Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mt. Shasta Area Camping Trip - Day 9 & 10 - South Gate Meadow , Panther Meadows

We woke up to cold foggy weather with the threat of rain. After breakfast we drove up to Upper Old Ski Bowl and parked. We set off on the South Gate Meadow Trail.

Beginning of the South Gate Meadows Trail

The rock lined trail leads steadily uphill towards Yellow Butte.

Yellow Butte the West Side

Several spur trails lead off to the left presumably toward Green Butte and Shastarama Point.

Looking Back at Green Butte

The trail leads to the top of a saddle where I noticed a short but somewhat treacherous cross country route to the top of Yellow Butte I intend to hike in the future. In fact, it is my goal to hike all of the buttes in the Shasta area including Yellow, Green, Red, Gray, Black, Mackenzie and possibly several others.

Cross Country Route up the Northern Spine of Yellow Butte

Near the top of the saddle the treeless rocky landscape was littered with Western Anemones which are some of the most interesting plants.

Western Anemone

Western Anemone

These are the seed heads of the Western Anemone (aka Windflower) which has a white flower when in bloom. The trail now enters Mount Shasta Wilderness.

Entering Mt. Shasta Wilderness

We descended and passed a group of hikers heading in the opposite direction. These would be the only people we would see on our endeavor that day. The trail then leads down beside Hummingbird Spring surrounded by a beautiful meadow. The display of wildflowers was once again magnificent.

Humming Bird Meadow & Red Butte

Hummingbird Spring

View from Humming Bird Spring

Soon we came to a signed junction with a trail leading right toward the saddle below Gray Butte and Lower Panther Meadow. We went left toward the South Gate Meadows.

Trail Junction

In view below was a strange flat bowl area which portrayed a landscape like that of the moon. We later found out the area is known as “Valley of the Moon” or “Spaceman Flat”.

Valley of the Moon a.k.a. Spaceman Flat

With Red Butte looming over us we headed uphill toward “The Gate”.

Approaching The South Gate

Red Butte will surely prove to be a difficult climb someday as there seemed to be no easy way up it. Although the landscape was treeless and seemed quite desolate, the environment was full of many different species of succulent type plants and wildflowers. We passed through the gate and descended into a beautiful old growth forest of Red Firs blanketed in chartreuse colored lichen. This segment was eerily silent save for the quiet chatter and subtle movement of several Gray Jays in the foliage above. The path traverses a fairly steep hillside and soon crosses two springs with a lovely flow of running water. We continued on through a forested area and soon came to our destination Squaw Creek Meadow.

Squaw Creek Meadows

Squaw Creek

At the base of the meadow was a well intended yet poorly designed sign that stated the meadow was undergoing restoration and to stay on the designated trail. The problem was that there was no designated path. Instead, trails and small use paths veered off in every which direction. It was a sad sight to see as the meadow was being literally trampled to death. The delicate Heather which is greatly responsible for controlling erosion and holding the meadow in place take hundreds of years to grow just a few inches. One careless step will damage them for many generations possibly even a lifetime. As they say “These plants grow by the inch and die by the foot”; So please mind your step and if you can't identify Heather, then familiarize yourself with it beforehand or stick to paved roads! Unfortunately many of the use paths trample through pristine patches of the mountain Heather. We feel the forest service or another volunteer organization should define a single path so as to really try and restore the Squaw Creek Meadow. Despite the meadow being in slight disrepair, it was beautiful.

Several springs emerge from the ground with two main brooks that join at the bottom of the meadow to form Squaw Creek.

Joining of the Springs

We explored the meadow while trying to stay on what seemed like the most defined path. Paintbrush lined the grassy banks of the stream.


The cascades at the top of the meadow were wonderful.

Cascade at the Top of the Meadow

At the Foot of the Cascade

Top of the Meadow Nearing the Cascade

There are several backcountry campsites surrounding the meadow. We even saw an overturned tent with no one in sight. Hopefully someone will come back to claim it. The meadow basically splits into two as it is separated by an elevated forested area. It is here we rested and took shelter from the wind.

We walked back down the far stream toward the bottom of the meadow which was full of cascading water and beautiful scenery.

Descending Along the Stream

There is a use trail that follows Squaw Creek downhill, however, it too looked to be a poorly designed trail which compromises the health of the environment.

With the threat of rain still very eminent and the sky getting darker we decided to head back. We retraced our steps through the forested area and up above tree line. The prominent rock outcropping known as “The Thumb” came clearly into view.

The Thumb

We passed by Hummingbird Spring and I couldn’t resist taking several more photos.

Hummingbird Spring Emerging from the Ground

Hummingbird Meadow

Once back at the saddle below Yellow Butte the view below was incredible. The sun's rays were shining just right and cast a mystical light down upon Lake Siskiyou far below. It resembled a scene right out of a movie.

Natural Mystic

Mystical Light

We soon came to our car and the end of our hike, but certainly not the end of our night!
Again we drove back down to lower elevation and collected firewood. Back at Panther Meadow as we were just finishing dragging the last of our firewood back to camp it started to drizzle. We quickly started our fire and packed our things under our “front porch”. The drizzling dispersed and we were immersed in a thick eerie bank of fog. While the fire blazed we practiced Qi Gong in the fog. Soon there after the drizzling started up again this time leading to heavier rain. We placed the remaining wood on the fire and retreated to our front porch for drinks. As the rain continued to pour we remained dry and fully enjoyed ourselves under the shelter of our tarp.

Tea Time in the Rain

Base Camp

After a long day of hiking and a fun night of drinking, we retired to the tent.
The rain did not let up. In fact it proceeded to rain harder and harder as the night went on. Despite the extra effort of setting up extra tarps over our tent, the rain eventually found its way in. In the middle of the night water began drizzling on our sleeping bags and faces. The floor of the tent was basically a large puddle and it was very disheartening to say the least. Thankfully we had just purchased new sleeping bags for the trip and we remained warm throughout the night despite being damp. We ended up having to put our faces in the sleeping bags because the rain dripping on our noses was keeping us awake. In retrospect we should have set up the 4 season tent we had in the car from the get go. The size of the two season tent, however, is always preferable when car camping due to fact that the air mattress does not fit into the 4 season tent. And so it goes...

We made it through the night, however the rain had still not let up which meant we would have to pack up our gear in the rain. NOT FUN!
Our camp neighbor, Tuaca, stopped by and asked if we would do the favor of helping her fill several jugs with spring water for her to bring home. We agreed to help out as she was a real trooper sticking it out this long in the rain on her first camping trip ever!
We packed up our muddy gear without making any breakfast or tea. This proved to be a mistake as Sarah seemed to be at the end of her rope. I think the weather was starting to wear on everyone and skipping tea is never a good idea(I should have known better). We finished packing and said goodbye to Panther Meadows.
We drove down to town and stopped for breakfast at the original Big Bear Diner. After sausage, biscuits and most importantly country gravy, our moods were transformed. After breakfast we drove home and unpacked our wet gear. We had a great trip and shall certainly revisit the Mt. Shasta area soon for further adventuring. Until then we return to the hustle and bustle of everyday life and keep the thoughts of the wild close to our souls.

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