Soda Mountain hike is tougher in winter
Soda Mountain overlooks its namesake wilderness area, straddling the border between Oregon and California in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. It is easily accessible and from spring through autumn, a day hike to its summit is an easy 4.6-mile round-trip.
In winter, however, the hike is transformed into an exhilarating adventure through a winter wonderland.
Some of my kids were home for the Christmas holidays and there had been a recent snowstorm in the mountains. So the day after Christmas my wife, Barb, my daughter, Trina, and my son, Michael, his dog Estrella, and I decided to snowshoe up to Soda Mountain. It was a glorious sunny day and the conditions were perfect: clear weather, no wind and dry fluffy snow.
We went to the Ashland Outdoor Store to rent snowshoes for Trina and Michael. Barb and I used our MSR EVO snowshoes (available at REI). The EVO model has “tails” that can be attached for extra flotation in deep snow, a highly desirable feature.
We drove up the Greensprings Highway to the well marked turn off to Hobart Bluff and chained up because we expected to drive to the trailhead. Alas! It turned out there was a snow berm just past the residential area and we had to park and start hiking 1.5 miles below the trailhead.
Some guy in a huge 4-wheel drive had gone over the snow berm, packing the snow down, so we didn’t have to break trail; we obligingly followed the tire tracks.
There was no one else on the trail, and 50 yards from the car we crossed a threshold into a different world. The air was cool, crisp and pure as a mountain stream in the wilderness. The snow was so dry, it squeaked underneath our steps. The surrounding landscape was covered in a carpet of white, and the boughs of the conifers were decorated with perfect little mantles of snow that glistened in the morning sun.
Along the trail were lots of animal tracks. We saw the signs of black-tail deer, a snow hare, a squirrel and a marten or Pacific fisher. Farther along, we paused to soak in a stunning view of a gleaming, snow-topped Pilot Rock rising like an alien monolith from the Siskiyous. Estrella had a field day bounding through the snow and veering off the trail to pursue new scents, often following some fresh animal tracks. She was like a child on an Easter egg hunt.
We reached the trailhead at the Pacific Crest Trail, but continued down the road until we reached the spur road to the summit, as it was easier to follow the spur road than navigate the PCT. However, once leaving the road, we had to break trail; actually it was Michael who broke trail. Even with snowshoes, this was hard work, as the snow was at least two feet deep. Trina and I gratefully treaded in Michael’s footsteps.
The spur road rises quite steeply and twists in and out of the forest. When we stopped to rest, it was so quiet we could hear our hearts beating and it seemed we were the only people on Earth. The temperature dropped quickly in the shade of the tree-covered canopy, so we kept moving until we emerged into a splash of sunlight, then stopped to bask in the warmth and sunlight.
Finally, we rounded a bend in the trail and the summit loomed just ahead. At the top we congratulated each other and ate a well deserved snack while gazing at the staggering vista. To the east we could see Mount Ashland and the Colestine Valley, to the south the Klamath River and Irongate Reservoir lay in the foreground and Mount Shasta, the Queen of the Cascades, dominated the horizon, sparkling like a white diamond.
The clouds swirled around us, playing tricks like a magician, obscuring our views, then suddenly departing and revealing a window of stunning beauty. The afternoon sun was starting to wane and standing still we soon became cold, as it was single digits at the top, so we took a celebratory photo and then headed down the trail. We reached the car at dusk and were all very tired puppies because the extra distance from the car to the trailhead made the snowshoe hike a 7.8-mile round trip.
Snowshoeing is one winter’s most exhilarating recreational activities. The State of Jefferson offers a cornucopia of trails to explore where cross-country skiers and snowmobiles cannot tread. A person on snowshoes can experience the full majesty of winter in forests, meadows, rivers and lakes and revel in a transformed landscape of a wild, white wonderland that is barely recognizable. You will be astounded at the experience and remember it long after your hike, time and time again.
Carlyle Stout lives in Ashland.