The State of Jefferson is a hiker's paradise, with several mountain ranges and numerous trails, and each turn of the season brings news twists to the landscape.
But hiking doesn't have to end when the snow begins to stack up on the passes. With snowshoes, you can hike many of your favorite summer trails and see them in a completely new way.
The transformation is so dramatic that the scenery seems exotic and alien. Snowshoes allow you to access this realm of nature and go on trails where cross-country skiers cannot, opening up a whole new world of adventure.
When the recent snowstorm carpeted the mountains, my son Michael and I donned our snowshoes and did one of our favorite summer hikes: the Pacific Crest Trail to Soda Mountain. This is a moderate, 4.2-mile, round-trip hike. A good description of it can be found in William Sullivan's "100 Hikes in Southern Oregon," an invaluable resource for exploring the natural wonders in the State of Jefferson.
To get to the trailhead, drive up the Greensprings on Highway 66 out of Ashland to Soda Mountain Road, turn right, and follow the one-lane gravel road for about 3.8 miles to an obvious turnout. Note: In winter, the last 1.3 miles of the road is not plowed, and sometimes you have to start hiking from the bottom of the hill. We drove it with four-wheel drive and chains.
Snowshoes are easy to put on and are even easier to use. You simply walk, but the sensation is novel: In light, fluffy snow, you feel almost like you are floating over the snow. In heavy, dense snow, the metal claws of the snowshoes grip the snow and make you feel like a mountain goat. You will love this feeling.
The trail starts up across a vast meadow and then veers into the forest. With a mantle of snow, it can be challenging at times to stay on the trail, but the ubiquitous "diamond" signs are posted on trees for direction. Once amongst the Douglas firs, we hiked through a Robert Frost landscape of snowy woods; it was simply enchanting. There were lots of deer and elk tracks in the snow, some following the trail and others crossing in a random pattern. We spied rabbit and fox tracks, as well.
After a mile of sustained cardio climb, we burst out of the trees into a meadow. To the west, we were greeted with a magnificent view of Mount Ashland and the Siskiyou Mountains marching to the horizon. There was no sound; the silence was deafening. Our lungs sucked in draughts of the cool, crisp, clean air, and for a time it seemed we were the only people on the planet.
The trail leaves the PCT after about three miles, continues up another trail and then to a steep service road to the summit. Several cell towers and antennas stand near the summit, but they do not hinder the views. The Forest Service has a lookout tower on top that is closed in winter, but you can still climb up and walk around the decks, which offer a 360-degree view.
The vistas are absolutely stunning — a feast for the eyes. To the south, Irongate Reservoir gives way to the Shasta Valley, which leads to the majestic peak of Mount Shasta. At 14,179 feet, it is the second-highest mountain in the Cascades and dominates the horizon. Gazing east, the Winema National Forest and Soda Mountain Wilderness stretch to the Klamath Basin. Turning west, Pilot Rock juts up in the foreground, and the Marble Mountains, Siskiyou Mountains and Red Buttes Wilderness provide the backdrop. Looking north, the volcanic, white cone of Mount McLoughlin rises to the heavens. Michael and I gazed in reverent disbelief for what seemed an eternity, and I recalled T.S. Elliot's lines from "The Four Quartets":
"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."
This is snowshoeing in the State of Jefferson.
Carlyle Stout lives in Ashland.