Mount Ashland is our local ski area and this winter – thanks in large part to El Niño – there was plenty of snow and it was open on its regular winter schedule. On the two days of the week it’s normally closed, we used the Sno-Park next to it as the starting point for three snowshoe hikes in the snow-covered forests and meadows to the west: one out-and-back to the Grouse Gap Shelter (post), one just to the summit of Mt. Ashland when a storm was rolling in, and, finally, a loop over the summit, out to the Shelter, and back partially cross-country on some steep snow (post). But we’d never been up there in the summer!
So with air temperatures in the Rogue Valley pushing into the triple digits, now seemed like the perfect time for an easy out-and-back hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from the Mount Ashland access road to the Grouse Gap Shelter. The Grouse Gap section of the PCT is an enjoyable, easy day-hike close to the Rogue Valley. The trail offers wonderful displays of wildflowers in midsummer, and outstanding vistas of Mount Shasta, the Marble Mountains and the Trinity Alps to the south (when the views are not otherwise filtered or obscured by smoke and haze). Here the PCT contours through five meadows at a thermally comfortable 6,500 feet; meadows where some of the wildlflowers that peaked in July could still be seen, along with a whole other set of flowers that peak in August! Not quite as lush as they can be in June but still surprisingly verdant (wanderingyuncks, June 2015).
The PCT crosses the Mount Ashland access road just over seven miles from where the access road leaves the old Siskiyou Pass highway (old Highway 99). Here there’s a large dirt parking lot on the right (east) side of the highway and signs indicating the PCT. The trail starts out through a forest with grand and red fir,
then passes an unusual “bird nest” construct (Is this art?),
before – in about 0.5 miles – opening out in the first meadow.
I don’t think we’d expected this much lushness in August and so spent quite some time wandering around looking at flowers. All the usual suspects were evident – coneflowers, purple asters, tall purple larkspur, owl clover, etc. – as well as the yellow daisy-like Bigelow’s sneezeweed,
which, for some odd reason (Perhaps it was the altitude?), reminded me of the spaceship in Forbidden Planet. This was the point at which The LovedOne distanced herself from the hiking stick-carrying geek spouting nonsense.
But, by doing so, she came across a small flower that we hadn’t seen before, the Orange Agoseris, with tiny yellow “teeth” at the end of its orange petals.
After stopping the nonsense, we pushed on through the forest. It was in this section that we were passed by a half dozen or so PCT thru-hikers hurrying (we would guess) toward the off-trail pleasures of either Callahan’s or Ashland or both. We would later see two of them in downtown Ashland…
Beyond a second meadow, the trail crossed some granite bedrock on an open, rocky, dry ridge,
then crossed a wide gravel road (Forest Road (FR) 40S15), before climbing slightly into another meadow where we got a view of the summit of Mount Ashland, with the soccer ball-like weather radar dome peeking up next to it. Mount Ashland, at 7,533 feet above sea level, is the highest peak in the Siskiyou Mountains, and the highest point in Oregon west of the Cascade Range. A ski lift, a television transmitter, and the weather radar station (NEXRAD, “Next Generation”) occupy its granite-studded summit.
We passed a fourth meadow and then entered the fifth, and final, broad meadow that wraps around the subalpine bowl below Grouse Gap,
where the prominent splotches of yellow in the meadows,
were due to the exuberant growth of Sulfur-Flower Buckwheat.
Then we went on toward Grouse Gap,
before turning to the west,
and intersecting FR 20 and the service road (FR 40S30) going down to the shelter.
After a short walk on the service road, we came to the shelter (and associated pit toilet). The shelter is a squat, robust structure,
centered around a very large fireplace (a welcome feature during the winter season),
with a nice view up toward Mount Ashland from its picnic table.
This was our official turn-around point so, after a snack, we headed back toward Grouse Gap,
remembering the fun we’d had here this winter.
You can be a big view of Shasta out to the south (particularly in the winter) but this time the peak was obscured by a combination of heat haze, smoke from fires in California, and human smudge floating up from the northern Central Valley. We could dimly discern it through the haze because it was sporting a Devo-style cloud cap.
A short (7.6 miles round trip; 800 feet of elevation gain) easy dayhike through five well-flowered meadows. The altitude kept the day’s heat at bay until just before we got back to the trailhead. There it was now hot enough to necessitate a stop at Caldera Brewing in Ashland for cooling refreshments. Ah, summer…