Tenas Peak (6,558 feet) is an ancient cinder cone that sits just west of the Cascade Crest on the northern boundary of the Mount Thielsen Wilderness (details). The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a short distance to the east and Cowhorn Mountain (also called Cowhorn Butte by some), a somewhat better known hike and short scramble, lies a few miles to the north (post). What drew my attention to Tenas was a write-up about it by Oregon Wild (post), presumably to build interest in either expanding the Thielsen wilderness or creating a larger Crater Lake wilderness (details). It sounded like an interesting loop hike in an area I hadn’t visited before (it’s off the Windigo Pass road as is Cowhorn Mountain, but sooner). The clincher was that Tenas used to host a Forest Service fire lookout and supposedly has excellent views (yes, but not in all directions).
So, I got myself to the Kelsay Valley Campground and Trailhead (USFS) early in anticipation of the hot weather forecast for later in the day. Kelsay is also an equestrian trailhead and camp. Yes, horses can make a trail extra dusty BUT many equestrians also voluntarily undertake trail maintenance tasks – such as clearing small downed trees that are a pain for horses and hikers alike. That seemed to be the case here since the entire loop was in good condition and entirely clear of irritating fallen trees (and not too dusty)! So an extra ration of oats for all concerned!
About 0.25 miles in from the trailhead, after crossing Bradley Creek, I came to a junction with the Windigo Pass Trail (USFS #1412) and turned northeast (left) on to it. It’s now a trail but some maps show it as a former National Forest Development Road (#2507), which may explain its unrelenting straightness. The mosquitos were really fierce near Bradly Creek but got a little less intense as the day went on – there were none on the summit! Thunderstorms were maybe in the forecast (none materialized) but there was a cloud cover that alternated between high and humidifying and puffy white cottonballs on a blue background. Either way, they helped keep the air temperature down until later in the day.
About 1.25 miles of almost level walking brought me to the junction with the Tenas Peak Trail (USFS #1445), which started a gradual climb toward the peak.
Much of this loop is through dry terrain but it does pass within striking distance of at least three reliable water sources, such as Warrior Creek. Often times, you can hear water flowing but can’t actually see it or see how to get to it.
Past the creek, the trail passed through a thin, dry forest and the heat of the day started to become more noticeable.
Higher up, around 5,800 feet, I entered a thicker forest,
before reaching a trail junction at 6,200 feet on the northeast side of Tenas Peak. One thing this loop has which many other trails in Southern Oregon do not is adequate signage, so you don’t have to do a lot of map reading to figure out where you are. At this junction the #1445 turns south toward Tenas Peak, while the Tolo Creek Trail (USFS #1466) goes uphill and east to the PCT and downhill and southeast toward the North Fork of the Umpqua River. From this junction, a less clearly defined #1445 goes up the ridge and slowly curves around to the south side of the peak into an open area of bright red pumice – which betrays the cinder cone origins of this peak
There used to be a fire lookout on the summit. A 20 foot pole L-4 tower was built in 1939 and removed in 1966. All that’s left now are four concrete footings.
You can supposedly see the still functioning Cinnamon Butte Lookout off to the southwest but to do so you’d have to walk off the summit in that direction looking for an opening in the trees (which have grown up since the days of the old lookout). However, I could see a slice of Diamond Peak through the trees to the north,
and Tipsoo Peak (post) and Mount Thielsen to the south.
There’s also a memorial for Bob Manning on the summit – no idea who he was but he seems to have moved on too soon and been sorely missed.
After a snack on the summit under mosquito-free conditions it was time to complete the loop. After descending to the trail junction, I went southeast on the #1466. This is where you cross from the proposed Crater Lake Wilderness into the current Mount Thielsen Wilderness. Along here is one of the few places where you can actually get a look at Tenas Peak, with the distinctive patch of red pumice on its summit.
The #1466 descends gently into the Tolo Creek drainage, passing the site of the unofficial (but signed with a homemade sign) “Lil Indian Camp” at around 5,600 feet and eventually getting to a point where I could actually see Tolo Creek.
About four miles from the Tenas Peak junction, the #1466 passes through another unofficial camp (“Dutch Oven Camp”),
and intersects the North Umpqua Trail (USFS #1414), which runs from Maidu Lake in the High Cascades to within 20 miles of Roseburg, Oregon. Here, the #1414 runs through thick forest.
But closer to the Kelsay Valley trailhead, the #1414 enters more open cover – where the heat of the day started to assert itself – and swings a little closer to marshes bordering the river – where fresh hoards of mosquitos also made their presence felt!
The heat and mosquitos aside, this was a really fun loop (12.8 miles; 2,200 feet of elevation gain) on good, moderately graded trail. Definitely worth a return visit in the Fall when the heat abates and the mosquitos are out of commission for the season. The drive home featured a stop at Beckie’s in Union Creek to pick-up two pieces of their gastronomically staggering chocolate pie – only superior willpower enabled me to get both pieces home intact…