Looking for an OR backpacking trip the first week of June 2023 while our deep, wonderful snowpack melts proved a challenge. First attempt was Rogue River, but had done that last year, and the road conditions were sketchy. Watching snowpack reports, reading trip reports, and watching FarOut postings (there were like 3 from this PCT section). Last minute, the Southern OR PCT surfaced through the ‘safety’, ‘potentially interesting’, and ‘new ground to cover on OR PCT’.
Original plan assumed two possible snow conditions: a) NOBO (northbound) would be snow covered around Keno Access Road (nobo m 1753), and b) Old Baldy at 6300 would definitely have a snowy pass. There was also an assumption that there would be some other PCT hikers – either locals or folks skipping Sierras until after more snow melts. The SOBO (southbound) limit was originally pegged around Mt Ashland at snowpack level. A good plan that at most was 4.5 days (4 nights). I carried enough supplies for that trip – pack weighed 28.2 pounds w/ water.
Conditions on the ground were not exactly as expected / assumed. First, the entire 3 days, I saw 1 PCT hiker (he bugged out at Walker Pass and had just restarted at I-5), and I saw 2 other backpackers (a couple hiking Hyatt Lake to Fish Lake). There were day hikers but only at the Hobart Bluff trailhead area. Snow started at 5400 ft. The trail north of Keno Access Road was little used this season so far by either stock or people. FarOut water reports were also way outdated or just wrong, especially north of Hyatt Lake.
Risk management decision day 1: Given those ‘on ground’ conditions, at the end of day 1, I found myself facing the climb to Old Baldy with insufficient water supply given the unreliable water reports and expected snow – as well a good distance to next campsite. With another person, I would have trudged ahead – solo, i turned around and went SOBO. Day 1 went from Hwy 66 pass to PCT nobo m 1756, then back down to Klum Landing to camp. The campground was unopened, so I was the only camper, but a couple of mushroom hunters came by.
Day 2 continued sobo from Klum Landing passed the car (after resupply) to seasonal stream meadows past Soda Mountain within the Soda Mountain Wilderness.
Day 3 continued sobo to Pilot Rock trailhead, where I turned around and went NOBO back to car. Why did not I go further SOBO as originally planned. After spending day 1 and 2 walking through and around developed recreational areas and private lands, I did not want to do that again. Past Pilot Rock, the PCT enters urban and ski resort areas – a big break in the wilderness.
Trail conditions: between Pilot Rock and Keno Access Road, the PCT is in good condition with only 1-2 blowdowns that took some effort. North of Keno Access Rd, the trail needs traffic – especially horses that make the fastest blowdown detours. Wildflowers were in full bloom and just amazing – i have never seen So OR so green!
All said and done, three full days covering 30 new OR PCT miles both NOBO and SOBO. 7 hours of driving, 23 hours of hiking for a carbon karma ratio of 3.3 (just above 3.0 goal).
Around the lakes
Mt McLoughlin (Wikipedia) is the mountain over Hyatt Lake; the low water is Howard Prairie Lake
Deer were almost everywhere and while I did not see any of their predators, there were signs. Turkeys were scattered several places along the trail, and this pileated woodpecker leaves no mystery about its name.
Weather went from clear and warm, to cold and foggy, and then back to sunny, but cool – wind was present the entire time. Air quality and visibility were limiting factors as well. The best view to Mt Shasta is bottom right.
Flowers were everywhere, literally! Those big yellow ones (lower right) covered exposed buttes / hills like Hobart Butte.
So OR PCT is confusing. The Soda Mountain Wilderness is surrounded by developed recreational sites and is not that large. This section can be hot, dry and dusty outside of a few weeks when the flowers are blooming, the grass green and the insects not yet biting. This was my week – perfect! If a hiker can go in May / early June and is ok with few people, unstable weather, and amazing flowers, then go! If a hiker can only go in July or August, there are better places to go, imho.