As usual I was trying to find a good trip to do on the Memorial Day weekend. One prominent runner-up was to go to Rogue river again. I was also wearily eying the couple of routes in Hells Canyon. After all May is the best time to go there. But that place scares me a little. Luckily, Viyasan posted a nice trip in Trinity Alps and I jumped to it.
Thursday, May 21
Driving to the trailhead after work in the early evening. About after an hour of driving I found that I forgot my camera. Had to ask Rama to pick it up. It took about 2 hours to get to Berkeley from Sunnyvale due to heavy traffic. But then it was all smooth sailing. The road after Redding – CA299 – was very winding. The driving was a bit perilous, especially at night. It was also late and I was tired and sleepy, and my companions were already off. Lame, they didn’t even talk to me. I was also afraid that it would be difficult to find the Douglas City Campground. But luckily the signage was very well done. We arrived there around 1AM. Jenny’s car was already there. I was way too tired from all the driving to set up a tent so I just put my tarp and slept on the ground hoping there won’t be any rain.
Friday, May 22
Morning in Douglas City Campground
Lovely morning at the campsite. Nice weather – not too cold, not too hot, cloudy. All members of the group made it to the site, which was good. We packed and headed to the town of Weaverville for the permits and some breakfast.
When I was looking for a campground I was also considering a nice place to get breakfast. Generally a good local bakery and coffee. I did find this Mamma Llama place. On the web site it looked like it had everything needed.
The first order of business was to get permits and inquire about the current conditions in the local Forest Service office. Unlike NPS, the Forest Service people don’t really care what you do in their forests. As long as you don’t do something outrageously stupid, like destroying their valuable timber. I’ve never seen rangers actually giving tickets. There were a couple of places where my permits were checked and that was it. Also there is usually no limit on the number of people. Desolation Wilderness being one notable exception. Even in this case I believe the permit was actually to allow making fires.
One thing to note is that this Weaverville office was staffed by very friendly federal employees. The lady at the front desk was patiently explaining everyone what the rules were, what the current conditions were, what best places to visit, etc. Well, perhaps they didn’t have to fight these hordes of tourists clamoring for few permits (like in GC or a similar place).
My coffee choice was redirected to an even smaller place called Red House Coffee. Our large group made the workers there busy for a while. But they certainly knew how to make good stuff – none of that acidic liquid.
The drive to the Swift Creek trailhead was long and winding. The road was in reasonable shape. The weather was a bit strange – it was actually raining periodically. Good. For some reason I’ve had this fear that this trip would be hot and dry. Well, as long as it doesn’t rain like in Canada, it would be fine. After some trailhead yoga we were off.
We were actually making good progress in these conditions with occasional drizzle. The elevation gain wasn’t too bad. The forest was green with many flowers. There were actually not that many people despite the trailhead parking lot being full (that is there were two more cars). I believe we saw perhaps just one backpacking group. As a result, we had this lovely Granite Lake campground all to ourselves. There was plenty of time to set up good campfire, meditate, and enjoy the outdoors properly.
Saturday, May 23
A beautiful morning. Not a sign of that little drizzle from the day before. Right after breakfast and pack we had a nice climb in front of us to some unnamed pass. The trail up the pass was simple to follow. Not much snow-covered it due to the drought year we are still having here. In fact I was a bit surprised to see this area – Trinity Alps – to be so clear of snow this early in the season. It seemed more like a middle of Summer than late May. On the way to the trailhead we passed a shoulder of the giant Shasta Lake and it was very sad and low.
But we made it to the crest of the pass. It had great views further West to the guts of the Alps. It also had numerous ground squirrels. These little buggers were very well adapted at stealing food from unsuspecting travelers. Or maybe they were just looking for salts from my sweat.
