Mount Ashland Meadows 16-Aug-2016

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Mount Ashland is our local ski area and this winter – thanks in large part to El Niño – there was plenty of snow and it was open on its regular winter schedule.  On the two days of the week it’s normally closed, we used the Sno-Park next to it as the starting point for three snowshoe hikes in the snow-covered forests and meadows to the west: one out-and-back to the Grouse Gap Shelter (post), one just to the summit of Mt. Ashland when a storm was rolling in, and, finally, a loop over the summit, out to the Shelter, and back partially cross-country on some steep snow (post).  But we’d never been up there in the summer!

So with air temperatures in the Rogue Valley pushing into the triple digits, now seemed like the perfect time for an easy out-and-back hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from the Mount Ashland access road to the Grouse Gap Shelter.  The Grouse Gap section of the PCT is an enjoyable, easy day-hike close to the Rogue Valley. The trail offers wonderful displays of wildflowers in midsummer, and outstanding vistas of Mt. Shasta, the Marble Mountains and the Trinity Alps to the south (when the views are not otherwise filtered or obscured by smoke and haze).  Here the PCT contours through five meadows at a thermally comfortable 6,500 feet; meadows where some of the wildlflowers that peaked in July could still be seen, along with a whole other set of flowers that peak in August!  Not quite as lush as they can be in June but still surprisingly verdant (wanderingyuncks, June 2015).

The PCT crosses the Mount Ashland access road just over seven miles from where the access road leaves the old Siskiyou Pass highway.  Here there’s a large dirt parking lot on the right (east) side of the highway and signs indicating the PCT.  The trail starts out through a forest with grand and red fir,

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

The trail just past the trailhead

then passes an unusual “bird nest” construct (Is this art?),

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Art or evidence of prehistoric bird life?

before – in about 0.5 miles – opening out in the first meadow.

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

The first meadow

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Tall flowers in the first meadow

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Yet more of the first meadow

I don’t think we’d expected this much lushness in August and so spent quite some time wandering around looking at flowers. All the usual suspects were evident – coneflowers, purple asters, tall purple larkspur, owl clover, etc. – as well as the yellow daisy-like Bigelow’s sneezeweed,

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Bigelow’s (or Tall) Sneezeweed (Helenium bigelovii)

which, for some odd reason (Perhaps it was the altitude?), reminded me of the spaceship in Forbidden Planet. This was the point at which the LovedOne distanced herself from the hiking stick-carrying nerd spouting nonsense.

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Searching for Creatures from the Id

But, by doing so, she came across a small flower that we hadn’t seen before, the Orange Agoseris, with tiny yellow “teeth” at the end of its orange petals.

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Orange (or Slender) Agoseris (Agoseris aurantiaca)

After stopping the nonsense, we pushed on through the forest. It was in this section that we were passed by a half dozen or so PCT thru-hikers hurrying (we would guess) toward the off-trail pleasures of either Callahan’s or Ashland or both. We would later see two of them in downtown Ashland…

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Continuing on; nerd in tow

Beyond a second meadow, the trail crossed some granite bedrock on an open, rocky, dry ridge,

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

The dry, open ridge

then crossed a wide gravel road (FR 40S15), before climbing slightly into another meadow where we got a view of the summit of Mount Ashland, with the soccer ball-like weather  radar dome peeking up next to it. Mount Ashland, at 7,533 feet above sea level, is the highest peak in the Siskiyou Mountains, and the highest point in Oregon west of the Cascade Range.  A ski lift, a television transmitter, and the weather radar station (NEXRAD, “Next Generation”) occupy its granite-studded summit.

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Mount Ashland’s summit, with the NEXRAD dome

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

The NEXRAD dome in winter

We passed a fourth meadow and then entered the fifth, and final, broad meadow that wraps around the subalpine bowl below Grouse Gap,

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

The meadow on the southeast side of Grouse Gap

where the prominent splotches of yellow in the meadows,

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

The meadow on the southwest slope of Mount Ashland

were due to the exuberant growth of Sulfur-Flower Buckwheat.

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Sulfur-Flower Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum)

Then we went on toward Grouse Gap,

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Toward Grouse Gap

before turning to the west,

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

The PCT turns toward the west

and intersecting Forest Road 20 and the service road (FR 40S30) going down to the shelter.

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

The PCT intersects FR 20

After a short walk on the service road, we came to the shelter (and associated pit toilet). The shelter is a stout, robust structure,

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Grouse Gap Shelter

centered around a very large fireplace (a welcome feature during the winter season),

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

The Grouse Gap Shelter fireplace

with a nice view up toward Mount Ashland from its picnic table.

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Looking toward Mount Ashland from the table in the Grouse Gap Shelter

This was our official turn-around point so, after a snack, we headed back toward Grouse Gap,

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Summer at Grouse Gap

remembering the fun we’d had here this winter.

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Winter at Grouse Gap

You can be a big view of Shasta out to the south (particularly in the winter) but this time the peak was obscured by a combination of heat haze, smoke from fires in California, and human smudge floating up from the northern Central Valley. We could dimly discern it through the haze because it was sporting a Devo-style cloud cap.

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Mount Shasta’s unique cloud cap

A short (7.6 miles round trip; 800 feet of elevation gain) easy dayhike through five well-flowered meadows. The altitude kept the day’s heat at bay until just before we got back to the trailhead.  There it was now hot enough to necessitate a stop at Caldera Brewing in Ashland for cooling refreshments. Ah, summer…

Mount Ashland Meadows Oregon

Our track on the PCT to and from the Grouse Gap Shelter


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