Observation Peak Loop (Southwest Oregon) 16-Sep-2021

Significant rain is forecast for this coming weekend. Maybe (hopefully) it will be enough to squelch some of the wildfires still burning to our south and north. Or at least enough to flush the air clean of smoke. Fingers crossed this actually happens. 🙄

But enough progress has been made on the wildfires in California for the Forest Service to reopen most of the forests there two days early. So, although there’s still plenty of smoke and haze around here, we decided to revisit Observation Peak on the Siskiyou Crest – our last visit being on a somewhat less smokey day in 2016. Five years – my how time flies! 😲 This time, rather than do an out-and-back or go over Dutchman Peak again, we pieced together a loop starting and ending on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and connecting through the maze of forest roads on the southeast side of the crest.

We went up incredibly wash-boarded Forest Road (FR) 20 to Silver Fork Gap, then south on FR 2025 to where it crosses the PCT above Donomore Meadows. Going NOBO on the PCT took us quickly and easily to a short climb cross-country to Observation’s summit.

Starting north on the PCT
Smoke organized itself into strata
Almost to Observation’s northwest ridge
At the summit

On a clear day, the summit of Observation Peak (7,340 feet / 2,237 m) has some of the best views along the Siskiyou Crest. Up here we were above most of the smoke that was filling the valleys below us. We had expected to not be able to see Mount Shasta to the south but, instead, found it’s summit looking like an island in a sea of smoke.

Looking south
To the south: Mount Shasta
To the west: (1) Scraggy Mountain, (2) Red Buttes, (3) Preston Peak
To the east: (1) Wagner Butte, (2) Mount McLoughlin, (3) Mount Ashland, (4) Pilot Rock
To the north: (1) Dutchman Peak, Silver Fork Basin, and the PCT (lower right)

After taking in the view, we descended Observation’s east ridge to FR 40S01 and went south on that to where we could use an old mining road to cross the ridge east of Point 7177. This saved us from having to go two miles (3.2 km) to the east and back on FR 40S01 to get around the ridge. Along through here, we started hearing bells – which almost sounded like faint voices. We finally traced these tinkling sounds to some belled cows running across Cow Creek Glade below us.

Descending Observation’s east ridge
On FR 40S01 toward the old mining road
A stock pond at the head of Cow Creek Glade with Mount Ashland on the horizon

At the top of the ridge, we stopped for a snack under some trees. There we found a granite marker for a Marshall Simpson (1963 – 1999). It’s a nice spot with a clear view of Mount Shasta to the south. Unfortunately, this is also a spot where the wandering cows like to hang-out. So we spent a little time cleaning dust and dirt off the marker. Then it was down the other side of the ridge, past a collapsed line (or prospector’s) shack, to resume walking along FR 40S01.

With a view of Mount Shasta
Down the ridge (old line shack is in open area between the trees)
An old line shack or prospector’s cabin
Many of the springs along the road were still running

After crossing into California, we soon came to a junction with FR 2025 coming down from where we’d parked. Our options here were to (1) take FR 2025 back to the truck, (2) continue on FR 2025 to where FR 2025-940 crosses the PCT, or (3) continue on FR 2025 to where it becomes FR 48N16 (there are two different national forests interleaved here) and also crosses the PCT. We went with Option (2) so we could see Donomore Meadows and cross the border (again) on the PCT.

Donomore Peak over Donomore Meadows (the trailhead (1) is to the right of the peak)
We again encounter cows with bells, this time in Donomore Meadow

FR 2025-940 meets the PCT very near the Donomore Cabin (aka Offenbacher Cabin) – a rancher’s line cabin built in 1935. It had fallen into disrepair but has recently been refurbished by local volunteers and descendants of the original ranching families. It’s now a popular stopping point for PCT thru-hikers.

Donomore Cabin
Cabin interior

From the cabin, we followed the PCT NOBO – through some wandering cows – back into Oregon and on up to where we’d parked.

At the border

Our loop came to 7.9 miles (12.6 km) with 1,700 feet (518 m) of gain – about half on the PCT and half on forest roads. Some might balk at hiking a road but with the PCT being the only established trail in this area, road walking is necessary if you want to do a loop without a lot of cross-country. But you can also reach the 40S01/2025 junction by going southwest along the ridge from Observation’s summit – as we did on another hike in June 2016 – thus avoiding having to walk along FR 40S01.

We fervently hope that this will be the last hike of 2021 where we have to cope with shiny, opalescent skies, colors and views distorted by smoke, and diminished lung function. Glass half full of (rain) water rather than smoke, etc. 😉 If that rain arrives as expected this weekend, our next post should feature clear blue skies and colors not shifted into the red. Here’s hoping! 😁

Our loop over Observation Peak ((1) the collapsed shack, (2) Donomore Cabin)
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4 comments

  1. Thanks! Right now it’s (finally) raining hard here – just like the old Oregon. This band of rain extends across the wildfires both north and south of us, so, hopefully, by next week smoke will be a non-issue around here.

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