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Whetstone mountain-battle ax creek loop hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Morning rays on the Jawbone Flats Road (bobcat)
Mt. Hood from Whetstone Mountain (bobcat)
Opal Pool and the footbridge over Opal Creek (bobcat)
Company store, Jawbone Flats (bobcat)
Cascada de los Ninos, Little North Santiam River (bobcat)
View to Battle Ax and Mt. Jefferson from the Whetstone Mountain Trail (bobcat)
The loop around the area (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Opal Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Battle Ax Creek Crossing
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 14.8 miles
  • High point: 4,969 feet
  • Elevation gain: 4,350 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

This high loop, one of the most interesting hikes in the central Cascades, is the long way to the popular destinations of Jawbone Flats and the Opal Pool, leading you up a lengthy ridge to enjoy the expansive views atop Whetstone Mountain. Then you'll hike along the ridge dividing the Mt. Hood and Willamette National Forests before descending steeply to Battle Ax Creek and hiking back past the remnants of the Morning Star and Ruth Mine operations into the private inholding of Jawbone Flats, now the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. You can make a detour to see the Opal Pool, and then walk back along the access road to pass waterfalls and more mining paraphernalia on the sparkling Little North Santiam River.

Head past the gate at the trailhead and walk along the road (FR 2209) in an ancient forest of Douglas-fir, western red-cedar, and western hemlock. Salal and Oregon grape form the understory as the road drops. Look down the slope for massive Douglas-firs several hundred years old. Cross the Gold Creek Bridge and view the cascades and pool in the chasm below. The road rises to the Whetstone Mountain-Jawbone Flats Trail Junction, the former a jeep track, formerly FR 2209-330, leading up to the left.

Go left here and sign in at a wilderness permit box. The old road bed is often soggy with seep. Maples, alders and cedars shade the way in among some massive Douglas-firs. Soon, enter dense woods that have grown up after a decades-old fire. Pass an old Bull of the Woods Wilderness sign on a tree denoting that this is Trail #3369, formerly the Gold Creek Trail (Since 1996, this area has been part of the Opal Creek Wilderness). The trail leaves the road and heads up in a traverse before making two short switchbacks at some downed trees over a gully. Traverse up and get a view left of a rock outcrop on the ridge west of Gold Creek. Switchback and traverse in Douglas-fir, hemlock, rhododendron, chinquapin and cedar woods. The trail makes five more switchbacks to a ridge crest forested with silver firs. Then wind up and traverse before switchbacking twice. Traverse again and make two short switchbacks, traverse, wind up, and traverse again. The trail switchbacks in bear-grass and rhododendrons and then winds up to a ridge in dense Douglas-fir and hemlock woods, passing a length of old telegraph line. Then there are nine switchbacks before you make a level traverse along the ridge under silver fir, Douglas-fir, rhododendron and noble fir. Pass a campsite among young mountain hemlocks and reach a saddle with some very impressive western hemlocks and Douglas-firs. The trail rises and then traverses to the right on a long and level trajectory along the ridge crest before it rises and switchbacks near a spectacular rock overhang with Battle Ax and Mount Jefferson looming to the southeast. The path switchbacks again with a view west through mountain hemlocks and Alaska yellow-cedars and heads up to the ridge crest to the Whetstone Mountain-Whetstone Summit Trail Junction. A new sign here points to the "Whetstone Mtn Lookout."

Go left here, and make six switchbacks up to the summit of Whetstone Mountain through Alaska yellow-cedar, silver fir, noble fir, and mountain hemlock. The huckleberries here are ripe for the plucking in August. The base of an old fire lookout remains on the summit. To the north Mount Hood looms and Mount Saint Helens and Mount Adams peek up above ridge crests. The views to the east and south is more spectacular: Olallie Butte, Battle Ax, Mount Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Washington, and the Three Sisters should all be visible along the Cascade crest.

Return to the Whetstone Mountain-Whetstone Summit Trail Junction and keep straight. The trail traverses down below the ridge crest among large silver firs and eventually reaches the crest itself. Vine maples blaze on rocky slopes. Switchback down twice to the Whetstone-Whetstone Mountain Trail West Junction and keep heading straight (right) along a ridge crest of rhododendron, huckleberry, bear-grass, silver fir, noble fir and mountain hemlock. The trail descends the broad ridge crest; the path then rises and drops past some large noble firs. There’s another brief rise before a short drop to the Whetstone-Whetstone Mountain Trail East Junction, where Trail #3369 peels off down the slope at a large noble fir.

