Our latest outing was a microcosm of our year so far. Several days of rain and snow coupled with overnight temperatures in the mid 20’s had our plans in flux until the night before our hike. In the end we wound up having a great time but the planning and process were anything but smooth.
In the end we decided to try the Deception Butte Trail . The trailhead elevation was low enough that we didn’t need to worry about icy roads in the morning which was our biggest concern in determining our destination.
We weren’t sure what to expect from the Deception Butte Trail. In 2014 the Deception Fire had closed and burned some of the trail. The trail description on the Forest Service page didn’t say anything about the trail still being closed, but it did contain a map from 2014 showing the closure. The map description states “This map shows the open and closed sections of the trail resulting from damage from the Deception Fire in 2014.” It was unclear whether that was just to let the reader know that the map was old and that was why there were red and green sections of the trail or if it was to inform the reader that the trail remained closed. Spoiler alert it was the latter.
We started our morning at the Lower Deception Butte Trailhead which is located 3 miles west of Oakridge, OR one hundred yards up Deception Creek Road.
We were encouraged by the lack of any signage to indicate that part of the trail remained closed as we set off into the forest.
We followed the Deception Butte Trail sign.
The trail passed through a lush forest as it bent around a hill where it began to follow along Deception Creek.
The trail dropped a bit to the creek which was flowing fairly well due to all the recent precipitation.
Signs of the 2014 fire could be seen on the hillside above the trail.
At the 1.75 mile mark we came to a footbridge over Deception Creek.
There still had been no signs warning of a trail closure so we crossed the bridge and continued on. Not even a tenth of a mile beyond the bridge we came to a rocky ridge and entered the burn area.
We began to encounter blowdown almost immediately. The first couple of obstacles were navigable but then we came to this.
The steepness of the hillside made going around the jumble of debris impossible so we turned back. Even though there had been no notices of the trail being closed it clearly wasn’t being maintained. We had made it 1.8 miles before heading back making this a 3.6 mile round trip. The forest along Deception Creek was nice and so was the creek so the trail is still good for a quick leg stretcher or easy day hike.
For us the hour and a half hike wasn’t going to be enough to justify the hour and forty five minute drive each way so we turned to our contingency plan, the Dead Mountain Trail.
Formerly the Flat Creek Trail, the trail and name were changed in 2015 when it was extended from 4.3 miles to 6.3 miles. Sections were added at both ends to connect the trail from the Salmon Creek Trail up to the summit of Dead Mountain. Our guidebook was written prior to the trail extension so instead of parking at the new lower trailhead 2 miles outside of Oakrdige on Forest Service Road 24 (Salmon Creek Road), the hike description we had said to start .7 miles along Forest Road 2404 (Flat Creek Road) which was only 1.75 miles outside of Oakridge.
Flat Creek Road was gated shut so we parked on the shoulder and began hiking up the road.
As we were walking up the road we spotted a runner cross the road from the left to the right then recross the road a short time later. We were about a half mile from the gate when we came to the spot where the runner had crossed. A trail was visible on both sides of the road but it was unsigned and not shown on the GPS leaving us to wonder what it was and where it went. We continued on the road for another .2 miles where we came to the former Flat Creek Trailhead marked by a hiker symbol on a tree.
We had noticed other runners on a trail that was running parallel with the road which helped us realize that the trail we had crossed back on the road was an extension of the Flat Creek/Dead Mountain Trail. We began to suspect there was some sort of trail race happening since they were wearing numbered bibs. We joined that trail and turned right heading uphill.
The trail is open to hikers, equestrians, mountain bikes and motorcycles and is heavily used so it was in really good shape as it climbed through a thinned forest full of fall colors.
There were also a few madorne trees along the trail.
The forecast had been for sun but we had been stuck under low clouds or in fog on both trails. As the morning wore on signs pointed to clearing skies.
About two miles from the gate as we neared the end of the thinned forest we finally broke out of the fog.
The trail then promptly entered a denser forest.
The trail crossed an old road before arriving at another road junction a quarter of a mile later where an aid station was set up for the trail race. We asked the volunteers what race it was and they explained that it was the Oakridge Triple Summit Challenge, a three day event where runners make three different summit ascents.
Our guidebook would have had us turn uphill to the right on Dead Mountain Road at this junction but with the extension of the trail we crossed the road and continued on a path that had been clearly designed to be a mountain bike trail.
The trail had many ups and downs and hairpin corners as it climbed toward the summit.
Just over 1.75 miles from the road junction the trail crossed Dead Mountain Road.
After another tenth of a mile of climbing we arrived at the broad flat summit of Dead Mountain.
The trail wound around the summit to the Upper Dead Mountain Trailhead at the end of Dead Mountain Road.
Several radio and cell towers were located near the upper trailhead and it was in this area where we were finally able to get a mountain view.
We did a little exploring and headed downhill on a road track which led to a path that headed out onto a narrow ridge with even better views. It was a great view but definitely not a spot for anyone with a fear of heights.
Hills Creek Reservoir (behind the tree)
Mount Yoran and Diamond Peak
We decided to follow Dead Mountain Road down for a bit which was the route that the runners had followed.
There were some interesting white mushrooms along the road.
We followed the road for approximately three quarters of a mile passing a “Road Work Ahead” sign along the way.
After the three quarters of a mile we forked right on another old road bed then took a short trail which had been marked for the race back to the Dead Mountain Trail.
Along the way we had an encounter with my old nemesis, the varied thrush. We see quite a few of these colorful birds on the trails but I am rarely able to get an even remotely decent photo. They move around a lot and they always seem to be in poorly lit areas. After a couple of attempts at this particular thrush it finally sat still long enough for a slightly blurry photo.
The aid station had been packed up and removed by the time we arrived back at the road junction and the runners on the trail had been replaced by other hikers and mountain bikers (and one speedy newt) as we made our way down.
With the fog gone the fall colors were on full display in the thinned area.
We followed the Dead Mountain Trail past where we had joined it from Flat Creek Road earlier but didn’t take the portion between Flat Creek Road and Salmon Creek Road due to not knowing for sure how long it was nor how far it might leave us from our car.
Our route for this hike wound up being a total of 10.7 miles with over 2000′ of elevation gain. The trail made for a nice hike but given it’s design as a mountain bike trail and heavy use might not always be the most peaceful hike.
As our hiking season winds down we’ve done few of the hikes we’d planned on but those that have taken their places have turned out well and today was no different. Happy Trails!