A Day in the Snow (Mount Ashland, Oregon) 16-Dec-2016

Mount Ashland Oregon

Mount Ashland is our local ski area and also a Sno-Park.  Thanks to the ski area, the Sno-Park, despite its being at 6,600 feet, is usually readily accessible with little, if any, winter driving drama.  The two days of the week when the ski area is closed is a perfect time to use the Sno-Park as the starting point for cross-country skiing or (in our case) snowshoeing on the forested slopes and snow-covered meadows along the Siskiyou Crest to the west.  Last winter (2015-16), thanks to the plentiful snow brought by an El Niño, we were able to do several snowshoe trips from here to the Grouse Gap Shelter, Grouse Creek, and the summit of Mount Ashland (post).  A La Niña (El Niño’s flip side) now seems to be settling in, bringing with it substantial early season snow (the ski area opened a week early) and starting the winter of 2016-17 toward (we hope!) being as much frozen fun as was last winter!

Mount Ashland Oregon
Mount Ashland Campground and Sno-Park

Today, presented with cold (12ºF in the morning) but otherwise very nice weather, we headed out for our first “warm-up” snowshoe of the winter.  This time we thought we’d venture a little further west on Forest Road (FR) 20 than just the Grouse Gap Shelter – maybe as far as the summit of McDonald Peak (7,226 feet).  Conditions were optimal as we left the Sno-Park,

Mount Ashland Oregon
Looking back at the Sno-Park

and headed west on the “groomed” section of FR 20 that is open to the snowmobiles and snowcats that are used to service the lifts and radar atop Mount Ashland.

Mount Ashland Oregon
FR 20 just west of the Sno-Park

After a mile, the road forks – the “grooming” continues on the road leading uphill to Mount Ashland, while ungroomed FR 20 continues west into Grouse Gap Basin. From here on, FR 20 is only open to non-motorized users.  The snow was light, fluffy, and just deep enough to justify snowshoes, without forcing us to posthole with them.

Mount Ashland Oregon
FR 20 as it starts out into Grouse Gap Basin

FR 20 swings around the Basin,

Mount Ashland Oregon
FR 20 of the west side of Grouse Gap Basin

to just below Grouse Gap, where a road (FR 40S30) heads south to Grouse Gap Shelter and beyond.  If it weren’t for the sign, it would be hard to tell that this was the same Siskiyou Loop Road that we drove last summer (post).

Mount Ashland Oregon
FR 20 at Grouse Gap, with Mount Ashland in the distance

Rather than turn south toward the shelter, we continued west on FR 20 as it began a gradual climb up to the ridge southeast of McDonald Peak.

Mount Ashland Oregon
Going up FR 20

Thus far the day, while cold and slightly breezy, had been mostly sunshine, with only an occasional passing cloud. But as we turned the corner on FR 20, we could see that McDonald Peak was pretty much socked in, a fact which seriously undermined the enthusiasm we had for pushing on to its summit.

Mount Ashland Oregon
Clouds blanket the south ridge and summit of McDonald Peak

But it was still sunny where we were, so we continued on up FR 20, through a classic Currier & Ives winter landscape.

Mount Ashland Oregon
Continuing on up FR 20

At 6,800 feet, FR 20 makes a sharp turn to the west and it was here that we decided to call it a day.

Mount Ashland Oregon
On FR 20 at 6,800 feet

From here, we had a clear view of the NEXRAD dome on Mount Ashland and a straight shot cross-country back down to FR 20 at Grouse Gap.

Mount Ashland Oregon
Looking toward Mount Ashland across Grouse Gap Basin (arrow points to the NEXRAD dome)

With the clouds closing in,

Mount Ashland Oregon
Pursued by the gloom…

we plunged down to the Gap through wonderful soft powder snow and then headed back the way we’d come in.

Mount Ashland Oregon
Back across the Basin, with the “Rabbit Ears” rock spires on the horizon

Judging by the snowshoe tracks we followed on the way out, and the noise coming from the direction of the Shelter, a fair number of snowshoers must have made their way there while we were out on FR 20.

Mount Ashland Oregon
Grouse Gap Shelter (arrow) below the encroaching clouds

A short snowshoe (5 miles round-trip; 200 feet of elevation gain) but a good start to the season! The air temperature had soared to 23ºF by the time we got back to the Sno-Park so, after a brief visit to the bustling ski area lodge, we went down to Callahan’s Lodge for burgers, brews, and warmth.  Unbeatable!  The clouds willing, next time we’ll make the summit!

Mount Ashland Oregon
Our out-and-back track almost to McDonald Peak

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