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Right next to Shasta, Black Butte is a handy freeway leg-stretcher.

Right next to Shasta, Black Butte is a handy freeway leg-stretcher

Judging by its name, Black Butte should be a dark, flat-topped promontory. It's dark enough, but far from flat: an almost perfect cone, it rises some 2,000 feet above the west flank of Mount Shasta, in northernmost California.

Northbound Interstate 5 aims straight for it, only to veer away at the last minute. Southbound on I-5, coming upon Black Butte in less dramatic fashion, you may notice traces of a trail angling across it, a reminder of Black Butte's history.

For decades this conical pile of volcanic slag--formed in four successive eruptions 10,000 years ago--held a Forest Service lookout; one blew off in a storm in 1962; the latest was helicoptered off in 1975. All those years, rangers trudged up and down the hill daily. As the 2 1/2-mile trail was improved, it attracted more hikers.

And why not? The gradient is easy and steady, there are more trees and shrubs than you'd expect, and the views are almost breathtaking. Allow 1 1/2 to 2 hours up, an hour or so down--and consider the hike a challenging and satisfying way to break a long drive on the freeway.

Once you're on the trail, there's no way to get lost. But it's not all that easy to find the trailhead; even many people in the town of Mount Shasta can't give good directions. Try these:

Take the Central Mount Shasta exit from I-5 and continue past Shasta Boulevard to Everitt Memorial Highway, the road to Panther Meadow ski area (closed since 1978). Two miles farther, near where Everitt bends east, look for a sign on the right reading "Penny Pines Plantation.' Turn left onto an unmarked road almost opposite this sign, then immediately right onto a northbound gravel road. Follow it-- first straight, then left--for 2 1/2 miles, to a five-way crossroads.

Here choose the road angling left, not the steep one under the power poles. The road takes you 1/2 mile farther, up into a conifer forest on the low saddle between Black Butte and Mount Shasta. Look for a parking loop on your left under pines and firs. The trail begins right here; there is no sign, but it's unmistakable.

Around and up. Almost immediately you have fine views of Shasta's patchwork-forested lower slopes; the gray windrows that lace the fields are bulldozed chaparral, from land cleared for forest replanting. You'll soon see the rail line angling down from Weed, perhaps temporary host to a long train lazing its way south.

Much of the way, the path is rocky; wear hiking boots or heavy-duty running shoes, not street shoes. Carry liquids. Watch for rattlesnakes, especially on sunny rocks in the morning (the rangers say sightings are uncommon). And note the wildflowers: on our midsummer hike last year, patches of penstemon and Indian paintbrush colored the trailside, often growing near gnarled, wind-twisted conifers.

As the trail bends westward, you see I-5 far below. Then a couple of switchbacks lead to a traverse back to the east face of the butte and more views of Mount Shasta. The high point is now in sight.

On top. The sure-footed can cross a narrow rocky spine to the highest rock and step into a square concrete foundation-- all that remains of the old USFS lookout. If it's very windy, you can take shelter within the foundation walls.

From the peak, you have views in all directions: the upper Sacramento Valley to the south, the Trinity Alps west, Weed and Shasta Valley north--and through binoculars you may spot cramponed climbers on the snowy slopes of Shasta to the east.

Like the trail, the peak is pleasantly free of litter, and it has near-level places for picnics. But watch out for a sudden summer-afternoon thunderstorm; if you see dark clouds massing, get off the peak.

Maps. For a small free map showing access to the trail, or a $1 map of Shasta National Forest, stop by the USFS station, 204 W. Alma Street, Mount Shasta (hours are 8 to 4:30 daily in summer), or call (916) 926-4511. The town of Mount Shasta is midway between Redding and the Oregon border.

Photo: The massive peak of Mount Shasta dominates the eastern horizon as they map-check landmarks near start of the spiraling trail. His backpack holds warm parkas in case a chill wind springs up

Photo: You approach the cinder cone over narrow gravel roads leading to the trailhead at 4,490 feet; the cone tops out at 6,325 feet

Photo: Perched on chunks of hornblende andesite, remnants of the original volcanic core, they enjoy a peaktop picnic with 360| views
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Aug 1, 1984
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