On Fridays, the Mail Tribune (our local paper) publishes an Outdoor section which usually includes an account of one or more local hikes that might be of interest. While we were driving U.S. Route 20 back from the East Coast, the Tribune came up with five nearby hikes to view Fall colors. Four of these we’d already done but the fifth, a hike on a relatively flat section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) across the Dead Indian Plateau, was new to us. The paper described the attractions of this hike as …the raspberry-colored leaves of the knee-high huckleberries under the big fir-tree canopy… and …a diversity of Fall mushrooms… After 11 days in a car, being outdoors on this hike sounded like a GREAT idea, so we went for it!
Going from south to north in this area, the PCT (USFS 2000) crosses State Highway 66 at Green Springs Summit, skirts the south shores of the Hyatt and Howard Prairie Lakes, crosses Dead Indian Memorial Road, goes around Brown Mountain (post), and then crosses State Highway 140 before entering the Sky Lakes Wilderness. Between Howard Prairie Lake and Dead Indian Memorial Road, the PCT curves around Old Baldy (6,339 feet), the site of a former fire lookout, and thus an attractive destination for our hike. This piece of the PCT can be accessed either from the south (via the Keno Road, which goes south from Dead Indian Memorial Road just beyond Milepost 18 east of Ashland, Oregon) or from the north (from the well marked turnout, which serves as Pederson Snowpark in winter, just past Milepost 27 on Dead Indian Memorial Road, also east of Ashland). Old Baldy is about 4 miles in either way, so we started from Keno Road.
On the way to the trailhead, we had a brief, but clear, view of Mount McLoughlin, sporting its first dusting of snow for the season (which we’re hoping will be as snowy as last season).
The PCT’s crossing of Keno Road is marked only with one of the new, large PCT plaques, so we almost drove right past it.
We found this to be an exceptionally mellow section of the PCT, one with no apparent elevation changes (yet we’d gradually gain 1,600 feet) where you can just stroll along enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of the Fall forest.
This being the PCT in late season, the tread was in perfect condition, with evidence of heavy (and much appreciated) maintenance.
Unfortunately, we were a bit late for the promised raspberry-colored huckleberries, so we turned our attention to the mushrooms – more on those later.
The PCT crosses three dirt roads between Keno Road and Old Baldy and just before the last of these (Forest Road 2520, near Griffin Pass), there is a sign pointing to a spring – open water otherwise being hard to find in this area.
About 0.5 miles past FR 2520, we passed a sign for a side trail to Vulture Rock. Neither this side trail or the named Rock (which is Point 6054) are shown on our maps, so we made a note to come back and explore more here. A little further on, the PCT begins a gradual climb up the east side of Old Baldy and enters an area where a past fire has downed the trees and opened views to the south and east. We could easily see Mount Shasta to the south and Aspen Butte, in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness, to the east. We could also see what we hoped were some prescribed (or slash) burns (and not late season wildfires) in the forest to the south.
The PCT goes around to a ridge on the north side of Old Baldy and from there it’s a short cross-country hike through open forest,
to the bare, flat, but viewless, summit of Old Baldy.
In 1924, the Forest Service constructed a cupola-style fire lookout on Old Baldy, which was in service until 1961 when it was removed by being burned (then a common practice with lookouts that were no longer needed). Lots of pieces of melted glass and old nails can be found among the summit rocks.
We had a snack on the summit and then started back, now looking for the promised Fall mushrooms, which, if we looked down, paid attention, and didn’t trip, were pretty easy to spot. Formal identification of mushrooms is beyond us (we’re still working on vascular plants and birds), so we just appreciated them for their subtle, but warm, colors.
Overall, a very easy (9.6 miles round-trip; 1,600 feet of elevation gain), pleasant hike (stroll even) through the forest, with some views, and a summit thrown in. The side trail to Vulture Rock is intriguing, so we’ll be back to investigate that – likely coming in from the north to mix things up a bit.