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,
at a meadow in Sucker Creek Gap.
From there it was north through more forest on the #1207,
which was a good shape except for the few occasions where the forest had joined the trail (my walking stick is 5 feet long).
My goal for the day was the summit of Swan Mountain, which soon came into view,
along with that of ever reliable Mount McLoughlin.
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.
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.
At first I thought it was a grouse but when it swiveled its head 180 degrees, it was obviously an 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?
After the owl, it was on to the Sucker Creek Shelter, which is below the trail,
on the edge of a large meadow overlooked by Swan Mountain.
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.
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 –
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.