The trip down was uneventful. The trail was very well, how to say it, switchbacked. It didn’t just dive down but went back and forth for good knee-safe descent. I believe the original plan was to do some four lake loop around these mountains covering a couple of high passes today on a day hike. But due to a bit more wet snow and lack of self-arrest training in our group it was scrapped. Good thing I didn’t know what the original plan was otherwise I would be pushing for its completion no matter what. But instead I was happy with what was in store. So we decided to go up Deer Lake and camp there.
There weren’t many people on this trail. However all the flat spots around Deer Lake were taken. And people were just coming and coming via a different trail from Long Canyon trailhead. There was actually a constant stream of people going over the pass and continuing to Diamond lake. We could see them on the side of the mountain navigating the scary looking trail in the snow bank.
The Deer Lake was gorgeous. If it wasn’t so crowded it would be even better. We managed to come early enough to secure a secluded flat two-level spot on the South side. It was early enough in the day to even go for a swim. The water was very refreshing as expected. The problem with swimming in these cold alpine lakes is not getting into the water – the problem is warming up afterwards. But with enough sunshine it is very doable.
The site we had was great. The only problem was the toilet. You can’t really go on the lake side because it is all open and people could see. On the other side of the rocks there was a full view of the valley and thus people there could see. I hope I did a good job doing it properly. But I doubt if everyone around this lake did the same.
In the evening the group went up hanging food to preserve it against bears. Well, I would be more worried about the squirrels we saw earlier rather than bears. Anyway, I tried my sharp skills at throwing rope around tree limbs using rocks. Local granite rocks had very sharp edges cutting well into my rope. Once I threw it, the rocks made one extra loop and ended up the tree. That was the end of it. One idea was to throw the other tail of the rope to release it, but this tail got stuck there as well. Thus my 30 feet of rope still remains on the pine tree next to Deer Lake in Trinity Alps.
Sunday, May 24
Another lovely day. Some of our neighbors were up early. The rowdy group on the other side was still out sleeping. I’m not sure when they were out the night before. We didn’t have a fire last night even though there was enough wood collected. For some reason there was no feeling.
We went down and within an hour or so ended up along the Deer creek at the junction with Bear Basin trail. I guess there were bears here at some point, and deer. There was this constant talk about some day hike somewhere. Good thing I wasn’t leading. So I was just following along with the group making sure things were taking care of.
The junction had a decent campsite – flat, under trees, and next to a river. People were setting up, mostly to prepare the camp but also to dry out the dew. However, there was a change in plans. Someone made a communal decision to continue to the Black Basin and camp there. The trail going there was not the major one, but that usually much more interesting. Generally National Parks have all trails marked and well maintained. National Forests – not so much. There may be some unmaintained trails that could go anywhere or disappear altogether. But that usually means that the destination could be interesting and devoid of inexperienced groups.
The Black Basin was located on a plateau above Deer Creek. Getting there required a steady climb through forest with many down trees. The weather was changing to some rain in places, but nothing came down from above. Yet the moving clouds provided nice change in scenery.
We reached the Black Basin in good time. Finding a decent campsite there was a bit of challenge. There was a nice flat area, but it was swampy. Nothing there really had good views of the Deer Creek valley. There was always some bushes in the way. This basin seemed popular because I found several old campfire pits and lots of unburned trash. Seriously, people – Leave No Trace. In the end we decided on a flat-ish secluded place near a flat rock cliff. It seemed that it was used before.
Meditation on the Pass
While the rest of the group stayed at the campsite Kim, Michael, Jenny, Peter, and myself went for a hike to the next unnamed pass. The main goal was to explore its difficulty, and also pass time. If the pass was too difficult we would take a different route. It didn’t take long for our small group to reach this pass. The view from it was spectacular. Even Mt Shasta was visible somewhere in the distance.
At least I thought it was Shasta because there was no other mountain in the vicinity fitting the description.
The rest of the evening was spent discussing planet formations and life issues, and enjoying spectacular sunset. The campsite was facing West. The floating clouds really brought up a lot of colors. There was also this strange lone female deer walking around. People were saying that she lost something, maybe a child. Not sure why she would hang around humans though. Maybe we were scaring mountain lions.
