Preston Peak (Siskiyou Wilderness) 9/10-Jul-2018

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California

Our quest to reach the high points in seven of Northern California’s wilderness areas concluded with a backpack and subsequent steep scramble to the summit of Preston Peak (7,313 feet), the highest point in the Siskiyou Wilderness. Preston rises more than 500 feet above any other peak in this wilderness and presides over a superb landscape of gem-quality green-blue lakes, rugged geology, meadows flush with wildflowers, and a biodiversity matched by few places on earth (hence the Preston Peak Botanical and Geological Area). Preston’s bulk is easily recognizable from the summits of many other peaks in the Klamath Mountains, Siskiyou Crest, and Southern Cascades, and its presence on the horizon has taunted us during many of our hikes in these areas. It felt good to finally get up close and personal with this peak.


I (The LovedOne was sidelined with dentist visits) opted to approach from the Youngs Peak Trailhead (because the road to the Doe Flat Trailhead had washed-out), only to find that the bridge at the start of Forest Road (FR) 18N07 (Knopti Road) – the shortest way to the trailhead – was being replaced. The detour that was offered (FR 18N11) worked fine but added several gravelly miles to the drive. The first 3.5 miles of the Clear Creek Trail (USFS #5231) down into Youngs Valley is actually the road built to service the old Cyclone Gap chromite mine.

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
The Clear Creek Trail starts as an old mining road

From the road, I’d catch an occasional glimpse of Preston looming above the surrounding ridges and could see why early travelers in the region thought it might be 12,000 feet high.

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Preston Peak rises above the surrounding terrain

The trail descends to Youngs Valley, a huge, grass-covered meadow between El Capitan and Youngs Peak.

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Youngs Valley and surrounding peaks from the old road
Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Youngs Valley

On the way down to the valley, I passed Oregonnater, his dog (Grace), and two guys [who I would later learn are his brothers], who were heading-out after camping at Raspberry Lake and attempting Preston. Small world. Down in the valley, I left the Clear Creek Trail (which continues down-valley to the southwest) for the Raspberry Lake Trail (USFS #5231), which is just the continuation of the old mining road. At 5.8 miles from the trailhead, I came to the end of the road at the old Cyclone Gap (or Mammoth) chromite mine. Records are scarce, but this mine seems to have started in the early 1940s (in response to the need for chromite to make high grade steel for World War II) and operated into the mid-1950s when the market price of chromite fell below production costs.

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
One of the tailings at the old mine

Past the mine, the trail becomes a single-track that undulates its way toward Raspberry Lake. At one point, I could see the entirety of the northwest ridge I’d be following to Preston’s summit.

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Preston’s northwest ridge from the Raspberry Lake Trail

The lake itself is a delightful little gem set in a bowl at the base of Copper Mountain. There had been a half-dozen cars at the trailhead, so I was pleasantly surprised to find I had the lake all to myself. Which was a plus since there aren’t that many good campsites at the lake.

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Raspberry Lake

After setting up my tent and dumping extra gear, I went west up through the trees (much easier than trying the adjacent scree slope) for 300 feet to the top of the ridge, where I got a good look down at the round little lake.

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Raspberry Lake from low on Preston’s northwest ridge

On top of the ridge, there are use trails that tend to come and go, as well as some infrequent cairns that only confirm you are going in the right direction (but you need to be going in that direction to find many of them). I tried to stay on top of the ridge as much as possible, but there were exceptions to this. At 5,680 feet, I came to a large outcrop which I passed to the east (the west side was a massive bushwhack). Just above that, a clear use trail, marked with cairns,

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
A cairn (arrow) marks the path around the west side of Point 6121

took me around to the west below Point 6121,

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Around the west side of Point 6121

to the big saddle at 5,900 feet. I could see some tracks heading over Point 6121 but going up there would have been a massive waste of time and energy.

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Point 6121 from the saddle; the arrow points to the path around its west side

From the saddle, I could look due east and see smoke blowing-up from the Klamathon Fire, which had devastated Hilt and Hornbrook, and was now burning toward the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Looking east toward smoke (arrow) from the Klamathon Fire

From the saddle, the final 1,300 feet or so to Preston’s summit loomed above me. From here on it would just be up, followed by more up, then even more up.

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
The last 1,300 feet to Preston’s summit

I stuck close to the ridgeline, tucking and weaving to find the ever vague use trail and those confirmatory cairns. There were boulder fields to by-pass,

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
One of the boulder fields along the ridge

rock slabs to balance across,

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Rock slabs began to appear higher on the ridge

mindless graffiti to NOT appreciate,

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Vandalism on the ridge

and a fair amount of loose rock and boulders to negotiate as I got further and further above the big saddle.

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Looking down from high on the ridge

Finally, the summit came into view,

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Just a few more rocks to climb below the summit

and after some more scrambling,

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Getting closer…

I was finally level with the summit! The climb, while strenuous (2,200 feet in 1.8 miles), was, for me at least, never more than high YDS Class 2 (hands and feet needed). I would say that if you find yourself in definite Class 3 terrain, you’re off-route.

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
The summit of Preston Peak with Mount Shasta in the distance
Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Preston Peak’s benchmark
Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Preston’s summit
Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
A cloud bank over the Pacific Ocean
Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Mount Shasta (S) and the Trinity Alps (T) from Preston’s summit

I briefly enjoyed the summit and then started a careful descent to my camp at the lake. I’m impressed by people who do Preston as a dayhike but spending the night at the lake meant that I didn’t have to hurry my descent. Even though the use trails and cairns were (slightly) easier to see from above, I took my time, mindful that the ridge, while only Class 2, was still loose and slippery in spots, with significant exposure. Call it the mindful caution of a solo hiker. After the lake came into view,

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Return to Raspberry Lake

I was soon enough back in camp, some nine hours after I’d left the trailhead. Serious re-hydration and dinner preceded the welcome embrace of my sleeping bag atop my nifty new (thank you REI dividend!) NeoAir sleeping pad. I was soon in the embrace of Morpheus (the Greek one), only awakening briefly to note some large critter (probably one of the black bears common in this area) crashing through the trees behind my camp.

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
Sunset at Raspberry Lake

I was awakened the next morning by the bird’s dawn chorus and, after a small breakfast, enjoyed a quick hike back to the trailhead in the cool of the morning. A tough trip (17.8 miles round-trip; 5,200 feet of elevation gain) but a very good one and a great way to end the Saga of the Seven Summits!

Preston Peak Siskiyou Wilderness Northern California
My track to and from the summit of Preston

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