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California Hiking Klamath Mountains Siskiyou mountains Trip report

Siskiyou Wilderness Day 1 – Polar Bear Gap 07/01/2022

For the Fourth of July weekend we took an extra day off and headed to the Siskiyou Wilderness in California for our first backpacking trip of the year. This would be our first visit to the 179,847 acre wilderness after having had to cancel planned trips several years in a row due to weather, fire, and smoke. All of the previously planned trips had been on the schedule for late Summer and since that didn’t seem to be working out we decided to try an earlier time of the year. Sullivan features three hikes in the wilderness: Polar Bear Gap, Raspberry Lake, and Devil’s Punchbowl and our plan was to check them all off our to-do list on this trip.

Friday morning we made the long drive back into California to the Black Butte Trailhead near the northern end of the wilderness area. The 2020 Slater Fire burned over the road to this trailhead and into the wilderness.
IMG_5047Black Butte from the Black Butte Trailhead.

There was one other vehicle at the trailhead and it had a small animal trailer with hay attached to it. Heather guessed goat and was proved correct when we ran into a couple and their three goats not a quarter mile up the trail. Those would be the only people we encountered on this first day. As for the Black Butte Trail it was in pretty good shape to start considering the fire as it led uphill toward the shoulder of Black Butte.
IMG_5051

IMG_5053Penstemon

narrowleaf blue eyed MaryNarrowleaf blue eyed Mary

IMG_5063Siskiyou mountain ragwort

IMG_5068Wedgeleaf violet

IMG_5069Sanger Peak

IMG_5079More penstemon

IMG_5080Phlox

After cresting below Black Butte the trail made a slight descent to a junction with the Black Butte Tie Trail 1.8 miles from the trailhead.
IMG_5085Youngs Peak

IMG_5096It turned out to be a beargrass year, at least in the northern part of the wilderness.

IMG_5099Clustered broomrape

IMG_5101Paintbrush

IMG_5103Lizard

IMG_5105El Capitan with the snow behind Bear Cub. Bear Mountain is the high point in the center distance with Rocky Knob to the right front of it. Youngs Peak is the high point to the far right of the frame at the end of the ridge.

IMG_5110Looking up at Black Butte.

IMG_5113Rayless arnica

IMG_5118Big deervetch

IMG_5121The junction with the tie trail.

We would be coming up the tie trail on Monday on the way back to our car but for now we forked left sticking to the Black Butte Trail. Our Forest Service Map indicated that the next 2.5 miles of trail was “infrequently maintained” but the first three quarters of a mile to Polar Bear Gap were fine.

IMG_5127Polar Bear Mountain ahead.

IMG_5129Azalea

IMG_5133A sulphur butterfly

IMG_5140Thimbleberry blossoms

IMG_5152A tortoiseshell on thimbleberry.

IMG_5155Wallflower

IMG_5156The trail steepened considerably as it made the final climb to the gap.

IMG_5158Lupine

IMG_5163Lewis flax

IMG_5169Lookout Mountain

IMG_5173Paintbrush

IMG_5177A carpet of narrowleaf blue eyed Mary at Polar Bear Gap

IMG_5180Nuttall’s sandwort surrounded by blue eyed Mary.

IMG_5181Serpentine phacelia

IMG_5182Polar Bear Gap

Polar Bear Gap sits between Lookout Mountain to the north and Polar Bear Mountain to the south and provided us our best view eastward of the entire trip.
IMG_5190Lookout Mountain

IMG_5188Polar Bear Mountain

IMG_5183Looking east toward Mt. Shasta.

IMG_5185Mt. Shasta

IMG_5193Looking west toward Sanger Peak.

Sickle-leaved OnionSickle-leaved Onion

IMG_5200There were lots of lizards in the area.

After a much needed rest at the gap (we aren’t used to carrying full backpacks) we headed down the opposite side of the gap toward Twin Valley.
IMG_5202

On this side of the gap we traded the 2020 Slater fire scar for the 2018 Natchez fire.
IMG_5205Heading down into Twin Valley

IMG_5218Paintbrush and penstemon along the trail.

IMG_5220Queen’s cup

IMG_5227Frog

As we neared the first of two meadows in the valley the infrequent maintenance became obvious. The good news was that there were a good number of cairns set up but it was slow going at times trying to locate the next one.
IMG_5232

IMG_5233

IMG_5235Larkspur

IMG_5239The yellow is a cinquefoil I believe but I don’t know what the other dark flower is.

IMG_5241Meadow in Twin Valley.

The trail passed between the smaller upper and larger lower meadows and continued a slight descent along the lower meadow where we began looking for a junction with the Poker Flat Trail.
IMG_5245Heading down to a stream crossing between the two meadows.

IMG_5259Scarlet gilia

IMG_5264Beargrass

IMG_5271Creek crossing.

IMG_5277Shooting star and marsh marigold.