Monday, May 25
The first order of business was to cross the pass that we scouted the day before. Michael went ahead of the main group since he packed his fancy ultralight backpack first. He seemed to be getting slow and wanted to have a head start. We caught up with him right at the crest. I wanted to see Mt Shasta. Perhaps there would be fewer clouds in the morning. But she was still hiding. The descent on the other side was fine, though a bit steep. Then we went down to Mumford Basin trying to follow a very faint trail. Not many people visited this place apparently.
There was a tiny junction at Swift Creek with one trail going up to Horseshoe Lake. The decision was to do a day hike to this lake after lunch. Then continue further down Swift Creek.
The Horseshoe Lake is located at this plateau up in the mountains. A bit of a basin like formation that allowed snowmelt to collect and actually form this lake. However, accessing this basin required a bit of a climb. Nothing difficult, though, without a pack.
We met a couple of groups going down from camping at the lake. It was a gorgeous place to camp. Beautiful secluded semi amphitheater with a clear alpine lake in the middle. Unfortunately, I apparently have no photos of this lake. Perhaps because I was busy swimming and then warming up after. I wasn’t the only one swimming. Michael was the leader in this process. And then under peer pressure Suji, Jenny, Peter, and your truly. V and Rima were supervising it from a rock above.
After the swim and warm up the hike down was just a breeze. Actually the hike with the packs was a breeze too – slow downhill slope. The weather was nice, the trail was good, easy to follow. We followed beautiful green Swift Creek valley. Interestingly, there were several lonely redwoods dispersed among pines. I wonder if they moved into these mountains or were the remains of the old vast redwood forest that covered most of West coast.
We passed remains of some structure indicated on the map as Fosters Cabin. Someone probably tried to homestead this area. They were actually well-preserved ruins. The climate perhaps was too dry and thus preserving the wood well.
We found a very lovely campsite along Swift Creek. It was on a flat bank above the flowing water and a bit off the trail to provide good privacy. It was an established site so we didn’t have to arrange logs around a campfire. There was enough room for all the tents. Also enough wood for a decent fire. It was the last day so we had finished all the food and drinks over interesting conversation. We finished the day early enough that was still time to meditate on the rocks of the Swift Creek.
Tuesday, May 26
Going back was very fast. We only had to do a handful of miles, downhill. Sadly, early in the morning I’ve missed to photograph the morning mist slowly drying in the morning sun. No excuses – my laziness got to me.
On the way back Michael, who have already connected to the wide word , was planning the after trip lunch. The funny thing was that the trail looked very different from 4 days ago. The rain really made the difference in colors. I knew that we came up this way, but the surroundings looked very different. One of the rules of outdoors is to periodically look back at the trail so that you won’t be lost if going back, so that you will recognize the trail, which may look very differently.
After we successfully come out there was a regrouping event at the aforementioned Mamma Llama place. I wasn’t sure why. Some people had drinks there. The place was also selling ice cream, but I wasn’t interested by their flavor selection. Instead I was looking at their comic book posters and checking my emails. Not sure why – nothing really happened while I was gone. The world didn’t even notice my absence.
The best lunch place with steak and vine Michael found in Redding. The driver there, however, took a while. The driver there – the scenic route CA299 – has, apparently, being widened (and getting more boring). It was a substantial construction activity. The machines were moving material from one part to another and thus smoothing the twisty curves. The traffic was only allowed on one lane and there was a pilot car to guide cars. This kind of construction is common in far away forest places. But this one lane closure was a bit long.
The after trip lunch was in the place called Moonstone Bistro. Michael found it. I generally trust his judgement on food places. This bistro looked a bit too upscale for our dusty sweaty crowd. But it was midweek lunch time and it wasn’t busy. The burgers were good, thanks Michael.