I did some research on trails in the Soda Mountain Wilderness and came up with not much, other than the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) along its northern boundary. Further digging took me to the Siskiyou Mountain Club’s (SMC) Lone Pilot Trail – a trail that the Club constructed along roads that had been abandoned long before the wilderness was designated. These old roads are fortuitous in that money for building new trails from scratch seems nonexistent. So kudos to the Club for creating this trail as it is the only way you can explore the depths of the western half of this wilderness without bushwhacking. It also provides a neat way to literally circumnavigate Pilot Rock. So with the Loved One committed to a home improvement project for the day, I headed to the wilderness to be a lone pilot (sigh) on the Lone Pilot.
I reached the start of the Lone Pilot from the Pilot Rock Trailhead and the access trail to Pilot Rock. The Lone Pilot starts where this trail junctions with the PCT. I caught a glimpse of Mt. McLoughlin early on but would spend most of the day on the south side of the range, where Mount Shasta dominates the horizon.
From the PCT, the Lone Pilot heads south through some large meadows (still a little early for lots of flowers),
where I got a big view of Mount Shasta (the first of many),
passed an abandoned stock pond that is now frog heaven,
before swinging east around Pilot Rock.
The trail cuts in and out of ravines throughout its length and these ravines harbor microclimates and habitats quite different from the south-facing ridges. After a walk through open meadows, I’d turn a corner and be plunged, within a hundred yards, into a dense Ponderosa forest. This would provide cool relief if you hiked this in summer.
Then the trail would climb out of the ravine and provide big views back along the way I’d just come,
and of the ever present beacon of Pilot Rock.
About about 8 miles from the PCT, the Lone Pilot reaches its lowest point along an unnamed creek, where it looked like the SMC had to do quite a bit of brushing to keep the road/trail open.
From there, the I started started a long, slow climb up through oak forests,
to a crossing of Scotch Creek,
and then on up to a view of Pilot Rock and snow-covered Mount Ashland to the north,
and Mount Shasta, Black Butte, and Mount Eddy to the south.
Eventually, I reached the old road on top of Lone Pine Ridge, which I would follow north to the PCT. The connection between the old road along Lone Pine Ridge and the one coming up from Scotch Creek has been filled-in, so now it’s hard to find the connection between the two.
The trail along the ridge undulates gently through forests and vistas,
before encountering a steep, loose cliff that forces it to lose elevation and forced me to do a late-in-the-day, tired-legs climb back up to the PCT.
If the SMC hadn’t put a nice sign at the Lone Pilot Trail – PCT junction, it would be really hard to tell that the Lone Pilot even existed.
From the junction, I ambled west on the PCT to complete the loop, catching a last view of Mount Shasta,
and of Pilot Rock, now loomimgly close,
before getting back to the trailhead late in the day (but I got a later than usual start).
Although long-ish (17 miles roundtrip; 2,700 feet of elevation gain), this hike was never steep (thank the road for that) or hard to follow (thank the SMC for that). It proved to be a great way to experience the interior of the west side of the Soda Mountain Wilderness, with its differing habitats and vistas. There are places to camp and water sources (but it can’t be said for sure if all the springs run in the summer), so you could easily make an overnight backpack out of it.