The Old Ski Bowl area is one of the most popular destinations on Mount Shasta. When the road from Bunny Flat is open, this incredible area is an easy-to-get-to highlight that features fascinating geology, incredible views of Mount Shasta and magnificent vistas that extend dozens of miles to the west and south. All of these features help make the Old Ski Bowl one of the most popular trailheads on the mountain. Trails traveling higher up into the Old Ski Bowl, South Gate Meadow, Panther Meadow and even Gray Butte all begin at the Old Ski Bowl. While these are all worthy hikes, in their midst is another easily reached spot that is often overlooked as a destination unto itself. This is the beautiful combination of Hummingbird Saddle and Hummingbird Meadow.
Though neither is officially named, the term “hummingbird” has long been applied to the saddle and meadow that lie on the eastern edge of the giant Old Ski Bowl. How the name came to be associated with these landmarks is a bit of a mystery. Although the saddle is devoid of anything that might interest a hummingbird, the meadow offers abundant and sweet work for the hummingbird to cultivate. While the name may be somewhat mysterious, the area itself does see a fair amount of human visitors since it lies along the upper route to South Gate Meadow. However, it often seems to be the case that this lovely little patch of the giant mountain is often sped through in the effort to reach the great fountains of South Gate Meadow. This trend is compounded in dry years when the small meadow’s flowers and spring are not vigorous and it tends to dry out quickly. Yet Mount Shasta’s Hummingbird deserve a little recognition on its own merits. If it did not lie along the path to South Gate, it would deserve to be a distinct destination. Hopefully it can be elevated above its current, overlooked lot and be appreciated for its own great beauty.
Coming from the Old Ski Bowl, the saddle is the first Hummingbird encountered on the way to South Gate Meadow. Braced by Green Butte to the west and Red Butte to the east, it is a striking landscape that marks the entrance to the Mount Shasta Wilderness. Aside from a few fragile plants and some stunted white bark pines, the saddle is a fairly barren landscape. However, what it lacks in vegetation, it compensates for in incredible views. To the west, the Trinity Divide, great rampart of the Klamath Mountains, rises on the far side of the Strawberry Valley. Mount Eddy is particularly prominent. Beyond these mountains the oft-snowy peaks of the Trinity Divide can be discerned. The southerly view takes in the canyon of the Sacramento River as well as the Castle Crags, Grey Rocks and a significant chunk of the “McCloud Range”. Looking east, the crimson cliffs of Red Butte are striking. Above this whole scene is the majestic mass of Mount Shasta. Aside from the summit of nearby Gray Butte, it is possible that this is the most view-packed spot on Mount Shasta accessed by a maintained trail.
Lying in a small valley between the saddle and the flaming walls of Red Butte, diminutive Hummingbird Meadow is a stunning oasis amidst the barren volcanic landscape that is Mount Shasta around the treeline. The meadow is sustained by a small spring. The clear, cold water gives life to lush grass and dense explosions of wildflowers despite the inhospitable, yet beautiful, landscape. A small stream flows musically through the grass before reaching sandy soil and dissipating into rock-strewn sand that makes up the slopes of Mount Shasta. High overhead, the great block of Shastarama Point is a dramatic landmark. Large rocks immediately south of the meadow offer excellent places to sit and appreciate the lush and fleeting beauty of Hummingbird Meadow. It may not be a marquee destination, but the meadow is a worthy destination for a short, quick hike on Mount Shasta.
The current route of the trail to South Gate Meadow takes hikers right alongside Hummingbird Meadow. Older, narrow paths once passed through the small, delicate patches of grass but this have been condemned and the meadow is slowly reclaiming these routes. Nonetheless, the meadow is at times threatened by careless hikers who trample the fragile landscape. To protect this small area further, the section of trail that passes next to the meadow is slated to be closed and the way to South Gate Meadow will be rerouted away from the meadow. While the course of this new trail is not yet set, it seems that taking the path north makes the most sense. The way south is a large talus field and would not make the easiest trail work while just north of the meadow is a low, barren knoll that would easily accept a new trail. While it is somewhat disappointing to lead people away from the meadow, it makes sense to do this in order to keep careless people from damaging the small path of life. Given that there are no trees, the new route would surely be scenic too, with incredible views in all directions.
Hummingbird Saddle and Meadow are not premier destinations on Mount Shasta. They nonetheless deserve to be loved and appreciated, whether en route to somewhere else or on their own merits and as destination unto themselves.
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