UPDATE: The area around Raspberry Lake was burned in the 2018 Natchez Fire.
Our quest to reach the high points in seven of Northern California’s wilderness areas concluded with a backpack and subsequent steep scramble to the summit of Preston Peak (7,313 ft / 2,229 m), the highest point in the Siskiyou Wilderness. Preston rises more than 500 feet above any other peak in this wilderness and presides over a superb landscape of gem-quality green-blue lakes, rugged geology, meadows flush with wildflowers, and a biodiversity matched by few places on earth (hence the Preston Peak Botanical and Geological Area). Preston’s bulk is easily recognizable from the summits of many other peaks in the Klamath Mountains, Siskiyou Crest, and Southern Cascades, and its presence on the horizon has taunted us during many of our hikes in these areas. It felt good to finally get up close and personal with this peak.
With The LovedOne was sidelined by dentist visits, I opted to approach from the Youngs Peak Trailhead (because the road to the Doe Flat Trailhead had washed-out), only to find that the bridge at the start of Forest Road (FR) 18N07 (Knopti Road) – the shortest way to the trailhead – was being replaced. The detour that was offered (FR 18N11) worked fine but added several gravelly miles to the drive. The first 3.5 miles of the Clear Creek Trail (USFS #5231) down into Youngs Valley is actually the road built to service the old Cyclone Gap chromite mine.
From the road, I’d catch an occasional glimpse of Preston looming above the surrounding ridges and could see why early travelers in the region thought it might be 12,000 feet high.
The trail descends to Youngs Valley, a huge, grass-covered meadow between El Capitan and Youngs Peak.
On the way down to the valley, I passed Oregonnater, his dog (Grace), and two guys [who I would later learn are his brothers], who were heading-out after camping at Raspberry Lake and attempting Preston. Small world. Down in the valley, I left the Clear Creek Trail (which continues down-valley to the southwest) for the Raspberry Lake Trail (USFS #5231), which is just the continuation of the old mining road. At 5.8 miles from the trailhead, I came to the end of the road at the old Cyclone Gap (or Mammoth) chromite mine. Records are scarce, but this mine seems to have started in the early 1940s (in response to the need for chromite to make high grade steel for World War II) and operated into the mid-1950s when the market price of chromite fell below production costs.
Past the mine, the trail becomes a single-track that undulates its way toward Raspberry Lake. At one point, I could see the entirety of the northwest ridge I’d be following to Preston’s summit.
The lake itself is a delightful little gem set in a bowl at the base of Copper Mountain. There had been a half-dozen cars at the trailhead, so I was pleasantly surprised to find I had the lake all to myself. Which was a plus since there aren’t that many good campsites at the lake.
After setting up my tent and dumping extra gear, I went west up through the trees (much easier than trying the adjacent scree slope) for 300 feet to the top of the ridge, where I got a good look down at the round little lake.
On top of the ridge, there are use trails that tend to come and go, as well as some infrequent cairns that only confirm you are going in the right direction (but you need to be going in that direction to find many of them). I tried to stay on top of the ridge as much as possible, but there were exceptions to this. At 5,680 feet, I came to a large outcrop which I passed to the east (the west side was a massive bushwhack). Just above that, a clear use trail, marked with cairns,
took me around to the west below Point 6121,
to the big saddle at 5,900 feet. I could see some tracks heading over Point 6121 but going up there would have been a massive waste of time and energy.
From the saddle, I could look due east and see smoke blowing-up from the Klamathon Fire, which had devastated Hilt and Hornbrook, and was now burning toward the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
From the saddle, the final 1,300 feet or so to Preston’s summit loomed above me. From here on it would just be up, followed by more up, then even more up.
I stuck close to the ridgeline, tucking and weaving to find the ever vague use trail and those confirmatory cairns. There were boulder fields to by-pass,
rock slabs to balance across,
mindless graffiti to NOT appreciate,
and a fair amount of loose rock and boulders to negotiate as I got further and further above the big saddle.
Finally, the summit came into view,
and after some more scrambling,
I was finally level with the summit! The climb, while strenuous (2,200 feet in 1.8 miles), was, for me at least, never more than high YDS Class 2 (hands and feet needed). I would say that if you find yourself in definite Class 3 terrain, you’re off-route.
I briefly enjoyed the summit and then started a careful descent to my camp at the lake. I’m impressed by people who do Preston as a dayhike but spending the night at the lake meant that I didn’t have to hurry my descent. Even though the use trails and cairns were (slightly) easier to see from above, I took my time, mindful that the ridge, while only Class 2, was still loose and slippery in spots, with significant exposure. Call it the mindful caution of a solo hiker. After the lake came into view,
I was soon enough back in camp, some nine hours after I’d left the trailhead. Serious re-hydration and dinner preceded the welcome embrace of my sleeping bag atop my nifty new (thank you REI dividend!) NeoAir sleeping pad. I was soon in the embrace of Morpheus (the Greek one), only awakening briefly to note some large critter (probably one of the black bears common in this area) crashing through the trees behind my camp.
I was awakened the next morning by the bird’s dawn chorus and, after a small breakfast, enjoyed a quick hike back to the trailhead in the cool of the morning. A tough trip (17.8 miles round-trip; 5,200 feet of elevation gain) but a very good one and a great way to end the Saga of the Seven Summits!
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