UT – Arches NP, Tower Arch

It’s time for another J&J Adventure. My hiking buddy Joan is now Ranger Joan. She’s working at Arches National Park and I’m excited to benefit from her knowledge. First hike was a little after-work jaunt to Tower Arch.

Will we find the arch in this outcropping? 

Are you Tower Arch? (photo credit: Joan aka Rambling Hemlock) 

These are the Marching Men, the greeters of Tower Arch trail. 

Lots of cool formations as we wandered around looking for Tower Arch. 

We found the referenced inscription but with the lighting I couldn’t get a clear photo; editing didn’t help much either. 

Tower Arch. Look closely and you’ll see Ranger Joan. 

Another nearby arch.

The “tower” of Tower Arch.

Another perspective. 

Ranger Joan looks like a tiny lego ranger. 

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: March 3, 2017
  • Mileage: According to the NPS website, trail is 3.4 miles round trip.

Notes:

  • Colors in photos vary due to natural lighting and the fact some where taken with my camera and some with phone

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UT – Hello Utah, I’m Back!

After visiting Great Basin National Park in Nevada, I crossed the border into Utah. This is a state that is starting to feel a bit like home away from home after visiting for extended periods twice a year since 2015. As usual, I was looking for new WOW opportunities. Fishlake National Forest is splattered all over the map so I figured I’d find a place to hike and camp. First stop was a ranger station in Richfield to gather intel. 

I didn’t find an ideal hike, but at least got to stretch my legs and enjoy the colors of Rainbow Hills. 

I also found an adequate place to sleep. It was 26F overnight in my car, so much warmer than the 14F in my tent at Great Basin NP the previous night.

I had a hiking date in Moab later in the day so I spent my day enjoying viewpoints as I drove southeast on Highway 24. 

A feet on the ground experience within the San Rafael Swell is high on my priority list.

I don’t know why I didn’t pull out my camera for these touring shots. I apologize for quality as they were all taken with my phone. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 2-3, 2017

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NV – Great Basin NP, How Cold is too Cold?

This was my second or third time driving across America’s Loneliest Highway.  I’ve yet to find any great distractions to break up the drive. So after waking up in western Nevada, I drove east to Great Basin National Park. I was hoping to catch a Lehman Cave tour but arrived about an hour too late. I’d planned a snowshoe outing but found insufficient snow. So I took a bit of a walkabout up the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive Road. I realized as I was walking that I could camp on or near the road and enjoy stellar sunset and sunrise views. I rushed back to the visitor center to get a permit, grabbed my camping gear and hiked back up the road. 

Temperatures dropped to 14F. My body was not acclimated to cold so I was a bit uncomfortable even bundled in double layers of down. It didn’t help that I was camped on snow. I used my emergency blanket to insulate my tent floor. I didn’t have a nalgene bottle so couldn’t use that as a heater. Since this was a spontaneous spur-of-the-moment decision I wasn’t prepared. But I didn’t die. I knew I could run down to my car if I got too cold. I was rewarded with perfect alignment for this giant orange kiss to go along with my hot cup of coffee. 

Even with a stellar snow year, Wheeler Peak at 13,063′ didn’t have much remaining snow in early March. One of these days my timing will be such that I can hike to the top. 

Adventure Dates:

  • March 1-2, 2017

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CA – Lassen Volcanic NP, Chaos Crags . . . and so begins my Spring 2017 Jaunt

Where to start when you are missing a chapter of posts? How about at the beginning? Yes I may be nearly a year late, but as they say better late than never, plus who doesn’t like reliving adventures especially on a wet dreary winter day? Lassen has a north and south entrance, surprisingly the south end gets more snow. The road between the two is closed during the winter. For the past three years, I’ve begun my spring jaunt at one end or the other. This year, it was from the north side with a fun snowshoe in 1-2 feet of fresh powder. It was a spectacular day! 

My timing was such I FINALLY had the opportunity to meet PCT trail angel legend, Georgi aka Firefly. We had a hard time grabbing a selfie when her little buddy wanted to steal the limelight.

My fortune cookie message seemed a good omen. 

It was only fitting to take a few steps on the PCT. 

My feet are bigger than yours . . . 

