Pack Up: To Rise Above

I expected my first winter in Oregon to be filled with snow. The light, airy kind of the Pacific Northwest. The kind that plumps up the tree branches and melts by mid-afternoon. Vastly different from the wet, heavy snow of West Virginia. That snow is good for knocking the power out and accumulating for days, sometimes weeks on end, turning grey and icy.

But it’s Feb. 2, and currently 56 degrees, with a high of 62 today. It’s frightening to know that the coldest, snowiest winter months have seen sunshine and warm weather. If that doesn’t make you believe in climate change, nothing will.

But rise about 3,000 ft above the city of Ashland, Oregon to the Pilot Rock trail head and you’ll see patches of snow, at least in December, when we last hiked the trail. The trail head sits at 4,909 ft and is usually a pleasant and easy-going hike to the base of the rock climb, gaining only about 1,000 ft.

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The view from the top of Pilot Rock. 

The trail intersects numerous other trails, including the Pacific Crest Trail, and flows through rolling forests. In December, the trail was covered in snow. And I would not recommend hiking in the winter. Optimal months are the end of spring, summer, and beginning of fall. But, when hiking with three Outdoor Adventure Leadership majors, who are all male and fueled by each other’s testosterone, one keeps going despite the nagging feeling of impending danger.

Pilot rock is a volcanic plug located in the Western Cascade Range near the east end of the Siskiyou Mountains, and distinguishable from over 40 miles, according to Wikipedia. It’s one of the oldest formations of the Cascade Range. A landmark used by Native Americans and pioneers, it’s visible from nearly any point in Ashland, and the surrounding hills.

The trail itself is only 1.25 miles one way and takes no time at all, an easy to moderate day hike. However, at the end of the trail is a bit of a scramble to summit the rock. Not for the faint of heart, the reward at the top is a 360-degree view of the surrounding Shasta and Rogue Valleys. Miles of Southern Oregon and Northern California can be viewed including Mt. Shasta, Mt. Ashland and Mt. McLoughlin.

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Mt. Shasta in the left-hand corner. 

There are certainly some sketchy parts to this climb when dry, but for a seasoned climber, or any fit and able-bodied individual, it’s absolutely doable, and well worth it. But when it’s covered in snow and/or wet it’s even more of a challenge, one that shouldn’t be attempted without the proper gear. Yet, we did it anyway. Luckily, Marcus, O.A.L. major at Southern Oregon University and friend, let me have one of his trekking poles.

As I was taking pictures of the falling sun over the mountains, Zach pulled out Pilot Rock Porters for us all, a local brew by Caldera.

Going down was even worse because we’d started so late we were chasing daylight, and the ice, of course, presented problems of sliding down the rock rather than strategically climbing. As dangerous as it was, we weren’t the only ones climbing. Be aware of loose rocks falling. Although there is an abundance of handholds, and most of the climb is relatively leveled.

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The last of the climb, viewed from the summit. 

Dogs and horses are allowed on the trail, but neither probably wouldn’t make it up the climb, especially in the snow.

Allow approximately two hours round trip for this trail, but I always like to sit at the top and take in the views for a while before descending.

I highly recommend this trek in the dry months. It is a beautiful way to survey the surrounding area.

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