A few years ago, we were hiking north on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) north of Howard Prairie Lake when we passed a small sign aside the trail that said “Vulture Rock 0.5 mi” with an upward pointing arrow. On a subsequent walk here, we turned at this sign and embarked on a brief cross-country walk and easy scramble to the rocky summit of Point 6054 (“Vulture Rock”). There used to be a fire lookout on nearby Old Baldy but it was removed years ago and trees now obscure the views from that summit. Not so for Vulture Rock where, weather permitting, the views are expansive. Today was forecast (and turned-out to be) a bluebird day between storms so off we went to see what we could see from the Vulture.

The informal trailhead for this hike is a pullout on the Keno Access Road where the PCT crosses it about 1.5 miles northeast of Howard Prairie Lake. From there we went north on the PCT past Big Springs, across Forest Road 2550, to that small sign. It had rained the day before, freshening the forest and releasing a host of wonderful piney, loamy fragrances. Best air freshener in the world! 🙂

Starting north on the PCT
After the rain
Along the PCT
Wild strawberry with droplets
Arriving at Griffin Pass near Big Springs
Bleeding Hearts
That small sign

You’d think that because there’s a sign here, there’s some kind of trail behind it to Vulture Rock. Which is what we thought on our first visit. But no. There’s a very faint use trail past the sign that, in about 100 yards, arrives at a gravel road not shown on most maps (but quite visible on Google Earth). From here you’re on your own. We went left (southeast) on this road for 100 feet or so, then turned right (south) and picked our way up the slope. It had been partially logged years ago so, with some dodging and weaving, it’s possible to get all the way to the base of the rock pile without any serious bushwhacking. Then there’s a walk up a boulder field to the summit rocks, which require some simple high Class 2 / low Class 3 moves to surmount. Our visit today was serenaded by several vultures who kept circling the rock and swooping over us – possibly hoping we’d soon keel over and start to smell delicious. Ah, no, not today. :/

Walking up the boulder field under the watchful (and hopeful) eye of a vulture (arrow)
Climbing on to the summit rocks from the boulder field
Some easy moves among the summit rocks, with Old Baldy in the distance

Once on top we had, as anticipated, views in all directions except to the far south where Mount Shasta was lost in the clouds. To the west we could see Howard Prairie Lake – which is actually a reservoir. It’s only 27% full at the moment and, thanks to the drought we’re having, isn’t expected to fill enough this year to allow access to the docks on it – which is bad for the little fishing and boating businesses that rely on these. 😦

Looking west from Vulture: (1) Mount Ashland, (2) Howard Prairie Lake
To the north, Mount McLoughlin and Brown Mountain
To the east, (1) Old Baldy and (2) Aspen Butte, high point in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness

After a sit and a snack on the summit, we climbed down and headed back along the old road – just to see where it went.

Climbing down with McLoughlin and Brown in the distance
Along the old road

It took us down, essentially parallel to the PCT, to Forest Road 2550 and a small pond that collects the flow from Big Springs. Because this is a water source for PCT thru-hikers, there’s a short use trail from here back up to the PCT.

The pond below Big Springs

On the way back along the PCT, we passed five people hiking in. This seemed like a lot for a Friday afternoon, until we remembered it’s the brief mushroom season here and they were hunting for mushrooms – mainly morels. This also explained the many cars we saw parked in pull-outs and on side roads as we drove in on the Keno Access Road. The forest may be “closed” (technically) but the hunt goes on.

This is not the mushroom you seek…

We didn’t look for mushrooms but we did have an excellent walk (7 miles round-trip; 1,300 feet of gain) on a clear blue day 😎 to some big views, complemented by a vulture fly-by!

Out-and-back to Vulture Rock: (S) small sign, (V) Vulture Rock