A Trip Report From My Backyard
Updated: Jul 18, 2020
One of my favorite things about our house is its proximity to the huge swath of open land just above the Pacific Terrace neighborhood. As far as I've been able to ascertain from asking around, this land is at least mostly privately owned, but isn't really appropriate for development, and has sat inert except for jackrabbits, deer, hikers, and the occasional ATVer for a long time. Which, of course, is perfect for Lindsey and I, and our two heelers. Four years ago, when Doctor was just a pup and we lived in a rental closer to campus and further away from the Terrace, Lindsey and/or I would walk him for around a mile a night, usually along the neighborhood's sidewalks. Occasionally, though, when time permitted, we'd take those sidewalks to one of the side streets that connected to the trails that led to the ridgeline above the Terrace. This was great for us and for such an energetic young pup: not only did it provide better scenery than a walk at neighborhood-level, it also allowed Doctor to be off-leash and have more fun running flat-out through the brush than he did on-leash while having to dodge walkers, joggers, and other dogs down on the sidewalks.
Back then, we lived far enough away that these climbs were a rare treat. Where we live now, though, the closest connector trail is just over a block up the hill from our house, and we walk the dogs on the ridge trails more days than we don't. At a brisk walking pace, we can go from our front porch to the top of the west ridge and back in twenty minutes, if we're in a hurry. Usually I try not to be in a hurry.
Since we moved two years ago, getting to know the ins and outs of all of the ridge trails has become a bit of a project of mine: after all, I typically spend thirty to forty-five minutes up there four to five nights a week, and, being me, I tend to get bored pretty quickly if I'm not seeking out new sights and routes. I've even gone so far as to name a lot of the trails and the landmarks (informally, of course) along the routes I hike most frequently, and have recently started messing around with creating my own 3D map via Google Earth of the area with all of the "named" features and trails correctly labeled.
If this ever actually results in a usable map, I'll post it here, of course. But somehow, it never really occurred to me until the other day to write a "trip report"-style take on hiking in this area that is definitely more a part of my life than any of the mountains or through-hike trails I've ever spent time on and subsequently written so much about. So, over spring break, I set aside a morning to thoroughly hike the ridge trails armed with my phone camera and the intent to come back and write about it. I mentally plotted out a looping route that would encompass most of my favorite spots while eating a quick breakfast, threw a harness and a leash on Doctor, grabbed a few water bottles and a CLIF bar, and headed out into the new-spring sun.
It's a little more than a block straight up the road (and straight uphill) on Del Moro Street before the street dead-ends into an obvious foot trail that quickly ends in a T intersection. From here, a right turn leads you along the base of the ridge for a few blocks with an option to eventually turn left up a trail that gently ascends (relatively speaking) two hundred and fifty feet to the top of the ridge. This trail is actually already labeled on Google Maps as "Happy Wonderer," and is by far the easiest way to gain the west ridge. A left turn provides access to what we call the White Hat and Doctor's Valley trails, both much steeper game-trail-like routes that climb closer to four hundred and fifty feet up to higher points along the west ridge. We turned left, with the intention to circle around and later in the day descend via the Wonderer trail.
After following the twisting trail very briefly (and passing the slightly steeper and longer White Hat Trail) we turned right and followed the Doctor's Valley Trail up the face of the ridge.
After about four hundred feet of gain, we topped out in a nice, meadow-y area where the trail intersects a number of other routes.
We turned left immediately and kept climbing, and were rewarded with our first really clear view of Mountain Lakes Wilderness on the other side of Upper Klamath Lake as we topped the next rise.
Looking back from where we'd come from, we could see the three trails that make up what I call The Little Trident, each leading to the top of the large, flat area of the Easy Plateau. We'd bypassed them by coming up Doctor's Valley, but would have to climb one of them and cross the Plateau on the way back home.
From here, it was a lot of climbing up and then back down various hills on double-track, as the old trails were made by ATVs and trucks, and not people: they aren't particularly efficient, but they do get your heart beating. Eventually, after following the west ridge as accurately as possible, we got our first view of the end of our loop: the huge white "O" on the hill above the Oregon Tech campus.
We dropped down from there and then climbed back up the next hill, which I think of as "Grandpa's Hill" because of the comfy wire-y lawn chair at its top. We took our first break there.
Now, Doctor is basically completely invincible, except for when it comes to heat, and this was the first legitimately warm day of the spring, with the temperature already almost to sixty-five. So I sat in the chair and enjoyed the view while he drank some water. I made fun of him for not blowing his winter coat yet, and then we continued on to the "O."
After the break on Grandpa's Hill, we actually lost some altitude for awhile, dropping down toward Oregon Tech by way of some "unofficial" double-track trails and then the "official" Geo Trail that forms a loop through the hills east of campus. In the picture below you can see the solar array at the base of the "O" hill, our next objective.
I led us on an embarrassingly inefficient route down to and then along the Geo Trail, taking the long cut to luxuriate briefly in the feeling of legitimately developed trail surface under my minmally-shoed feet. After this detour, though, we made a fairly direct line to the bridge that signals the beginning of the “O” trail proper.
