We were originally alerted to South Gate Meadows by the Ashland Hiking Group and got the details from Hike Mt. Shasta. Older maps will show the springs in the meadow feeding Squaw Valley Creek, but that pejorative name has now been struck from Forest Service maps. We’d had a wonderful clear day on the east side of Shasta the day before and expected to have a similar one here on the west side today. We arose, however, from the embrace of Morpheus to find the sun an incandescent orange orb in a sky infused with orange-brown smoke from wildfires burning to the south and east. We drove up to the Panther Meadow Trailhead (at 7,400 feet / 2,255 m) hoping to get above the smoke. No luck. The whole place smelled like an old campfire. But there was a certain strange beauty in what the smoke was doing to the color of the light and to our views of the mountain, so we pressed on. I suppose that’s an upside to getting old – you just get on with it because you’re not quite sure you’ll get another chance.
The parking lot at Panther Meadows was almost full when we arrived (it’s both a trailhead and a campground) but we were alone on the trails until shortly before we got back to the truck. From the trailhead we went east toward Gray Butte (any thought of climbing it was quashed by the smoke-induced poor visibility).
Some older maps show this trail (past the turn-off to Gray Butte) as undeveloped but we found that to no longer be the case. It winds through forests and boulder fields and pumice deserts but is never hard to follow. It took us from Panther Meadow up to a junction with the South Gate Meadows trail just before The Gate, a squeeze point on the ridge northeast of Red Butte.
We passed through The Gap and made our way down and around to the spring-fed meadows at South Gate. Having to pass through expanses of pumice desert to reach here only made the lush greenery that much more attractive! 🙂
We didn’t spend too much time in the meadows but decided to head back and have a snack at The Gate. Its position on a ridge yielded a nice breeze that made the smoke a little more bearable. But as we were sitting there munching, we noticed that the smoke was becoming less and less noticeable. Clearing! 🙂 This made it much easier to continue on the South Gate Meadow Trail to the Ski Bowl Trailhead.
We got down to the Ski Bowl Trailhead and then found a use trail that took us down to a formal trail. We’re guessing it was the #3W38. If so, it exists lower down than shown on the Forest Service map. After-hike research suggests we were supposed to walk down the road to the #3W38 and not use the use trail but there was no signage in the moment to suggest this. Having found the #3W38, we soon found the #3W37 which took us down to Upper Panther Meadow and then the trail to the parking lot.
This proved to be a short hike (5 miles total with 730 feet of gain) but one that packed in visits to a lot of varied habitats, all back-dropped by big views (smoke permitting) of Mount Shasta. We were luck that the incoming thunderstorms had begun to cleanse the air of smoke as we were making our way back from The Gate. The meadows are remarkable and even the pumice deserts must be something to see when all of the Pasque Flowers are in bloom! 🙂 We passed (or were passed by) less than 10 people until we started down toward the Ski Bowl – then more and more people appeared on the trail. But we were always able to keep our distance…