Cook and Green Loop (Red Buttes Wilderness) 28-May-2017

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

The Cook and Green Loop is one of the more challenging (i.e., character-building) hikes in Northern California’s Red Buttes Wilderness (a wilderness more readily accessible from the Oregon side). The loop consists of the Cook and Green Trail (USFS #959), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and the Horse Camp Trail (USFS #958). It can be done in either direction. Clockwise it is a gradual 11-mile, 3,600 foot climb up the Cook and Green Trail and the PCT to the Horse Camp Trail junction, and then a steep 4 mile descent down that trail to the trailhead on Forest Road 1040. The other way is a stiff 3,600 foot ascent followed by a gradual 11-mile descent. I’d done the loop clockwise in January 2015, when there was only a miniscule amount of snow along the Siskiyou Crest (post).  Plans for doing it counter-clockwise languished until the desire to see how much snow the very snowy winter of 2016-17 had left on the Crest overcame my reluctance to climb 3,600 feet (the LovedOne opted to garden instead).  So a bright, sunny, and destined to be very warm, day found me starting up the Horse Camp Trail at an absurdly early hour.


The Horse Camp Trail starts out in a creek-side forest as a very old road,

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

Early morning on the Horse Camp Trail

climbs past the junction with the Butte Fork Trail (USFS #957) – part of which is currently being restored by the Siskiyou Mountain Club – then transitions from an old road to a trail,  passes the massive Butte Fork Slide,

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

The Butte Fork Slide from the Horse Camp Trail

and continues on, up and up. Along the way I passed a screaming madrone,

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

“The Scream” – madrone style

and two huge trees so close together one wonders how horses ever got through.

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

Two trees and a five-foot hiking stick

There were only a few downed trees on the trail, which was otherwise in surprisingly good shape. I passed Horse Camp (water available) at around 3,800 feet but didn’t hit significant snow until the trail turned into Echo Canyon at 5,000 feet. Where the snow had melted back, the meadows were already starting to flourish, as were some early season mosquitos. I may have been priviledged to get the first bite of the season.

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

Meadows emerging along the Horse Camp Trail

Even in summer this part of the trail is vague and can be hard to follow, but no matter, as I just went straight up the perfectly walkable snow with the Red Buttes looming above.

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

The east side of the Red Buttes from the Horse Camp Trail

The saddle above Echo Lake was packed with six feet or more of nicely consolidated Spring snow,

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

Snow on the Siskiyou Crest just above Echo Lake

which made the last bit of steep climbing up to the saddle go smoothly. My hiking stick works perfectly as an old school alpenstock on this kind of ideal Spring snow.

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

Some steep climbing over an old cornice

On my way up, I’d passed a couple of backpackers coming down who’d planned on camping at Echo Lake but had been unable to do so because it was packed with snow. Looking down from the saddle, I could see exactly what they meant.

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

A sliver of Echo Lake shows through the snow

The south-facing area around the Horse Camp Trail / PCT junction had melted-out but looking west, it was obvious that the Devils Peaks were still packed with snow.

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

Looking toward the Devils Peaks from above Echo Lake

Mount Shasta was visible to the south through a light heat haze and it looked like there was still plenty of snow in the Trinity Alps.

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

Looking south toward Mount Shasta

After a snack on the saddle, it was time to start what I hoped would be an easy 11-mile descent back to the trailhead. But no, the PCT for about a mile east from Echo Lake was sporting patches of snow, some at quite a steep angle in a few places. Not a big deal, but sidehilling does grate on the ankles after a while.

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

Snow patches on the PCT, with Mount Shasta beyond

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

Looking back at Red Butte (arrow), the wilderness highpoint

The snow finally gave it up about a mile from Cook and Green Pass and the going got much easier. I passed some people coming up the PCT and there were several cars at the pass, so FR 1050 must be open now. Down in the forest, some wildflowers were starting to emerge, including the iconic trillium.

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

The Cook and Green Trail is apparently open to motorcycles but, perhaps thanks to responsible riders, doesn’t seem to have suffered any obvious harm. In fact, the tread was in perfect shape for hiking AND all of the fallen trees had been cleared from the trail – something which made the 11-mile journey back pretty easy (relatively speaking). What I hadn’t counted on was what effect all this snow – now melting fast – was having on the stream in Bear Gulch and on Cook and Green Creek. Bear Gulch is typically a placid trickle but today it was a raging torrent, which made crossing it – on a slippery log – pretty darned exciting.

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

A roaring Bear Gulch Creek

By now, the day had warmed into the 90°Fs, and I was glad that almost all of the Cook and Green Trail runs through a cooling forest.  But even down in the trees there was a smothering feel to this heat.

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

Along the Cook and Green Trail

As I noodled along down the trail, it occurred to me that I’d have to cross Bear Gulch again and that the raging torrent was unlikely to be any less raging by that point. And so it was. Fortunately, I found a pulpy log to get me across this second encounter with the angry waters of Spring.

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

Another encounter with roaring Bear Gulch Creek

But wait, there’s more! I was foolishly congratulating myself on dry creek crossings when I came to Cook and Green Creek just before No-See-Em Camp. No logs, slippery or otherwise, to save me this time but with only four miles to go, I just plunged on through and kept hiking, distracted only by the squishing sound coming from my feet.

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

Cook and Green Creek – the final wet obstacle

And with that, the loop was done. Long and strenuous (14.5 miles total; 3,600 feet of elevation gain), with a snow climb to add further character. But a great loop hike through varied terrain, with a lake (rare along the Siskiyou Crest), and big views.

Cook and Green Red Buttes Wilderness California

My track along the Cook and Green Loop

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4 thoughts on “Cook and Green Loop (Red Buttes Wilderness) 28-May-2017

  1. Jillian

    I’m so tickled to see this! We (attempted) to hike this same loop two days prior to your trip, but turned back just below the Echo Lake/saddle due to the snow. We passed those same backpackers on the way down too. Thank you for a great blog post and lots of pictures – I can live vicariously until the snows melt a little more for my own return to that particular hiking adventure!

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    1. Boots on the Trail Post author

      Thanks! I got up to the saddle mainly because the snow was in perfect condition for kicking solid steps. I had microspikes with me but if the surface had been hard and/or icy, I might have had second thoughts. The melt is gaining speed but it may be some weeks before the saddle clears of most of the snow.

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  2. Tobias Mann

    Oh the places you go are always so beautiful. I have to get out your neck of the woods one day. So close to sea level I never think about the snow covered trails that may not melt for years. It’s really cool to think you could be climbing up a bright green trail and come to a clearing covered in snow. I have to imagine trails like these often aren’t accessable until late in the year.

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    1. Boots on the Trail Post author

      The old joke is that summer in Oregon starts on the Fourth of July and this year – because we had an above normal snowy winter – that might be true (?). Trails in the Cascade are “usually” open by July but, if you ever get a chance to visit, September can be the ideal time.

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