The Siskiyou Mountain Club has opened an 80-mile hiking route that connects two of Oregon’s iconic natural wonders — the Oregon Caves and Cascade-Siskiyou national monuments. The route starts at Pilot Rock, a 500-foot basalt formation that distracts many a driver as they pass I-5 at the Oregon-California border. From there, the route traverses west and meanders through the Red Buttes Wilderness, ending at the Oregon Caves Visitor Center.
The Siskiyou Mountain Club calls the route the Cascade to Caves Monument Route.
“It features some of the most remote back country on the Pacific Coast,” says the club’s executive director, Gabriel Howe. “It’s rugged, remote, and not for your average smartphone hiker.”
He encourages hikers to use Forest Service and U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps, and “to leave the phone at home for this one.”
The route uses about 50 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, from Pilot Rock to Cook ‘n Green Pass, then continues along the Siskiyou highlands along a commanding complex of rocky summits rising higher than 7,000 feet. It then drops into an expansive basin peppered by cedars so big they’re often mistaken for California Redwoods. From there, the route rises back to the high Siskiyous before reaching a labyrinth of marble veneered caves that were once under the sea.
Remote and wild
The hiking route features untouched primeval forests, mountain lakes, ridgetop springs, panoramic views, and an experience “more remote and wild than most thru hikers are used to,” says Howe.
In 2016, Howe’s cadres of homegrown volunteers and ragtag college interns started working to restore the route’s western section. Laina Rose was one of those interns.
She worked 10 days of her 2019 season in the Red Buttes, using old-fashioned crosscut saws and other hand tools. The crew backpacked their own food and supplies into remote work sites. Rose worked a schedule of 10 days on with four days off, June through August. “The area was beautiful,” she says. “Lonesome Lake stands out.”
Rose worked on the Cascades to Caves Route in the heat of July.
“The azaleas were blooming, and the mornings at the lake were amazing,” she says.
She was waking up before dawn and put in 12-hour days to see the project through.
Brush, dead logs
Rose and the crews previous had their work cut out to fill in gaps of the route. About 25 miles of trail sections from the PCT to the Oregon Caves had filled in with thick brush. Fire damage had left piles of dead logs spanning miles. And a decades-long maintenance drought in the area had taken their toll.
“The work was intense,” says Rose. “It was the hardest hitch for me.” A handful of the Club’s members recently hike the route’s western section. They remind hikers that there will always be some brush and primitive sections of trail.
“This isn’t for thru-hikers who are accustomed to their social apps telling them what to do and where to go,” adds Howe. “They’re going to have to look up to find their way.” He says he wants hikers to absorb the landscape. “I hate seeing people glued to their phones.”
Maps of the route are available on the Club’s website at siskiyoumountainclub.org/signatureroutes, where you can also find information on four other signature backpacking routes that they worked on this year.
Brian Long, a seasoned recreation manager for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, says he’s hiked some of the trail.
“The route provides the public another great opportunity,” he says, and adds that it has plant communities seen nowhere else in the world.
The project was supported by the Rogue and Klamath national forests, as well as REI and the Club’s 800-person membership.
“At REI, we fight for life outdoors,” said Veronica Malone, REI Medford’s store manager. REI has contributed $19,200 to the project. “The Cascade to Caves Monument route is a unique trail system that allows thru-hikers and weekend explorers to come together on a shared path with stunning views.”
Next year the Club celebrates its 10th anniversary, and they’re planning group backpacking trips June through September on the signature routes they’ve brought back to life, including the Cascade to Caves Route, the Illinois River Trail in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, the Young Kelsey Route in the Siskiyou Wilderness and the Leach Loop in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.
“We can’t wait to get our team and community outside to enjoy it,” adds Malone.
Sign-ups for the group backbacking trips in 2020, and additional details, are available at siskiyoumountainclub.org/signatureroutes.