You know you’re in Nevada when . . . 

Room with a view, somewhere along Nevada Highway 50. 

Adventure Dates:

  • February 27-28, 2017

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CA – McCloud Falls . . . a Trio and Trail Worthy of Four-Season Love

My Facebook post about a McCloud Falls snowshoe trek on January 5, 2017.

“This was the least fun day of snowshoeing I can ever recall. There was a 4-6″ crust that I busted through with each step then sunk into the foot plus of powder. After taking a few steps I wanted to quit, but I’d just driven 75 miles and didn’t have a good Plan B. Avalanche danger was high in the mountains, and I wasn’t confident of better conditions elsewhere. It took me 4 hours to hike less than 3 miles. It was 20F when I arrived at 11am and 26F when I finished at 3pm. Oh but the reward? icy waterfalls! (and a kickass workout).”

In the winter, the road to the falls trailhead is not plowed. Typically a berm exists where the plow has created a parking area off the highway. My first snowshoe to the falls was with a group who thought we’d be able to drive over the berm. Ha . . . lesson learned! 

In the summer you can make short jaunts to the three waterfalls by driving to nearby parking areas, or you can hike the connecting trail of 1.2 miles from Lower McCloud Falls to Middle McCloud Falls and another .5 miles to Upper McCloud Falls. The McCloud River Trail continues another 13.4 miles to Algoma Campground. In the winter you might need to hike/snowshoe another 1.3 miles on the road depending on snow conditions. 

Lower McCloud Falls.

Middle McCloud Falls.

Upper McCloud Falls.  

McCloud River Trail. 

If I had to list my favorite river, it would probably be the McCloud River. 

The nearly 15 mile McCloud River Trail provides more to enjoy besides the highlighted waterfalls. 

Mt Shasta! 

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CA – South Fork and Iron Mountains, Whiskeytown NRA

After my recent jaunt through Whiskeytown, Facebook reminded me of my jaunt up South Fork Mountain a year earlier. So, it seems fitting to honor my local area and post a few other hiking options. This is a 7-mile road walk ending at a fire lookout platform, and begins near the Visitor Center. On 1/4/17, it was a day for watching clouds dance as I slowly climbed my way toward this 3,447′ South Fork Mountain summit. 

A few miles into the hike, I reached snowline and was glad for my microspikes. 

This is what the mountains around Whiskeytown should look like in January. 

I learned the lookout platform came from the White Sands Missile Base in New Mexico where it had been used for people/dignitaries to stand on and view atomic bomb testing. 

This was the first time the gates to the platform were unlocked so although I was running short of time and wearing microspikes I couldn’t resist the urge to climb those stairs. 

This was the crappiest snow I’ve ever hiked in. It had a crusty surface with powder below so every step resulted in breakthrough. It was an exhausting way to hike. I was glad for my Kahtoola Microspikes

I found myself short of time after forsaking time for summit fever. The reward was this sunset view as I ran down to my car before dark . . . escaping the claws of the big cats. 

Stats for this day. 

I’d like to hike this loop someday. Sounds like another opportunity for a backpack trip. 

Just like my recent jaunt, this one ended with an epsom salt soak, my medicine of choice. 

My first hike up this road/trail was in March 2009. You can get the gate key from the visitor center and drive a good distance up the road in a high-clearance 4×4, which is what we did. There was still snow on the ground, as it should be. In early January 2018, the mountain was bare of all traces of white. 

With the shorter distance to hike to the lookout, we were able to explore further on the road which goes toward Iron Mountain, a Superfund Site. Those rocks are oh so gorgeous!

In March 2013 we went back for a better view.

This is the mine run-off holding pond. Looks inviting, but just say no! Gotta love this statement from the EPA, “Much of the acidic mine drainage ultimately is channeled into the Spring Creek Reservoir. About 70,000 people use surface water within three miles as their source of drinking water. Since 1963, spills from the containment reservoir during large storms have caused at least 20 major fish kills in the Sacramento River.” 

Mining remnants with the colorful rocks mined for iron, silver, gold, copper, zinc and pyrite. 

