Brown Mountain is a small, youthful looking, basaltic andesite shield volcano located in Oregon’s Klamath and Jackson counties, directly south of its more prominent neighbor, Mount McLoughlin. Brown Mountain is only between 12,000 and 60,000 years old with the last eruption taking place about 15,000 years ago. Much of it is bare, unweathered, dark-colored, block-lava, with a glacial valley carved into its northeast flank. Its summit benchmark is 7,311 feet but it’s actually a bit higher than that – the northeast edge of the 50-foot deep cinder cone on its summit is at approximately 7,340 feet. There is no maintained trail to the summit and a climb up to it in the summer months is mostly a scramble over blocky, sharp talus. During the winter and early spring, however, snowshoes or crosscountry skis are a really fun way to reach the summit (post). Having already been to the summit, and not wanting to scramble over vast lava flows to do it again, we looked around for another way to enjoy the mountain. While doing so, we came across a report (post) of an out-and-back hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) along the west side of the mountain. A quick look at the map showed that we could circumnavigate the mountain by going south and east on the PCT from the Summit Sno-Park (details), then north on the Brown Mountain Trail (USFS #1005), and then east back to the Sno-Park on the High Lakes Trail (USFS #6200). And so it was.
Expecting a longish day, we got an early (and chilly – Fall was in the air) start from the trailhead, from where we could see Brown Mountain to the south.
From the Sno-Park, a short connector trail took us across the now dry Cascade Canal and over to the PCT. This canal was completed in 1915 to deliver water from Fourmile Lake in the Klamath River watershed over the Cascade Divide to Fish Lake in the Rogue River watershed. When it’s running in the Spring and early summer, it might be mistaken for a natural creek but it’s not.
At the junction with the PCT, we saw the first evidence of the work that had to be done – and is still being done by both the USFS and volunteers – to clear the trail damage from last winter’s fierce snow and wind storms.
Here we turned south on the PCT past some colorful tree fungus,
crossed Highway 140 and the junction with the High Lakes trail, and continued south on the PCT into the lava flows on the west side of the mountain. It was easy walking on the well-graded and well maintained PCT as it made its way slowy up and around the mountain. We were really appreciative of the work it must have taken to punch this trail through all that lava.
As the trail climbed gradually up the west flank of Brown, we had increasingly good views of Mount McLoughlin immediately to the north,
and of the perky little cloud cap it wore for much of the morning.
Right after this view, I had the misfortune of unintentionally stepping on a nest of ground-dwelling wasps and got two stings of an amazingly painful intensity on my leg. Fortunately, I’m not allergic to their venom but that was small consolation as the pain lingered for the rest of the day and then some. This is a part of nature that I can do without ever experiencing again! We (I limping for awhile) continued on south along the thin line of the PCT as it worked its way in and out of the ravines on the side of Brown.
Although we would spend the whole day involved with Brown Mountain, there was only one spot on the PCT where we could actually catch a glimpse of the summit.
This is also near where we found some very large trees that had found a place – and likely some protection from logging – in the lava fields.
After having gone through lava fields for roughly six miles, the PCT turns east and passes through deep forest carpeted – even late in the summer – with cool, green vegetation. This is also where we’d pass the only other two hikers we’d see all day.
At 8.5 miles from the Sno-Park, we came to a signed junction with the Brown Mountain trail (#1005) and stopped there for a snack. Then it was north on the #1005 under a cool forest canopy with limited understory.
This trail is popular with multiple users – mountain bikers (we passed two coming up hill) as well as hikers and equestrians – which may account for it being in great condition with signs of recent, and not inconsequential, trail maintenance.
Whereas the PCT had climbed gradually up and around Brown, the #1005, after climbing a bit, began a descent toward Highway 140 with a small switchback and flat stretches. Overall, however, it was a very pleasant walk through the forest.
At 12.7 miles from the Sno-Park, we came to a junction with the #6200B tie trail (not shown on our maps) which connects the #1005 with the #6200 and allows you to avoid having to descend further toward Lake of the Woods.
The tie trail ends at the northern Brown Mountain trailhead, which is also the eastern trailhead for the #6200 trail. You could shorten this hike if you placed a shuttle car here but then you’d miss the geology lessons and views to be had on the #6200!
The High Lakes trail is a little road-like in that it was designed for mountain biking but it works well as a hiking trail too, albiet a wide one.
The #6200 goes through the forest for a while, but then climbs up across the lava fields on the north side of Brown. Unlike the other trails we were on this day, the #6200 features pull-outs with interpretive signs explaining the lava flow process. Thats’s how we know this furrow is really a fissue caused by flowing lava bending over underlying rocks.
We were once again on the Mount McLoughlin side of Brown, and the elevated position of this part of the #6200 provided big views of McLoughlin.
We did a short piece of cross-country to get from the #6200 directly back to the Sno-Park and then we were done.
We’d call this a moderate hike simply because of its length (17.7 miles; 1,700 feet of elevation gain). But by this late in the season all of the trails we were on had seen recent maintenance and were in good shape, which made traveling easy. There are also – if you do this counter-clockwise – no big elevation changes to climb. All of the bugs were gone too (except for those ground wasps) and the weather, despite some late afternoon clouds, was near perfect. So, overall, and despite the stings, a great hike!