The Ashland Hiking Group has long done hikes in Southern Oregon and Northern California and we have dipped into their trip reports from time to time as inspiration (but not necessarily a blueprint) for our own hikes. When EXCESSIVE HEAT warnings (due to multiple days of unusual triple-digit air temperatures) collided with a desire to hike, we were (yet again) in need of a new (to us), short, close-by (so it can be reached and done before the heat builds) hike that was also at some altitude – for coolness and to get above the smoke infiltrating the valley from nearby wildfires. Big Red Mountain, west of Mount Ashland along the Siskiyou Crest, seemed to be a favorite of the Ashland hikers and at 7,064 feet was likely to be high enough to be cool enough for just long enough for a morning hike. So we lurched out of bed early, caffeinated, drove Forest Road 20 (post) to where it crosses the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at Siskiyou Gap, and parked.
In 2015, my adventure hiking partner – Brad – and I did a partially on-trail, partially cross-country figure-8 loop (post) around the Three Sisters in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness. In 2016, we did a similar on/off trail loop in Oregon’s largest wilderness area, the Eagle Cap Wilderness (post). This year, we sketched out another on/off trail loop in the high country of the Trinity Alps Wilderness in Northern California. Our initial plan was to start at the China Spring (or Gulch) Trailhead, go up past Grizzly Lake and over Thompson Peak (the highest point in this wilderness), then down the Rattlesnake Creek drainage, and back up to the trailhead via the North Fork Trail. This particular trip didn’t work out much as planned but it was still an adventure with a highpoint.
In late 2015, as we were assembling our hiking to do list for 2016, it occurred to us that we had yet to at least visit all of Oregon’s 47 established and open federal wilderness areas (Oregon’s Wilderness Areas). Two of the 47 (Oregon Islands and Three Arch Rocks) are closed to public entry (and would require amphibious operations even if they were open). Of the remaining 45, we had, as of 2015, hiked or visited all but 18. So we planned some trips to visit these. We’re not philosophers but suffice to say that wilderness exists just to be wild, irrespective of human needs or wants. So we understood going in that the primary “human” purpose for these wilderness areas is to protect a watershed or a threatened and endangered species or a terrestrial habitat or a fish habitat or all of the above and not for our hiking pleasure. This is particularly true of the smaller, less visited areas, many of which have few or no trails and in which cross-country travel opportunities vary from good to heroically (think Lewis & Clark or Alexander Mackenzie) difficult. So we weren’t planning on long day hikes or multi-day backpacks, just a visit and, if possible without undue heroics, a short hike. We started on the remaining 18 in January 2016 and visited the last one in July 2017. Below is a list of all of Oregon’s established wilderness areas, with a link (if available) to at least one of our visits to each (we’ve visited some multiple times).
As we’ve noted in previous posts, we have a project underway to at least visit all of Oregon’s 45 established and open federal wilderness areas that we’d missed visiting in years past. We started this project in January 2016 with 18 wilderness areas remaining and closed out that year with just two left: the Menagerie and the Middle Santiam. The Middle Santiam Wilderness is a moderate-sized (8,844 acre) wilderness area whose primary human purpose is protection of the Santiam River watershed. Four trails, most of them seldom hiked, provide access to this wilderness: McQuade Creek (USFS #3397), Chimney Peak (USFS #3382), Gordan Peak (USFS #3387), and Swamp Peak (USFS #3401). The Chimney Peak Trail is the most popular as it provides easy access to the upper Middle Santiam River and, in six miles or so, to Donaca Lake. The Chimney Peak Trail was our Plan A, although we weren’t sure going in whether we’d hike all the way to the lake or just to the wilderness boundary. Why we ended-up doing neither is a twisted tale of plans (and karma) temporarily gone awry.
As we’ve noted in previous posts, we have a project underway to at least visit all of Oregon’s 45 established and open federal wilderness areas that we’d missed visiting in years past. We started this project in January 2016 with 18 wilderness areas remaining and closed out that year with just two left: the Menagerie and the Middle Santiam. The Menagerie Wilderness is another of those small (4,962 acre), fairly obscure, wilderness areas whose primary human purpose is watershed protection and not recreation (it’s popular with rock climbers). There are only two trails in this wilderness – the Trout Creek (USFS #3405) and the Rooster Rock (USFS #3399) – of which the Trout Creek Trail (6.6 miles roundtrip; 2,400 feet of elevation gain) is the longer, but easier, one and hence was our choice. Why we hiked this wilderness before the nearby Middle Santiam Wilderness is a twisted tale of plans (and karma) temporarily gone awry.
It was time for a hike that was close (no long drive to the trailhead), straightforward (no cross-country adventures this time), and high above the valley heat (if possible). After engaging an extra brain cell, it dawned on me that an old favorite, Wagner Butte (USFS #1011) was the perfect choice. Although we’d been up there many times before (post), it had been awhile since we’d done it as a snow-free summer hike. So, with the LovedOne committed to spending the day at a cow-quilting class in Ashland, I soloed up to the Wagner Butte Trailhead to once again enjoy this old classic.