On Top of Old Smokey (Mount Ashland) 30-Aug-2017

Mount Ashland Oregon

I opened the online edition of our local paper this morning to find that, considering those in Southern Oregon and in Northern California, there are now 500 square miles of wildfires burning around the Rogue Valley. The air quality index (AQI) for the valley was on its way up from 187 (unhealthy) as I read the paper.  But the LovedOne – having temporarily satiated her library volunteer urges earlier in the week – was now keen to get outside rather than hunker in the bunker breathing through wet towels until this winter’s rains (eventually) cleared the air.  So we bet that reasonably close Mount Ashland, at 7,532 feet, would be high enough to poke above most of the smoke and, with an early start, would also be cool enough for us to dodge heat stroke.  Well, ya laces your boots and ya takes your chances on the trail…

We parked along Forest Road (FR) 20 just short of the Mount Ashland Campground, took FR 40S15 down to where it crosses the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), then headed west on the PCT. Down in the trees along the PCT we could delude ourselves about having gotten above the smoke – if we studiously ignored the omnipresent stink of dead campfire.

Mount Ashland Oregon
Along the Pacific Crest Trail going west toward Grouse Gap

But once we’d worked our way around to the open meadows at the head of Grouse Creek, it became obvious even to us that we were smoked. Not totally smoked as if we’d stayed in the valley but still smoked. We shared a moment of sympathy for smoked ham.

Mount Ashland Oregon
The smokey meadow above Grouse Creek today
Mount Ashland Oregon
The same meadow on a smoke-free day earlier in the year: compare and contrast

It was clearly (pun here) time to try climbing out of the muck, so we went up cross-country to connect with the service road leading to the top of Mount Ashland and plodded up that. There was a nice cool breeze blowing across the road so we weren’t too hot – more like cold smoked.

Mount Ashland Oregon
Up the service road toward the summit

From the road, we could make-out McDonald Peak and Siskiyou Peak to the west, both only a few hundred feet lower than Mount Ashland but both fully enveloped in smoke. Just as well neither of these were today’s objective.

Mount Ashland Oregon
Smoke-obscured Siskiyou Peak (S) and McDonald Peak (M) to the west along the Siskiyou Crest

After a short while, the Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) station atop Mount Ashland came into view,

Mount Ashland Oregon
The service road leads to the NEXRAD station

and then we were on the actual summit, where the view was limited to smoke below and sky above.

Mount Ashland Oregon
Looking west from the summit of Mount Ashland

We could see blue skies and white clouds above but we’d have needed to have gained another 1,000 feet or more to escape the smoke. Only Mount McLoughlin would have allowed us to get that high.  Sigh. On an historical note, a ground cabin fire lookout was built on the summit in 1922 and abandoned in 1942.

Mount Ashland Oregon
The fire lookout on Mount Ashland (c1927)

During Ashland’s tourist boom in the early 20th Century, a horseback ride up Mount Ashland was a popular day-long excursion and signing the register at the summit’s fire lookout became obligatory for visitors. Visitors today can drive up but can only stare at the NEXRAD “soccer ball”.

Mount Ashland Oregon
The NEXRAD station

Rather than simply walk back down the road, we thought it would be more interesting to find a way down to the east. There was an ATV track directly down from the top of the ski lift but a more interesting use trail down below the NEXRAD, so we took the use trail.

Mount Ashland Oregon
Blue skies and high clouds taunted us during the descent

The use trail took us to a ski run and that took us down a bit to another use trail that headed down, under one of the chair lifts,

Mount Ashland Oregon
NEXRAD and chair lift

and then became an old road that we followed all the way down to the lodge parking lot.

Mount Ashland Oregon
Taking the old road down toward the parking lot

A short (4.4 mile roundtrip; 1,200 feet of elevation gain), smokey, not too hot, and interesting hike on a day otherwise not conducive to much physical activity. Finding that use trail and old road down from the summit was a plus – a route certainly known to many others but new to us. A post-hike stop for lunch at Caldera Brewing in Ashland helped clear the smoke from our throats and added a little depth to the day.

Mount Ashland Oregon
Our cold smoked track over Mount Ashland



  1. It’s been smoky down here too, but there have been nice days too. Yesterday was fantastic, today awful. However, if you are willing to chance it, you might consider coming down and hiking on Mount Shasta. You can drive all the way up to 7,800 feet and hike much higher than that. If the smoke level is lower, the hike to South Gate Meadow is just about paradise in my book. Lots of of spectacular off trail exploration from there too.

    1. We keep looking at the Mount Shasta webcam and are deeply jealous when it shows clear skies on days when we can hardly see our front yard. So we have a list of Shasta area hikes – including Brewer Creek, one of your recommendations – and are planning a drive south soon after the Labor Day weekend!

    2. Be sure to check the smoke conditions before you head south! The last two days have been awful, but before that it was pretty good. If you do come down for more than a day, and the timing is right, you are welcome to stay at our cabin across from our house, if you like, rather than camp. Also, if you do hit Brewer Creek, be sure to find the actual trail rather than the climber’s trail. I can email a KML of the proper route, if you like. A section of the path right at the trailhead got wiped out last winter and the climber’s route to the Hotlum Glacier is more apparent right at the washout. It’s very scenic too, but if you want to get to Brewer Creek or Ash Creek Falls, then you will want the actual trail.

    3. Smoke down your way seems to come and go at the whim of the winds, so we might have to wait until a least a little precip comes in to settle things. Thanks for the beta on the Brewer trail vs. the climbers route.

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