August 18, 2008.
French Creek Ridge Tr. | 4.8 miles (?) | 900′ ele. gain | 3 hours
This secluded hike near Detroit Lake (sounds like an oxymoron, huh?) provides a nice escape into Central Oregon without having to travel too far from home.
This adventure began before reaching the trailhead, on gravel road 2207. The guide book didn’t mention anything about the condition of the road (as it usually does if it is slightly unbearable) so I didn’t think twice about having almost 4 miles to drive on gravel. At the start of the road there is a sign indicating it is for high-clearance vehicles only. I’d come this far, I thought, so I may as well see how far I can get down the road. It wasn’t bad at first, but it soon became more rough, with big chunks of rock in the road and gnarly grooves and dips that would have been easier to deal with in a big truck. Knuckles gripping the wheel, I made it up the road to the parking area, thankful that I’d set my odometer so I would know exactly how far to drive.
Before setting off on the trail I checked out my tires and determined they were okay, then set my mind on walking. This would be a new distance record for me if I decided to walk the entire way. I had plenty of time, as long as the weather held out for me.
Immediately I was greeted by blooms of purple flowers and lots of green plants. They welcomed me with large drops of moisture that were deposited on my pant legs. Soon I was soaked through with old rain. I walked slowly along the gravelly trail, reminiscent of a subalpine meadow, that eventually became covered in soft dirt and decaying plant matter. My feet were happier here and I gently picked up the pace. It was hard to keep walking with so many beautiful flowers around.
The forest was quiet. I had the feeling that I wouldn’t see anyone out here today. I admired the flowers and listened for birds as I walked along. About 30 minutes from the start I reached a more open spot with views of tall basalt cliffs rising above the forest floor. A wide talus slope lay beneath the base of the cliffs. Pikas called out from their rocky homes above and below the trail.
In another short 30 minutes I reached what I believed to be the “30-foot, castle-shaped rock formations” that Sullivan described. There wasn’t much of a view here, and the scramble to the top of the rock was very enticing. Throwing caution to the wind, I picked my way up the crumbly rock and clinging vegetation. I used many pine branches and any pieces of solid rock I could to make my way up to the top. Again, I thanked my Vibram shoes for giving me monkey-like grip on the ground beneath my feet. I definitely needed it here. I triumphantly stood atop the castle, gaining a better perspective of my surroundings. Detroit Lake sat in the valley bottom straight ahead of me. Following the ridgelines with my eyes, I noticed that at one point a ridge disappeared into the clouds for awhile and returned to sight some distance away. I decided I was looking at the base of Mt. Jefferson. Bright white patches of snow also hinted at Jefferson’s presence. On a clear day, this must provide an amazing view.
I sat up here for quite some time, letting my clothes and shoes dry as well as packing in some calories. I watched a bird of prey circle above another “castle” and watched the clouds morph like blobs in a lava lamp. Each time there was a small break in the clouds I tried to spread my mental solar panels wide so I could collect as much heat energy as I could during those brief cloud breaks.
Reluctantly, I gathered my things to return to the trail. I dreaded the scramble down, since I’d been having more difficulty going down than up, and I didn’t bring my poles today (duh). Fortunately, it was not as bad as I’d thought; I found more solid rock hand holds as I carefully descended to the well-graded trail below the castles.
The walk out from there was a breeze. I still took frequent stops to look at or listen to the gifts that nature had laid out for me that day. I encountered not one single human on the trail. As soon as I got back to the car, a light drizzle began to fall. I felt fortunate to be able to enjoy such a peaceful afternoon on this beautiful trail. My legs felt good, my mind was at rest…
…until I realized I had to drive back down that gravel road…