Climbing Pilot Rock (Soda Mtn. Wilderness) 29-Jan-2015

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon

Pilot Rock is readily visible from both directions on Interstate-5 and is one of the classic hikes in Southern Oregon’s Soda Mountain Wilderness. It’s possible to drive to within a mile of it (which hoards apparently do in the summer), so you can get right on with the 3rd class scramble to the magnificent views from its summit. But we wanted to combine that scramble with a decent hike, so we started toward the Rock along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from its trailhead on old Highway 99 near Siskiyou Pass (Hike #3 in Paul Gerald’s Day & Section Hikes, Pacific Crest Trail, Oregon). This hike and scramble was doable at this time only because the winter of 2014-15 has so far been plagued by drought, with little snow or rain to speak of.  You DO NOT want to try this scramble when the Rock is wet (or icy), as wet basalt is as slippery as greased glass.

The trailhead is just a wide spot on the east side of Highway 99 marked with a large PCT placard. From there, the PCT climbs gently and pleasantly through forest and open meadow,

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Early morning on the PCT

with an occasional view west toward Mount Ashland,

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Little snow on Mount Ashland

then along an open ridge for our first close view of our objective,

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Pilot Rock from the PCT

past a junction with the Lone Pilot Trail and the trail coming up from the Pilot Rock Trailhead, to, after about 4 miles, a junction with the recently rebuilt spur trail leading to the Rock.

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Where the spur trail leaves the PCT

The trail to the Rock starts shortly after this sign. It used to be a poorly graded and badly eroded “social trail” until it was re-built by the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Now it’s a very good trail – wider than the PCT at its beginning, with its upper reaches well graded and buttressed with little rock walls. A very easy way to gain a few hundred feet! This trail took us to the base of a huge dihedral that is the easiest route to the summit. The crux moves are right at its beginning and, after that, you just hug the left wall to the top.

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Following the dihedral (arrows) to the top

From the bottom, the dihedral looks intimidating but is pretty straightforward – just hug the left wall and don’t get seduced into following the big ledge to the right, as it dead ends at a cliff.

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
At the bottom of the dihedral

The slightly tricky parts were a chimney and a chockstone right at the start of the dihedral.

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Approaching the crux

But after some moves over good handholds and footholds,

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Moving up to pass the chockstone

we were past these obstacles,

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Beyond the chockstone

and on our way along – with good handholds and footholds – the sweeping basalt columns to the summit (which reminded us of Devil’s Tower). You DO NOT want to try climbing this basalt when its wet, as it becomes extremely slippery and you do not want to slip & fall here.

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
An arc of basalt leads to the top

We popped on to the top on what was a gorgeous, bluebird day – with Mount McLoughlin on the horizon –

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
The LovedOne tops out, with snowy Mount McLoughlin on the horizon

and with big views all around (sadly, the snow of the peaks in the background is a fraction of what it’s supposed to be and we’d be willing to trade a bluebird day or two for a good blizzard).

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
The LovedOne on the summit

To the west, Mount Ashland and Wagner Butte,

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Mount Ashland (a) and Wagner Butte (wb)

to the southeast, Soda Mountain, Hobart Bluff, and Boccard Point,

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Soda Mountain (s), Hobart Bluff (hb), and Boccard Point (bp)

and to the south, Mount Shasta.

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Mount Shasta
Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Mount Shasta

After soaking in the views and some sun, we scrambled down to the PCT, had a quick snack, and headed back to the trailhead, along open ridges and through forested meadows. A really nice little hike (9.5 miles round-trip, with 1,500 feet of elevation gain) combined with a fun 3rd class scramble to huge views! Now if it would just snow!

Pilot Rock Soda Mountain Wilderness Oregon
Our track to and from Pilot Rock

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