Lodge-to-Lodge Hiking in Oregon
If I can do it, So can You

By Kathy Chin Leong

Fushia. Purple. Neon green. Sunshine yellow. These bandages wrapped around my blistered toes were a collective badge of courage after four days of hiking 33 miles along the rugged Rogue River in Southern Oregon. While I cannot say I have ever completed a running marathon, for me, finishing this lodge-to-lodge trek with Rogue Wilderness Adventures was tantamount to achieving my personal Olympic gold, an excellent way to commemorate my 50th year living on this planet.

When I first considered the trip, I didn’t want to go alone, so I asked my dear friend Ellen to come along. (And good thing I did, for I had to borrow these bandages from her! )

Ellen had mentioned that 2009 was the year she intended to put more spice into her life and stretch herself. And so she took up the challenge, and in September we flew from San Jose, Calif., less than a two-hour flight into the newly remodelled  Medfod International Airport.

A REAL STRETCH

I've never backpacked in my life. I have never wanted to scale a mountain, so why go? One of the most attractive aspects of this adventure was the wimp-escape clause – if at any time we got too tired, we could jump into the raft that was traveling alongside of us which carried our luggage, toothbrushes, jammies and all.

Brad Niva, the owner of Rogue River Adventures, picked us up at the airport, and after one night at the Weasku Lodge, Ellen and I loaded up on a hearty breakfast of biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs, and fruit, and got ready for the test of our endurance and mettle and long term friendship. Could Ellen put up with me and my quirks for a week?

According to Niva, most of the hikers who go on his journeys are women in their 40s and 50s and higher. The guys will usually come along when accompanied by their wives or significant others. Niva’s company also offers rafting and fishing trips, and any combination thereof. The cost hovers around $1,000 for food, lodging, and guide services, but not the flight.

Niva has had several brushes with famous customers, prior to our arrival. The week before, Laura Bush, yes the wife of President Bush, had gone rafting on a girlfriend getaway with a handful of her best friends who annually vacation together. "She was very gracious," he recalls. "She took pictures with everybody."

GREAT SERVICE

While Ellen and I have no claim to fame, Niva’s staff treated us royally. Our guide, Josh Kelleher, all of 24, took care to explain the essential details of the trails we would encounter each day. As each day unfolded, he was nearby in the raft as we walked the trail above the Rogue River. We would be hiking on our own just carrying our own water, snacks, and cameras. If we needed help, we could contact him on the walkie talkie.

A newlywed couple, Jackie and Jim, completed our foursome on this group hike. Jackie found out about this adventure after she read about the trip in an airline magazine. "I wanted us to do something different on our honeymoon," she said.

The hike is well-suited for intermediate hikers. Some parts required steep climbing, and on some days there was no shade. There was no way my Hong Kong-born and raised mother could have gone on this hike without complaining.

Niva makes sure that the trips are offered in the most pleasant seasons of the year so that temperatures are moderate. In 2010 they again will be offered in the spring and in the fall. And he prefers that hikers come in pairs of twos so they can share cabins.

In our case, the daily temperatures hovered in the 80s and 90s, so it was unusually hot for the fall. And the poison ivy was abundant. But in spite of the obstacles, we eagerly took to the zig-zagging paths and switchbacks. With the river always on our left, the single trail was easy to follow. If there was ever going to be a split, Josh told us to always veer to the left. "Stay by the river, always," he reminded. "Tap the top of your head if you are okay; wave your arms if you need help."

TREKKING THE TRAIL

The first day we logged ten miles. Ellen and I executed long, fast strides with cocky confidence, and marvelled at the majestic panorama of the Siskyou mountains, the Class 3 rapids, and the animal scat. Right. The poop. Actually, it was Ellen who found the poop so utterly fascinating. "Is it a bobcat? A deer? A bear?" We would stare at the brown or black pile of dung and estimate how long it had been there, what the animal probably ate, and what kind of creature it was. By week’s end, we were very familiar with bear poop- a large black mound often filled with berries.

For most of the trip, Jackie and Jim lagged in the back, sometimes regaling us with showtunes they sang at their wedding such as "That’s Amore," or "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning." They were a talkative and upbeat duo, enthusastic about everything from the monarch butterflies to the cameleons that raced across our path.

