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Hobart Bluff offers top-notch views

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is popular in spring among bird watchers. Summer months bring on the flowers and the Pacfic Crest Trail hikers. Then comes fall, and the parking areas fill in with hunters hoping to bag their bounty before hunting season closes. Late fall and winter have just as much to offer.

So go see Hobart Bluff (5,502-foot elevation) now for an easy hike to the top of the world. From the south Ashland Interstate 5 exit, follow Highway 66 east for about 15 miles. Turn right (south) on Soda Mountain Road, and follow it for about four miles to a small parking area where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses. The trailhead signs are well-marked. Park there and follow the PCT north.

The waist-high,seeded-out grasses arranged up against the barren hardwoods and leafless shrubs rival any wildflower show, and for the me, oak chaparral woodlands don't really take shape until their branches are bare.

Soon the trail breaks out of some white fir forest and provides views of the Keene drainage, as well as some far-off peaks that may be snow-kissed depending on the weather and season. After less than one and a half easy miles, there is well-signed trail heading uphill, left and west toward Hobart Bluff.

It makes a switchback, and quickly the soils change as the trail reaches a rocky ridge. The junipers are twisted by the shape of the wind, hardened and stunted by exposure to high winds on this prominent point.

At the top of Hobart Bluff, there are panoramic picture opportunities, with hard-to-beat views of Mount McLoughlin to the north, Ashland and the Bear Creek Valley to the northwest, Mount Ashland and Pilot Rock to the west, as well as Mount Shasta to the south. On a clear day, you may be able to pick out Mount Eddy and other peaks in the Siskiyou Range.

On your way to Hobart Bluff, you'll see oak chaparral, white fir woodland and high-country meadows. Then you'll stumble onto a rocky ridge with twisted juniper and hardy shrubs twisted by the wind. From up top, you can see the landscape's mosaic motif. Being on the summit of Hobart Bluff feels like being on the edge as much as it does a peak.

Hobart is on the seam of different habitats, the fringe where geologic worlds collide and biologic worlds combine. And in the winter, you probably won't see anyone else there. Sure the colors aren't as bright as in the summer, and no flowers are out. The birds aren't singing like they are in the spring, and hunting season is done. But there is something to be said for subtlety in the landscape winter brings Hobart Bluff, not to mention the lack of crowds and crisp panoramic views of snow-capped peaks.

There are quite a few spur trails up top that lead to lookout landings and can get you off the right path. Make sure to stick to the trail you came in on. And please don't build fire rings in this sensitive area.

To the top of the bluff and back to Soda Mountain Road is about three miles. The weather here can change quickly and some winters the road to here may have snow.

Gabriel Howe is executive director and field coordinator for the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Contact him at howegabe@gmail.com. 

Twisted junipers stand atop Hobart Bluff. PHOTO COURTESY OF GABRIEL HOWE.
Weather builds up over the Bear Creek Valley in this view from Hobart Bluff outside Ashland in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. PHOTO COURTESY OF GABRIEL HOWE.