Skip to main content

Enjoy Magazine

Black Butte in Mt. Shasta

06/27/2013 11:22AM ● By Enjoy Magazine
Black Butte rests in guarded silence between its older cousins, Mount Eddy and Mount Shasta. Winter travelers on Interstate 5 remember the butte as the freeway climbs 3,900 feet over its base. When the cloud cover lowers, hiding its taller partners, vacationers mistake its 6,325-foot elevation for other peaks and stop to take pictures, not knowing Mount Shasta looms nearby behind the clouds. She rests at the top of the pass as if shielding the forests around her, waiting to tell the stories of the Strawberry Valley.

The plug cone formed in a time of intense volcanic activity, shortly after the smaller, north peak of Mount Shasta, Shastina, was created. The dacite lava, with the consistency of toothpaste, erupted four times, giving Black Butte its four-topped crown. A distinct rose-gray patina colors the steep rocky sides, giving the mountain a beauty different from its surroundings. In winter, she appears as an upside-down ice cream cone, covered with powered sugar.

She’s been called many names: Muir’s Peak, Muir’s Butte, Cone Mountain, Bear Butte. Her slopes are cut by a hiker’s trail, her silhouette a comforting shadow during the summer sunset. The focus of the most intense winter storms, drivers are reminded of her changing moods.

On the lower western slope, a scar above Interstate 5 is visible. In 1926, Voil Richardson worked his steam shovel alongside the crew making Highway 99. While removing gravel for the roadway from the bottom of the mountain, he was buried in the landslide, which leaves its mark. Crews dug for six hours to find his body, and discovered huge boulders had made a cave over Richardson, who sat awaiting his rescue. He returned to work the next day.

In 1931, a Forest Service Lookout Station was dedicated on the uppermost peak. A crowd of 152 hiked up the 2.5-mile trail. This included an 11-piece brass band, a 4-year-old and two people over 70. The vantage point became the summer home of lookouts, who for years would keep watch for fires. Pack mules and horses supplied the lookout, which needed 60 gallons of water a month. For a time, Jenny the mule did this job, going up and down on her own, with an apple given at the top for a reward.

In 1962, a fierce Columbus Day storm buffeted the mountain. When it cleared, the peak looked different. The storm removed the roof from the lookout, requiring the building to be replaced. In 1973, the population growth of the area made the lookout unnecessary and it closed after 44 years of service. A helicopter came and removed the building, which today rests and is still in use at Hogback Peak by the Pit River.

After the winter snows melt, Black Butte’s trail beckons day hikers to see the area from the grandeur of its peak. The trailhead is tricky to find, but the half-day hike and trail is worth the difficulty. Take the Central Mount Shasta exit from I-5 (Lake Street). Lake Street veers left onto Everett Memorial Highway. Continue north, crossing the railroad tracks. From the tracks, the turnoff is on the left, 1.7 miles. Follow the diamond arrow signs, avoiding less maintained side roads until you come to the circular parking area and trailhead. John Muir admired the Northern California mountains. As one looks at Black Butte and considers the oft overlooked peak, remember Muir’s words:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.