The wildfires burning west and north of us have been toned down a bit, thanks to the efforts of thousands of firefighters and their support personnel. The fires in California, however, are still – despite similarly heroic efforts – burning and, in some cases, expanding. Lives and homes have been lost. Smoke from these fires is impacting an area hundreds of miles across, including the Rogue Valley, where the air quality index (the measure of small, harmful particulates in the air) this morning is hovering around 200 (very unhealthy). Since breathing isn’t optional and hiking is, you’d think we’d be sheltering in air conditioning. Well, ah, hmmm, ah, no.
We rationalized (a process that allows circumvention of common sense) that the air would be better (not great, just better) 6,000 feet or so higher up on Mount Ashland. This is the same rationale we used on this same peak at the same time last year for the same reason – smoke. So we went for a short loop hike out to Grouse Gap on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and then back over the summit of Mount Ashland. We passed and chatted with several NOBO PCT thru-hikers, were passed by a pack of runners (!) on the PCT, and by a bunch of mountain bikers on Time Warp (part of which we were using to make the loop back). So we weren’t the only particle-sucking irrationals on the trail today! As the morning progressed, the wind shifted from the south, bringing in more smoke from the fires in California, which made air quality a total joke and views non-existent. After a 5 mile, 1,300-foot elevation gain loop, we were more than happy to repair to Caldera Brewing in Ashland for lunch and throat-clearing libations. The rest of the day was spent in air conditioning.