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CA – Thru Hikin’ Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

Where shall I say goodbye to 2017 and hello to 2018? Where shall I watch the Supermoon rise on January 1st? With a near perfect weather window, I came up with the idea of creating a thru-hike route of Whiskeytown NRA. 

I’ve hiked most of this route as day hikes. It includes several popular destinations with the connector trails primarily used by mountain bikers. The benefit of planning a local backpacking trip is knowing where to find views and water while calling upon friends to help with transportation. Within 7 minutes of posting this request on facebook, I had a volunteer. Game on!

When planning the route my primary objective was open views for New Year’s Eve. As I narrowed the possibilities, Kanaka Peak made the most sense. Since it’s only about 4.5 miles from the trailhead to the summit, I delayed my start until afternoon. 

My transport trail angel, Denise, hiked for a bit with me, but soon enough it was time to say goodbye and thank you. 

Views from Kanaka Peak include Whiskeytown Lake and Mt Shasta to the north. 

Mt Lassen is center stage to the southeast, while the waxing moon played peek-a-boo through the clouds. 

It took a while but finally I got to see a little color from the last sunset of 2017. 

So . . . remember when I said I planned this trip because we were experiencing a near perfect weather window? This was the forecast earlier in the day.

About 9:30pm I hear that familiar sound of . . . rain drops. Yep, what do those weather forecasters know? Clouds told me possible rain. Well it only lasted about an hour and it was perfect sleep music. Overnight low was an amazing 46 and by 7am it was already 50 degrees. Since rain was predicted for Wednesday, my planned final day of this trek, I was prepared with my umbrella and poncho. 

The reality of the view from where I was camped. I heard a few fireworks early in the evening and again at midnight.

First sunrise of 2018! 

I hiked down from Kanaka Peak to the Peltier Trail junction. I’d missed the sign on my way up the previous afternoon and couldn’t understand how.

No wonder I missed the trail. It’s MIA at the junction. I poked around for a bit and worked my way through this mess soon enough finding the trail. I’m guessing it’s not considered a maintained trail although evidence indicates it’s still used routinely by bikers. There were only a few minor blowdowns.

If it was a little warmer I might have wanted to take a dip in this pool. 

From the Peltier Trail I transitioned to unsigned, and ridiculously steep and eroded Salt Gulch Trail. This leaf filled trough would be nearly impossible to descend without hiking poles. Using maps with marked trails is very helpful in this area. The USGS maps don’t include many of the Park trails; however, Avenza has most available for free in GeoPDF format which is what I used. From Salt Gulch I connected momentarily to Brandy Creek Road and then to Rich Gulch Trail. Salt Gulch was not signed on the road side either. 

There is a fairly large bear population at Whiskeytown NRA, with plentiful evidence of bear scat on most of the trails. Thankfully they are not interested in humans and behave as they should. The blur in the middle of the photo was the only bear I saw this trip. 

Except when I was dry camping, I only needed to carry about a liter of water as there were refill sources every few miles. 

By early afternoon I connected to the ever popular Brandy Creek Falls Trail. You can park about 1.5 miles from the falls. I probably saw 20 people on this short section whereas I’d only seen 4 cyclists earlier in the day, and only 4 hikers on my way to Kanaka Peak the previous day.

Upper Brandy Creek Falls. 

Leaving the falls, Brandy Creek Trail mostly follows it’s namesake creek for a few miles. 

I’d planned to continue on another few miles to Monarch Mountain to watch the Supermoon rise. But when I reached the junction it was already 3pm; not only was I doubtful I could make my destination in time for the big event, I was also feeling pretty tuckered. Later I learned I’d hiked 12+ miles, ascending over 4,000′ and descending nearly 5,000′. So after exploring other potential view options, I settled on this cozy home instead. Notice I replaced my screaming orange tent with this forest friendly version.

My view of the Supermoon. Obstructed but bright and beautiful regardless. 

The Papoose Gulch Trail is one of my favorite trails in the Park. I hadn’t been to the area since it burned a couple years ago. I was happy to see damage was limited to first half mile or so.

Manzanita trees and bushes are quite common at Whiskeytown. 

As I climbed I kept watching for places I might have camped for better moon viewing. Alas I found a few views like this one of Whiskeytown Lake but none with both a view and a flat spot for camping. More important there is no nearby water which would have meant carrying the weight up this unrelenting climb. 

