Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Mount Ashland

In my mind, 2013 was notable because of the 4 surgeries required to put me together again after my bicycle crash. Because of the lack of exercise effected by the healing process, it seemed like 2013 was not a very good year for hiking. But surprisingly enough, I got a hike in on 58 days of the year; alternatively stated, nearly 16% of the year was spent hiking with the remaining 84% spent thinking about hiking. Given the context of the 4 surgeries, it's surprising that the 58 days were the most days in a year I've ever hiked.

The Pacific Crest Skating Trail
Of course, the 407 miles hiked in 2013 evidenced a shortening of my hiking distance, I averaged only 7 miles per hike and that leads me to the time-honored tradition of making New Year resolutions. So, let it be known I hereby resolve to hike more...I tend to keep my resolutions simple! And on that waffly resolve, let's move on to the first hike of 2014: 8.8 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail near Mount Ashland.

Still life with tree and lichen
Life's a beach when it comes to winter hiking.  The coast is a regular destination when the mountains are wrapped up by a white tortilla of cold snow. However, the evening news reported all the Oregon ski resorts remained closed due to little or no snow in the mountains.  A skier's lament is a hiker's joy and I just had to go see for myself.

Why no crampons, Santa?
In late spring and early summer, Mount Ashland is renowned for its sumptuous wildflowers and meadows replete with buzzing insects.  In the winter, the mountain becomes a ski resort which sounds like a good opportunity to break my other wrist. But in this weird hybrid season that is neither summer nor winter, the meadows were simply brown, dry, and buzz-free. There were small patches of snow in the shady parts but ice would be the challenge of the day.

Watch Richard waddle to avoid the ice
What little snow there was had melted and then refroze after accumulating on the trail tread. It was slipperier than a snotty eel. I learned to waddle walk, placing a foot on either side of the trail as I navigated the Pacific Crest Trail (hereafter referred to as the PCT) skating rink.

Beautiful scene at Grouse Gap
As I approached the low saddle of Grouse Gap, the slopes below Mount Ashland were a sea of dead vegetation and rock formations.  The sun was out, the sky was a cloudless cobalt blue, and it had warmed up to a balmy 50 degrees which, considering it was January in the Siskiyous, wasn't bad at all.  The trail actually was quite busy with other hikers and the standard greeting was "What a great start to the new year!"  

My plan had been to walk all the way to Siskiyou Peak but the PCT leaves Grouse Gap by climbing up to an intervening ridge crest.  Much to my dismay, the route was in deep shade through the snow and I could just sense the ice on the trail, waiting to inflict pain on your intrepid author.

Double yikes!
My suspicions were confirmed when I arrived at Grouse Gap as the PCT was as icebound as a tourist boat in the Antarctic seas.  I made a brief attempt at getting up the trail but gave up as it really was dangerously slippery, it was time for Plan B.  Forest Road 20 parallels the PCT on the Siskiyou crest and it made for a wider, if not safer, trail.  Sheets of ice covered the road and crampons are high on my purchase list for my next trip to the hiking store. I made progress by walking in the drainage ditch next to the road.

Trail up to the viewpoint

At one point, the road dropped down off the crest and dipped into the shady forest and much to my dismay, I could see about a quarter mile of ice covering what normally is a gravel road. There was an abandoned road going straight up the slope above Road 20 and I grabbed that just to see where it went.  It lead to a viewpoint of Siskiyou Peak and I exchanged pleasantries with a couple who had backpacked in and were camping there.

I look down my nose at California
I turned around at the viewpoint after soaking in the views of Siskiyou Peak, Wagner Butte, and Mount Shasta.  Amazingly, I could see Mount Bailey with snowy Diamond Peak further beyond, a mere 104 miles away! On the way back, Mount Ashland dominated the scene as I made my way around the mountain to my car. Clouds scudded over and the temperature dropped rapidly as the hike was closed out. So far in 2014, my average hiking distance is 8.8 miles which already puts me ahead of last year and to echo my new-found trail friends, "What a great start to the new year!"

Mount Ashland
For more pictures of this hike, see the Flickr album.


  1. Wow, 58 days out of the year, Uncle! That's pretty good! Nice job. After Americorps I should invest in some hiking boots. (I borrowed a pair from NCCC and fell in love.) I will have to join you on a few trails!