Red Butte (Red Buttes Wilderness) 01-Jun-2016

Red Buttes Wilderness Northern California

With the LovedOne momentarily lost to gardening, I decided on a day hike of Red Butte in the 19,940 acre Red Buttes Wilderness.  This wilderness straddles both the crest of the Siskiyou Mountains (i.e., the rugged Applegate River/Klamath River divide) and the California/Oregon boundary, but has far more acreage in California than in Oregon (USFS, details).  It takes its name from the dominant peak along the Siskiyou Crest, whose peridotite rock weathers, because of its high iron and magnesium content, to a reddish-orange color.  The dominant peak has western and eastern summits (hence the “Buttes”) with the eastern summit being the named (Red Butte per the USGS) higher summit at 6,739 feet.  Although we’ve done a number of hikes in this wilderness, its high point was always somewhere down the list of things to do.

There are three ways to reach this summit: (1) the hard way via the Horse Camp trail (~4,300 feet elevation gain), (2) the pretty easy way via the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Cook and Green Pass (~2,200 feet elevation gain), and (3) the extra easy way by driving the 4×4 road from Cook and Green Pass to just below the peak (~1,000 feet elevation gain).  I opted for (2) – this is supposed to be a hike and the PCT is great in this area, with expansive views to the south.  So, after parking at the pass,

Red Buttes Wilderness
Cook and Green Pass

I headed west on the PCT and, after about a mile, turned the corner of a ridge for a big view of the twin peaks of the Red Buttes.

Red Buttes Wilderness
The Red Buttes – eastern (left) summit is the high point

I would take the PCT to just below the peak and then scramble up through brush, rocks, and boulders to the notch (arrow) east of the summit and then up the east ridge to the top.

Red Buttes Wilderness
The notch (arrow) to aim for just east of the summit ridge

Along the way, I saw that our wet winter had been good for the flowers and that there were an unusual number of the relatively uncommon Siskiyou Lewisia sprouting along the trail.

Red Buttes Wilderness
Siskiyou Lewisia (Lewisia cotyledon)

There was also a wet spot (deer pee?) in the middle of the trail that had attracted the attention of a number of half-inch long bumblebees. Extra minerals?

Red Buttes Wilderness
Bumblebees clustered on a moist patch of uncertain origin

Temperatures in the Rogue Valley were headed toward the upper 90s but up here air temps in the mid 70s and a light breeze made for bluebird perfect hiking weather.

Red Buttes Wilderness
Along the PCT – Trinity Alps on the horizon

At 2.6 miles from the pass, I went by the turn-off to Echo Lake and the Horse Camp trail. It’s 0.5 miles down to the lake – and the trail is faint in places – but it makes a good destination for a summer hike since it offers shade and swimming.

Red Buttes Wilderness
Handmade sign marking the turn to Echo Lake and the Horse Camp trail

At 3.1 miles from the pass, I came directly below the summit and started my climb up to the notch. By looking for open spaces and using the rocks as much as possible, I was able to avoid most of the brush on this relentlessly steep slope (you make half the total gain in the last 0.4 miles).

Red Buttes Wilderness
Up the slope

I was soon at the notch where I could look north for a view of Elk Lake below.

Red Buttes Wilderness
Elk Lake

From the notch up, brush wasn’t much of an issue as it’s pretty easy to stay on boulders all the way. But you have to be careful as there are ample opportunities to twist (or worse) an ankle or knee.  There was still some snow on the north side of the ridge but it had retreated so far from the rock that I didn’t have to deal with it.

Red Buttes Wilderness
Last 200 feet or so to the summit

The summit consists of an artfully constructed bivy site, two benchmarks, and a can register whose contents had been waterlogged into paper mache. There is also supposed to be a geocache up here too.

Red Buttes Wilderness
Bivy site on the summit of Red Butte
Red Buttes Wilderness
The named benchmark

But what a view! Even with the cloud deck, I could see Preston to the west,

Red Buttes Wilderness
Snow on Preston Paek to the west

Mount McLoughlin far on the horizon to the east,

Red Buttes Wilderness
East ridge of Red Butte, with Mount McLoughlin (arrow) on the horizon

and a somewhat obscured Mount Shasta to the south.

Red Buttes Wilderness
Mount Shasta (arrow) on the southern horizon

I had thought about going back the way I’d come up but the brush sorta points downhill. So while it impedes you going up, it acts more like a slip-and-slide going down. So, instead, I worked my way back to the notch and then contoured across the slope into the forest above the PCT. Travel across the relatively open forest floor was easy and I was back on the PCT pretty quickly.

Red Buttes Wilderness
Contouring across the slope from the notch; summit in the distance

A short (6.8 miles round-trip, 2,200 feet elevation gain) but fun hike to inaugurate the 7 Summits project.

Red Buttes Wilderness
Track to the summit of Red Butte

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