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 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.
Big Blue Lake is situated at the northern end of California’s Russian Wilderness. I came across it in Lautner’s Day & Section Hikes, Pacific Crest Trail, Northern California (2010), where reaching it is portrayed as an off-trail adventure hike. And so it was. Going cross-country to Big Blue is a lot of work but, once you’re there, it’s an exquisite turquoise blue gem of an alpine lake, set in a rugged granite bowl. On reflection, it would have been better to have hiked to it on a cooler day and on one where the scenery wasn’t faintly obscured by smoke from a wildfire smoldering some 10 miles to the northwest in the Marble Mountain Wilderness (Island Fire). Ah, hindsight.
Stuart Falls is a gorgeous 40-foot or so cascade of silver water nestled in a spectacular forest in the Sky Lakes Wilderness, near the extreme southwest corner of Crater Lake National Park. It has some wonderful campsites at its base and used to be readily accessible via the Red Blanket Trail (USFS #1090) from a trailhead on Forest Road (FR) 6205 to the west. But then this area was touched by the 2008 Lonesome Complex Middle Fork fire, which removed a lot of the understory and ground cover. This was followed by two years of minimal snow cover, punctuated by short, but intense, bursts of rain. No longer slowed by an understory, this water tore down gullies and completely obliterated the #1090 in several places (and also closed FR 6205 2.5 miles from the trailhead). Using my 4×4 to reach the trailhead, I did this hike in 2015 (post) and found the journey to the falls to be difficult at best and possibly even dangerous. A return visit seemed unlikely until I realized there was a safe (but slightly longer) way in from the east via the Pumice Flat Trail. So, leaving the LovedOne immersed in some sort of intricate fabric project, I headed out to return to the falls.