For people living in Klamath Falls it’s not necessary to hop in the car and drive for an hour to places like the Mountain Lakes or Sky Lakes Wilderness areas to get in a good hike.
Instead, it’s just a short drive — or, for some, a short walk — to trailheads at the base of Hogback Mountain for a hike that’s challengingly steep, offers spectacular views and, just to prevent things from getting boring, provides a variety of routes.
From the most popular starting point, the parking lot at the Foothills Christian Fellowship church on Patterson Street, it’s an elevation gain of more than 1,800 vertical feet to Hogback’s 6,194-foot summit. Depending on the route, a round-trip hike is about 4 to 5 miles.
While some race up the mountain, including the growing population of Klamath Basin ultra runners, most people take at least three to four hours for the trek, either done as an out-and-back or as a loop. It’s an outing that can be done year-round, although snowshoes are necessary during the snowiest periods and caution is necessary during winter months, including January and February, when sections of the trail are ice-hardened.
Choose your path
From the church parking lot, hikers have choices. The most direct is nearly straight up a steep trail. Over the years, the grade has been made easier with the addition of several optional switchbacks.
Our group, led by Bill Van Moorhem, took a less-steep but slightly longer route, veering right from the parking lot and briefly following a road that connects to an easily visible trail that angles more gently uphill to another junction near a rocky outcrop. (The downhill trail at the junction leads to Kimberly Drive, another potential starting point.) The huff-and-puff trail climbs steadily, eventually reaching a dirt road and a wire fence.
The route through the open fence follows a dirt road through a valley. Along the valley are three options for reaching Hogback’s summit. The first is a rock cairn that marks a trail up to the ridge that leads north to the top. Further along the valley another trail to the ridge is easily visible. A third choice is to follow the road all the way to the summit. We chose the second, partly because of blustering, frigid winds. At the junction with the ridge we followed the trail, stepping carefully to avoid packed, ice-slickened, frozen snow.
Pause and appreciate
In any conditions, along the ridge it’s worthwhile to pause to take in westward views. Just immediately is Klamath Falls and Lake Ewauna, with expansive farm fields to the south and Upper Klamath Lake north. More distant are the snow-covered Cascades stretching across the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area and past Crater Lake National Park. On clear days, Mount McLoughlin’s pyramid top peeks above. South is omnipresent Mount Shasta. On this day, lenticular clouds eventually surrounded Shasta’s upper reaches, first gently cloaking the summit like a nearly transparent gown before eventually leaving it disguised and shapeless.
The route to the summit passes the deteriorating remains of the Lone Pine, a once tall tree that was visible from Klamath Falls. It now lies broken and collapsed, with only a snarly snag still standing. For some, the Lone Pine is a place to turn around, but for most it’s a place to pause and refresh for the final push.
A fire lookout, an array of telecommunications towers and restroom are part of the summit complex. The 30-foot-tall lookout, which is seasonally occupied, was moved from Sycan Butte and installed atop Hogback by the Oregon Department of Forestry and Klamath Forest Protection Association in 1988 after the original 41-foot tower was condemned.
Instead of dropping into the valley on our downhill hike, we stayed along the ridge, partly to avoid the gusting winds, but even more to enjoy the views. Along the ridge are various downhill options. At a junction beyond the route that drops into the valley, we followed an obvious trail that weaves down, eventually reaching the dirt road. Instead of following the road south to the junction with the trail we took going uphill, we followed the zigzag route back to the parking lot.
Even on a blustery January weekday with a 9 a.m. start, our small group met up with two groups of hikers returning after early morning summits. Two people hiking individually joined us while we lounged at the summit, and we later passed another solo hiker working his way up from the church parking lot. On sunnier spring and summer days it’s not unusual to see dozens of people at all times of day.
With its easy access, it’s a mountain where hikers can enjoy living high on the Hog.