In early June of this year, just prior to our rafting trip down the Rogue River (post), we took our friends Wayne and Diane on a short hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) above the Silver Fork Basin in the Siskiyou Mountains – part of a hike described by Coogle and Sathre in their Favorite Hikes of the Applegate. The big views we got from the exposed ridges and across the expansive meadows enticed us to do the hike again (post) later in June but this time continuing on to the summit of Observation Peak – through fresh snow dropped by an unusually cold late season storm (Thank you El Niño!). Then we came across the Ashland Hiking Group’s (AHG) description of an out-and-back hike from Observation Peak to Dutchman Peak. A quick look at the map suggested we could connect Dutchman Peak to Forest Road 20-819 and, with a bike assist, design a hike that looped around the Silver Fork Basin, going over Observation and Dutchman Peaks along the way.
So, we drove up Forest Road (FR) 20 (post) to Silver Fork Gap and then a short way up FR 20-819 where we hid the bike just off the road. Then, from the Gap, we drove FR 2025 south for about four miles to where it crosses the PCT just below Danomore Peak and parked at the crossing.
The last few days down in the valley had been really hot but a low pressure front had moved through overnight and today’s temperatures (particularly here at around 6,000 feet) were perfect as we started north on the PCT. So blue skies (despite nearby wildfires), gentle breezes, and no biting insects!
A short distance from the road, we crossed a spring (shown on the USGS topo map) that was still flowing, although weakly, even this late in the year. Still it would be a usable water source of what is otherwise a pretty dry stretch of the PCT.
A little further along, the PCT leaves the forest and enters one of the several open “balds” in will cross in the miles ahead, one that provides a view of peaks to the west, including the Red Buttes (post).
After that, we went back into the trees and passed above Kettle Lake – the only open body of water in this area.
There’s no official trail down to the lake but the terrain under the forest canopy is pretty open and you can get to the lake shore in a few minutes.
Then out of the forest again and across another bald, this one along the western slope of Observation Peak.
We left the PCT here and did a short bit of cross-country to the summit of Observation Peak, which might be one of the more under-appreciated viewpoints along the Siskiyou Crest.
From here, we had a view north toward Dutchman Peak and of the terracing on the northeast slopes of upper Silver Fork Basin that was done in the late 1950s to slow the erosion caused by past cattle grazing in the Basin.
We then went cross-country down Observation’s northeast ridge on easy, open ground,
to re-connect with the PCT,
and follow it along to where it crosses FR 40S01 in a sea of yellow Sulfur-Flower Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum).
Here we left the PCT and followed FR 40S01 over to Jackson Gap and a junction with the road (FR 20-800) running up to the lookout on Dutchman Peak. The peak is said to have received its name in the 1870s, when a German-born (“Dutchman”) miner was caught here by a winter storm (probably in June??) and perished.
Further along FR 20-800, the gate across the road was closed but the sign seemed welcoming, so we continued on up. We have a weakness for lookouts – old, new, abandoned, almost forgotten – and a visit to this one was as much a focus of this hike as the hike itself. Built in 1927, this lookout is one of the very few “cupola style” fire lookouts left in the Pacific Northwest. Cupola lookouts (built between 1917 and 1929) had the living quarters below and a fire-finder room in the little cupola above. During World War Two, Dutchman Peak, like several other lookouts in the area, was used by the Aircraft Warning Service (AWS). A separate cabin housed a two-person team of observers who endured the snow- and wind-swept winter atop Dutchman Peak, searching the skies for enemy aircraft (this was before radar had been installed along the West Coast, and fears of bombing attacks were high). Now listed on the National Register and restored to its original appearance by the Forest Service, Dutchman Peak Lookout is a significant historic structure and also still an operating lookout. When we got up to it, we were welcomed by the lookout,
given a tour of the cabin,
and an opportunity to climb up into the (small) cupola and get a close look at the Osborne fire finder. The modern version was created by William “W.B.” Osborne, a United States Forest Service employee from Portland, Oregon, and has been in service since 1915.
We had a snack and a good chat with the lookout and spent sometime envying him the view in all directions.
With some reluctance, we said good-bye to the lookout, and headed down Dutchman Peak’s west ridge toward Silver Fork Gap. Most of this is open country and, by staying just a little to the right (north) of the top of the ridge, we were able to avoid all but about 20 feet of bushwhacking.
Along the way, we came across this little bug sheltering in a discarded bird feather.
With one last look up at the lookout,
we came to the surprisingly large gravel pit at the end of FR 20-819.
A short walk down from the pit brought us to the hidden bike. The LovedOne then waited for me at Silver Fork Gap while I rode the 4.2 miles back along FR 2025 to the truck and then drove back to pick her up. You could do this loop without a bike or a shuttle by walking back along FR 2025 – not a trail but not too bad for a road walk either. So, a moderate 6.6 mile, 1,600 foot elevation gain hike, with 4.2 miles of biking. The weather was perfect and the visit to the lookout was the high point of the hike both physically and emotionally!