Day 1At it's inception, this trip was intended to be a relaxing winter retreat into the wilderness. But as usual, I managed to turn it into a physically taxing backpacking debacle. The trip was cathartic and enjoyable nonetheless, I just didn't do nearly as much sitting as I had originally planned.
Anyway, I arrived at the Cook and Green TH at about 9 am on Dec. 5th. It was a chilly morning, but the forecast called for unseasonably warm weather through Sunday. I threw on my pack, checked the map on the trailhead sign confirming I was in the right place, and started up the trail. After about an hour of gradual uphill hiking I arrived at a campsite. The sign was broken off (a recurring theme for the trip) to just the letter "M", so I pulled out my map to check my progress. I had planned on taking a turnoff onto the Butte Fork Trail, but I hadn't come to the junction yet. Upon careful review of the map, I realized that the "M" on the sign was the last letter of "No See 'Em," and I was 4 miles out on the wrong trail.
Decision point: Do I continue on my current path, tacking on 8 miles to the route and doing the loop backwards? Or do I turn around and huff it back to the right trailhead wasting precious daylight and still adding 8 miles to the trip?
So, I turned around and started walking back the way I came. After about 50 yards I stopped, looked at the map again, and changed my mind. I decided to go for it and continued up the trail. In about another 1.5 hrs I reached Cook and Green Pass and started heading west on the PCT. Soon I was hiking past the Red Butte enjoying sweeping views of the Klamath River Valley, the Marbles, and Mt. Shasta to my left. I hiked along the PCT until it dropped off the ridge, and then picked up the Boundary Trail. This trail is obviously not traveled much, as it is grown over and most of the signs are broken or missing. No worries though, as all you really have to do is follow the ridgecrest. I followed the boundary past Desolation and Rattlesnake Peaks, with amazing views on all sides. I hiked on until it was too dark to see the trail, and spent the night on a comfortable saddle just shy of Goff Butte.
Day 2I awoke to a beautiful sunrise and unexpectedly warm temperatures. I got back on the trail about 9am and started on past Goff Butte. Shortly after the butte the trail dropped down the north side of the ridge into Oregon to frozen Lonesome Lake. The trail is very poorly marked around the lake, and it's easy to miss the right turn to go toward Cedar Flat. The scenery is awesome with some cedars and ponderosa pines so large they rival the redwoods!
After some easy, slightly downhill hiking through some frozen wetlands, I arrived at the junture with the Butte Fork Trail. I made a right here and continued downhill along the Butte Fork of the Applegate River. One of the main goals of this trip was to summit a seldom-climbed wilderness peak called Mt. Emily (my girlfriend's name is Emily). About 3/4 mile after turning onto the Butte Fork trail, I found the abandoned trail that climbed to the ridge leading to Emily. I followed the overgrown trail as far as possible, and then gave up and bushwhacked to the ridgeline. Upon attaining the ridge, it was an easy scramble to the summit where I snapped some pics, signed the register, and dedicated the climb to my girl.
I bombed off the ridge and back to the main trail and continued north out the Butte Fork trail. The rest of this trail meandered easily through the center of the wilderness and finally crossed the river after maybe 6 miles. Look at the map for exact mileages. After the bridge, the trail was of course difficult to find (especially in the waning daylight), but its pretty obvious what you need to do if you have a topo map. I don't recommend doing this hike without one!
Finally, I reached the trailhead I was supposed to have started at and started huffin it down the road to where I parked. After a bit over a mile on the road I reached my truck and headed home. About 35 miles of awesome scenery in the bag... I love the Red Buttes!