A Moment On Big Red (Siskiyou Crest) 29-Jun-2021

In 1968 – the year I first went backpacking – the atmosphere’s CO2 content was 323 ppm (up from 285 ppm in 1850). Last month it reached 419 ppm. A 96 ppm increase in 53 years may not seem like much but, at the scale of an entire planet’s atmosphere, it’s a lot. More than enough to set in motion natural forces which are going to affect us regardless of one’s political or ideological or religious persuasion(s) or whether one believes in them or not.  In a contest between belief and atmospheric physics, bet on the physics and hang on.

I assumed – probably selfishly – that I’d have shuffled off this mortal coil before climate change started to really bite. To be harsh: like enjoying a good restaurant dinner and then walking out without paying. But after being heat-domed twice in two weeks – first on the San Juan and then here at home – it’s obvious (as it should have been) that I was wrong. The bow waves of an overly heated atmosphere’s effects have already arrived and seem to be increasing faster than expected. So it looks like I won’t be dodging that dinner check after all. None of us will. Sigh. Since no miraculous solutions – either technical or cultural – seem imminent, we’ll just have to adapt as best we can and, as they say, carry on…

Which brings us to Big Red Mountain (7,028 feet / 2,142 m) on the Siskiyou Crest west of Mount Ashland. A favorite of the Ashland Hiking Group, we’ve used it in recent years to briefly escape the heat and (sadly) the wildfire smoke of late summer. It’s high enough and breezy enough to give us a nice respite from both. Being up there seeking such respite at the end of June, rather than in August or September, reflects an adaptation (albeit a small one) to our changing climate. A tiny upside of hiking Big Red in June is seeing the Beargrass and a few other wildflowers still in bloom.

We drove past the Mount Ashland Ski Area and west on Forest Road 20 to Siskiyou Gap, where we parked and started hiking west (SOBO) on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It was sunny and approaching 80°F / 26°C when we left the trailhead and the temperature climbed as we hiked. The saving grace was a good, stiff breeze from the south which cut the heat. We passed three PCT thru-hikers who were probably fixated on the luxuries awaiting them in Ashland (or at least at Callahan’s).

Through still lush vegetation near Siskiyou Gap
On the sun-baked PCT
Looking east from the PCT: (1) Anderson Butte, (2) Roxy Ann Peak (Prescott Park), (3) the true summit of Wagner Butte
Wild Blue Flax
Across open slope, with Woodrat Mountain in the distance
Crossing a much diminished patch of Beargrass
Big Red comes into view

We went along the PCT to just below Big Red and then hiked up through fields of Beargrass to its summit.

Patches of Beargrass along the PCT below Big Red
An avenue of Beargrass
Leaving the PCT for the summit (yes, that’s a patch of snow in the distance)
Toward the summit
Wagner Butte over a field of Beargrass

From the summit, we had too good a look at the Lava and Tennant Fires burning just north of Mount Shasta. The breeze we were standing in on the summit was good for us but terrible for the crews trying to contain these fires.

The Lava Fire from the summit of Big Red
Black Butte on the right, with Mount Shasta on the left partially obscured by smoke from the Lava Fire
Wagner Butte (1) and Mount McLoughlin (2) barely visible to the east through the smoke from the fires near Mount Shasta
The still operational fire lookout on Dutchman Peak

We hiked back along Big Red’s spine, dropped down to the PCT, and took that back to Siskiyou Gap.

Back along the spine of Big Red, with pointy Pilot Rock in the distance
Descending through a field of Scarlet Gilia

It’s a short lollipop loop (4.8 mi / 7.7 km, with 1,125 feet / 343 m of gain) but still one of our favorites. And so to home, where it was once again over 100°F / 38°C. 🤔


7 thoughts on “A Moment On Big Red (Siskiyou Crest) 29-Jun-2021

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  1. Hi Bruce,
    Thank you for your clear and insightful report from Big Red Mountain on how climate change is affecting our hiking experiences. We love to read Boots on the Trail for your reports and pictures, flower ID, etc. and giving us new ideas for hikes. We would like to invite you and Linda to join us as our guests on a scheduled Monday hike.
    Rich Stickle
    Monday Hike Leader

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Matt –

    Thanks for reading our blog. 😊

    And, yes, I’ve pondered posting about special, fragile places. If special wild places are too secret, no one will know about protecting them. If they’re not secret enough, they may not remain special or wild. It’s certainly a conundrum.

