August 26, 2012

A little history along the Plaza Trail and a rock resembling a sheep's head?

Mt. Hood from Sheepshead Rock
Like so many trails in the old Cascades, this one is heavy on forest and light on views - until you reach the destination. Years ago, while hiking with a novice to trails on the western slopes of the Cascades, I was asked how I could enjoy a trail surrounded by forest, without the same views the higher Cascades offer. I told him it was like wine. You have to grow to appreciate a fine wine, just like you have to grow to appreciate a hike through the woods, with few or no views. Any likeness between wine and a trail is probably a stretch, but it must have worked. I didn't hear anymore of what the trail was missing for the remainder of the hike.

The hike to Sheepshead Rock from Road 4810 is only 1.4 miles, so the lack of views until the Rock is reached is quite bearable for even the most avid, view seeking hiker. The view from Sheepshead Rock, located inside the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, is worth the relatively easy and short hike. The question is whether the drive to the trailhead is worth it. A little over 18 miles off of Highway 224, the road (4610), is a few miles of pavement and several miles of gravel. Actually, there are much worse roads leading to trailheads; it is the length of this one that might cause one to turnaround before the trailhead is reached.
South Fork of Salmon River Canyon

For a road heading so deep into the sticks, 4610 is actually in decent shape. It seems to drain well, except for one stretch, and has few potholes. The road is mostly up and down, but where the road does level, look for potholes. Drainage in one stretch is along the road, which has left small ravines to straddle or dodge. Washboarding on the road is not a concern.

The sign at the trailhead is for Old Baldy. Only a few feet from the trailhead it splits, with a right hand turn leading to Sheepshead Rock. Most of the hike to Sheepshead Rock is uphill, but it is gradual. A few short sections of the trail resemble more a creek bed than a trail, with loose rocks scattered about. Another short section of the well-worn trail looks like a deep ditch, where years of travel have worn a deep groove in the forest floor.
Sheepshead Rock
Sheepshead Rock is within view of the trail, but an unmarked side trail must be taken to scramble up the rock. Ridges of the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness make up much of the view from the Rock, with the South Fork of the Salmon River's canyon below. In the distance is Mt. Hood. I could see Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens, but haze from fires left me wondering if I could see further on a clearer day. Something else I couldn't make out was any likeness between the rock and a sheep's head.
 View West into Eagle Creek canyon
With plenty of life left in my legs, I decided to hike on to the junction with the Salmon Mt. Trail. This section of the Plaza Trail follows a ridge, but is well below the ridge's crest, so again, views are limited. It is well graded and mostly downhill from Sheepshead Rock. Unfortunately, the trail had recently been used by horses, which did a lot of damage to the narrow trail. I am all for horses accessing trails; however, some trails are not made for the weight and hooves of a horse.
Old saw blade along the trail
The quiet of this section of trail was suddenly interupted by a grouse flying noisily from some brush. There is nothing like the flight of a grouse to get your attention. Another interesting find on this stretch of trail was what appeared to be an old sawblade hanging from a tree that someone had place there. On the return trip, I stopped to look at an old fireplace from what was once an old guard station. On the return trip, look to your right when you come to an old dirt road to see the fireplace through the brush.
Guard station fireplace