CA – Canyon Creek Trail, Trinity Alps Wilderness

I’ve probably spent more time hiking and backpacking in the Trinity Alps than anywhere else. When I returned home in October, I was craving a visit. Sadly I learned most of the trailheads were closed due to nearby summer fires. I kissed time in this wilderness goodbye for 2017. However, after a series of rain storms the forest service rescinded the closure order. The forecast said it’s gonna be a week of clear skies. As an opportunist, I said YES, it’s go time! 

As I drove west toward the trailhead, I soon found myself engulfed in fog, which transitioned to low clouds. I figured worse case if the weather turns sour I’ll make it a day hike. To reach my intended destination I’d need to overnight on the trail. I was prepared either way. Mostly I was just happy to be back on trail in my beloved Trinity Alps. I was welcomed back with treats from recent rains. 

With the calendar about ready to flip to December, it was easy to see autumn falling into winter. 

Snow melt and recent rains led to active waterfalls, steams and creeks. 

For some reason I was propelled forward, even with deteriorating conditions. My heart said, but the forecast said . . . I was certain the clouds would part, the sun would shine and all would be good. 

At 3:45, I came to the Canyon Creek crossing. I was already damp and chilly from the light and intermittent snow, sleet and rain showers throughout the day (love my hiking umbrella). I looked up and down the creek for dry crossings. These logs were an option but they were wet and slippery and required jungle gym antics I wasn’t up for attempting. 

I was confident I’d be wet up to knee or higher. I wasn’t carrying water shoes and I’ve learned my lesson about barefoot travel (just say NO!). Fires aren’t permitted at this elevation or higher at the lakes so I’d have no way to warm up or dry out. With a disappointed face, I made the decision to turn around. My primary reason for going to the lakes was to enjoy the sunset and sunrise views. With the overcast skies that wasn’t going to happen. I’d been before, I’d go again . . . for now it was time to turn around. 

Of course shortly after I turned around, the sky started giving me glimpses of blue. 

The trail has been rerouted to nearer the creek where more waterfalls can be easily accessed. 

I got to see a tiny bit of color as I quickly hiked toward a campsite.

I had second thoughts about my decision to turnaround, or at least considered camping above treeline.

With conditions uncertain, I continued my descent until I found this nice little home for the night. I’d marked several potential sites on my tracking app but as dark was nipping at my heels I grabbed the first flat protected option. This photo is from the next morning as I was packing up. I’m still pretty excited that I’ve been able to sneak in late November backpacking trips the past three years.

My original plan was to hike to Canyon Creek Lakes for my first night followed by a trip to Boulder Lakes. Since I’d elected to skip Canyon Creek Lakes due to the creek crossing, I knew I wasn’t going to want to attempt the more significant crossing required to get to Boulder Creek Lakes. So instead I enjoyed a leisurely hike back to the trailhead. 

As I was putting together this post, I realized that I’ve neglected to include on my blog many of my trips into the Trinity Alps. Someday, I’ll need to rectify that . . . someday . . .

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: November 28-29, 2017
  • Mileage (per ViewRanger): about 14 round trip
  • Elevation Gain/Loss (per ViewRanger): 2,750/2,2750
  • Elevation Low/High (per ViewRanger): ? phone died before it could be synced
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: very few if any
    • Overgrowth: very little
    • Signage: adequate
    • Terrain: well graded trail with a mix of forest and granite
  • Navigation Skills: One section took me a while to figure out even with my tracking app. The trail has been rerouted but the section begins in an area prone to flooding. This area needs some serious trail work.
  • Water availability: Plentiful
  • Camping availability: Plentiful
  • Solitude: In late November plentiful, but it’s a very popular trail during prime season
  • Bugs: None around this time of year
  • Wildlife: It was pretty quiet
  • Precip: On this date I had rain, sleet, and snow (LOVE my hiking umbrella!)
  • Temp: 32 overnight
  • LNT: no problems
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4+ cherries (out of 5)

Tips:

  • Prepare for wet feet crossings
  • In early winter consider carrying microspikes for the icy conditions

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CA – Mt Shasta Snowshoe, Celebrating Early Season SNOW!

November 11, 2017, that’s a date I won’t soon forget. It’s the earliest I’ve ever strapped on my snowshoes. My friend Steve lives in the Mt Shasta area and knows how to read the weather and snow conditions. So when he invited me on this adventure and said now’s the time, I said YES! 

Sierra Club Horse Camp Cabin 

Lunch with a view. 

The view I was looking at wasn’t quite as nice as the one behind me. 

Plenty cold. 

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Snowshoe Gear:

CA – PCT Section P – Mt Eddy view of Mt Shasta

These gals needed some time on the PCT. I think you can see why my friend Jill’s trail name is Bright. She’s a ray of sunshine!

After spending the previous night on Castle Peak and enjoying a relaxed hike back to the trailhead, we traveled the short-distance to the Gumboot Trailhead.Our first night was spent at Porcupine Lake. Although it was late October and quite chilly, we were joined by a group of three guys planning to summit Porcupine Peak in the morning. Those sunset colors were insane!

The next day, we hiked north toward Mt Eddy. Not to be outdone, Mt Shasta kept her presence known. 

The geology of the Klamath Mountains, of which Mt Eddy is a part, is unique and has been studied extensively. College of the Siskiyous has published an excellent paper titled, “Geologic Overview of the Eastern Klamath Mountains” for those curious (related link). Jill is a bit of a geology nerd and pointed out a few things like intrusions and serpentine.

Serpentinite, produced by the metamorphism of basaltic oceanic rocks, and intrusive rocks of gabbroic to granodiorite composition are common rocks within the Klamath terranes. Source: Wikipedia

In the summer Deadfall Lake (aka Middle Deadfall) is usually a busy place but on this late fall day, we had it to ourselves. 

