Saturday, August 13, 2016

Pilot Rock

H, O, and T. Three little letters, harmless by themselves but when joined together in a certain order they can bake hiker brains to a runny casserole and turn athletic leg muscles into Spam pudding. Yup it's been hot lately, routinely exceeding 100 degrees on a daily basis. Given all that, who's up for a Richard Hike? Well, only three people answered the call, the rest of the hiking club stayed at home and three cheers for Bill, Lane, and newcomer Wendy.

Pilot Rock
So yeah, it was hot in Roseburg and Medford but up in the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument it was about 15 degrees cooler, so a chilly "nyah, nyah!" to all you air condition-o-philes! We would be spending virtually all day on the Pacific Crest Trail and the trail was quite busy with thru-hikers doing their 20+ miles per day on the way to Canada.

The meadows are browning out this time of year

From past experience, my recollection of the trail was of open slopes all covered with snow. Of course, it had been the middle of winter and Ray and I had snowshoes on. Naturally, the snow was long gone but the open areas remained and were now meadows, starting to go brown with the end of summer looming near. What I didn't recall was just how much shade time there is on the trail and a good thing too, it helped keep the burner on low, so to speak.

View to Mount Ashland
For the first several miles, the trail alternated between oak savannah, scratchy brush, pumice barrens, and open meadows. This hike had more variety than a jar full of jelly beans. Of course, we felt the sun's brunt when out in the open but shade was always around the corner so it really wasn't bad at all. From the breaks in tree cover, we enjoyed intermittent views to Mount Ashland and her other Siskiyou Mountains friends.

What California looks like

At a saddle with a five-way road junction, Pilot Rock made its first appearance with still a mile or two of hiking yet to go. We crossed all five roads and continued on where the PCT wrapped around the west side of Peak 5241. While sidehilling the slopes of the small peak, we Oregonians enjoyed looking down our noses at California below. The citizens of Hornbrook were going about their business, totally unaware of our self-perceived smug air of superiority. 

And speaking of greasy, toxic substances...
Rounding peak 5241, the trail entered the most sustained barren encountered on this hike, comprised of low grass struggling to survive in the pumice-based soil. We could look up the Emigrant Creek drainage and pick out Soda Mountain, Hobart Mountain, and Hobart Bluff on the Cascade-Siskiyou skyline. Unfortunately, at this point some nasty grease or other toxic substance absolutely covered my camera lens and all the photos I had taken at that point were useless. But take my word for it, it was pretty spectacular.

Scotch thistle
Anway, after switching filters (now I had a funky ND filter which I don't like but at least it wasn't slimy with what ever slimed the first filter) we continued on with the trail dropping through firs providing some very welcome and effective shade. After a short downhill stint, we ate lunch at a saddle below Pilot Rock as PCT thru-hikers passed by. 

Convention has it that PCT thru-hikers are known only by their trail names, given to them by fellow hikers based on some kind of incident or story. One fellow was given the name He-man by his brother because he "hiked so easily over hills that it looked like he was made out of helium." On the Periodic Table of Elements, the abbreviation for helium is He, therefore: He-man. Based on that story, my trail name would be Pb-Man because Pb is the scientific abbreviation for lead.

Rough trail to Pilot Rock
La-Man on the PCT
It used to be that from the saddle, hikers would just go cross country to Pilot Rock. Accordingly, a whole network of ad hoc use trails sprung up, scarring the terrain. Now that the iconic tower of rock is Monument property, the old scramble route is off limits due to the ongoing vegetative restoration project. An actual authorized trail switchbacks from the saddle and it's a steep one through a forest. Pilot Rock became less of a tower and more of a wall the closer we got to it. The path ended where the scramble route to the summit started; the scramble route was not obvious but was a narrow chute that clearly required the use of hands.

Pilot rock looms above
A lone hiker was descending and he told us rocks as big as his head had fallen and he aborted the mission at that point. So did we. Lane and Bill went up for a bit with Lane working his way to a cliffy viewpoint while Wendy and I just watched. No matter the summit was not attained, Pilot Rock is still pretty spectacular and provides an up close look at all the basaltic pillars it is comprised of. At the base were piles of rocks, some even as big as my head, and that's pretty big!

The bravest souls in Roseburg
After our up-close commune with Pilot Rock, we headed back down the trail, about 5 miles from my car. If anything, the day had gotten warmer but again, we were saved by intermittent shade and breeze as we continually exchanged greetings with a steady stream of thru-hikers walking in the opposite direction. It was about 90 degrees at the trailhead and over 100 degrees down in Medford. Despite the heat in the valleys, hiking sure beat staying at home like an air-conditioned namby-pamby.

Almost lush at McAllister Spring
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. You are indeed brave souls to hike in the heat! But looks like you were rewarded indeed with a great trail and magnificent views of Pilot Rock (and the chance to leer at Californians!)

    1. Sneering at California is always worth a 10 mile hike in hot weather!

  2. Now that you are retired it appears you are out and about every week!!!Wish we were some aire conditioned namby pamby's.......been finishing some home projects, helping move my mom, plus birthdays and work...remember what that was....glad to see your "pose" is back. Keep racking up the miles.

    1. Work...what is that? Oh yeah, I remember vaguely what that was like!