away to nothing on my trip, Christie. There is no way I can carry enough food to match the calories I will be burning.
      Training is important. And the best training you can do for a backpack trip is with a pack on your back. No matter how much your body whines. 🙂 It is also really important for checking out your gear.
      Thanks. More scenic photos coming, including some gorgeous waterfalls. Scratches and bruises are pretty much gone. 🙂 –Curt

  3. What did i tell you about being careful? Kids – they never listen!! I’m surprised Bone didn’t go flying out of his pouch.
    I did see an unknown species snake eat a coral snake one time. Not a pretty sight when the coral snake finally figured out he was dinner.

    • Right on the whiskey bit, Carrie. The walking poles are definitely going into the shop to be tightened. I was just relieved that the fall wasn’t the result of my blacking out, or something. That definitely would have forced some serious re-thinking on this summer’s trip. Saw my doctor yesterday, BTW, and he felt I could handle the trip. He’s quite enthusiastic about it. -Curt

    • It’s a gorgeous trail, Gerard. And yes, it’s hard to swim with a backpack on. In fact, one of the rules for fording more serious streams and rivers is to start with your pack undone so you can shuck it off if the river knocks you off your feet. –Curt

  4. Wow. What a great post. In my eyes, sceneries are awesome. We love hiking, but we make only day hikes. When being young, I spent many nights in the nature. Nowadays our favorite hiking areas are on our northernmost areas call Lapland. Hiking among free roaming reindeers is nice experience.

    Thank you for this post.

    • You are welcome! Hiking among the reindeer sounds like a great experience. When I was in Alaska, I occasionally hiked through herds of Caribou. It was both interesting and fun. I found them quite curious. –Curt

  5. You and Peggy are rock stars! I would never want to find myself in the position of tumbling down a rocky slope or continuing on with a hike after injury. But even more than that — I wouldn’t want to stumble upon snakes like I’m sure you often do. I’d say I’m more of a city girl. Best I stay where no one has to rescue me after I see a snake and faint my way down a cliff.

    • No, fainting your way down a cliff is certainly not something you want to do, Juliann. (Laughing) But getting out into the woods is good for the soul, even if it is only a walk in a park! Even city girls can enjoy nature… and I’ve discovered that you are an adventuresome soul. 🙂 –Curt

  6. Yikes! Glad your unplanned trip down toward the river didn’t result in any serious injury! What a trooper you are. I’m not sure which might have headed me back to civilization quicker… the tumble or the snakes. I’m loving the views you’re posting of a favorite river. Stay safe and do try to be careful!

  7. Pingback: Would You.. Could You.. Hike A Thousand Miles? | JoHanna Massey

    • Thanks, JoHanna! Very much appreciated. It will be an adventure! Made even more so by my young age of 75. And thanks to your followers who decide to join me as I blog and post photos of the trek! A million? Woohoo! 🙂 –Curt

  8. That was a little more eventful than I expected! Glad you are OK after the tumble. I count on my poles on occasion and from now on I will give each one a good test before setting off! Beautiful scenery!

    • Me too, Lexi. 🙂 But all is well that ends well. And the last scab is about gone! I came home and tightened my poles. I’ll keep checking them on the thousand mile trip. Actually, I prefer hiking without poles. Your body develops a much better sense of balance. But the poles are good for ankles and knees, so I will be using them at least on downhills. The trail was quite attractive. –Curt

      • I only like a pole (just one, which I switch around) on VERY steep or precipitous downhills. I just feel a tiny bit more secure – not so much for knees and ankles but to keep from pitching into the abyss!

      • Yeah, Lexi, you do want to avoid falling into the abyss! Walking sticks are also quite valuable for crossing over swift streams and across high snow filled passes. –Curt

  9. Believe it or not, I have a friend who has a collection of vintage Banana Slug tee shirts. She and her family lived in Santa Cruz for a while, many years ago, and she loves her some slugs! That slo-mo part of accidents is real. I’ve gone into the water a few times, and every single time there was that sense of unreality — especially when I opened my eyes and saw nothing but barnacles!

    I’ve never used poles — wouldn’t even have a clue how to use them effectively. Of course, most of the hiking I’ve done has been in fairly benign territory — even with steep ascents and rocky ground, good boots have seemed enough. I presume by now you have those poles checked out!

    • Already commented on the poles, Linda. I’m playing catchup here.
      The slo-mo stuff is real. Maybe its the body’s way of giving you time to react?
      Banana slugs just make me smile. A T-shirt collection would be great! –Curt

  10. Good Morning to you Curt and Peggy. Oh this is just such a beautiful place, glad to know Bone is along. Enjoy every step of the way! You know, I have never been a proponent of those hiking poles. More of a keep a low center of gravity gal.
    Off you go …thank you for the lovely photo/essay. Looking forward to the next post from some of my favorite woods.

    • Hmm, seems like my last response didn’t go through. Just in case, here it is again: 🙂 Bone screamed quite loudly, if silently, on the thought he might be left behind.
      Poles definitely interfere with natural balance although helping with knees and ankles. I may go low tech and use a walking stick. After all, it was good enough for John Muir… 🙂
      One week from now I hit the trail! If it’s okay with you, I will repost your post on support to kick the trip off with? –Curt

      • Absolutely fine with me Curt on passing my promo for your adventure. The word ‘inspiring’ has become a catch all phrase for just about anything these days. Think it is so important when someone is actually doing something that is truly inspiring. Your Thousand Mile Hike definitely is inspirational my friend. Has the potential to get a few folks off the couch for sure. Be safe, stay hydrated, and a rollicking good time to you!

      • Thanks so much, JoHanna for you good words and support. I’ll be off the net starting tomorrow but should have my first post up in a week plus. Until then… –Curt

      • My pleasure Curt. Use the post to promote your adventure however/wherever you desire. Bon Voyage!

  11. Pingback: Would You.. Could You.. Hike A Thousand Miles? By Johanna Massey | Wandering through Time and Place

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