Summer approaches, the snow line drops, and Siskiyou hikers start looking up for adventure. The high country brings big views, a graduated perspective on the valleys in which we dwell, and relief from the heat.
One way to get things started right is with this moderate, eight-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail from one Southern Oregon icon to another: Pilot Rock and the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area.
Purchase the Pacific Crest Trail's Southern Oregon #7 Map for $11.95 at http://tinyurl.com/d7xgtre or download the 7.5-minute USGS Quadrangles Siskiyou Summit and Soda Mountain map from the USGS Map Locator at store.usgs.gov
To reach Pilot Rock, take the Mount Ashland Exit 6 off Interstate 5. Follow Old Highway 99 south for two miles, turn left on Pilot Rock Road 40-2E-33 and set your tripometer. One mile from Highway 99 you will cross the Pacific Crest Trail; at two miles you will see an old quarry on your right that serves as the Pilot Rock Trailhead.
To reach the Pacific Crest Trail crossing with Soda Mountain Road, take the south Ashland Exit 14 from I-5 and head east on Highway 66 past Emigrant Lake. About 15 miles east of I-5, head south on Soda Mountain Road. The PCT crosses Soda Mountain Road about 3.8 miles south of Highway 66.
For information about the PCTA Big Bend Region Trail Skills College, see www.pcta.org/trail-skills-college/big-bend/information.php
For information about upcoming PCTA volunteer opportunities, see http://tinyurl.com/cv674g2
For information about upcoming CSNM volunteer opportunities: http://tinyurl.com/bsrxlup
First shuttle a car to Pilot Rock. Then drive a second vehicle to where the PCT crosses Soda Mountain Road, about 4 miles south of Highway 66 near the Greensprings summit. From the crossing, start hiking south on the PCT.
While this section of the PCT weaves in and out of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area, it all feels like wilderness. This section also braids frequently with an old jeep road, but it's easy to stay on course — just follow the white diamonds and the PCT trail marker at junctions.
At 2.6-miles from Soda Mountain Road, Baldy Creek Road meets the PCT. You can park here to shorten the hike a bit. About one-quarter mile southwest of Baldy Creek Road on the PCT, there is water access at Bean Cabin.
The following sections meander gently through late-succession forests dominated by white fir and into flowery meadows with views as far as Mount Shasta to the south, Mount McLoughlin to the north and Pilot Rock to the west. At the right time, the forest floor is a blanket of blooming trilliums, and rare flowers such as the checker lily and calypso bulbosa grow here.
The area is known for being the scene of a geologic collision between the Cascades and Siskiyous.
"The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was designated for biological diversity," said the monument's outdoor recreation planner, Nick Schade. "But a lot of people enjoy that biodiversity, so we try to concentrate use in already disturbed areas."
At six miles, after passing through a parcel of private land, the PCT hits another junction with an open road that originates near Pilot Rock. An overgrown, unmarked and decommissioned road at this junction heads south into the Soda Mountain Wilderness along the headwaters of Scotch Creek.
The two miles of PCT east of Pilot Rock are pretty easy going and clear of winter windfall. If you're up for it, make the scramble up to the top of the iconic outcrop before reaching your shuttled car. Well maintained trails like this don't stay that way on their own, and hikers can thank volunteers from the Pacific Crest Trail Association and CSNM for that.
This year they removed about 25 trees from this section of the trail, said Ian Nelson, the PCTA's regional representative. Nine volunteers from places as far as Bend and Sacramento camped out for two nights and spent their days running crosscut saws to remove downed trees from the trail. Chainsaws and other mechanized devices are not allowed in federally designated wilderness areas.
"I think of the entire stretch between Soda Mountain Road and Pilot Rock as wilderness," explained Nelson. "I enjoy the crosscuts because they're quiet, and it's nice to introduce volunteers to a traditional tool."
The Bureau of Land Management used to pay staff who worked this section of the PCT, but diminishing recreation budgets have forced managers like Schade to creatively collaborate.
"Without groups like the PCTA and volunteers," he said, "the work just wouldn't get done."
Schade admits a lot of people might not notice trail work, but they'd definitely notice if the work wasn't done. Even just one year of maintenance deferment can jam a trail up with windfall.
"Ninety-five percent of use on our section of the PCT is from day hikers, so it's nice knowing our work benefits a lot of people and helps access the wilderness," he says.
The PCTA and BLM offer volunteer opportunities all summer long to help out in the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area, Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and on the PCT. For information, see www.pcta.org and www.blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/csnm/csnm-vol-opp.php
Freelance writer Gabe Howe is executive director and field coordinator for the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.