Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sucker Creek Gap

Every year the seasons change. Summer folds into fall, fall slips into winter, and winter usually takes 13 months to morph into spring. Such is nature's cycle, and every late summer, I hike knowing that each upcoming hike may be the last foray into the mountains until the snow melts the following year. And this year's nominee for the Forget-About-It-Winter-Is-Here Award is a mid-October hike to Sucker Creek Gap.

A peak at Pyramid Peak
On this dubious award winning day, the weather had called for partly cloudy/partly sunny weather which sounds like one of those philosophical glass full or glass empty ponderings. But the weather question is somewhat more significant as the answer usually relates to what clothes to wear, how far to hike, the destination or trail of choice, or even whether to go hiking at all. 

Some of that morning rain, pre-pants
So, it was partially sunny at the Steve's Fork Trailhead, although the clouds did their fair share of blotting out the sun. Extra layers of clothing were quickly donned due to a distinct chill in the air. It had rained earlier and the vegetation was damp which meant my pants were likewise dampened by means of bush to pants transfer of water. 

Brewer's srpuce is the Droopy Dawg of trees
Ray and I had backpacked here years ago, but the trail now was somewhat overgrown and sketchy. Obviously, the trail does not get all that much use. Brewer's weeping spruce, a distinct Siskiyou specie, sadly drooped their branches just off trail. Intermittent openings in the forest provided views to Lake Peak rising above the trail. Despite the cool and wet, it was good to be out for a hike.

View to Lake Peak

About halfway up the brisk climb to Sucker Creek Gap, I met Ken and Denise, a pair of fellow hikers who like me, were engaged in our wonderful little hobby on a chilly morning. Ken sort of does what I do except he posts videos of his hikes instead of writing about them. If you ever thought about going somewhere in the Siskiyous, chances are there is a Trailken1 video of it, After trailside introductions and pleasantries were exchanged, I continued on. Pretty much at the trailhead, I had crossed into California but Homeland Security had the day off and passports were not needed. Somewhere near a cirque lake, I re-entered Oregon and it sure felt good to be back home.

The cirque lake
On our backpack trip from years ago, Ray and I had camped at the unnamed cirque lake sited below one of Pyramid Peak's ridges and I left the trail to visit my old lake friend. I was a little disappointed because the lake was colored a dark brown and the surrounding meadow was dry and dessicate with the advent of the coming winter. I had to remind myself that we had camped in spring and the water was then fresh off the spring thaw, nearly as pure as the driven snow itself. 

Trail at Sucker Creek Gap
At Sucker Creek Gap, I took the Boundary (spelled "Boundry" on the USFS trail sign) Trail towards Swan Mountain with the idea of summiting the prominent peak. Before that feat could be accomplished, an uphill stretch through viewless forest had to be negotiated. The trail was sketchy here with plenty of fallen branches and trees to keep things challenging. Once out of the forest, thick (and wet!) brush encroached the trail and I waded through, grateful we were past tick season. 

I so wanted to climb Swan Mountain

Swan Mountain was eminently visible and it would be less than a mile to the summit. However, on the crest of this portion of the Siskiyous, it was obvious that clouds were forming on the mountain range itself. Cloud shadows and sunlight danced upon the valleys below, but where I was at was ominously gray with the temperature getting colder by the minute. A brisk breeze upwelling from the Sucker Creek canyon freezingly reminded me my pants were still soaking wet from the brush wade. Apart from a few desultory rain drops, it didn't really rain but it sure felt like the weather see-saw was tilted towards winter.

Swan Mountain and Craggy Mountain

Rapidly losing my enthusiasm for climbing Swan Mountain, I turned back and enjoyed views of Pyramid Peak, the Sucker Creek drainage, and the distant Red Buttes as clouds formed and reformed over the mountains. At the intersection with the Sucker Creek Trail, I ran into Ken and Denise again as they were returning from the Sucker Creek Shelter. The last three miles to the trailhead were then spent talking trails with Ken and it seemed like we finished off the hike in no time at all. It was nice to sneak in a hike before winter's thirteen months of rain conspires to keep us out of the mountains.

Clouds form above the mountains
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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