Scotch Creek Loop (Soda Mountain Wilderness) 08-Apr-2016

Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

The Soda Mountain Wilderness is a 24,707 acre area within the Cascade–Siskiyou National Monument in southwestern Oregon and was created by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. The 53,000 acre Monument was designated in 2000 to protect the extraordinary biological diversity in this area. Both are located in Oregon and are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Soda Mountain Wilderness is an ecological mosaic where the state’s eastern desert meets towering fir forests, and whose biodiversity includes fir forests, sunlit oak groves, meadows filled with wildflowers, and steep canyons. The area is also home to a spectacular variety of rare species of plants and animals including Roosevelt elk, cougars, black bears, golden and bald eagles, goshawks and falcons.

While wilderness exists in its own right, and hence doesn’t “need” trails leading into and through it, such trails are appreciated where they do exist (particularly when compared to thrashing through buckbrush!). There were no trails per se when this wilderness was established. It is, however, traversed by a number of now long abandoned, dirt, ranch roads.  Several of these have been actively decommissioned and the land restored, or have otherwise faded into obscurity. But the Siskiyou Mountain Club (SMC) stepped up and converted one such road into the Lone Pilot Trail – a 17 mile loop which gives hikers and backpackers ready access to the deepest recesses of the wilderness. The SMC has cleared and groomed this road to make it easy to follow. Although it’s not a pure “trail”, it is the very best way to visit the interior of this wilderness. I first hiked this trail in 2015 (Lone Pilot Trail) and really enjoyed it.  But I couldn’t stop myself from wanting to explore some more of this wilderness.  So, after staring at various old maps, I conjured up a loop involving the PCT, a descent of Scotch Creek on an abandoned road, a short section of the Lone Pilot Trail, and a cross-country and old road return to the trailhead.

Prior to the establishment of this wilderness, it was possible to drive on  a dirt road almost to the base of Pilot Rock.  Now a new parking lot (with pit toilet) and a boulder barrier add a short (0.8 mile) walk along a new trail to reach the PCT at the old trailhead.  A considerable amount of work has been done to revert this old road to a trail and restore the land on either side – it looks good!

Pilot Rock trail
The new trail from the trailhead to the PCT

After reaching the PCT, I headed north on it, catching a glimpse of Mt. McLoughlin to the north.

Pilot Rock trail
Mount McLoughlin

This section of the PCT was in pretty good condition – there were a number of downed trees but all of them could be either stepped over or otherwise gotten around.

Tree down on PCT just east of Pilot Rock

About 1.5 miles along the PCT, I came to an open spot with a view south toward snow-covered Mount Shasta and Mount Eddy, with Black Butte between them, and Black Mountain in the foreground.

Mount Shasta
Mount Shasta, Black Butte (in distance), Black Mountain (foreground), Mount Eddy
Mount Shasta
Mount Shasta

This hike makes a complete loop around Pilot Rock, allowing you to see it from all sides. Here the east side is characterized by prominent columns of basalt.

Pilot Rock
Pilot Rock’s eastern side
Pilot Rock
A closer look at Pilot Rock’s basalt columns

After about 2 miles, the PCT comes to a junction with a gravel road (BLM 40-2E-33) coming in from the north. Back in the day, this road continued over the crest and connected with a road that continued down along Scotch Creek – but not any more. The roadbed south of its junction with the PCT has been actively decommissioned and, while some stretches of it are still an obvious gap through the trees, other stretches are now just use trails at best.

Soda Mountain Wilderness
Old roadbed just south of its former junction with the PCT

There is a tangle of old roads in this area and it wasn’t obvious which one was the one down Scotch Creek. While wandering around, I came across this nice little pond sitting at the end of a soon to be lush meadow.

Soda Mountain Wilderness
Small pond and meadow at 4,800 feet

I eventually found the right “road” – by now just a use trail – and followed it down the east bank of Scotch Creek. It was faint at first,

Scotch Creek
Use trail descending the east bank of Scotch Creek at around 4,400 feet

but got progressively more obvious and easier to follow as I descended. While it was clear that the old road had been decommissioned, it was also obvious that folks continued to use this path – likely during the hunting season.

Scotch Creek
Use trail descending east bank of Scotch Creek around 4,200 feet

As I approached the Lone Pilot Trail, the old roadbed reappeared.

Scotch Creek
Old roadbed about 0.25 miles before its junction with the Lone Pilot

There’s nothing along the Lone Pilot Trail to indicate the existence of this route back up to the PCT and clear evidence of it is hidden behind some fallen logs and brush (arrow). But push past that and the old roadbed will appear and that will take you to the use trail.

Soda Mountain Wilderness
Use trail up Scotch Creek leaves the Lone Pilot Trail at the arrow

Then it was west on the Lone Pilot, for a yet another view of Pilot Rock – this time from the southeast.

Pilot Rock
The southeast side of Pilot Rock from the Lone Pilot Trail

I followed the Lone Pilot to the west side of Slide Ridge – to the first drainage west of Point 4488 – and then started cross-country up toward Point 4881. I thought I’d picked a route with minimal brush (it wasn’t too bad) but, as I climbed higher, it became clear that if I’d started up from just below Point 4488, I would have missed the brush all together – ah, hindsight.

Pilot Rock
The open cross-country route from the Lone Pilot Trail to Point 4481

When I topped out on the open ridge just east of Point 4881, I found myself with an unexpected view of Pilot Rock’s southeast side – just much closer this time.  Curiously, this open area was covered with numerous piles of predator poop (made up of hair and small bones).  Why here?  The view?  One wonders.

Pilot Rock
Pilot Rock from Point 4881

From the top of Point 4881, I worked my way down to another old road (formerly BLM 41-2E-3.1) which is still pretty easy to follow but is beginning to fill-in with brush and downed trees.  It has now been completely decommissioned at its west end – where it meets the Lone Pine Trail – and is no longer evident there as a road. But judging from the number of local hunters I encountered here last Fall, it won’t be entirely forgotten as a path into the wilderness.

Pilot Rock
Old road below Point 4881

Along the way, I stopped to admire a few of the wildflowers that had already put in an appearance on this hotter and drier side of the Siskiyous.

Yellow Bells
Lyall Rock Cress

I soon rejoined the Lone Pilot Trail just south of the PCT for a view of the west side of Pilot Rock.

Pilot Rock
Pilot Rock from the west

Then it was back past the PCT and down the new access trail to the trailhead. Overall, a fun, interesting mixed (trail/old road/cross-country) hike (11 miles round-trip; 1,900 foot elevation gain) through less-explored areas and with numerous different views of Pilot Rock. I also seem to have avoided being invaded by ticks or caressed into itchiness by poison ivy! So, win-win!

Pilot Rock
Map of Scotch Creek Loop track

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