While we were hiking in Nevada, a couple of cold fronts swept through Southern Oregon and Northern California, clearing out the choking smoke and bringing rain to stifle the many wildfires plaguing our area. Although the rain helped a lot, it wasn’t sufficient to put the fires dead-out, so several national forest and wilderness area closures remain in effect (likely till next Spring in some cases). This required a major re-think of our Fall hiking plans. Fortunately, the nearby Soda Mountain Wilderness was still open for business. It’s adjacent to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which is now under threat from the current administration’s utterly misguided belief that we have too much wilderness and not enough clear-cuts. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is more of a threat to our outdoors – wildfires or politicians? To assuage this unsettling thought, I headed out (The LovedOne having resumed her volunteer duties at the county library) to visit the various “pilot” rocks and peaks dotting the Soda Mountain Wilderness.
This exploratory loop started at the Hobart Bluff Trailhead where the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) crosses Soda Mountain Road (Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Road 39-3E-32.3). This trailhead was a mud puddle when we first visited it years ago but has now been upgraded to include a parking lot (which was full when I got back) and an amenity (a pit toilet).
From there, I contoured south on the PCT through a forest redolent with that wonderful moist Fall smell,
past a tiny unnamed pond, an unusual feature in this area,
and across a meadow. The weather was crisp and cool and would alternate between sunshine and high clouds the whole day – perfect Fall hiking weather!
Along the way, I found the last Salsify of the season ready to cast its seeds into the wind,
and a Baneberry displaying Fall leaves and glistening red berries.
At 2.25 miles from the trailhead, I turned north off the PCT for a short cross-country stroll to the stone “throne” atop Little Pilot Peak,
with its view of Pilot Rock (for extra confusion, there’s a Pilot Rock in Eastern Oregon too) and Mount Ashland to the west.
From Little Pilot Peak, I went north down the ridge toward where Little Pilot Rock was marked on the map. Having confused the two in the past, I wanted to set the record straight by visiting both. I initially tried following the ridgeline but soon found it easier to walk through the open forest and grassy meadows on the northeast side of the ridge.
Little Pilot Rock sits down in the trees north of the ridge I was following – coming at it the way I did, it’s not visible until you get within 200 feet or so. However, I soon found the use trail leading to the base of the Rock and from there it was a short, fun scramble to its summit, which was marked with a huge cairn.
To continue the loop, I followed the use trail down past the imposing western face of the Rock,
to where it joined a now abandoned road,
which I followed down to an unmarked junction with the Baldy Creek Road (BLM Road 40-3E-5). The northern and western cliff faces of Little Pilot Rock are hard to see in their entirety from the ground (they show-up well on Google Earth) but I caught a glimpse of the western face from the Baldy Creek Road.
The loop continued with an uninspiring 1.3 mile plod up the gravel Baldy Creek Road to where it intersects the PCT and where the Siskiyou Mountain Club has established the start of a trail (along an old, old road prism) to Boccard Point – one we first tried during a snow storm in November 2016 (post). This trail, while presently obscured by tall grasses,
is easy to follow, past wildlife,
and out to Boccard Point, a rocky prominence overlooking the Soda Valley, Iron Gate Reservoir, and Mount Shasta.
After a snack on the Point, I retraced my steps for about 0.3 miles and then struck due north cross-country along the east side of Point 5900. Once I was north of this point, Soda Mountain (with its extensive collection of communication towers) came into view,
across yet another meadow of tall grass (somewhere in here I picked-up what must have been one of the last ticks of the season; its attempt to bite me ended in disaster – for the tick).
I wandered on a now much faded old road along the south side of Soda Mountain to where I could discern a path upward through the brush guarding its flanks. A steep, but short, climb brought me to the lookout. There’s a geocache nearby.
On previous trips, we’ve returned to the trailhead via the service road but this time I thought it would be more interesting to descend cross-country via Soda Mountain’s northeast ridge.
Along the way, I passed some unique volcanic rock formations, one of which looked like an Easter Island statue and another which was a bulbous hoodoo.
I descended the ridge to a saddle at about 5,700 feet, with its view of an intriguing rocky prominence that has neither a name nor a found point – it looks like a hike to the top would be fun.
From the saddle, I went straight downhill – steep but not hard due to the open terrain – to a junction of the Soda Mountain Road (the part that continues south of the trailhead) and a seriously decommissioned old road (formerly BLM Road 40-3E-28). The BLM must have really hated this road! The road prism had been filled in but the 20-foot wide gap in the trees created by the road was still evident, as was the straw used to control erosion. I could walk it, so I did, back up to where it now secretly joins the Soda Mountain service road. From there it was the service road back to the trailhead. In all, an interesting and varied – trail, cross-country, gravel road, use trail, decommissioned road – hike (10.7 mile loop; 2,400 feet of elevation gain) to the “pilots” and beyond!