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Cinder cone hike offers great views

Hikers trek along Cinder Butte's cinder cone, with Mount Shasta as a backdrop. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]
Hikers tackle the lower section up to Cinder Butte. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]

Most of the year Cinder Butte is instantly recognizable because, even into spring and early summer and unlike other buttes in and near Lava Beds National Monument, it’s draped in snow.

Not this year.

Not a trace of snow was seen during a recent hike up Cinder Butte, a 6,180-foot cinder cone just outside Lava Beds National Monument’s southwest boundary.

From our starting point, a small siding off Forest Road 44N51 about three miles north of Forest Road 49, which connects Lava Beds with Medicine Lake, it was less than a mile to the butte’s summit. There is no definitive trail so much of the route requires scrambling up loose cinders. It’s a hard-earned slog, a hike that in several sections truly requires two slippery steps up and one step down. The elevation gain is only about 500-plus-feet, but it feels like more.

Hiking up Cinder Butte is challenging, but worth the effort. The summit crater offers a 360-degrees view of the Modoc and Klamath national forests, several Lava Beds buttes — Island, Eagle Nest, Bearpaw and others — and the distant, still-snow topped Mount Shasta.

It’s a short, easy walk around the steep-sided cinder cone, with unfettered, panoramic views. Remarkably, inside the crater bottom is a lone tree, its green branches in sharp contrast to the lava, some areas colored a chocolate-red, others a dull, dark gray.

Unusually, a catalog of Lava Beds area place names by J.D. “Judd” Howard, which lists the names of the region’s geologic features, reports the reason the butte is named Cinder Butte as “unknown.” But, especially from the top of the cone, it requires little imagination to determine how it got its name.

The hike down, after nabbing lunch under the shade of large, delightfully twisted Ponderosa pine, involved some slip-n-slide sections. As we retreated toward our cars, the forest included manzanitas, tall pines, equally healthy western cedars and towering sugar pines, with their large cones littering the forest floor.

Following the advice of Bill Van Moorhem, who has climbed Cinder Butte other times, we wore long pants, long-sleeved shirts and slathered ourselves with sunscreen because of the exposure and, most importantly, carried and used hiking poles to reduce slipping and sliding on the loose scree.

Cinder Butte is fascinating, but so is Road 44N51. The road appears to be an abandoned logging road, probably used to haul trees to mills in Klamath Falls or Canby. In some areas the relatively easy grade passes smoothly beneath carved-out walls. In other sections the grade was obviously painstakingly built over steep drop-offs, trestle-like passages over deep cuts. Its construction must have been complicated and challenging.

“It’s an experience,” Bill declared from the summit crater while soaking in the views.

Hiking up Cinder Butte is an experience, a trek worth experiencing.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.