Sun, Jun 9, 2019
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My last day in CA's North Coast region was a short one since I had about 8hrs of driving to get myself back home to San Jose. I was in the Klamath National Forest north of SR96 to climb a few CC-listed summits above the small community of Seiad Valley. I had camped the night at Cook and Green Pass, the highpoint of Seiad Valley Road as it crosses from SR96 north into Oregon. The PCT crosses over the pass here and runs along a good portion of today's route. The area is very scenic with open vistas across the northernmost parts of the state. My starting point would be Bee Camp, a primitive site reached by a rough, rocky road that runs from Cook and Green Pass on the south side of the crest to just below Red Butte on its southeast side. High-clearance is recommended, but 4WD is probably unnecessary. Mine was the only vehicle at Bee Camp when I arrived shortly before 6a. This far north, the sun had been up for half an hour already, lighting up Red Butte on the drive in and making it seem almost an hour later than it really was.
The old road actually continues up from Bee Camp for about a mile, though no longer driveable except perhaps by motorcycles. At the crest there is an old rock wall with a chain link gate, purpose not exactly obvious but perhaps to keep out cattle at one time. North of the crest extends the Red Buttes Wilderness, reaching to the Oregon Border. Established in 1984, advocates had hoped this would be the centerpiece of the Siskiyou Mountains National Monument, a designation the local residents of both CA and OR generally opposed, and so far nothing has come of it. It was at this juncture that I joined the PCT, marked by the iconic symbol nailed to a tree and an old signpost pointing out destinations in two directions. This was also the starting point for a cross-country ascent of Red Butte. Leaving that until the end of the hike, I headed south on the PCT to the Devils Peaks.
The three Devils Peaks are arrayed in a line along a ridge running south from the main crest of the Siskiyou Mtns. The PCT follows along this ridgeline as it drops south to the Klamath River, marking the lowest point of the PCT in the state. For a much easier drive but a more challenging hike, one can climb up from Seiad Valley with a steep, initial ascent to reach the ridgeline at Lower Devils Peak. Matthew Holliman had done this back in January of 2014, a low snow year. The PCT heads southwest from the chain link gate, skirting below Kangaroo Mtn on its way to Devils Peaks. Kangaroo and other interesting peaks can be found atop the main crest, worthy objectives in their own right and reason enough for me to come back again for a future visit. About 2/3mi south of Kangaroo Mtn and 1.5mi north of Upper Devils Peak, the trail reaches a junction with the Boundary National Recreation Trail which continues west along the Siskiyou Crest. I turned south to follow the PCT towards Devils Peaks. The trail skirts all three summits, leaving some steep and modestly brushy cross-country to reach the first two of these. As I headed south with Upper Devils rising in front of me, I passed the first of three backpackers making their way north along the trail. We exchanged only a quick pleasantry as we headed in opposite directions. I left the PCT as it begins to traverse around the west side of Upper Devils Peak, climbing the NNW Ridge to the summit in less than 15min. I found a 2008 register from Bighorn Bill, a prolific, somewhat mysterious peakbagger in far Northern California. With five pages of entires, it had been a year since the last person signed in, and 4yrs since Matthew before him. To shortcut the trail, I descended down the steep SW side of the peak which proved to be brushier than the ascent route, but easier since I was going downhill. Back on the trail, I continued south for another mile until the trail traversed around the east side of Middle Devils Peak. Here I came across the other two backpackers who pulled off the trail right where I started up to Middle Devils. I slipped on the loose earth right at the beginning, prompting one to ask if I was ok. I sheepishly smiled and said, "yes," thinking they must think I was a bit loose in the noodle. Less brush, but steeper than Upper Devils, it took a little longer with a few short rests to reach the rocky perch at the summit. I found no register on this one, so left one of my own before descending the South Ridge, a more open, easier line than the east side.
Lower Devils Peak has no such bushwhack or cross-country to reach its summit. It's not really much of a peak, sporting very little prominence and really just the end of a short ridgeline. A trail fork goes to the end where an empty cinder block structure is found. An old lookout, or? It has a nice window view of Mt. Shasta to the southeast and a fine view looking down on Seiad Valley and the Klamath River to the south. The benchmark is located a bit northwest of the structure at what may or may not be a slightly higher point. It would take me almost two hours to march myself back north along the trail to the chain link gate and my jump off point for Red Butte. A sort-of friendly white dog met me at the pass (no barking, but not really coming over to let me pet it, either). I assume its owner was somewhere nearby, but never saw him or her. At this point, Red Butte is about 2/3mi to the NNE. After a short stretch of brush, I jumped onto an interesting limestone ridgeline, mostly free of brush and excellent footing that rises about 500ft and takes me halfway to the summit. From the top of this ridge, the rock turns from white to redish (thus the name, Red Butte). The lower western butte was more directly in front of me to the north, the higher point tucked more shyly behind it to the right. I traversed across the SE Face of the lower butte, finding an ascent gully that could take me to the saddle between the two points without having to do anything more than easy class 3. It was fun, enjoyable scrambling, reminiscent of the Sierra High Country. My ascent from the saddle up the SE side of the higher point was stiffer class 3, but no real exposure and fairly solid rock. It was 11:10a by the time I pulled myself onto the rocky summit where a large windbreak has been constructed. There was the expected benchmark and a register filled with so much loose paper that I didn't bother unzipping the bag to sign one of the scraps. The summit is understandably popular - not far from the TH, good scrambling and commanding views over the northernmost expanse of the Siskiyou Mountains. At over 6,700ft, only Preston Peak rises higher to the west. One can see the northern half of the Siskiyou Mountains spilling into Oregon to the north with snowy Mt. Mcloughlin visible in the distance to the northeast. The ever-present Mt. Shasta was of course visible to the southeast, and more snow in the Marble Mtns and Trinity Alps to the south. It was a splendid morning to be atop such a peak and I enjoyed it a good deal.
When it was time to leave, I descended down boulders off the east side of the peak, then turning southeast to avoid cliffs and heavier brush in the lower half. It took only about 25min to get myself from the summit back down to Bee Camp where my jeep was waiting with a semi-warm shower jug. The shower was refreshing at any temperature, and a fresh change of clothes and more caffeinated beverages in the cooler had me ready for the long drive home. This is certainly not an easy place to reach from most parts of the state, but worthwhile if one has the time. Even as I was driving home, I was already making plans for a return visit in a few weeks...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Red Butte
This page last updated: Mon Jun 17 15:53:38 2019
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