Backdoor to Rhyolite Ridge (Soda Mountain Wilderness) 09-Apr-2021

Rhyolite Ridge is a bench that curves around below Point 5401 (“Rhyolite Point”) on the western edge of the Soda Mountain Wilderness. We first learned of it from William Sullivan’s Southern Oregon hiking guides. It’s a short diversion, on what was is now a much faded old ranch road, from the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Going out to it gives you sweeping views of the peaks (most notably Mount Shasta) and valleys to the south. Its south-facing aspect also encourages early season emergence of some unique wildflowers such as the Dwarf Hesperochiron and Yellow Fritillary. We’ve hiked out to the Ridge several times from the PCT, as have others judging from how a single-track has now formed in the old road.

Map gazing suggested we could also reach Rhyolite Ridge from the southwest, from an informal parking area along old Highway 99. From there, we could ascend a decommissioned old road (formerly BLM 41-2E-9) to a junction with the Lone Pilot Trail, follow that up to the PCT, and then around Point 5401 to Rhyolite Ridge. We could then have descended an open slope back to the Lone Pilot. But no, where’s the adventure (i.e., pain and suffering) in that? So I added (The LovedOne doesn’t always see the we in adventure) a short section of cross-country to take us from the ridge directly back to 41-2E-9.

Leaving the parking area (arrow) with Mount Ashland on the horizon
Up the old road – now mainly a single-track
Mount Shasta from the road
The Siskiyou Mountains from the trail
Menzies Larkspur
At the junction with the Lone Pilot Trail
On the Lone Pilot Trail toward the PCT, with Pilot Rock in the distance
The Lone Pilot Trail passes below Rhyolite Ridge (RR)
A still functioning stock pond along the trail (now for wildlife, not stock)
On the Lone Pilot Trail just below the PCT
Pilot Rock
Negotiating a snow patch on the PCT
Mount Ashland from where the PCT meets the faded old road to Rhyolite Ridge
Mount McLoughlin from the PCT
On Rhyolite Ridge
A young Dwarf Hesperochiron on Rhyolite Ridge

We had been on open, brush-free trails to this point. Had wiser heads (i.e., The LovedOne’s) prevailed, we would simply have descended an easy, open slope back to the Lone Pilot Trail, for a no muss, no fuss stroll back to the parking area. But adventure called, so we plunged off the ridge directly south down a steep, rocky, loose slope which required a lot of balancing plus posterior traction. Some screaming ensued here. At least we avoided the cliffs. ๐Ÿ™„

Our descent (arrow) from Rhyolite Ridge, into the waiting arms of the oak tree barrier (foreground)

We were met at the bottom by a thicket of brush. Pushing through that got us out onto a swath of open meadow, which we hoped we could follow to the Lone Pilot. It soon became clear, however, that our return (more like escape) was cut off by entwined ranks of low-growing oak trees. Thwacking through manzanita is bad, through buckbrush worse, and through these oaks impossible. So we ducked and weaved, sometimes on bambi trails, sometimes on hunting trails, around this oak barrier until finally breaking free onto the Lone Pilot. We managed to make it through without being desanguinated by too many scratches. Still, some foul language spouted forth here…

Heading back on the brush-free old road
On the open road, with Mount Ashland on the right
Hiking with Mount Ashland above

All told, we did just 5.8 miles (9.3 km) with 1,800 feet (549 m) of gain on this route, which is a good one ๐Ÿ™‚ IF you stick to the old roads that have come to serve as trails in the Soda Mountain Wilderness. I was, again, forcefully reminded that, while cross-country travel in this wilderness may look straightforward on a map (or even on aerial photographs), it can be painful to assume that this will be true on the ground. We’ve had a few easy cross-country excursions here (the loop over Soda Mountain from Boccard Point is a particularly good one) but all the painless ones have been on old and fading roads. We had time after the hike for sustenance and pain-easing hydration at Caldera Brewing, which is slowly emerging from virus-related restrictions. The screams and foul language had ceased by this point but The LovedOne’s suspicion of my take on adventure had not. ๐Ÿ™„

Our track in red; the blue dots are the (now) recommended brush-free route (“L” is the junction with the Lone Pilot Trail)
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4 comments

  1. This sounds like a cool adventure even with all the difficulties! The pictures are beautiful!

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  2. It’s possible to have a good cross-country adventure in the Soda Mountain Wilderness without having to hack through evil brush. The loop over Soda Mountain I mentioned is one of those. We also did a loop to the old Box O Ranch in the much less visited eastern half of this wilderness and the cross-country sections were essentially brush-free. And there’s an old road down Lone Pine Ridge which will take you way into the heart of the wilderness without too much brush (probably none now thanks to the Klamathon Fire). So we’re all for cross-country, just not the overly brushy kind. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. Yea, verily, cross-country in CSNM is not for the faint of heart. But I’ll take an adventure over the the road more traveled any day.

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