Mount Ashland is our local ski area and also a Sno-Park. Thanks to the ski area, the Sno-Park, despite its being at 6,600 feet, is usually readily accessible with little, if any, winter driving drama. The two days of the week when the ski area is closed is a perfect time to use the Sno-Park as the starting point for cross-country skiing or (in our case) snowshoeing on the forested slopes and snow-covered meadows along the Siskiyou Crest to the west. Last winter (2015-16), thanks to the plentiful snow brought by an El Niño, we were able to do several snowshoe trips from here to the Grouse Gap Shelter, Grouse Creek, and the summit of Mount Ashland (post). A La Niña (El Niño’s flip side) now seems to be settling in, bringing with it substantial early season snow (the ski area opened a week early) and starting the winter of 2016-17 toward (we hope!) being as much frozen fun as was last winter!
Today, presented with cold (12ºF in the morning) but otherwise very nice weather, we headed out for our first “warm-up” snowshoe of the winter. This time we thought we’d venture a little further west on Forest Road (FR) 20 than just the Grouse Gap Shelter – maybe as far as the summit of McDonald Peak (7,226 feet). Conditions were optimal as we left the Sno-Park,
and headed west on the “groomed” section of FR 20 that is open to the snowmobiles and snowcats that are used to service the lifts and radar atop Mount Ashland.
After a mile, the road forks – the “grooming” continues on the road leading uphill to Mount Ashland, while ungroomed FR 20 continues west into Grouse Gap Basin. From here on, FR 20 is only open to non-motorized users. The snow was light, fluffy, and just deep enough to justify snowshoes, without forcing us to posthole with them.
FR 20 swings around the Basin,
to just below Grouse Gap, where a road (FR 40S30) heads south to Grouse Gap Shelter and beyond. If it weren’t for the sign, it would be hard to tell that this was the same Siskiyou Loop Road that we drove last summer (post).
Rather than turn south toward the shelter, we continued west on FR 20 as it began a gradual climb up to the ridge southeast of McDonald Peak.
Thus far the day, while cold and slightly breezy, had been mostly sunshine, with only an occasional passing cloud. But as we turned the corner on FR 20, we could see that McDonald Peak was pretty much socked in, a fact which seriously undermined the enthusiasm we had for pushing on to its summit.
But it was still sunny where we were, so we continued on up FR 20, through a classic Currier & Ives winter landscape.
At 6,800 feet, FR 20 makes a sharp turn to the west and it was here tha we decided to call it a day.
From here, we had a clear view of the NEXRAD dome on Mount Ashland and a straight shot cross-country back down to FR 20 at Grouse Gap.
With the clouds closing in,
we plunged down to the Gap through wonderful soft powder snow and then headed back the way we’d come in.
Judging by the snowshoe tracks we followed on the way out, and the noise coming from the direction of the Shelter, a fair number of snowshoers must have made their way there while we were out on FR 20.
A short snowshoe (5 miles round-trip; 200 feet of elevation gain) but a good start to the season! The air temperature had soared to 23ºF by the time we got back to the Sno-Park so, after a brief visit to the bustling ski area lodge, we went down to Callahan’s Lodge for burgers, brews, and warmth. Unbeatable! The clouds willing, next time we’ll make the summit!