This time of year, a lot of us head up to the snow parks for backcountry adventure. But snowshoeing along groomed tracks can leave some hikers yearning for something a little more primitive. The Cook and Green Pass trail in the heart of the Siskiyous can provide the wild adventure you're looking for, minus the crowds.
The Cook and Green Pass Trail No. 959 starts from the Mid Fork-Applegate River and ascends 8.2 miles to the Siskiyou Crest, where it feeds into the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.
Check the snow levels at the National Weather Service online (http://tinyurl.com/888hxsd) and, depending on the results, bring your snowshoes.
Pick up the Applegate & West Half of Ashland Ranger District map from one of the U.S. Forest Service ranger stations.
From the dam at Applegate Reservoir, drive southwest on upper Applegate Road. At about four miles, turn left to stay on Upper Applegate Road. Enter California and make a hairpin right on Forest Service Road No. 1040. Cross a bridge and continue south on FSR 1040. The Cook and Green Pass trailhead is on the road's east side about 8.3 miles from the dam.
Other than a few logs felled by winter's fury, the trail is in good shape and clear. You'll start out with an easy, winding ascent through mixed forest. After about .5 miles, the trail crests a gentle ridge and continues in a southeast direction.
Continue hiking east, and at about two miles you'll pass a small brook. These clear, free-running drainages are the headwaters of Cook and Green Creek. Notice the backbreaking rock work that went into original construction of this trail. Your muscles will thank you for choosing a hike with a continuous, easy grade.
Giant pine and fir trees capture a lot of attention and camera clicks along this roadless area adjacent to the Red Buttes Wilderness. But look deeper and notice the abundance of golden chinquapin trees, a rare type of chestnut. Some of the fir trees here have fallen victim to dwarfed mistletoe, a native parasite. Affected trees can be identified by their many "witches' brooms," large masses of excess twigs and foliage.
After three miles, the trail offers its first clear views of Cook and Green Creek. Depending on the snow level, it may become hard to locate the trail — look for a corridor and cuts in downed trees, and don't count on following your tracks back. They could be covered by a blanket of fresh snow. The trail passes some soggy springs before landing at No-See-Em-Camp — 3,400-foot elevation and about 3.7 miles from the trailhead.
The name may be discouraging to bug-despising hikers, but dormant larva won't bug you in the snow. From No-See-Em, pitch a tent, picnic, turn around, or cross the creek and continue on toward Bear Gulch and the Siskiyou Crest. The higher reaches of the Cook and Green Trail are coveted by botanists and include conifer relicts such as the Brewer Spruce and hundreds of other plant species.
At 8.2 miles the trail reaches Cook and Green Pass, which at 4,600 feet is the area's lowest passage over the Siskiyou Crest. This route once served as the best route from the Applegate to the Klamath River. Records show the trail was originally built by miners, but it may have been improved and re-routed by Civilian Conservation Corps crews who spent much time in the area.
From the pass, hiking options are almost infinite. Follow the PCT toward Canada or Mexico, or connect with the Horsecamp Trail No. 958, which will take you back to FSR 1040 just one-half mile from the Cook and Green trailhead. Combining the trails makes for a 15-mile loop.
Freelance writer Gabriel Howe lives in Ashland and is founder and chair of the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.