Head down on this trail among Douglas-firs and western hemlocks. There are some large trees in here and there also may be some blowdown to negotiate on this infrequently maintained section of trail. On this descent, there are many small, mossy gullies, some of them trickling with water. Switchback at a one such gully and then make two more switchbacks to reach the Battle Ax Creek Crossing. In the summer, you can keep your feet dry as you cross on logs and slippery rocks. The trail switchbacks to the left past a campsite and then passes a campsite trail leading off to the right. Switchback again and head up to the Whetstone-Battle Ax Creek Trail Junction at the rapidly reforesting road bed of FR 2209.

Make a right here and pass an old Bull of the Woods Wilderness sign. The road drops gently under cedar, hemlock, alder, and Douglas-fir. Pass a broken gate (an old trailhead) with a sign for the Battle Ax Creek Trail #3339. There’s also a Bull of the Woods sign and a Shiny Rock Mining sign (No Motor Vehicles), the latter a legacy of the company that deeded its claims to the Friends of Opal Creek. Cross rock slides at Blue Jay Creek below the site of the Morning Star Mine, and pass under a maidenhair fern-dripping seep. The trail is hemmed in by brush as you pass an old road junction. Then the road track widens and you cross Ruth Creek at an exposed culvert pipe in a gully. You can scramble up the creek to see the adit and rusting mining equipment at the Ruth Mine Level 4.

After Ruth Creek, come to the Battle Ax Creek Trail-Ruth Mine Level 5 Access Road Junction, where you should go right (Left is the longer detour of FR 2209 which was built to avoid mining operations). This rubbly track heads steeply down to a junction above the steep-sided gorge of Battle Ax Creek. Go right a short distance to explore the tracks and old equipment and then the adit of the Ruth Mine Level 5 . Hazardous waste was cleaned up here in 1997. Heading left from the junction, the road passes another adit. The route here, an old tram line that led out to the Poor Boy Mill, is eroded and washed out in many places as it traverses along the very steep slope above Battle Ax Creek. The creek itself passes through a narrow gorge in one spot. Pass a boarded up adit and then over a collapsed road bridge. Negotiate more washouts, cross a wooden footbridge and another washout. At a junction, keep right and drop over a large slide with clear views down to the creek. A rusting boiler sits stop a concrete smelter near a rusting compressor. These are the remains of the Poor Boy Mill of the Amalgamated Mines. The road now enters Jawbone Flats between a shed and a rental cabin in the private inholding of the Ancient Forest Center.

To visit the Opal Pool, make a left before the newest (2015) version of the bridge over Battle Ax Creek. Pass the Pelton Shed and an outdoor museum of sorts: some ore carts, wood stoves and appliances, a line of rusting vehicles. Reach an open meadow with a small picnic shelter and a composting toilet. An ore crusher dominates the south side of the meadow. Pass the national forest boundary and reach the Battle Ax Creek-Kopetski Trail North Junction, signed for the Opal Pool.

Switchback down to the substantial footbridge over Opal Creek. Pause to admire the narrow cleft downstream and Opal Pool Falls upstream. Opal Pool itself is below the cleft downstream and is best admired from the west bank of the creek, where various trail spurs lead to vantage points over its emerald depths. You can keep going from here and return to the trailhead via the Kopetski Trail, or go back to Jawbone Flats as described below.

Cross the bridge over Battle Ax Creek. Recently built cabins belonging to the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center and restored offices of the Amalgamated Mines heyday line the "main street". Leave Jawbone Flats via FR 2209 and reenter the public domain. Pass two attempted adits and get some views of the Little North Santiam, including low Slide Falls. In old growth forest, pass the Kopetski-Jawbone Flats Trail Junction where the former, also known as the Opal Creek Trail, heads left over a substantial footbridge. There’s an outhouse on the right and soon you reach the site of the Merten Mill. A trail from here leads past an abandoned shed to Cascada de los Ninos (Sawmill Falls). Pause to check out the old mining equipment, such as a smelter, boiler, and drive wheels. Back on the main track, cross a small stream where the road drops. Past here, a path leads to a view of the river. There are many huge old growth Douglas-firs in this area. The road rises along a cliff face where half-bridges have been recently reinforced. Then, drop to the Whetstone Mountain-Jawbone Flats Trail Junction and head back to parking.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Battle Ax, OR #524 (partial)
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, Bull of the Woods Wilderness, Opal Creek Wilderness, Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area
  • Geo-Graphics: Bull of the Woods and Opal Creek Wilderness Map
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Willamette National Forest: Detroit Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Willamette National Forest

Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass required at trailhead
  • Dogs on leash in Jawbone Flats
  • Respect private property in the Jawbone Flats area: keep to the main road and walk your bike

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Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

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