How many times do we drive forever to do a short hike? Generally the plan is to fit as much in as you can so that the time and gas money is well spent. Well, even the best plans get twisted a bit and as I left home on friday morning in the wee hours, my plan was to go down and climb Mt. Bailey near Crater Lake National Park. The weather report had one of those smiley suns indicating good weather but alas, how many times are we misled in the belief that the weather people can forecast accurately.
As I drove past La Pine Oregon, about 4 1/2 hours from my home, I noticed that the dark clouds were leaking, not good. Then, another 25 miles down the road, past Crescent Oregon, I noticed white stuff on both sides of the road. Hmmmm. This did not bode well for my plan to climb Mt. Bailey since it was another 4,000 feet of elevation from where I was noticing this snowfall. Not desiring to climb in a snowstorm, I moved to option B, I would continue on to near Klamath Falls and climb Aspen Butte, a peak that is one of the Oregon prominence peaks and on my to do list.
As I drove near Klamath Falls, the rain began to really work at cleaning all the dirt off my pickup truck and I knew that Aspen Butte was probably not going to be on today's agenda. I decided to go pick off one of the easier Oregon Prominence peaks, Hamaker Butte, a mountain that had a paved road to the top. It was one of those that you do simply because it is on a list and not because there is any challenge to it. Located south of the town of Keno (yup, that is really the name), I drove up the curvy twisty road known as the Hamaker Butte road as it made its way upward. At about the 5500 foot mark, I drove into fog and noticed snow on both sides of the road (and on the road). Kicking my vehicle into 4WD mode, I continued on up the road and finally arrived near the highest area. Structures dotted the area including a big radar dome which is posted very vividly as "NO TRESPASSING" etc. Of course the conditions were such that I couldn' t see much of the off limits radar installation but I could tell it was there. The wind was blowing, really howling and it was snowing, it was foggy, it was colder than hell so I hurriedly made my way over to the highest legal spot on the summit area and headed back for the warmth and protection of my vehicle. It was a relief to drive off of that one and get back down to highway 66 where option #3 came into play. I will return some day and see what the view might look like but at least I had something done, even if it was a stinking drive up. Oregon has 73 prominence peaks and although there are challenges like Mt. Hood, North Sister, Mt. Washington and Mt. Jefferson, there are also some that you can drive up because the fact that they are the highest peak in the area makes them attractive to the people who stick communication towers or lookouts on their tops. Enough, back to the subject at hand since I can't change any of that anyway.
Option 3 was to drive all the way to Orleans California, the town nearest the trailhead for Salmon Mountain, the highpoint of Humboldt county. Fueling up on food and gas in Ashland, I left the Ashland area and headed down I-5 into California and the turnoff for California state highway 96. The first sign I saw gave me a start as it said, "Willow Springs, 148 miles" Yikes. The map showed very little in between but it was about 4:30 and I wanted to get this beast driven before the deer came out to play. The road twisted and curved continuously for almost the whole distance and as the map said, towns were few and far between. Seiad Valley of the PCT fame, Happy Camp and one other wide spot in the road were about it before Orleans. Only Orleans had any gas for sale I noticed. Arriving near 7p.m., I found a camp ground near Orleans called Perch Camp ground and that was where I spent the night. I had no desire to drive up to the trailhead, another twisty and curvy 19 miles away.
Early the next morning, I drove up the Red Cap road and was pleased to know it was paved for 15 of the 19 miles I had to drive.
The main problem was the narrowness of the road at times and the fact that there was no shoulder and not enough spots where one vehicle could squeeze by another one. I think they may still be logging this area and if so, I wouldn't want to face an oncoming logging truck so perhaps the best time to do this road is on a weekend.
Arriving at the trailhead, I found that it had taken me at least 45 minutes to drive the 19 miles and I had the good fortune of not meeting even one car all the way up. Gary Suttle's directions (from his book, "California's County Summits" ) were right on the mark. The start to the trail was very brushy but as soon as the first 500 feet of this part of the trail were traveled, the trail became a great path. Very well maintained by its appearence and obviously used by the horsie set. I followed the trail for close to 3 miles where the trail split off and the right branch, the better used branch, dropped off to Red Cap Lake. The left branch continued on and climbed the shoulder of Salmon Mtn. The trail wasn't in good a shape as it was up to the fork but it was still adequate. Using my GPS to home in on my pre-set coordinate for the summit, I found myself scrambling up
the steeper hillside as I made good elevation gain. In about 400 feet from where I left the trail, the last bit of hillside gave way to the rounded summit area that had a very large cairn adorning it with a big stick sticking out of the center of the cairn. I could also see a PVC pipe register but much more impressive were the views in all directions. Mt. Shasta and Mt. Eddy were a couple old friends to the east and a sea of mountains surrounded me on all the other points of the compass.
I dropped my pack and ate a Milky Way Midnight bar, before pulling the register out and opening it up. The first thing I noticed was that some critter had chewed part of one of the notebooks up pretty well but I could still make out the fact that it had been placed by Richard Carey of San Diego. Also noted were the names of Gordon McLeod
and Barbara Lilley of Simi Valley but the rest of their entry was totally digested by that critter that dined on that part of the notebook. Other familiar names like Dan Baxter and Dennis Poulin were noted as well as other county highpointers and lots of locals. I signed into the newer notebook (not partly eaten) and put everything back into the pvc pipe as carefully as I could. After about 40 minutes, it was time to head back down and I carefully picked my way back down the slope until I met up with the trail. The trail felt like a freeway and in 1 and a half from the summit, I was back at my vehicle. Great trail and great day as it was almost perfect hiking weather. Not hot, not cold.
Then I made the 19 mile drive back down to the highway and turned north and drove 45 miles to Happy Camp, where a relatively unmarked road led me nicely over the California border into Oregon (one sign notes O'brien 38 miles). I pulled into Cave Junction about an hour after I left Happy Camp and gassed and fueled and got ready to go find the spot west of Selma where I would meet Dennis Poulin that evening.
Stats: 7 miles 1650 feet elevation gain 2 hours up 1 1/2 down
Getting there: forever