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.
That some wildflowers were still in bloom became evident shortly after we left the parking area.
But just a little further along, the PCT traverses rocky, dry slopes on the north side of the crest,
where we had a smoke-obscured view of the Rogue Valley to the east.
But then the trail swings into a shallow valley, where a still functioning spring (but without enough surface flow to fill a water bottle) supports some greenery,
and some wildlife.
A little further along, we crossed a flat where tall fields of beargrass (a species of lily) had just started to bloom,
and were as tall as the LovedOne.
Then it was back on to rocky, open ground, only now with the bare, biege north ridge of Big Red in view ahead.
Below the north ridge was another broad, moist valley,
with blooming beargrass,
Shortly after this, we reached Big Red’s north ridge and turned south to follow it across open – except for wildflowers and beargrass – ground toward the summit.
Along the way, we passed some outcrops shot through with “crystals” (probably mica schists) in linear and startburst patterns.
The summit itself is broad and rounded and not particularly remarkable. This high point was unnamed on the 1897 map for Jackson County, was only Red Mountain on susbsequent USGS maps between 1938 and 1954 but, by 1983, had been promoted to “Big” Red Mountain. Despite this promotion, Big Bed never seems to have been a triangulation point (unlike Observation Peak to the west), a found point, or hosted a benchmark.
But the view – despite the smoke – was pretty good (it would be amazing on a clear, crisp day in the Fall). However, Mount Shasta, which is usually highly visible to the south, was today completely obscured by the smoke and haze.
We were able, however, to clearly see the still functioning lookout atop Dutchman Peak to the west (post) – not something that is easy to do from other vantage points.
Despite the ever-present smell of smoky campfire, a light breeze across the summit rendered it cool and pleasant (and bug-free). But we knew that things were heating-up down below pretty fast and that if we wanted to get back to the car before being fried, we couldn’t linger. So we went down the open ridge heading east from Big Red, across some open fields alive with wildflowers,
past some butterflies drinking at one of the still moist springs,
through a cooling patch of forest,
and thus to the parking area. This lollipop loop hike from the Gap to Big Red is short (5.6 miles roundtrip, with 1,300 feet of elevation gain) and was easily accomplished in the relatively cool hours of the morning. What impressed us about this seemingly innocuous little hike is the varying ecosystems it traverses, the geology it reveals, and the views (despite the smoke) to be had from along the PCT and from the summit.