Big Bottom (Clackamas Wilderness) & Rho Ridge Trail

For the second outing in a row we turned to Matt Reeder’s “101 hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region” as our guide. A number of the hikes in this book are lesser known and therefor less popular which means fewer people and most likely more challenging due to spoty trail maintenance.

We began our day with a short hike into one of Oregon’s wilderness areas that we had yet to visit, the Clackamas Wilderness. This particular wilderness is broken up into five separate tracts of land, one of which is Big Bottom. The Big Bottom tract protects an old growth forest along the Clackamas River. Although there are no official trails in Big Bottom a decommissioned logging road allows for a mile long walk down to the wilderness boundary where a use trail continues north for a little over half a mile before vanishing in brush.

To reach the decommissioned road we drove Forest Road 46 north from Detroit for 28.6 miles to Fores Road 4670 where we turned left crossing the Clackamas River. Just beyond the bridge we turned right on FR 4671 for .7 miles and parked on the right at the old road.
Closed road 120 which leads to the Big Bottom unit of the Clackamas Wilderness

We followed the roadbed downhill through a previously logged forest.
Heading down to Big Bottom

Just prior to reaching the wilderness boundary the road bed became choked with downed trees which we simply detoured around.
Trees leaning over old road 150

At a junction with an even older roadbed we turned left (north) and followed what became a clear user path into the old growth of Big Bottom.
Big Bottom

Big Bottom

There were a few downed trees to navigate but the path was easy enough to follow until we neared a creek where the ground became marshy and the underbrush extremely thick.
Big Bottom

We turned around at that point returning to the car to complete a 3.4 mile hike. That was our warm-up for the day before a longer hiker on the nearby Rhododendron (Rho) Ridge Trail. Our plan was to start at Graham Pass and follow the trail south 4.8 miles to the Hawk Mountain Trail and take the .4 mile trail up to the Hawk Mountain Lookout.

To reach Graham Pass we followed FR 4670 for 13.9 miles to FR 6530 where a large parking area was visible. There was no signage visible at the parking area, just a blank signboard along an old logging road.
Rho Ridge Trailhead

With no obvious trail visible we turned to the forest service map and our GPS to try and see if we could tell where the trail was supposed to be. Both of these indicated that the trail lay just east of the parking area so we headed into the trees and began to hunt for any sign of it.
Beargrass near Graham Pass

After a few minutes of climbing through the brush and crossing the location of the trail as shown on the GPS several times we decided to head toward the logging road. The GPS showed it curving back to the east further uphill where the Rho Ridge Trail would cross it and we figured the worst case scenario was we’d have to walk the road up to the crossing where we would hopefully be able to identify the trail. We were also beginning to suspect that the location of the trail on the maps was incorrect which is not all that uncommon. Sure enough we found the trail before reaching the road.
Rho Ridge Trail

We turned uphill following this obvious trail through beargrass filled meadows.
Rho Ridge Trail

Beargrass along the Rho Ridge Trail

The trail was brushy at times with lots of huckleberry bushes encroaching on the trail.
Rho Ridge Trail

The tread was faint through most of the meadows and blowdown was common along the way but old blazes and yellow diamonds on trees helped identify the trail.
Rho Ridge Trail

Blowdown over the Rho Ridge Trail

Rho Ridge Trail

The trail had several road crossing and shortly after the third we arrived at Fawn Meadow where a small stream flowed through a meadow of wildflowers.
Meadow along the Rho Ridge Trail

Shooting star

Wildflowers along the Rho Ridge Trail

After a fourth road crossing the trail entered another beargrass meadow with a partial view of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams.
Penstemon lined road crossing

Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams from a beargrass meadow along the Rho Ridge Trail

The brush was particularly thick as we exited the meadow which required us to really pay attention to the trail which was hard to see through all the green. We reentered the forest where we crossed one final old logging road before spotting the first snow along the trail. (There was actually a larger patch lower that we’d notice on the way back down but somehow we both missed it on the way up.)
Rho Ridge Trail

Snow along the Rho Ridge Trail

The little patch of snow was near Round Creek which was flowing on this day. The sound of the creek was nice but we didn’t dare stop to admire it due to the many blood thirsty mosquitoes that were present. Just under half a mile later we spotted the sign for the Hawk Mountain Trail.
Rho Ridge Trail jct with the Hawk Mountain Trail

We turned uphill here climbing approximately 300′ in .4 miles to the summit meadow and the Hawk Mountain Lookout.
Hawk Mountain Trail

Snow along the Hawk Mountain Trail

Hawk Mountain Lookout and Mt. Jefferson

Hawk Mountain Lookout

The view from the summit is a good one especially of Mt. Jefferson.
Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, The Three Sisters and Mt. Washington from Hawk Mountain

Mt. Jefferson

Additionally Three Fingered Jack, The Three Sisters, and Mt. Washington were visible further south with the very top of Broken Top poking up above the ridge north of Three Fingered Jack.
Three Fingered Jack, The Three Sisters, an Mt. Washington

The view wasn’t the only attraction at the summit. An impressive display of wildflowers was underway which had attracted a wide variety of pollinators.
Wildflowers on Hawk Mountain

Wildflowers on Hawk Mountain

Wildflowers on Hawk Mountain

Wildflowers on Hawk Mountain

Butterfly on penstemon

After a nice break it was time to head back.
Mt. Jefferson from Hawk Mountain

On the way down the Hawk Mountain Trail we stepped off the trail briefly to get a view to the north since trees on the summit had not allowed us to see in that direction. Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood were all visible.
Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood

On the way back we managed to follow the trail all the way down where we discovered that the official start of the trail was just a few feet up the logging road from the blank signboard. The Rho Ridge Trail sign had been just out of sight.
Rho Ridge Trail sign

The hike from Graham Pass to Hawk Mountain was 10.7 but a shorter option exists by starting at the southern end of the Rho Ridge Trail. From this end the hike up to Hawk Mountain is just 4.2 miles round trip. This was the second straight outing that we didn’t encounter a single other hiker along the trails. As overcrowded as some of the popular trails have become it’s nice to know that there are still some out there that offer a little more solitude. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Big Bottom & Rho Ridge

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2 thoughts on “Big Bottom (Clackamas Wilderness) & Rho Ridge Trail”

  1. Did you happen to hike w/ Darrel & Darvel Lloyd? I noticed they posted this exact same pair of hikes a week or so ago. Do you care to share your GPS track for Hawk Mtn via Rho RIdge?

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