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. Thanks to plentiful snowfall these last two years (the current base is over 100 inches!), we’ve been able to use it for several snowshoe trips involving Grouse Gap Shelter and the summit of Mount Ashland. Last December, we started out for McDonald Peak, which is west of Grouse Gap and just north of the Siskiyou Crest, but stopped short once we saw the peak enveloped in clouds. With today predicted (correctly) to be a full bluebird day above the stagnant air clogging the valley floor, I (The LovedOne being preoccupied with sewing a sleeve on a sweater) headed up to the Sno-Park to have another go at McDonald.
The ski area parking lot was already filling but mine was the only car at the Sno-Park when I arrived there moderately early. One of the things I like about snowshoeing here is that the big views start very soon after you leave the trailhead. Today, being full bluebird and all, Mount Shasta was easily in view to the south. Last time we were here it was sunny but 12ºF; today it was also sunny but in the high 30ºFs right from the start – once I got out in to the treeless Grouse Gap Basin, it was downright toasty.
After about a mile, Forest Road (FR) 20 swings around the southwest ridge of Mount Ashland and McDonald Peak comes into view off across Grouse Gap Basin. I could make out the Grouse Gap Shelter – a very popular destination for snowshoe and Nordic ski trips – simply by the number tracks converging on it.
I followed now unplowed FR 20 across the Basin to just below Grouse Gap, to where the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) crosses FR 20 and a side road drops down to the Shelter. Today all these trails and roads were well buried under snow and that snow was criss-crossed by an amazing swirl of different tracks.
I could look back toward Mount Ashland and see yet more tracks running down its southwest face and out into the Basin. Judging from the tracks, it had been a real busy weekend up here.
From here, I climbed the ridge leading southwest from the Gap and soon got high enough to start getting views of Mount McLoughlin and the Crater Lake Rim to the east. The air up here was crisp and clear and it was cloudless in all directions.
I climbed a little higher and then moved over to the ridge going northwest from the Crest to McDonald. This was my first close, clear view of McDonald and of the fog filling the Illinois River Valley to the northwest.
I soon reached the summit. The number of tracks had dwindled as I approached the summit but there were still enough up there to show that this was a popular destination, both for the views and for ski runs down into the bowls on either side of the ridge.
I was rewarded by outstanding views in all directions! Given the waves of storms we’ve endured this season, having one day of unblemished views everywhere was a very welcome change. Wagner Butte – another popular summer hike but one I’ve also done in winter – was further along the ridge to the north,
Mount Shasta was to the south,
Mount McLoughlin and the entire snowy crest of the Cascades were arrayed to the east,
Observation and Dutchman Peaks – other popular summer hikes off the PCT – and the Red Buttes were visible to the west,
while Pilot Rock was visible just southeast of Mount Ashland.
It was very pleasant on the summit and I could have probably spent quite a bit of time up there but it seemed like a good idea to start back before the sun softened the snow into gumminess. So, with one last big look at Mount Shasta, I retraced my tracks to the trailhead.
On the way back, you pass the Mount Ashland Campground. The current 100 inch base has completely buried the entrance sign and left impressive heaps on the roofs of the pit toilets.
A truly exceptional snowshoe (6.6 miles round-trip; 600 feet of elevation gain) with perfect weather, great snow, and outlandish views in all directions. It’s tough living in this outdoor paradise, but we’re bearing up under the strain.