The promise of unsettled weather in the near future pushed us toward one more “summer” hike before we’re hit by wet and cold (and before there’s enough snow for snowshoeing!). Thanks to the Hike Mt Shasta website, we’d had a great hike in California’s Shasta-Trinity National Forest a couple of days ago. Although other hikes in the Marble and Russian Wilderness areas beckoned from our never diminishing list of hikes to do (our way of bringing the myth of Sisyphus to hiking), the thought of one a little closer to home (that is, one that didn’t involve a four-hour roundtrip drive) was more appealing. Two that we’d done in 2016 about this time – Old Baldy and Vulture Rock (Point 6054) – seemed like good, close choices that could be fashioned into a loop hike. With the LovedOne begging off to set-up (after the bomb threat had been cleared) the now monthly library book sale, I was on my own for this one. I argued that bears and chipmunks rarely try to blow you up, but to no avail.
I opted to start this hike where the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) crosses Keno Road just northeast of Howard Prairie Lake. It was, as hoped, a beautiful clear, sunny day, crisp in the morning and warming toward pleasant in the afternoon. The PCT in this area is easy going as it heads through the forest slightly uphill toward Old Baldy.
Last year we had quite a display of different kinds and colors of mushrooms – wildflowers being long gone by this point – but this year I was able to find only one pastel ‘shroom hiding behind a fallen log.
About 2.8 miles from Keno Road, the PCT passes a turnoff to some springs and here a sea of golden ferns clearly signaled the end of summer.
The PCT then continues its climb along the south flanks of Old Baldy, past one of the few spots where there’s a view of Mount Shasta to the south. Today that view was a victim of the usual haze plus smoke still being put out by the Miller Complex and Chetco Bar Fires.
There was a fire lookout on the summit of Old Baldy back in the day, but that’s now gone and trees have grown up to fully obscure any views.
All that remains of the old lookout are its foundation stones,
and jumbles of rusted nails and melted glass.
After a snack, I found the geocache (GC3KWD) near the summit and left a couple of VanMarmot hiking cards. Then it was back south along the PCT to the Vulture Rock sign. The first time we did this, I thought this sign signaled a trail to the Rock. Now I realize there’s no trail and this sign is just aspirational, as in “The Rock is over there – go find it yourself.”
The hardest part of getting to the top of Vulture Rock is avoiding the brush gathered around its base. Having discovered two unmapped (but clearly visible on Google Earth) logging roads surrounding the Rock on both sides, its now obvious that this area was logged decades ago, which accounts for the cut logs, fallen trees, new trees, and the brush. After getting through the brush, I walked up the boulder field,
and then did the short scramble to the Rock’s pointy summit.
The first time I’d reached this point, it had been under a brooding overcast. Today, despite a haze, there were good views in three directions (the haze and sun angle pretty much ruined the view toward Mount Shasta).
And now to complete the loop. I descended due east off Vulture to one of the unmapped logging roads, followed it to its end, and then struck off southeast through the forest on what looked like an overgrown skid road. The forest is also pretty open here, so the going was easy, and I soon arrived at the end of BLM Road 38-4E-35.5. The “hiking” would be on roads from here back to the truck (one sometimes has to make sacrifices to do a loop) but first I diverted cross-country to check-out Point 5648. It was a short hike through the forest to the rock jumble ridge that comprises the Point.
I worked my way along the ridge,
past a tall hoodoo,
to a spot just below the final 3rd or 4th class scramble to the where the map indicates the spot elevation of 5,648 feet. I’ve climbed worse looking stuff unroped before but that wasn’t going to happen today, so I took some snaps and retreated.
I was a little bummed about not having reached the spot elevation until I later looked more closely at Google Earth. Is that lump of rock to the south of the spot elevation actually the higher – and perhaps more accessible – point on this ridge? The rock spire might have been chosen for the spot elevation because it’s more prominent and definable on aerial photographs. Since it’s possible to drive within 0.3 miles of the Rock, having another go at this mystery won’t require an expedition.
The rest of the hike was anticlimactic – just a nice walk down gravel BLM Road 38-4E-35.5 and then along paved Keno Road, past more meadows fading into the gold of Fall, to the truck. Hunting season starts on the 30th and folks were already starting to establish their hunting camps on spurs off the Keno Road. With a lot of areas closed to hiking and hunting due to the wildfires, it might get a little crowded in these areas that are still open.
Despite the road walking, this was a good hike (11.4 miles roundtrip; 1,800 feet of elevation gain) on the PCT and cross-country, with visits to three unique points (one of which will require further investigation), and a geocache too. A great way to bid adieu to summer!