Cougar Butte pre-hike - October 18, 2007
Narration and pictures by Richard O'Neill

This coming weekend the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club will be hiking to Cougar Butte and I was entrusted with leading this hike...mainly, because I was absent from the planning meeting. It is my penance.

Last time I hiked this it was in 2004 and believe it or not, it was January. There was patches of snow covering the trail but I had good guides in Craig and Jim.

There is a brand new trail and trailhead installed by Cowhorn Arch and I was excited because the trail was so sketchy when I went before. However, once the new trail joined up with the old trail in 1/2 mile, then it was all old trail which in places was virtually no trail.

This area was burnt in the 2002 Tiller Complex Fire and the trail has disappeared in the burn area. However, as an act of mercy, the Forest Service has tacked on diamond markers on the trees and "Trail" signs, these markers are very helpful on the bushwhack up to Cowhorn Point. 

Once at Cowhorn Point, the trail appears again and one can see the Jackson Creek and South Umpqua drainages. One can also see Abbott Butte on the Rogue-Umpqua Divide, my intended destination...time permitting.

The trail dove off of Cowhorn Point and entered meadows which are all brown this time of year, this'd be a nice hike in late spring or early summer. I spent a lot of time squinting at the brown grass for any sign of a trail but basically one could follow a faint path through the meadows all the way to Cow Camp. When one arrives at Cow Camp then it's: trail, what trail?

Here's where experience pays off, I just turned left past the spring and picked up the trail going into the forest. Rocky lava beds begin showing up here and there and after a short climb through another lava field Cougar Butte summit is reached.

The butte is broad and round and does not really feel like a summit. Today was gorgeous and I could see Diamond Peak, Mt Bailey, and Mt Thielsen. I could also see Highrock Mtn, Grasshopper Mtn, Rocky Ridge and Rim, and Hershberger Mtn.

I was just getting warmed up so after the summit lunch I continued on the Cougar Butte Trail. The trail wanders along a ridge with barren pumice deserts. It's not really pumice or lava but it is definitely volcanic rock that is causing these deserts. In one of the barren areas I came across a signpost signifying a junction of some sort but there was nary a trail to be seen. Fortunately, kind souls have laid out a string of cairns and I was heading in the right direction.

At the end of the desert a meadow lay at the end of it and I could not find anything that looked like a trail. I walked through it and zigzagged back and forth but no luck. Just when I was beginning to weigh the wisdom of continuing, I picked up the tread in the forest and I was back in business.

Then the scary moment. Have you ever had the feeling you are not alone? I did, so I stopped and scanned the forest, senses on high alert. In a clump of small fir trees I about 20 yards away I saw an eye, balefully looking at me. At the same instant my mind registered the eye, the thicket exploded in sound and fury and about 8 elk stampeded out of it. And I didn't even get a picture.

I continued on the trail, eventually winding up on the Rogue Umpqua Divide Trail. I wanted to continue on to Abbot Butte (which was very near) or Elephant Head but instead turned around at my self-imposed curfew of 2:30...I wanted to be at the trailhead by 5:30 as I really did not want to be looking for trail signs in the dark. 

I returned in lengthening shadows and at one point, the area I was in did not look at all familiar. I zig zagged back and forth and found out I had come out of a barren about 60 yards north of where I needed to be. Such is life on this trail. Anyway, I got about 11 miles in and absolutely enjoyed this hike. 


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