Back to the Source
Five days on the Rogue Rogue River Trail
A guest post by Tuula Rebhahn
The Rogue is not your normal, run-of-the-mill waterway.
Zane Grey, famous writer of the Rogue Valley, describes the river as one that emerged fully formed from beneath Crater Lake. No collecting trickles and side streams like a kid raising funds for a first car. The Rogue got a trust fund, and invested it wisely—building her own canyon-land wilderness.
In the Rogue Valley, we owe much to this river; it is the primary source of water for Medford and other cities, and the one place we can return that water when we’re done with it. But the name “Rogue” itself might be even more central to our lives: college students, financial institutions, the garbage company, and even my neighbor’s dog answer to the word Rogue. But it all started here—at the river.
However, this piece is not about the river, or about the wilderness. This is about the trail. The high-wire walk above churning rapids, the rainbow spectacle of wildflowers, the forest that changes in each microclimate. Not just the trail, but the places it takes you: back through time, through the fascinating and troubled history of human activity in this wilderness, and back further to the time when the landscape itself was formed by shifting continental plates and the persistent erosive force of water.
For the five-day KS Wild hike along the Rogue, which takes place every May, we left the river itself to our guides. It was a good arrangement. The two rafts, as glimpsed from the trail, provided a human scale to the vein of water, along with a sense of teamwork. By land and by water, we would reach the end of the trail, and burn through the many pounds of food packed in those rafts.
Being my first experience hiking, sleeping outside, then hiking some more the next day, I probably shouldn’t have planned on more than just soaking in the experience. Of course, I brought more than I needed: books and notebooks, electronics, things to keep me busy. By day two, I had revised my mission statement for the hike. I had seen the electric glory of the canyon. All I wanted was to take it in.
Our first night, we stopped at a beach that runs the length of two or three city blocks, before the high canyon walls squeeze the river tight again. The campsite is known as Tyee, the Chinook tribe’s word for “chief.” My guidebook says a gold mine once operated here with 300 Chinese workers extracting a million dollars’ worth of gold dust. Now, a golden carpet of yellow monkey flowers covers the blocky uplifted rock, fertilized by goose poop. I explored, stepping carefully to avoid both flowers and poop, until a fierce spring wind pushed me back to the security of camp.
The wind brings rain, and for the next ten miles we trek in various weights of it, hoping for a break while the contents of our day packs get soaked. Holly Christiansen, who’s organized the trip for five years, says she’d never experienced weather like this. But, whether we wanted them or not, the gifts of rain were there in abundance: the fat cheeks of moss hanging from trees, the gurgling creeks heard long before coming around the bend to see them, and the blanket of fog moving amorphously over the dark green forest. High vistas over the canyon reveal endless variations on the color gray—gray sky, gray water, gray rock. Yet, when I rounded a corner, I caught a glimpse of bright yellow.
Western Tanagers streaking through the gloom; three or four of them alight on a young fir just a few feet off the trail in front of me. I had never seen such colorful birds in this hemisphere!
At the end of the third day, I began to think of our raft guides as minor deities—the sun and the moon, the source of all that is good in the world. They appeared miraculously twice a day and fill us with food. They tote the groover (the plastic receptacle for our human waste) in and out of the raft and to as private a location as possible. They set up chairs and tents for shade, and protection from rain. They entertained us with stories and listened with heartfelt interest to ours. They seemed at one with the river, sleeping out under the stars, comfortably enough to inspire me to do the same once the rain lets up. Early in the morning on the fourth day, we heard a noise like demons awakening in the canyon. Our guides provided a rational explanation; a young deer had lost its mother and both parties had bellowed until the two were reunited.
At Inspiration Point, we caught up to a pack of eighth-graders on a year-end expedition. And they’re not the only ones — several other groups of through-hikers had been leapfrogging with us the entire trail, but we all seemed to have convened here, where cliffs meet the spray of a stair-stepped waterfall and panoramic vistas of the mighty Rouge. Our group lingers just long enough before moving on, but a few minutes later we hear the unified roar of a dozen teenaged lungs. A “primal scream,” their teacher warned us. I can’t think of a better way of coping with the eighth grade.
The rest of the trek passed by too quickly with a newt pond, a fossil-embedded rock, and the fantastic Blossom Bar rapid, which was aced by our guide crew.
Need a shot of courage? Join KS Wild next year for the annual raft-supported hike. Rain is not in the forecast… yet.
Tuula Rebhahn is a writer and editor proudly based in the Rogue Valley. Keep up with her via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TuulaWrites/