Farewell to the High Country

November on McDonald Peak

McDonald Peak from the knoll.

Snow has not yet come to the high country of the Siskiyous. This is worrisome for the winter we are about to have, but it is also an opportunity. On November 6 we took advantage of that opportunity, with a ramble along the Split Rock Trail from Road 20 to the summit of McDonald Peak.

The Bolt at the Split Rock trailhead.


The Split Rock Trail begins at a tiny parking area just west of the ridge that forms the west wall of Grouse Gap, the large basin west of Mt Ashland. It ends at the summit of Wagner Butte, five miles to the north along the same ridge. A “use trail” for many years, maintained by hikers’ feet, it has recently been adopted into the Rogue River-Siskiou National Forest trail system, and now rates a trailhead sign and occasional maintenance. McDonald Peak is roughly a mile in. It is 7226 feet high, but that is less impressive than it may sound; the trail goes almost directly over its summit, and the entire route from trailhead to summit stays above 7000 feet.

I suffer from Reynaud’s Syndrome, which cuts off the circulation to the tips of my fingers if I get too cold, so we didn’t leave the house until after noon. The drive up was uneventful (although I do wish Road 20 would get some proper maintenance for what are developing into some pretty bad potholes), and we were on the trail by 1:30. There was haze in the valleys, but we were above most of that, and the views were glorious, stretching from Mt Shasta to the Crater Lake rim and almost everything in between. A flock of bluebirds swirled past as we climbed the south slope of the small knob we call “Little McDonald Peak” near the trailhead: they flew in 15s and 20s, fifteen or twenty feet in the air and then fifteen or twenty seconds on a convenient rock or red-fir limb. Near the same spot we found a few sulphur flowers still partially in bloom.

Western bluebird.
Sulphur flower

The actual summit of McDonald Peak is a rock outcrop about fifteen feet high, which the Split Rock Trail bypasses on the west side. It’s an easy scramble, so of course we summited. This was the site of the “geezer climb” my old friend and former climbing companion Cliff Olin and I made together in August 2017, roughly 50 years after our last previous climb together (and a lot easier than that one was!). Being there brought back pleasant memories of that trip.

The summit of McDonald Peak.
One lone phlox in bloom just below the summit.

Right: Cliff Olin and me summiting two different mountains. The top photo was taken on Sacajawea Peak in the Wallowa Mountains in 1966; the bottom photo is from our “geezer climb” in 2017.
Looking west from the summit.
Above and below: two views of McDonald Peak from the Split Rock trail.

It was still early when we got back to the car, so we added the half-mile round trip to the top of the gentle, nameless knoll west of McDonald Peak along the main crest of the Siskiyous. The electric propulsion system of the Bolt performed its magic on the way home, actually adding fuel to the battery instead of using it up as we came down the Mt Ashland Ski Road and the stretch of I-5 between Siskiyou Summit and Ashland, so we reached our garage with about the same charge showing on the range indicator as it had shown at the trailhead (just try to do that in a gas-powered vehicle). What I hope is the first of our winter storms is expected to come through at the end of this week, so this was probably our farewell trip to the high country for 2019.

Mt Shasta from the knoll.