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Soda Mountain hike offers beauty near and far

Photoby Lee JuilleratHikers work their way up final section of road to Soda Mountain's summit.
Photo by Lee JuilleratRadio towers, antennas and satellite dishes clutter the summit at Soda Butte.

The summit of Soda Mountain is a place to drink in the views.

Located off the Pacific Crest Trail in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Soda Mountain is a 6,089-foot peak that offers a dramatic view of the Rogue Valley.

From nearby open fields colored with wildflowers, the distant views range from knobby Pilot Rock to Mount Ashland, Mount Eddy, the Trinity Alps, Marble Mountains, the blue waters of the Klamath River and Copco Reservoir, and, of course, the always-dominating Mount Shasta.

Soda Mountain’s summit area is a perfect place to kick back for lunch or snacks, and that’s what we did after the two-plus-mile hike from the Powerline Trailhead parking area on Soda Mountain Road.

The best part of the hike is the first mile-plus along the Pacific Crest Trail that travels through forests rich with hearty grand firs. It’s also a flower-filled trek featuring varieties of purple larkspur, red paintbrush and purple and white trilliums. Some grow in clusters while others mix and mingle in spacious open fields, especially just up the hill from the trailhead parking area. From vantages overlooking the valley and beyond are rainbow arrays of wildflowers, including sunflowers, wild onions, lupine, arrowleaf balsamroot, pussy ears, penstemon, mule’s ears and many others.

Unseen but heard was what Heidi Anderson, a recreation specialist with the Bureau of Land Management’s Klamath Falls office, identified as a hermit thrush. Its songs and calls are described by the “Audubon Guide to North American Birds” as, “a series of clear, musical phrases, each on a different pitch consisting of a piping introductory note and a reedy tremolo.” All I know is the thrilling, trilling songs and calls were enthralling enough that several of us stopped hiking to enjoy the symphony of the their high-pitched, flute-like chirps and whistles.

After a mile, we followed an unsigned trail left that switchbacks uphill about a quarter-mile to a dirt road. From there it’s a steady, semi-steep walk — the final quarter-mile has an elevation gain of about 450 feet — along the gravel road to Soda Mountain’s summit.

Hidden in a mumble-jumble array of radio towers, satellite dishes and antennas is the Soda Mountain Lookout. Built in 1933 by a crew of Civilian Conservation Corps workers, the lookout has undergone many renovations. After being remodeled in 1958, it’s had a succession of repairs and maintenance work. The lookout cabin was raised eight feet in 1961. Its height was increased another four feet in 1993, a year after views from the lookout were blocked when Cellular One installed an adjoining tower and apartment building.

Returning to the trailhead parking area we followed the road, choosing not to drop back onto the PCT. It’s a bit shorter but is far less scenic.

Other times, instead of leaving the PCT, friends and I have continued south, passing the unsigned Soda Mountain turnoff trail and continuing another mile past areas with wildflowers and aspens to a grass-filled meadow where an unsigned trail on an abandoned dirt road climbs to Little Pilot Rock. The rocky viewpoint, at an elevation of 5,665-feet, offers a different perspective of sights seen from Soda Mountain.

Another alternative is returning to the trailhead parking area and continuing on the PCT nearly a mile to a junction that forks north another quarter-mile-plus to Hobart Bluff for yet more rocky viewpoints.

On weekends the trail is more heavily traveled than the trails to Soda Mountain and Little Pilot Rock. It’s a great add-on hike because it passes through a forest of Ponderosa pine, incense cedar and Douglas fir, an oak woodlands and grassy slopes with junipers and manzanitas before reaching its panoramic high point at an elevation of 5,502 feet.

Hobart Bluff, Little Pilot Rock and Soda Mountain. Take your choice. For the highest view hike to Soda Mountain, or add on a second choice. Or, if you’re truly in peak condition, try all three.

To get there from Ashland, head east on Highway 66 toward Klamath Falls for 15 often winding miles. Just before the Green Springs Mountain summit, turn right on Soda Mountain Road. Follow the gravel road about 3.8 miles to the Powerline-Trailhead parking area.

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