An Armistice Day sunbreak in the wet wave trains of early winter gave us a chance to do a pre-snowshoe season reconn of trails at the south end of the Buck Prairie Winter Recreation Area (WRA), which is – for the moment at least – now part of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. This WRA an immensely popular winter play area, particularly at its north end where the majority of its nordic ski and snowshoe trails are concentrated. The fewer trails at its southern end looked (based on the BLM’s small map from 2003) like they were longer, more remote, and offered views. But we wanted to see what was there – and record our own gpx track – before everything was covered in snow. Better to hike dirt now than flounder in snow later! It being Veterans Day, the library was closed, and the LovedOne was thus free to wander the woods with me.
The BLM places the trailhead at “Campers Cove” which is a little confusing since what’s there now is the Hyatt Lake Resort (doing business as Campers Cove LLC). There are no trail signs but the nice woman at the resort office said that we could park in the lot across Hyatt Prairie Road from the resort and then hike up a dirt road along the creek that flows to the southwest of the cabins. This was very helpful information since the USGS topo map for this area is a provisional one dating from 1988 and is woefully deficient with respect to the current state of roads and trails. So we went past the cabins and up an old two-track road – what the BLM map calls the “Campers Cove Trail.”
The snow was non-existent at first, then got a little deeper on the road and its adjoining meadows,
At just over a mile, we came to a major road junction – going right would have taken us, in less than 0.5 miles, to the Table Mountain Road. Turning uphill to the left put us on another old two-track, one now called the “Connector Trail.” It passed through some grand old trees which had blocked snow from reaching the ground,
and then climbed to rocky, open ground,
where we got a stunning view of snowy Mount Ashland to the west.
We continued on the soggy, muddy, snowy, slippery Connector Trail,
under a constantly shifting array of unusual cloud shapes,
to a junction with Table Mountain Road.
I had plotted a probable route based on Google Earth imagery and that proved very helpful in deciphering the actual alignment of roads in this area. The BLM has you jogging to the left here and rejoining the Table Mountain Road a little to the north – useful if you’re trying to avoid snowmobile traffic on the road. Since we were here pre-snow, we just went straight ahead, past the turnoff to the communications towers and old lookout atop Table Mountain, and along to where an old road came in from the left (west). This is the southern end of the Table Mountain Loop Trail. There are no signs but the route is pretty easy to follow using cut logs and blue blazers.
After going through some forest, we burst out on to a lumpy, rocky plain – there’s not yet enough snow to smooth things out – with more big views to the west and south. A sign here called this “Natasha Fatale’s Vantage Point” and it took us a moment to recognize this as Natasha from the cast of the beloved Rocky and Bullwinkle show (this is more obvious if you consider the names of the trails at the north end of the recreation area).
After a nostalgic moment (sigh), we continued on to the named summit of Henry Mountain, hoping for yet more big views. But no, its summit is mostly tree- and brush-shrouded and it took some floundering to get a look at cloudy Mount Shasta to the south. Funny how I’ve never been able to stop equating summits with views – despite years in the tree-shrouded Pacific Northwest. Old dog, same old trick…
We continued on past the summit, following the blue blazers, until we crossed another old two-track (shown on the 1988 USGS topo map). At this point the desire to visit another old lookout overcame our interest in tracing the Table Mountain Loop Trail to its northern end (thus leaving some room for an adventure on snowshoes). So we turned down the old road,
and headed toward Table Mountain, whose comm towers were visible above the trees.
The spring shown along this old road on the 1988 USGS topo map had been fashioned at some point in the past into a small pond which was nicely iced-over even this early in the winter.
Going cross-country up the short distance to the top of Table Mountain would have been easy had it not been for the rocky cliffs which we had to get around by struggling through thickets of sharp manzanita. But, scared but unbowed, we eventually reached the Table’s top.
The fire lookout here was first developed in 1931 with a 30-foot pole live-in tower, which was replaced in 1958 with the present 30-foot treated timber tower with an Oregon Department of Forestry live-in cab. It has been abandoned as a lookout for many years and now serves just as a tower for various types of antennas, to go along with all the other antennas festooning the summit.
Our sunny morning was starting to give way to some clouds, along with a cold breeze, making for a cold summit. But the view was worth it.
The “arduous” weather conditions we faced atop Table called for a generous snack of bacon jerky.
Once the bacon was gone, there was no reason to stay on Table, so we started down,
catching one last view of Mount Shasta,
before getting back to the parking lot next to Hyatt Reservoir.
A good exploratory hike (7.7 miles round trip; 1,300 feet of elevation gain) in anticipation of even more fun and exploring once there’s enough snow for snowshoeing!