    So I’ve evolved a rule that says if a place is awesome, but too easy to access, then you won’t hear about it from me. In a few cases, I’ve posted about a special place but removed the driving directions and/or map. If you want to get there, you’ll have to figure it out for yourself. Otherwise, most of the special places I’ve posted about require some effort and skill to reach and hence don’t seem to appeal to the “quick visit for a photo” crowd.

    Towhead Lake seems to be the exception. When I posted about it back in 2016, it didn’t seem like it was a secret. I had found out about it from two posts by others, it was obvious on the map just off the PCT, and there was a good use trail already in place during our one and only visit. Seemed like we were coming late to the party here. But my post has gotten over 1,000 views (but only 4 likes 😥 ) in the 5 years since and someone even stole one of my pictures of the lake for their own website 🤔. So I guess it was more of a secret than I thought it was at the time.

    So, would I post about a place like Towhead Lake again? No. Doing so would violate the too easy to access rule. Am I going to take down my 2016 post? No. It’s too late for that, what with the way the internet squirrels away files. So a lesson learned and a rule developed to avoid future missteps.

    Ultimately, however, it’s not for us to keep special places secret (which is ultimately a hopeless endeavor) but rather for visitors to them to show some respect for their uniqueness and fragility.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Bruce,

    I appreciate your blog and commentary very much. Especially how you use old FS roads and get off the beaten track.

    Here’s my commentary on the heat: https://newversenews.blogspot.com/2021/06/horses-in-heat.html

    I have a question for you. What are your thoughts about whether there are some places that are fragile enough that it is better to not post about them on the internet?

    I ask as someone who also posts photos on social media and in newsletters like for Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, so I ponder this question.

    On the one hand, if there are going to continue to be wild places, there has to be a constituency that cares about them. And there are plenty of places in, say, the Monument that are already well known and not unusually fragile to post about.

    But from time to time I choose not to go out of my way to publicize a particularly fragile place. A case in point is Towhee Lake in the Red Buttes. It is such a confined space with just that one tiny and very fragile spot where most people arriving at the lake would plop down their camping stuff. And unless campers are pretty conscientious it’s not that convenient to pee or poop in the proper way.

    I was told by one of the local botanists that Sullivan and Bernstein both made a conscious decision not to include it in their hiking guide books for southern Oregon.

    So in that spirit, if I post photos from there on social media or on my photography website I’m not going to name the location. Of course my not publicizing that lake doesn’t mean that no one will ever go there. But maybe fewer.

    I’m curious whether this is something you have ever grappled with and what your thoughts are. Thanks!

    Matt Witt https://www.mattwittphotography.com/

    On Wed, Jun 30, 2021 at 9:07 AM BOOTS on the TRAIL wrote:

    > Boots on the Trail posted: ” In 1968 – the year I first went backpacking – > the atmosphere’s CO2 content was 323 ppm (up from 285 ppm in 1850). Last > month it reached 419 ppm. A 96 ppm increase in 53 years may not seem like > much but, at the scale of an entire planet’s atmosphere, it’s” >

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This climate change thing was starting to become clear 50 years ago. Addressing it was always going to require a big cultural shift on the part of the developed world (I don’t think a technological quick fix will ever be available). Cultural shifts are hard but if we’d starting nudging people toward zero carbon lo those many years ago, we’d likely be better off today. But such nudging would have required real and consistent and scientifically literate leadership, plus stopping all the denial – but we got no leadership and lots of denial. I think more people would have been willing to do their part years ago had they been pointed in the right direction then and knew they weren’t alone in being asked to shift their culture.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I appreciate your comments about the increase of ppm in our life time. I ask myself would I have lived differently if I had known all the ins and outs of the climate change we’re experiencing? I did my part as best I could. Not everyone can say that.


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