Each day held surprises as we ventured deeper and deeper into the wildnerness. Waterfalls. Fern grottoes. Groves of madrones and dark bark peeling away to reveal fleshy tan trunks. Tiny bridges across rocky streams. We would climb over fallen moss-covered trunks and walk under hairlike moss dangling from branches. Leaves in the forest thickets were now turning crimson and yellow.

Since I’m a foodie, I considered one of the greatest bonuses on our journey was the daily midday break. Josh would leave a backpack on the trail to signal that lunch was ready for us at the next turn. Lunch was a gourmet spread, compete with cold beverages, appetizers, main course, and dessert. The pineapple, for instance, was served in patterened rows on slices of pineapple rind, making our mouths water the moment we set our eyes on it. One day when we joined forces with the RWA fishing group, they shared their fresh catch, and their guide whipped up a delectable entrée of herb crusted barbequed salmon and trout. Josh and the other guides not only set up lunch, but also a tent for shade and camp chairs so we could all be comfortable.

SLEEPS

Each hiking day ended at individally-owned lodges, each with picturesque views of the river and the mountains. The staff served us generously with homecooked meals. At Black Bar Lodge, we were fed hearty fare- mashed potatoes, turkey enchiladas, salad, beef tenderloin, home grown tomatoes, and carrot cake.

And at each lodge, lights and generators for electricity went out promptly at 10 p.m. The rustic cabin bedrooms were clean and spartan. Each had a major luxury-a bathroom and shower with hot and cold running water. At the end of our daily treks, we were so exhausted, we fell into our beds and barely moved until we woke up the next morning.

As each day progressed, our hiking legs got stronger and we became more adept at roughing it in the wilderness. The woods became our outdoor restroom. While it was initially embarrassing and somewhat scary to pee off the trail for fear of bears or other critters, by Day Four, I was quite good at being fast and clean about the whole affair.

We did things and saw things we could never experience in the city. One day, upon reaching a desolate narrow canyon, we shouted out, "HELLO OUT THERE!" and heard the echo bouncing off the cascading layers of mountains across the river. We greedily plucked and ate the sweetest blackberries and gooseberries known to man from thorny bushes. During one of those 100-degree afternoons, the four of us stopped by a stream and filled our baseball caps with water and poured it over our heads with great relief and delight.

A couple of days we gave our legs a break and rafted part of the way, enjoying the Rogue and mountains from a different perspective. We heard salmon splashing and every so often we would see one jump. Josh pointed out formations like the "hamburger rock" and the "Pine-o-saurus" – a pine tree that looked like it had four short legs, a back, and a long, long neck.

FINAL NIGHT

On our last night at Paradise Bar Lodge, the cabin furthest from civilization, Ellen and I were mesmerized by the millions of stars that sparkled like diamonds on a carpet of black velvet. "Kath, there’s the Milky Way," she pointed. I had never seen that hazy constellation before, and I was speechless. We walked to a nearby picnic table, and lay on our backs staring at the points of light that blinked as if they had some kind of human connection with us.

Day Five was momentous as we hit unusally hot weather. It was 104 degrees, and the ice in our water bottles melted quickly as our sandwiches had turned mushy and warm. This last leg of the journey drew us into dry plains with fewer trees for shade. We misunderstood our guide and thought he would meet us at the Illahe Lodge. After a walkie-talkie call to Josh, we learned we were only one mile away from his van. He joked that a parade festooned with balloons, clowns and dancing dogs was waiting for us.

Well, there was no parade, but we formed our own circle of celebration. I jumped and shouted, "I did it!" We took photos, and laughed, and gingerly hugged each other’s sweaty bodies. Our smiling guide gave us generous high fives as we clamoured into the van to return to the Rogue Wilderness Adventures offices.

And on the two-hour ride back to town, while eating my mashed turkey sandwich, I indulged in the events of the week: smelling warm wood in a forest glade, napping in a hammock after a strenuous hike on Day 3, watching deer playfully bucking horns at Blackbar Lodge. I overcame some scary things like plodding on high paths so narrowI had to put one foot in front of the other. It was so surreal to be shouting over the roaring rush of the Rogue one moment and then hearing nothing but the sound of my own breathing the next.

An feat that I thought could never be accomplished was aced. Now I was braver and more prepared than ever to embark on any hut-to-hut hike, anywhere in the world. All I have to do is bring my own flourescent bandages.

****

DETAILS:

Rogue Wilderness Adventures
Four-day, lodge-to-lodge hikes, fishing trips, and more
Merlin, Oregon
www.wildrogue.com

 

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