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. 🤔