I opened the online edition of our local paper this morning to find that, considering those in Southern Oregon and in Northern California, there are now 500 square miles of wildfires burning around the Rogue Valley. The air quality index (AQI) for the valley was on its way up from 187 (unhealthy) as I read the paper. But the LovedOne – having temporarily satiated her library volunteer urges earlier in the week – was now keen to get outside rather than hunker in the bunker breathing through wet towels until this winter’s rains (eventually) cleared the air. So we bet that reasonably close Mount Ashland, at 7,532 feet, would be high enough to poke above most of the smoke and, with an early start, would also be cool enough for us to dodge heat stroke. Well, ya laces your boots and ya takes your chances on the trail…
At the moment, there are approximately 130,000 acres (200 square miles) of wildfires burning to the north, west, and south of the Rogue Valley. Needless to say, air quality in the valley sucks (if it were possible to breath-in). And, with air temperatures pushing into the triple digits, even Mordor is beginning to look like a better alternative. And yet, after two delightful weeks of “floating and bloating” on the Salmon River (post), I (or, more accurately, my now bulging gut) needed a hike. But where? Someplace reasonably close, yet high enough for clearer air, and to the east of the wildfires (some of which, sadly, are busy burning away nearby hikes – like Grayback Mountain and Stuart Falls – that we’d enjoyed only a few months ago). After bringing an extra brain cell online, I decided that a hike up Aspen Butte in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness was my best choice. At 8,208 feet, it’s the highest point in this wilderness and thus a likely place to find fresher air. The LovedOne – once again suspecting my sanity – opted instead to spend the day volunteering in the cool, filtered air provided by the county library. Sigh (gasp, hack, wheeze…).
After we finished our second raft trip through the Grand Canyon in 2014 (post) and a float through Hell’s Canyon in 2016 (post), we looked around for another long river to raft in the U.S. Others had spoken well of the Salmon River in Idaho, so we signed-on to an O.A.R.S. guided trip on the Middle Fork (post), followed immediately by one on the Main Salmon River (a “combo” trip). The Salmon is one of the largest rivers in the continental United States without a single dam on its mainstem. While both the Middle Fork and the Main Salmon run through the 2.5 million acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho, the Main continues west to skirt the south side of the Gospel Hump Wilderness. Both have been designated as Wild and Scenic Rivers. Only a few trails, landing strips, private ranches, and U.S. Forest Service stations are evidence of man’s intrusion in this area.
Rafting: All the fun of wilderness backpacking without having to carry anything. It also allows us to visit remote areas that would be a considerable challenge to reach, much less traverse, on foot. We were hooked the moment we tried it! So after we finished our second raft trip through the Grand Canyon in 2014 (post) and a float through Hell’s Canyon in 2016 (post), we looked around for another long river to raft in the U.S. Our O.A.R.S. guides on the Colorado had spoken well of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, so we signed-on to an O.A.R.S. guided trip on the Middle Fork, followed immediately by one (post) on the Main Salmon River (a “combo” trip). The Middle Fork runs south to north for 104 miles through the 2.5 million acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho; the largest roadless area left in the lower 48 United States. The entire Middle Fork is designated as a Wild and Scenic River and is one of the last free-flowing tributaries of the Salmon River system. Only a few trails, landing strips, private ranches, and U.S. Forest Service stations are evidence of man’s intrusion in this area.
But I shall go down from this airy space, this swift white peace, this stinging exultation.
And time will close about me, and my soul stir to the rhythm of the daily round.
Yet, having known, life will not press so close, and always I shall feel time ravel thin about me;
For once I stood
In the white windy presence of eternity. ~ Eunice Tietjens (1917)
Patrick Y. Wang (1977 – 2005) Andrea “Andy” Basque (1963 – 2008)
The Ashland Hiking Group has long done hikes in Southern Oregon and Northern California and we have dipped into their trip reports from time to time as inspiration (but not necessarily a blueprint) for our own hikes. When EXCESSIVE HEAT warnings (due to multiple days of unusual triple-digit air temperatures) collided with a desire to hike, we were (yet again) in need of a new (to us), short, close-by (so it can be reached and done before the heat builds) hike that was also at some altitude – for coolness and to get above the smoke infiltrating the valley from nearby wildfires. Big Red Mountain, west of Mount Ashland along the Siskiyou Crest, seemed to be a favorite of the Ashland hikers and at 7,064 feet was likely to be high enough to be cool enough for just long enough for a morning hike. So we lurched out of bed early, caffeinated, drove Forest Road 20 (post) to where it crosses the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at Siskiyou Gap, and parked.