Swan Mountain (Red Buttes Wilderness) 25-Feb-2015

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon

Although most of the Red Buttes Wilderness is in Northern California, a small chunk of it is in Oregon, between Tanner Mountain and Sucker Creek Gap. The Steve Fork Trail or Steve’s Fork Trail (USFS #905) provides the shortest access to Sucker Creek Gap from the east side of the Siskiyou Crest. From the gap, it’s a short hike to views from Swan Mountain (which is, sadly, not in the designated wilderness area).

To climb Swan and explore the shelter at the gap,  I started at the Steve Fork Trailhead on Forest Road 1030 (Hike #73 in Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon (3rd Edition)), then hiked the #905 up through a lush forest, including the rare Brewer’s spruce,

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
Brewer’s Spruce

to a junction with the Boundary Trail (USFS #1207) and the Sucker Creek Trail (USFS #1237),

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
At the junction

at a meadow in Sucker Creek Gap.

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
Open ground at Sucker Creek Gap

From there it was north through more forest on the #1207,

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
Following the Boundary Trail

which was a good shape except for the few occasions where the forest had joined the trail (my walking stick is 5 feet long).

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
If a tree falls in the forest…

My goal for the day was the summit of Swan Mountain, which soon came into view,

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
Seeing Swan Mountain

along with that of ever reliable Mount McLoughlin.

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
Mount McLoughlin to the east

The cross-country climb to Swan’s summit along its southeast ridge was not hard, I just had to carefully maneuver my way around the thickets of manzanita. From the summit, despite the on-and-off cloud cover, I had big views in all directions.

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
To the south, Sucker Creek Gap (G) and the Sucker Creek Shelter (S)
Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
To the southwest, Preston Peak (arrow), the highest peak in the Siskiyou Wilderness
Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
To the west, prescribed burns in the Illinois Valley and the coast range
Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
To the north, Lake Mountain (L), Mount Elijah (E), Craggy Mountain (C), and Grayback Mountain (G)

There was a lookout on Lake Mountain that blew down in 1953 and supposedly one here on Swan Mountain too but there’s no obvious evidence of it. The last entry in the summit register was 2011 – which just confirms what I’ve been finding – that “crowds” are not a problem on many of the trails and summits in this region. After lunch on the sun-washed summit, I turned back and along the way caught a quick glance of a large bird swooping through the trees and then landing high in a tree.

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
A large bird (arrow) is faintly visible in the tree

At first I thought it was a grouse but when it swiveled its head 180 degrees, it was obviously an owl.

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
Owl

But spotted or barred? They’re the same genus, are really hard to tell apart at a distance, and their ranges now essentially overlap. Since the government is busy shooting barred owls to protect spotted owls (which the barred owls thinks of as dinner), I assume someone can tell them apart in the forest?

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
Overlapping ranges

After the owl, it was on to the Sucker Creek Shelter, which is below the trail,

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
Looking down at the shelter

on the edge of a large meadow overlooked by Swan Mountain.

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
The meadow at the shelter, with Swan Mountain in the background

The three-sided shelter was built in the 1920s by a cattle rancher and restored in 2001 – it has a dirt floor and an elevated sleeping bench and is probably a great place to meet mice (all night long). This area is also supposedly popular with black bears, which are larger than mice.

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
Sucker Creek Shelter
Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
Shelter roof detail

Then I went up and back over the Gap, with a stop at a small lake just below it – unnamed on the topographic map but called “Cirque Lake” by Sullivan –

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
“Cirque Lake”

before retracing my steps to the Steve Fork Trailhead. This was a very good hike (11 miles round-trip; 1,800 feet of elevation gain) with views, history, rare trees, and rarer wildlife.

Swan Mountain Steve Fork Red Buttes Wilderness Oregon
My hike to Swan Mountain

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