Lone Pilot Trail (Soda Mtn. Wilderness) 12-Feb-2015

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

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.

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

Mount McLoughlin from the Pilot Rock Access Trail

From the PCT, the Lone Pilot heads south through some large meadows (still a little early for lots of flowers),

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

Large meadows along the crest

where I got a big view of Mount Shasta (the first of many),

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

Mount Shasta

passed an abandoned stock pond that is now frog heaven,

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

A pool of frogs along the trail

before swinging east around Pilot Rock.

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

Pilot Rock from the west

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.

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

From open meadow to forest in an instant

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

Through the Ponderosas

Then the trail would climb out of the ravine and provide big views back along the way I’d just come,

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

Looking westward along the trail (arrows)

and of the ever present beacon of Pilot Rock.

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

Pilot Rock from the south

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.

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

Along the creek at the trail’s lowest point

From there, the I started started a long, slow climb up through oak forests,

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

Climbing out of the creek drainage

to a crossing of Scotch Creek,

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

The Scotch Creek drainage

and then on up to a view of Pilot Rock and snow-covered Mount Ashland to the north,

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

Pilot Rock (center) and snowy Mount Ashland on the horizon

and Mount Shasta, Black Butte, and Mount Eddy to the south.

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

Mount Shasta and others 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.

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

The trail on Lone Pine Ridge; the road (arrow) up from Scotch Creek is obscure here

The trail along the ridge undulates gently through forests and vistas,

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

Along Lone Pine Ridge

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.

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

The loose cliff that necessitates a detour

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.

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

Where the east end of the Lone Pilot Trail (arrow) joins the PCT

From the junction, I ambled west on the PCT to complete the loop, catching a last view of Mount Shasta,

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

Mount Shasta from the PCT

and of Pilot Rock, now loomimgly close,

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

The east side of Pilot Rock

before getting back to the trailhead late in the day (but I got a later than usual start).

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

Reaching the trailhead at dusk

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.

Lone Pilot Trail Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

The Lone Pilot Trail with PCT return loop

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