IMG_5289A hairstreak butterfly

IMG_5295Columbine and cinquefoil

With the trails being faint we were also keeping an eye on our GPS units which both showed that we had gotten below and past the trail junction. Heather decided to strike off cross country first to see if she could find the trail and I soon followed. We lost sight of each other for just a moment and wound up crossing paths without realizing it. She wound up finding the trail junction and turned up the Poker Flat Trail before getting my attention. I made my way over to her and we were back on track.
IMG_5298Cut logs helped identify where the trail was supposed to be.

Wolley-head cloverWolley-head clover

IMG_5305Oregon violet

IMG_5306Polar Bear Gap from the Poker Flat Trail.

Sullivan describes the climb out of Twin Valley as being “as graceless as a bobsled run in a quarry”. That was an apt description and making the climb with full packs didn’t help. We were very relieved when the trail crested a ridge end after three quarters of a mile.
IMG_5316Looking up toward the ridge end.

IMG_5317Iris at the ridge end.

IMG_5319Red Buttes (post) to the NE.

IMG_5320Red Buttes

IMG_5322Lookout Mountain from the ridge end.

IMG_5329Bee visiting penstemon.

After another break at the ridge end we sallied forth. The trail descended for approximately a mile before climbing fairly steeply again for half a mile to Private Lake. We took a short side trail down to the small lake where we again rested.
IMG_5336The Lieutenants and El Capitain

IMG_5343Clustered broomrape

20220701_131140We were starting to see a lot of bear sign.

IMG_5354An as-of-yet unidentified flower.

IMG_5360This may be sticky blue eyed Mary.

IMG_5378Mariposa lily

IMG_5385More faint trail.

IMG_5393

IMG_5395Time to climb.

IMG_5400Anemone

IMG_5405Meadow along the Poker Flat Trail.

IMG_5413Approaching Private Lake.

IMG_5418Siskiyou lewisia

IMG_5423Private Lake below The Lieutenants.

IMG_5427

IMG_5430

After we’d eaten and rested we resumed our trek and climbed steeply for a half mile to a pass between The Lieutenants and Bear Cub.
IMG_5446

IMG_5450Scarlet gilia and penstemon

IMG_5459Heather heading for the pass.

IMG_5467Arnica

IMG_5470Nearing the pass.

IMG_5475Bear Cub

IMG_5478Youngs Peak just to the left of the snag.

The trail descended to a small snow melt tarn then continued down a rocky ridge.
IMG_5498

IMG_5509Bear Cub on the right.

IMG_5530Youngs Peak behind the tree.

Approximately 1.4 miles from the pass we arrived at an old road bed that is now the Raspberry Lake Trail.
IMG_5534Finally out of the fire scars.

IMG_5540Snow plant

IMG_5543

We should have turned right here for two tenths of a mile then taken a left onto another old road bed but after the long drive and challenging hike we weren’t thinking all that clearly and mistook this junction for the next and turned left. We realized our mistake after a little more than 100 yards and backtracked past the junction to the correct left hand turn onto the road bed that doubles as the Clear Creek National Recreation Trail near a large meadow in Youngs Valley.
IMG_5549Sign for Raspberry Lake at the Raspberry Lake Trail/Clear Creek National Recreation Trail junction where we correctly turned left.

At the southern end of the meadow the Clear Creek Trail leaves the road bed and continues south following Clear Creek ending almost 20 miles later at No Mans Trailhead. We stayed on the road bed as it continued around the meadow. After crossing a branch of Clear Creek we started looking for a campsite.
IMG_5552Footbridge over the creek.

IMG_5553Bear Cub from Youngs Valley.

IMG_5583Camp

There were plenty of open sites as we appeared to be the only people around. There were other creatures about though.
IMG_5559Dragon fly

IMG_5567El Capitan

IMG_5570Bucks in the meadow.

IMG_5571

IMG_5584Caterpillar

We did a little exploring to check out the wildflowers in and around the meadow.
IMG_5562Spotted coralroot

IMG_5566Wedgeleaf violets

20220701_195317Maybe a cinquefoil

20220701_195608Bistort

20220701_195653Shooting star

IMG_5581Monkeyflower

IMG_5565There were quite a few of these tiny flowers. I haven’t been able to identify this one yet.

After getting water, eating dinner, and setting up the tent we were plenty tired so we turned in early. The hike had been a little over 9 miles with approximately 3000′ of elevation gain spread out over several steep climbs.

Day 1 Track in light blue

It had been a great start from a scenery standpoint but we were not used to carrying the larger packs so before bed we decided that we were going to tweak our plans just a bit and instead of packing up camp in the morning and moving 5+ miles to the south just to pack up again and come back to Youngs Valley for the last night this would be our base for the entire trip. We were looking forward to seeing what else this wilderness had in store over the next three days. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Polar Bear Gap

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