Trip Report: 1/17/2021
Steven Wagoner FKT Attempt
Sterling Mine Ditch Trail
Trails with history intrigue me. The Sterling Mine Ditch Trail, in southern Oregon has a very interesting past, and I was finally able to go run the length of the trail on January 17, 2021.
It was really more of a burn run over the weekend, than a leisurely road trip, but the weather window looked good, and I was excited to go run and explore the Siskiyou Mountains along the Oregon and California border.
My wife, Laurie Ann, was gracious enough to go along for the journey, and be my shuttle driver. She dropped me off at the Grub Gultch Trailhead, and picked me up at the other end, at the Little Applegate Trailhead. Do your homework on the route finding to these trailheads, as they are a little tricky to find, especially the Grub Gultch Trailhead which is located outside of Jacksonville, Oregon. Drive up Anderson Butte Road, with a right turn onto BLM road 38-2-26 to find the Grub Gultch trailhead with a gate. The Hidden Creek Loop Trail is on the other side of the road.
I chose to start at Grub Gultch because I thought the trail was more down hill going toward Little Applegate, but it turns out that the water in the ditch actually flowed the other way. The ditch was dug in 1877 to divert water from the Little Applegate River to the gold mining operation on Sterling Creek. Over the course of the 20 plus miles, the ditch has a very gradual drop of only 200 feet, so it’s relatively flat to run. It still appears that going this direction was the better choice, because it avoided having the biggest elevation gain at the end if I had finished at Grub Gultch.
The morning started off very foggy in Medford, but had cleared off nicely by the time I started my run at 10:09 am. My goal was to break 5 hours for the 23.2 miles, which would require just under a 13:00 minute per mile pace. The temperature started off in the upper 30’s, but quickly warmed up, and I was down to one layer within the first hour.
The trail passes the Jack Ash trail junction on the right within the first half mile, and then continues on for about 3 miles downhill with several switchbacks before reaching the actual ditch. The ditch is very obvious, even though it’s a little overgrown with occasional down trees and branches. The trail really follows the berm along the ditch, but does dip down into the ditch from time to time. There are very few rocks or roots along the course of the trail and it’s in very good shape for running.
The trail was amazingly dry, so bring plenty of water. I found no creeks or streams that were flowing over the entire course of the trail. The terrain along the trail was constantly changing, which kept it interesting, with shady Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees, to groves of gnarled oaks and madrone trees along with manzanita in the open meadows on the south facing slopes. I’ve read that the trail can be muddy, but it wasn’t muddy at all on the day I ran it, and was smooth running.
I only crossed two gravel roads over the entire length of the trail, and passed trailheads or junctions at Deming, Armstrong, Wolf Gap, Bear Gultch, and Tunnel Ridge. I only saw 3 mountain bikers riding together, and about a dozen hikers.
The run went well for the most part, with only a couple of stops and minor mistakes along the way. I wore my Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest and Hoka Speedgoat 3 trail running shoes. I drank just over a liter of electrolytes during the run, along with several Spring energy gels, a Lara bar, and about 8 Clif energy chews. All in all, I was pleased with my run. I would like to have come in under the 5 hour mark, but was very close to my goal with a 5h 3m 36s finish. I highly recommend this route for a nice long trail run.
Laurie was waiting for me at the Little Applegate Trailhead, and I whooped & hollered as I came running down the final section of the trail to the road. It’s always a great feeling to finish a long trail run. Even though it was mid January, I took the opportunity to strip down and wade into the Little Applegate River to wash off some of the trail stink before making the long drive home. The celebration beer would have to wait, but it had been another great day in the mountains.
10:09 am Start Time
23.82 miles / 5h 3m 36s
4.7 Average mph / 7.0 Max mph / 78 rpm
12:44 Average Pace / 8:35 Max Pace / 10:12 Fastest Mile
955’ asc / 1,867’ dsc / 2,716 kcal