This trail is significantly less developed, but we tackled it in pretty short order, climbing six hundred feet, past the “O,” and up to a monstrous cairn that, when surmounted, gives you a great view of the surrounding basin, Upper Klamath Lake, the peaks of Mountain Lakes Wilderness, and Pelican Butte.
We took another brief water break here as I plotted our route back. We were at the highest elevation we’d reach all day (just over five thousand feet, eight hundred feet higher than our front porch) so it was going to be (almost) all downhill from here.
I’d climbed up to the “O” a few times before from the east ridge (as opposed to the west ridge, which we’d followed over this time), but I’d never descended back to the house via the east ridge. I knew from experience that there was a well-worn game trail that we could follow around to the east and south to avoid having to descend all the way back down to the solar array and then all the way back up, but I had no idea where that game trail began.
I had a general idea of where it probably was, thought, so we headed out cross-country initially, pointed southeast, and as we went I scanned the hill for any sign of a consistent trail. Doctor hopped and wiggled his way through thick scrub that came up to my knees.
Luckily, it didn’t take long to find the game trail, and from there I had a pretty good idea of the route we’d take all the way back to the house. In the picture below, you can see the trail arcing from the lower left to the center, off in the distance.
Even when ascending the “O” hill from this direction, I’d always stumbled on this trail at random, and had never hiked its entire length. As we followed it around the ridge side, I was surprised to find that it curled up into the trees and the hills for quite a long time. I love how easy it is to find something new even on a hike like this, where I supposedly know the terrain already.
The game trail eventually merged with a double-track trail, an intersection I marked mentally before we turned right and headed south(ish) toward the crest of the east ridge.
Inspired by our improvised success in finding the route down from the “O,” I turned left instead of right at the next juncture, curious to see if there was a way to climb the last big hill of the day – the point of the east ridge adorned with a huge, spray-painted invitation to “PROM” – from its east side rather than climbing it from its west side, which is what we usually do. This led to the discovery of some really interesting, running-water-formed patterns along a section of the double-track, and eventually a barbed-wire fence I had to climb over (Doctor got gently tossed over).
After getting past the fence and engaging in a little more bushwhacking, it became clear that there was in fact an alternate trail up to the “PROM” highpoint, directly in front of us. We took it, of course.
The east ridge peaks at the “PROM” sign, and this was the second-highest point of our hike for the day at forty-nine hundred feet. From the top we had a great view of most of the three-pronged trail formation that I call The Trident, as well as more great views of Mountain Lakes Wilderness and Upper Klamath Lake. If not for some low-lying banks of clouds, we'd have had a great view of Mount Shasta towering to the south.
If you have good shoes and decent balance, after dropping down from the “PROM” sign on the obvious west-running trails, you can turn left after a few hundred feet and scramble up a small hill that leads to a nicely shaded, rocky outcrop. Doctor took this opportunity to drink some more water and then obsessively track a jackrabbit he saw moving through the valley a few hundred feet below.
If you follow the foot trail past this rocky outcrop, it quickly withers down to a game trail and becomes an interesting almost-knife-edge for about twenty feet before ascending one of the most precipitous trail sections in the entire ridge system (that I’ve found so far, at least). Of course we had to climb it.
After we topped out yet again, a gently sloping bit of double-track led downhill a bit as we left “PROM” behind and closed in on the end of the hike.
After dropping down into a small valley, there was one last hill to climb. Doctor stared it down like a boss and then we charged it, running to the top and taking turns yelling and barking (I’ll let you guess which one of us did which).
After this climb, we crossed one last saddle before topping out on the Easy Plateau, at forty-seven hundred feet. This long, flat stony area is actually one of our most frequented spots during our usual nightly walks, but we’d managed to hike around it all day up until this point without actually crossing it. It was nice to get to visit it briefly and take in the view one more time before we started losing altitude toward home in earnest.
Because I’m a glutton for punishment, we bypassed our usual descent route (via the Happy Wonderer trail) and continued southeast briefly until we entered what I call the Hidden Valley. Fenced off at its south end, this valley provides a really steep and really fun drop of three hundred or so feet before depositing you at almost street level.
From the bottom of Hidden Valley, it was an easy, flat(ish) hike along the base of the west ridge, leading us back to our very first turn of the day: where we’d turned left, we were now on the trail section we would have been on had we turned right. And after about a quarter mile of this, we were back at the top of the hill where Del Moro Street dead-ends, a block-and-change from home.
All in all, it was a really fun afternoon, and reinforced my appreciation for this space that’s so close to our house and is almost entirely empty of other people even during beautiful, warm, weekend days in early spring.
It wasn’t really meant to be a challenging hike, but ended up being a bit more thorough than I’d expected it to be before we left the house: we hiked for seven miles, all told, and I estimate the route involved something like fifteen hundred feet of climbing (so three thousand feet of elevation exchange overall). I was a little sore by the end because a recent knee injury I’d picked up while skiing was still bothering me, but of course Doctor came through the whole thing unscathed and seemed to have more energy when we got home instead of less, as usual. Even though the heat can bother him somewhat, if he’s kept well-watered he seems to remain, for all intents and purposes, unstoppable.
It was fun to finally sit down and write a bit about our home stomping grounds in earnest. Thanks for reading!