Take precautions if venturing in

If you plan on hiking into the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area, use caution, urges Howard Hunter.

"Anyone going in there needs to let people know where they are going and when they expect to be back," said the assistant manager of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which encases the wilderness.

"They need to follow all the usual safety tips when you go into a wilderness," he added. "It's very rugged and steep. It's downhill all the way in and uphill on the way back. We rescue a hunter up there somewhere every few years."

The high-elevation wilderness, now largely blanketed with snow, has countless nooks and crannies that could cause some hikers to lose their way, he said.

"A lot of it is cross-country hiking," he said. "Anybody who ventures in there needs to have a good map and the appropriate skills to walk into remote areas. There is not a lot of access."

A map can be downloaded from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Web site at www.blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/csnm.

Visitors also should check out the BLM information center next to the Greens Springs Inn for further details about the wilderness and the monument, he added.

Hunter was equally quick to observe that Soda Mountain, within an hour's drive of downtown Medford, offers plenty of rewards to those seeking a wilderness experience.

"There are some great vistas, especially on the Pacific Crest Trail," he said of the track which stretches from Mexico to Canada. "There are about eight miles of the trail in the wilderness. There are a lot of places to go and interesting things to see."

That includes the Cathedral Cliffs some two miles south of Pilot Rock, hidden water falls and a rich variety of plant life, from aspens to rare lilies.

The BLM, which Hunter said supports the legislation creating the wilderness, soon will begin working on a management plan for the area to ensure it retains its wilderness value.

Although motorized vehicles are not allowed in a wilderness area, recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, camping, horseback riding and similar activities are permitted, officials said.

"One of the major issues for us is wildfires," Hunter said. "We have to focus on a different set of tools versus when the land was monument.

"There is also the access issue. There are people who own land adjacent to the wilderness. We will be working with them to make sure they can get to their homes."

Other issues the agency will be wrestling with include vegetation restoration and removing old, abandoned roads, he said.

"It will take several years to complete the work," he said.

— Paul Fattig

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