A Sucker Hikes Every Heated Mile (Red Buttes Wilderness) 28-Jul-2020

The meadows and shelter shown below were threatened by the 157,270 acre Slater Fire, which started in September 2020 and wasn’t declared 100% contained until December 2020. Fortunately, rain arrived in October 2020 just in time to save the meadows and the shelter.

If “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results” (a quote usually attributed to Einstein but actually from a Rita Mae Brown novel), then we are nuttier than politicians during an election campaign. On a crisp, clear day in early 2015, I’d hiked up to Sucker Creek Gap, in the Oregon piece of the Red Buttes Wilderness, from Steve Fork to the east. I’d continued on from the gap to nearby Swan Mountain to enjoy expansive views from its summit.

You can also reach the gap from the west via the Sucker Creek Trail #1237, a trail I hadn’t yet hiked. So I inveigled (shame! shame!) The LovedOne into joining me in an exploration of that trail and promised views from Swan Mountain. The insanity here was believing that, having suffered from the heat (and smoke) during our recent trip to Mount Shasta, we’d somehow not suffer from either here in the Red Buttes. With temperatures in the valley reaching 105°F (40°C), this proved to be a truly delusional supposition. Equally delusional was thinking we’d be able to see through wildfire smoke – of which there is now (sadly 😥 ) a plentiful supply.

After a long drive around to the west side of the Red Buttes, we approached the lower Sucker Creek trailhead to find the road (Forest Road 098) guarded by a trailer, a “watchman on duty” sign, and warnings of video surveillance (we’d later learn all this was to protect heavy machinery being used to decommission an old logging road). The net result of all this signage was our passing by the lower trailhead and ending-up at the upper trailhead. From there an unsigned tie trail took us down to the main Sucker Creek Trail.

The old sign at the junction of the tie trail and the Sucker Creek Trail

It was still cool and pleasant in the deep forest as we made our way toward the abrupt climb up to the meadows near the Sucker Creek Shelter.

On the Sucker Creek Trail
Sucker Creek

Up here the trail was overgrown by colorful expanses of wildflowers (we should have stopped here and spent the day wallowing in flowers :/ ) but we managed to find our way to the shelter and then up to Sucker Creek Gap.

The trail is lost to the wildflowers
Nettleleaf Horsemint
Sucker Creek Shelter
Sucker Creek Gap

Once we were out of the forest along Sucker Creek, the heat became a lot more noticeable. But we pressed on, following the Boundary Trail #1207 toward the use trail up Swan Mountain. Fortunately, much of this section of that trail is also through a deep forest, so it was cooler (just). When the trail left the forest shortly before Swan Mountain, our attention was deflected from the rising heat by the fields of intensely yellow buckwheat flowers lining the ridgetop.

The Boundary Trail heads north from Sucker Creek Gap
On the Boundary Trail just below Swan Mountain
Sulfur-Flower Buckwheat with Little Craggy Peak in the distance
Sulfur-Flower Buckwheat

By the time we reached the use trail up Swan, we were dripping with sweat and dragging. With visibility limited by wildflower smoke – we could smell it as well – there seemed little point in suffering-on to the summit. So we sought shade under a terrifically gnarled ancient pine tree (probably 500 years old), cooled-off, and had a snack.

Looking south: Pyramid Peak (P) with heavy smoke on the far right
Looking southwest toward Tanner Mountain (T)
Looking east, past Arnold Mountain (A), into the smoke-filled Rogue Valley

And then we headed back. We stayed on the main trail, which took us through some of the most amazing and extensive wildflower meadows we’ve seen this season.

Paintbrush and Buckwheat along the ridge
Buckwheat and Little Craggy
On the Sucker Creek Trail below the gap
The trail fades into the wildflowers
So many flowers!
Through fields of wildflowers with Swan Mountain in the distance

Although now warm and muggy in the forest, it was all downhill to the junction with the tie trail. But it was uphill from there to the trailhead. We didn’t realize how knackered we were by the heat until we started up and our pace slowed – to the point where a banana slug could have passed us. Suffering occurred. We met a Bureau of Land Management forester at the trailhead who had come up to check-out possible spot fires due to lightning strikes the night before. We chatted with him briefly, then got in the truck, cranked-up the A/C, and did the two hour drive home (where it was 106°F (40.5°C) 😦 ). Even allowing for cooling with altitude, it was probably around 90°F (32°C) on the trail – way too hot for enjoyable hiking, no matter how much electrolyte drink you can force down. Stop the insanity! Just because we want to hike doesn’t mean we should hike, so we’ll have to tone things down some until cooler climes prevail. 🙄 Still, those wildflowers were pretty amazing… 😀

Our hot and steamy hike through wildflowers to a snack below Swan (“T” is the poorly signed lower trailhead we missed on the way in)

6 thoughts on “A Sucker Hikes Every Heated Mile (Red Buttes Wilderness) 28-Jul-2020

Add yours

  1. We agree. We’ve been trying to fool ourselves into thinking it would be noticeably cooler at altitude. Well, maybe. But at the heights we can get to from here, it’s not. So we’ll pause until it cools a bit.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I know it’s hot when I stop taking photos.. I’ve decided to take a hiking break until heat and smoke recede. It’s just not fun.


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