Summer Solstice on the Siskiyou Crest
|The view west from the summit of Observation Peak
Recently my wife and I took a backpacking trip across the eastern Siskiyou Crest for summer solstice and a spectacular full moon. This was the first full moon to land on summer solstice since 1948, and it was perhaps the only time in my lifetime that I will experience the longest summer day and a big, round, full moon.
From the summit of Observation Peak, in a windswept clearing of paintbrush, buckwheat and low, creeping sage, we watched the sun sink to the west, into the rugged blue ridges of the Siskiyou Mountains, casting long shadows into the deep canyons below. Simultaneously, the low and massive full moon rose to the east over the broad ridges of the southern Cascade Mountains, reflecting moonlight on the snow-capped summit of Mt. Shasta — white glaciers were bathed in the light of the full moon and the final fleeting streaks of summer solstice sunlight.
|The rare and endemic Jaynes Canyon Buckwheat (Eriogonum diclinum) blooming on Big Ridge in the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area.
From our vantage point on Observation Peak we could see the connection between land and sea, sun and moon, the ancient, eroded Siskiyou and the youthful volcanic features of the Cascade Mountains. The connectivity the Siskiyou provides can be seen as the ridges unfolded before us, connecting the major ranges of the Pacific Northwest. The connectivity can also be seen in the vegetation as little sagebrush and balsamroot mingle with mountain hemlock, huckleberry, and Shasta red fir. Plants from all the cardinal directions converge on these slopes, creating a biological tapestry of exceptional diversity. Endemic species such as splithair paintbrush, Henderson’s horkelia and other rarities were blooming at our feet, yet they can be found nowhere outside this unusual mountain range.
Each summit on the eastern Siskiyou Crest has it own geologic history and bedrock, with its own corresponding plant communities and distinctive character. No mountain range on the west coast supports such a rich, undisturbed flora. These mountains have long harbored disjunct plant populations, remnants of former climatic regimes isolated within the varied habitats of the Siskiyou and its transitional nature.
|Looking north from the PCT to Wagner Butte and the McDonald Peak Roadless Area.
We hiked for over 50 miles from Mt. Ashland to lower Elliott Creek across the Siskiyou Crest. The high country was vibrant with fresh melting snow and the first round of summer flowers blooming on the ridges and in high mountain meadows. Although spring has turned to summer in the lower Siskiyou foothills, where the gulches are running low, flowers are setting seed, and grasses have turned golden on sun baked slopes, the high mountains along the Siskiyou Crest have just begun their summer display. They have shed their white, winter shawl, which fills the creeks and springs with cold, flowing water and nourishes the flora for the benefit of birds, pollinators and other wildlife dependent on the Siskiyou’s diverse plant communities.
The Pacific Crest Trail traverses the eastern Siskiyou Crest through forests, meadows, glades, rock outcrops and open ridgelines. The trail connects botanical areas and roadless wildlands just as the Siskiyou Crest connects the Cascades Mountains to the Coast Range. In the 50 miles from Cook and Green Pass to Mt. Ashland, the trail enters six roadless areas, five botanical areas and the Condrey Mountain Blue Schist Geologic Area. The conservation values of the Siskiyou Crest are simply not matched with adequate protection or appropriate management. In fact, many of these values are currently threatened by inappropriate off-road vehicle use, public land grazing, industrial logging, mining, proposed ski resort expansion and other forms of misuse.
|From the Big Red Mountain Roadless Area looking west across the Siskiyou Crest.
In the era of climate change and industrialization, the connectivity the Siskiyou Moutains
provide will allow genetic and biologic diversity to flow freely across the
landscape. This flow of diversity will likely be vital to natural
climate adaptation and dispersal. The key to protecting diversity in the era of climate change may be
in protecting the connectivity of our last wild landscapes and
undisturbed habitats. The Siskiyou Mountains are a monumental landscape
and should be preserved in perpetuity. A large protected area should be
designated on the border of California and Oregon, extending from the
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument to Redwood National Park. The
connectivity these mountains provide is priceless, the diversity
unparalleled, and the wildness still tangible. If we protect the Siskiyou Crest these important values will remain, if we do not, they may be lost forever.
Take a trip along the Siskiyou Crest on the PCT and get to know the region more intimately. You’ll be glad you did! I recommend the route from Mt. Ashland to Cook and Green Pass, or if you have a little more time, all the way down to Seiad Valley and the Klamath River via Devils Ridge.
|Looking down Silver Fork Glade and the Observation Peak Roadless Area to Dutchman’s Peak.
|Looking west from the PCT near Alex Hole, across the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area.