Swan Mountain (Red Buttes Wilderness) 06-Jul-2021

Swan Mountain (6,272 ft / 1,912 m) sits on the Siskiyou Crest just north of the Oregon unit of the Red Buttes Wilderness. I’d first reached its summit on a cold, crisp day during the snowless winter of 2015. The summit is an easy walk up from the Boundary Trail #1207 and the views from the top are – weather permitting – excellent. We tried for its summit last summer but were turned back by – what then – seemed like excessive heat (if we’d only known what was coming 😓). But in 2020 we’d gotten a late start due to the long drive to the western trailhead on Sucker Creek. This year we figured, what with the heat dome still pressing on us, to go for an earlier start from the eastern trailhead on Steve Fork. It worked, but just barely.

We took Forest Road 1030 – which had been closed until recently by a land slide – to the trailhead for the Steve (or Steve’s) Fork Trail #905. We left the trailhead at 0830 but, with the awesome power of hindsight, it would have been better to have started at 0630. At just under a mile (1.6 km), we came to the #905’s junction with the #906. From here, the #905 continues on south and up to its end at a junction with the Azalea Lake/Fir Glade Trail #955. We turned on to the #906 and followed it up to Sucker Creek Gap. Map geeks will want to know that this is the Sucker Creek Trail, which is #906 on the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest and #1237 on the Klamath National Forest (the trail number changes at the forest boundaries at Sucker Creek Gap).

At the Steve Fork #905 trailhead
On the #905
Washington Lily
Woodland Penstemon
A droopy-branched Brewer’s Spruce along the #906
Still a small trickle of cool water in one of the side creeks
Across a meadow just below the Gap
Wiggins / Tiger Lily
Swan Mountain comes into view
The trail junction at Sucker Gap

From Sucker Creek Gap, we followed the Boundary Trail #1207 as it went north through the forest west of Points 5833 and 5797. This stretch of trail gave us a cool, shady, much needed respite from the building heat that we could feel every time we passed through a patch of sunlight.

On the Boundary Trail
A massive tree blocks the trail

Just after our failed attempt at Swan’s summit in 2020, the 157,229 acre (63,628 ha) Slater Fire did a mosaic burn through the Klamath National Forest west of Swan Mountain. The ridge we were following became part of the fire line that kept the Slater from moving east into the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest.

Traces of the 2020 Slater Fire with Swan Mountain in the distance
Holding the line at the ridge
Beauty amongst the devastation

On our 2020 hike, we’d stopped for shade and lunch under a gnarled, multi-trunked pine that is probably well over 250 years old. We feared that it had become a victim of the Slater Fire. We were extremely happy to find that it hadn’t even been touched by that fire. 😁

That old tree is still with us

The climb up Swan’s south ridge was expedited by the use trail built by the fire crews, the burning off of most of the brush we’d otherwise have to have danced around, and a nice cooling breeze coming in from the west. It was still slow going but not as oppressively hot as we’d feared.

Following the fire line up the ridge
Burned brush and new growth
Dwarf Purple Monkeyflower
On the summit, with Preston Peak in the distance

The views from the summit to the south and east were squelched by smoke wafting north and east from the several large wildfires burning in Northern California. If we squinted real hard, we could just make-out a haze and smoke obscured Mount McLoughlin to the east and the twin peaks of the Red Buttes to the south. The best views on this day were to the north and west.

Preston Peak (1) in the Siskiyou Wilderness to the west
Preston Peak (L) and Copper Mountain (R)
To the north: (1) Lake Mountain, (2) Mount Elijah, (3) Craggy Mountain, and (4) Grayback Mountain

We spent some time of the summit, enjoying a snack, the cooling breeze, and the absence of bugs. Then we headed back. As soon as we left that cooling breeze, the heat hit us – even in the shade of the forest. So we trudged back to the trailhead, with a short detour to see Lake 5148 (the one Sulllivan calls “Cirque Lake”).

Going back past the Paintbrush
Lake 5148 (“Cirque Lake”)
Down through the heat

We got back to the trailhead, after 10.2 miles (16.3 km) and 1,950 feet (594 m) of elevation gain, hot, thirsty, and a little tired. It had been a good hike – but would have been even better had we been able to get organized for a much earlier start from the trailhead. 🤔 But this is an excellent hike for Fall when the weather is crisper and the chance for clear views in all directions much greater. 😀

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