The season turned, rain and then snow coursed over the hills, and we started tuning-up the snowshoes for another snowy winter. Well, not yet little hikers. Those first snows were badly melted by several days of unusually high (in some cases record-breaking) temperatures. Then high pressure settled in, diverting our snow to the East Coast, and leaving us with a multi-day run of clear, cold, sunny, but otherwise snowfree weather. There’s snow up at Crater Lake National Park and in the High Cascades but not so much closer to home. So time to do some local hikes on dirt while waiting for the National Weather Service’s prognostications about our snowy future to come to fruition. The Ashland Hiking Group had made their recent hike to Porcupine Mountain look interesting, so I headed-out to see it for myself. The LovedOne’s recent ascent to treasurer of the county library Friends has rendered her less available for hiking – so my pride in her accomplishments is mingled with missing her on hikes.
While we were hiking in Nevada, a couple of cold fronts swept through Southern Oregon and Northern California, clearing out the choking smoke and bringing rain to stifle the many wildfires plaguing our area. Although the rain helped a lot, it wasn’t sufficient to put the fires dead-out, so several national forest and wilderness area closures remain in effect (likely till next Spring in some cases). This required a major re-think of our Fall hiking plans. Fortunately, the nearby Soda Mountain Wilderness was still open for business. It’s adjacent to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which is now under threat from the current administration’s utterly misguided belief that we have too much wilderness and not enough clear-cuts. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is more of a threat to our outdoors – wildfires or politicians? To assuage this unsettling thought, I headed out (The LovedOne having resumed her volunteer duties at the county library) to visit the various “pilot” rocks and peaks dotting the Soda Mountain Wilderness.
As the latest manifestation of this winter’s active weather pattern wound down on Tuesday, the forecast said we would be granted two sunny, clear days during which we could renew our weather-burdened spirits. A not-too-hard snowshoe hike with a view seemed about right, so we selected Hobart Bluff in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument as our goal. Hobart Bluff, reportedly named after a local rancher, is part of the first national monument to be protected solely on the strength of its biodiversity. It’s where the Cascade, Klamath, and Siskiyou mountain ranges converge, creating a region of unusual biological diversity and varied landscapes. In summer, reaching Hobart Bluff is an easy, pleasant three or six mile (round-trip) day hike through white fir and oak/chaparral forests and high-country meadows to the Bluff’s craggy basalt cliffs with their expansive views of such peaks as Mount Shasta, Mount McLoughlin, and Pilot Rock. Getting to the Bluff in winter is another matter and our Plan A did not survive first contact with the snow.
As the Northern Hemisphere enters its inevitable transition from Summer to Winter, the usually mellow weather here in Southern Oregon becomes conflicted, turbulent, truculent, and garrulous. Weather fronts sweeping in off the Pacific Ocean interact with our variously oriented and variously elevated mountain ranges to make local weather predictions tricky at best. Deep conversations about white-outs and snowshoes once again enter the conversation and sneaking in just one more summer-like hike becomes a crap shoot. But when all the different weather prognosticators seemed to agree that the remainder of this Thanksgiving Week was going to be locally fraught with storms, rain, and snow, we decided to try for that one last snowshoe-free hike of the season. With the weather being difficult, we weren’t going to go all in for a big hike and so cast around for something short and close but (maybe) with a view. After consulting the oracles, we settled on Boccard Point from a new (for us) trailhead.
The Soda Mountain Wilderness is a 24,707 acre area within the Cascade–Siskiyou National Monument in southwestern Oregon and was created by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. The 53,000 acre Monument was designated in 2000 to protect the extraordinary biological diversity in this area. Both are located in Oregon and are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Soda Mountain Wilderness is an ecological mosaic where the state’s eastern desert meets towering fir forests, and whose biodiversity includes fir forests, sunlit oak groves, meadows filled with wildflowers, and steep canyons. The area is also home to a spectacular variety of rare species of plants and animals including Roosevelt elk, cougars, black bears, golden and bald eagles, goshawks and falcons.
While wilderness exists in its own right, and hence doesn’t “need” trails leading into and through it, such trails are appreciated where they do exist (particularly when compared to thrashing through buckbrush!). There were no trails per se when this wilderness was established. It is, however, traversed by a number of now long abandoned, dirt, ranch roads. Several of these have been actively decommissioned and the land restored, or have otherwise faded into obscurity. But the Siskiyou Mountain Club (SMC) stepped up and converted one such road into the Lone Pilot Trail – a 17 mile loop which gives hikers and backpackers ready access to the deepest recesses of the wilderness. The SMC has cleared and groomed this road to make it easy to follow. Although it’s not a pure “trail”, it is the very best way to visit the interior of this wilderness. I first hiked this trail in 2015 (Lone Pilot Trail) and really enjoyed it. But I couldn’t stop myself from wanting to explore some more of this wilderness. So, after staring at various old maps, I conjured up a loop involving the PCT, a descent of Scotch Creek on an abandoned road, a short section of the Lone Pilot Trail, and a cross-country and old road return to the trailhead.
Prior to the establishment of this wilderness, it was possible to drive on a dirt road almost to the base of Pilot Rock. Now a new parking lot (with pit toilet) and a boulder barrier add a short (0.8 mile) walk along a new trail to reach the PCT at the old trailhead. A considerable amount of work has been done to revert this old road to a trail and restore the land on either side – it looks good!
