Panther Peak (Ashland, Oregon) 01-Dec-2016

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

As our time in the State of Jefferson has increased, so has our awareness of “local” hiking options – particularly short, low altitude ones that we can fit in between Winter storms and where snow isn’t a factor (or at least not much of one). As it turns out, the hills to the west of Ashland, Oregon are laced with official and unofficial mountain biking, hiking, and equestrian trails, along with a number of forest roads ranging from those still in use to those long abandoned (and often never mapped either). The mountain biking community seems to have done the most to identify, map, and name some of these trails – although not completely or consistently – but only a few are listed in printed or online hiking guides.  The easily accessible Oredson-Todd Woods trail system just south and west of Ashland is the only one described in Sullivan’s in 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon (3rd edition).  We did a loop involving the Mike Uhtoff Trail (Sullivan’s Hike #58) in January of this year (post). In February, after consulting the Ashland Hiking Group’s website, we did a loop hike to “Ostrich Peak” – the local name for Point 4653 on the USGS topo map (post).  This was followed by two exploratory hikes to the site of the old Skyline Mine on the ridge southeast of Panther Peak (4,866 feet).  Today, with the LovedOne busy volunteering at the library, I decided to hike to what I hoped was the awesome summit of Panther Peak.

Getting to the trailhead for this hike in the steeply inclined streets above Ashland isn’t all that straight-forward. From Exit 19 off I-5, go right (west) to Highway 99, then left (south) toward downtown Ashland. Just before reaching the center of Ashland, turn right on Wimer Street, then left on Wrights Creek Drive, then left on Orchard Street, then right on Westwood Street which turns east and becomes Strawberry Lane. Take a right on Birdsong Lane and park on the west side of the loop – parking is on-street only and is extremely limited. The Birdsong Hiking Trail trailhead is wedged in between private property at the south end of the loop.  The Birdsong trail is really just a short connector to Hitt Road (shown on some maps but not others), which is briefly paved but then devolves into a narrow dirt road/trail.

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

Hitt Road about a mile from the Birdsong trailhead

Clearing weather had been promised but I spent most of the day in fogs and mists, with the sun only rarely breaking through.

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

Vague attempts at sunshine on Hitt Road

Two miles up from the trailhead, I came to an obvious (but unsigned) trail junction and turned up to the right. A short ways up from there, I came to essentially a T-junction (again no signage) and turned left here (Mystical Trail; the Mystimeanor Trail goes right). These are primarily mountain biking trails, so you have to stay aware of what might be coming up (or down) the trail toward you. This trail continues up to a junction with an old, old road (now the Mystical Connector) at about 4,200 feet; along here is where the snow started to show up in earnest.

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

Snow started building at around 4,200 feet

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

Needles in the snow

I turned right at the junction and followed the old road up to just before Point 4653 (“Ostrich Peak”), where bear tracks in the snow showed me that I was not alone. One assumes that the bears are all hibernating this time of year but maybe not, given that nearby Ashland can be a veritable cornucopia of bear treats – all those trash cans, all those outside dog food bowls – yum!  Needless to say, I stayed a little more aware of my surroundings for most of the rest of the hike.

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

Bear tracks – lots of them – in the snow near Ostrich Peak

Past Point 4653, the old road connects with a current forest road, one which I followed down to the junction of the No Candies (formerly the Skyline Mine) trail and Forest Road (FR) 2060-400. It looked like the USFS had sprung for some new signage – there are miracles!

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

The junction of the No Candies trail and FR 2060-400

No Candies was snow-covered, but easy to follow,

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

Along the No Candies trail

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

Along the No Candies trail

all the way over to near the former site of the Skyline Mine, where an impressively huge boulder marked the point where I turned off the trail to go cross-country toward Panther Peak.

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

A grouping of huge boulders near the Skyline Mine site

Last time we were up here, we could hear chain saws whining away off in the woods. As I went toward the peak, I soon realized that this area had been the object of a forest thinning project – all of the undergrowth and smaller trees were down, slash piles were scattered about, and the forest floor was essentially “open” toward the peak.

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

Going cross-country toward Panther Peak

The workers had created some faint paths as they went back and forth through this area, and I was able to use these to make getting through the slash pretty easy. I knew I was on the summit only because my GPS said I was – there was nothing to indicate the top and no views – just lots of snow covered slash piles.

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

The summit of Panther Peak

So, despite its fearsome name, I don’t think that Panther Peak can be counted among the Siskiyou’s awesome summits. A little deflated, I worked my way back to the mine site.

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

Going cross-country on my return from Panther Peak

A little bit of direct sunshine was waiting to perk me up a bit when I got back to the mine site. I took advantage of this extra warmth to grab a quick snack and reflect on the history of this old gold mine. It was officially established in 1921 but may have been worked since the early 1900s. By the late 1920s, it sported a gravity and amalgation mill, cabins, and a shaft with headframes but showed low returns through the years. It was condemned due to lack of a valid claim in 1977 but legal challenges delayed the removal of the structures and the filling-in of its shafts until 1987. Today, the area is a log yard and all that remains of the mine are some long, shallow trenches and water-filled depressions.

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

The former site of the Skyline Mine

My snack break was cut short when another round of clouds caused the apparent air temperature to plummet and thus encourage some motion on my part toward the trailhead.

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

The clouds (and cold) return

To make this a lollipop loop hike, I headed back on FR 2060-400 (which ends at the mine site), through the cold mists (and a flock of 100 or so robins!),

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

Heading down on FR 2060-400

to where it turns downslope to the west and where I went cross-country downslope to the east. This is another area that has received the forest thinning treatment, which makes travel under the canopy pretty easy. A short ways downslope I intersected FR 2060-400 again, turned right, and went a short ways down to FR 2060 itself.  Then north (left) on FR 2060 to a junction where it makes a very sharp turn down to the southeast and FR 2060-300 goes east – I went east.  FR 2060-300 is an old, but still open, dirt road,

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

On FR 2060-300

that goes down to a log yard and then dissolves (i.e., ends as a official USFS road) into the narrow track of upper Hitt Road.

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

On Hitt Road

Hiking up Hitt Road earlier in the day through the fogs, mists, and clouds had deprived me of the few views through the trees that can be had from this road.

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

Looking south toward Pilot Rock and Siskiyou Summit (both hidden in the clouds)

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

Ashland, with clouds obscuring Grizzly Peak across the valley

Overall, a moderate (12 mile roundtrip; 2,400 foot of elevation gain) hike along a mix of roads and trails to a named, but less than awesome, summit – good exercise for an almost Winter day. Unlike the Mike Uhtoff trail – which seems to have been created in part to provide some separaton between hikers and mountain bikers – the roads and trails that feed off of Hitt Road are predominantly mountain biker territory. While hiking here is fine, you do have to keep a watch for bikers (as they should for you). In theory, hikers have the right of way, but it seems easier all around to just step aside and let the bikers flow on by.

Panther Peak Ashland Oregon

My lollipop loop hike to Panther Peak

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