Zola checks out the territory around Hinkle Lake. - Courtesy of George Sexton

A spring hike to Hinkle Lake Botanical Area is well worth it

The Hinkle Lake Botanical Area is a special place for me. I've been going to this remote mountain basin near the Red Buttes Wilderness for a lot of years, and I'm more than a little reluctant to write about it in the newspaper for the world to know about.

But the rare plants found in the wet meadows and serpentine soils in this beautiful 425-acre botanical area belong to all of us and need responsible people to keep an eye on them. For years, the Forest Service has tried to protect this botanical hot spot from off-road vehicle damage by encouraging folks to hike, rather than mud bog, in the unique meadow habitat.

As part of KS Wild's Adopt-A-Botanical Area program, I decided to take an early season trip up into the mountains and check in on Hinkle Lake, and I got a little more adventure than I'd bargained for.

Normally you can take the long, winding Forest Service Road 400 (which is in pretty bad shape) all the way up to the old Arnold Mine site near the Bee Flat Trailhead and hike less than a mile into Hinkle Lake from there. But in late April, there often are a lot of trees down on the road and a fair amount of snow. Stopped by fallen trees on the road a good six miles from the lake, I decided to make a day of it and hike on in anyway.

Five miles later, after several thousand feet of elevation gain, my dog, Zola, and I reached the saddle between Arnold Mountain and Whisky Peak and were rewarded with great views of the Applegate and the Red Buttes. The views would get even better as we started up the old 495 logging road and then bushwacked up the ridge, through the snow and over the ridge into the Hinkle Lake Basin. It was fantastic. The meadows still were blanketed in white, and Lake Peak stood like an icy mountain monument.

After dropping down to Hinkle Lake and the headwaters of O'Connell Creek, we climbed back up the ridge to the east of the Lake and summited an unnamed crag that juts up between Lake Peak and Whisky Peak. The view took my breath away. Mount Shasta was perfectly framed by the Red Buttes to the southeast while Mount McLoughlin sparkled in the afternoon sun to the northeast. The entire Steve Fork of the Applegate River lay to the northwest and, best of all, the wild and unlogged forests of the Butte Fork watershed stretched out into California. It was the kind of view that makes you glad to be alive.

By the time Zola and I got back to the rig, we were both dog tired, and I was very happy to be heading home and already looking forward to my next trip into the Siskiyou Mountains that I love so much.

George Sexton is conservation director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

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