After reaching the PCT, I headed north on it, catching a glimpse of Mt. McLoughlin to the north.
This section of the PCT was in pretty good condition – there were a number of downed trees but all of them could be either stepped over or otherwise gotten around.
About 1.5 miles along the PCT, I came to an open spot with a view south toward snow-covered Mount Shasta and Mount Eddy, with Black Butte between them, and Black Mountain in the foreground.
This hike makes a complete loop around Pilot Rock, allowing you to see it from all sides. Here the east side is characterized by prominent columns of basalt.
After about 2 miles, the PCT comes to a junction with a gravel road (BLM 40-2E-33) coming in from the north. Back in the day, this road continued over the crest and connected with a road that continued down along Scotch Creek – but not any more. The roadbed south of its junction with the PCT has been actively decommissioned and, while some stretches of it are still an obvious gap through the trees, other stretches are now just use trails at best.
There is a tangle of old roads in this area and it wasn’t obvious which one was the one down Scotch Creek. While wandering around, I came across this nice little pond sitting at the end of a soon to be lush meadow.
I eventually found the right “road” – by now just a use trail – and followed it down the east bank of Scotch Creek. It was faint at first,
but got progressively more obvious and easier to follow as I descended. While it was clear that the old road had been decommissioned, it was also obvious that folks continued to use this path – likely during the hunting season.
As I approached the Lone Pilot Trail, the old roadbed reappeared.
There’s nothing along the Lone Pilot Trail to indicate the existence of this route back up to the PCT and clear evidence of it is hidden behind some fallen logs and brush (arrow). But push past that and the old roadbed will appear and that will take you to the use trail.
Then it was west on the Lone Pilot, for a yet another view of Pilot Rock – this time from the southeast.
I followed the Lone Pilot to the west side of Slide Ridge – to the first drainage west of Point 4488 – and then started cross-country up toward Point 4881. I thought I’d picked a route with minimal brush (it wasn’t too bad) but, as I climbed higher, it became clear that if I’d started up from just below Point 4488, I would have missed the brush all together – ah, hindsight.
When I topped out on the open ridge just east of Point 4881, I found myself with an unexpected view of Pilot Rock’s southeast side – just much closer this time. Curiously, this open area was covered with numerous piles of predator poop (made up of hair and small bones). Why here? The view? One wonders.
From the top of Point 4881, I worked my way down to another old road (formerly BLM 41-2E-3.1) which is still pretty easy to follow but is beginning to fill-in with brush and downed trees. It has now been completely decommissioned at its west end – where it meets the Lone Pine Trail – and is no longer evident there as a road. But judging from the number of local hunters I encountered here last Fall, it won’t be entirely forgotten as a path into the wilderness.
Along the way, I stopped to admire a few of the wildflowers that had already put in an appearance on this hotter and drier side of the Siskiyous.
I soon rejoined the Lone Pilot Trail just south of the PCT for a view of the west side of Pilot Rock.
Then it was back past the PCT and down the new access trail to the trailhead. Overall, a fun, interesting mixed (trail/old road/cross-country) hike (11 miles round-trip; 1,900 foot elevation gain) through less-explored areas and with numerous different views of Pilot Rock. I also seem to have avoided being invaded by ticks or caressed into itchiness by poison ivy! So, win-win!
Our close proximity to the Soda Mountain Wilderness has made it one of our favorites, despite some of the challenges associated with exploring its largely trailess interior. Aside from short trails to Pilot Rock and Boccard Point, only the Lone Pine Trail (actually an old road) makes a major foray into the western side of the wilderness. If, however, you’re wise enough to go when cold weather inhibits the ticks, rattlesnakes, and poison oak yearning to make your aquaintance and careful about avoiding thickets of buckbrush, the terrain is open enough to allow for some cross-country exploring. It was with this in mind that got me out to hike some old roads on Slide Ridge, ones that I might use to make a loop with the Lone Pilot. Continue reading “Slide Ridge (Soda Mtn. Wilderness) 27-Nov-2015”→
I did some research on trails in the Soda Mountain Wilderness and came up with not much, other than the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) along its northern boundary. Further digging took me to the Siskiyou Mountain Club’s (SMC) Lone Pilot Trail – a trail that the Club constructed along roads that had been abandoned long before the wilderness was designated. These old roads are fortuitous in that money for building new trails from scratch seems nonexistent. So kudos to the Club for creating this trail as it is the only way you can explore the depths of the western half of this wilderness without bushwhacking. It also provides a neat way to literally circumnavigate Pilot Rock. So with The LovedOne committed to a home improvement project for the day, I headed to the wilderness to be a lone pilot (sigh) on the Lone Pilot.
Pilot Rock is readily visible from both directions on Interstate-5 and is one of the classic hikes in Southern Oregon’s Soda Mountain Wilderness. It’s possible to drive to within a mile of it (which hoards apparently do in the summer), so you can get right on with the 3rd class scramble to the magnificent views from its summit. But we wanted to combine that scramble with a decent hike, so we started toward the Rock along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from its trailhead on old Highway 99 near Siskiyou Pass (Hike #3 in Paul Gerald’s Day & Section Hikes, Pacific Crest Trail, Oregon). This hike and scramble was doable at this time only because the winter of 2014-15 has so far been plagued by drought, with little snow or rain to speak of. You DO NOT want to try this scramble when the Rock is wet (or icy), as wet basalt is as slippery as greased glass.