There are a few old growth trees around. 

Off to find waterfall #2 of this trip. 

There were several newish bridges along the way. I was prepared for this being a wet feet day. 

It’s a little crazy to see these bright green ferns in the middle of winter, but what a welcome sight. 

The trail transitioned to old road bed. I love seeing nature reclaim what man changed. 

There are three trails leading to the falls. I’ve hiked them all. 

Boulder Creek Falls. I had the place to myself, in fact I hadn’t seen anyone all day. 

Look at this brand new beautiful bridge leaving the falls. I have to give props to the Park for spending some of their fees on trail maintenance. 

I’ve probably only hiked this section once previously and I didn’t remember the challenging ascent at all, and obviously as I rushed my mapping I neglected noticing this detail. 

Big Bubba! 

Little fella vs big fella. 

Off to find waterfall #3. 

I mentioned earlier about using Avenza GeoPDF maps. The blue dot shows my location. I was meeting a friend to hike Whiskeytown Falls. I realized I was not going to make our rendezvous time so I sent her this screen print to give her a heads up.  

I hate to keep people waiting so I was rushing to meet my friend and made a serious navigational error. Notice on the above map the connection between the Mill Creek Trail and the James Carr Trail. Notice NO trail to the right (north) toward Crystal Creek Falls. You can see my track below where a well used trail continued north at the creek and down, down, down I went before realizing my mistake. I was exhausted and frustrated and mad. I sent my friend another text and turned around for more climbing. 

The last message I’d received from my friend was that she was going to start hiking slowly up the trail to Whiskeytown Falls around 1:30pm. I’d texted back to wait for me so I could dump my pack in her car and we could hike together. I never heard back from her on that text nor any of my subsequent texts. So when I reached the junction I assumed she’d be in the parking lot. Nope! It was now after 3pm and I wasn’t feeling very motivated to hike back up to the trail junction nor the falls. But since my friend came to hike with me . . . off I went. As I crossed paths with other hikers coming down I asked about my friend. Finally I met a group who said she was on her way down. Yeah! So you can see on the map I gave up and didn’t finish my objective. Any regrets? Heck no, I’ve hiked that section of trail probably more than any other in the Park. Here’s a photo from my archives of Whiskeytown Falls. 

Taking advantage of this crazy warm weather window was a gift. I could have extended my trip but why when I had transportation home and felt accomplished after hiking across the park. Pretty cool! It was tough, it was challenging, it was rewarding, it was a new way to hike this Park. 

The only negative of this trip was that with the unseasonably warm weather a new batch of gnats flourished. 

When they swarmed, I implemented a solution I’d heard about a couple years ago and found quite effective. 

Grasses and leaves work also, anything as long as they move freely. 

I felt like a hunter with camouflage when I found this partial branch. Yes, I’m a dork and you might just be embarrassed to hike with me.

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: December 31, 2017 through January 2, 2018
  • Mileage (per ViewRanger): 31 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss (per ViewRanger): 12,500’/11,200′
  • Elevation Low/High (per ViewRanger): 1,000’/2,000′
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: There were a few down trees but all fairly minor
    • Overgrowth: Only a couple tiny areas with berry brambles
    • Signage: Minimal
    • Terrain: Only major concern was the steep, leaf covered trough on the Salt Gulch section
  • Navigation Skills: Moderate
  • Water availability: Adequate
  • Camping availability: Adequate (use map topo lines)
  • Solitude: Except on the destination trails for Brandy Creek and Whiskeytown Falls, you can expect plentiful solitude. This is a shared trail though so be aware of bike activity.
  • Bugs: GNATS! Whiskeytown is known for these buggers.
  • Wildlife: Bear sighting!
  • Precip: Unexpected shower my first night
  • Temp: Unbelievably warm with low of 48 my first night and 45 my second night
  • LNT: I found a few bits of micro trash to carry out and saw a few white butterflies but otherwise in great shape
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 2+ cherries (out of 5)

Tips:

  • I used CalTopo to map my route in advance and determine mileage, elevation gain, etc.
  • Stop by the Visitor Center to obtain your free backcountry camping permit

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