Upper Deadfall Lake at sunset. 

The summit of Mt Eddy was our first destination the next morning. 

Let’s find the 9,000′ summit. 

Nothing marks success quite like a summit marker. 

Jill’s great idea. We both found it a little challenging to get both the marker and the mountain in focus. 

Such a tapestry of textures, shapes and colors to the north. 

To the south is Castle Crags, recognizable by the pointy spires, but mostly hidden within the smoky blue ridge mountains (due to controlled burns). 

To the west is Mt Shasta dwarfing Black Butte. While exploring this tongue, I noticed a hiker over on the next ridge and discovered a route leading the way. I didn’t have time this day, but I’ll be back to explore that area. 

This is about where my blog banner photo was taken. 

Looking west into the Upper Deadfall Lake basin. 

We choose to spend the night with another view of Mt Shasta. Goodnight my lady . . .

Good morning from the PCT! 

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: October 27-30, 2017
  • Distance: About 30 miles round trip

Links:

CA – Castle Peak view of Mt Shasta

When you have a guest, you want to show them the best, right? 

It’s a short jaunt around the shores of Castle Lake and on up to Heart Lake. You can tell by the shadows in the above photo, we’d gotten a late start. Now it was time to earn our grub. 

This is a spot that’s long been on my list. Just like my previous night on Girard Ridge, I didn’t get a WOW sunset, but who can complain about a view like this, perfect weather and spending time with a new friend. 

My 7am view. 

Good morning world!

What a view! Black Butte on the left, Mt Shasta taking center stage, Castle Lake in the middle flanked by what locals call Left Peak. If you look closely near the bottom right corner, you can see the heart of Heart Lake. 

Standing on Castle Peak (aka Middle Peak) we also had front row views of Castle Crags and the many ridges beyond. Fall in Northern California means controlled burn season, which means smoky skies and the opportunity for amazing sunsets, sunrises or in this case misty looking mountains. 

Hidden in the shadows of this ravine lies the PCT. Soon enough it was time to descend through the rubble and manzanita. 

Back at Castle Lake, we could look up toward Castle Peak (aka Middle Peak) but alas it’s a fool’s ridge as the reward awaits only those willing to climb further. 

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: October 26-27, 2017
  • Distance:  8-10 miles round trip

Tips:

  • Camping is not allowed at nearby Castle nor Heart Lakes
  • Overnight parking is not allowed at the trailhead

Links:

CA – PCT Section O – Girard Ridge view of Mt Shasta

I’ve spent the bulk of my life with views of Mt Shasta. She was my first compass and with her stately presence in much of northern California she continues to provide visual directional assistance. But more importantly her beauty is deep within my skin and I was craving some time with her when I returned home from my Summer/Fall travels (link to related post).

This front row seat with a view of Mt Shasta was just what I needed. 

I accessed the PCT from Girard Ridge Road out of Castella, then hiked the old Castle Crags Trail aka Tom Neal Trail. It was in excellent condition, I’m guessing thanks to the Mt Shasta Trail Association.

Girard Ridge connects with some very interesting historic trails. The Tom Neal Trail goes from Girard Ridge down Tom Neal Creek to Squaw Valley Creek. It was built by the Neal brothers who worked at the lookout and took hunting clients from Castella up the Castle Crags Trail to Girard Ridge Lookout then down Tom Neal Creek to a cabin they built near its mouth (no longer standing). The Castle Crags Trail was abandoned when the more gentle PCT was constructed. Source: Mt Shasta Trail Association

The forest was alive with color. Seasonal creeks were running.

Castle Crags made themselves known from a distance. 

Even with a mid-day start, I was able to enjoy a nice hike and most importantly spend a night with my mountain. I didn’t get a spectacular sunset or sunrise. The photos are hardly worthy of sharing. Did I have any regrets? Heck no! I was smiling. I giggled a bit as I sauntered through the several inches of leaves piled on the trail, spent time enjoying the creeks refreshed from recent rains, listened to the trees rustling in the wind during the night, awoke to the bird calls . . . 

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: October 25-26, 2017
  • Distance: About 11 miles round trip

Links:

Summer/Fall Jaunting 2017

July couldn’t come soon enough. I was impatient but knew snow would be a problem in the areas I had on my agenda. Although I didn’t return home from my spring trip mid May, I wanted to explore the high elevation mountains bookmarked for summer travel. With my favorite local haunts inaccessible due to the 2016-17 snowpocalypse, all I could do was wait . . . patience is not my strong suit. But once I got the green light, off I went. This trip met and exceeded most expectations. What a wonderful way to spend a summer and fall. Staying fairly current with my blog made it even more pleasurable.

Length of Trip:  93 days (July 16 – October 18)

States Visited: 4 (Colorado, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming)

Miles Driven: 6,412 (averaged 69 miles per day, 25.9 miles per gallon, cost was around $700 at $2.50-$3.00 per gallon)

Activity Days: 52 (averaged 4 days per week)

Night Spots:

Slept in Car (42 nights, with only 2 in campgrounds)

Tent (37 nights, all while backpacking)

Friends/family (7 nights, special thanks to all who hosted me)

Paid Lodging (9 nights)

WYOMING Jaunts:

Wind River Mountains

Grand Teton National Park

COLORADO Jaunts:

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Colorado National Monument

Colorado Trail

Lizard Head Wilderness

San Juan National Forest

UTAH Jaunts:

Bears Ears National Monument

La Sal Mountains

NEVADA Jaunts:

Great Basin National Park

This smiles says it all. Making lots of deposits into my books of memories. Living life and loving it!

NV – Lehman Caves at Great Basin National Park

I said goodbye to Utah and hello to Nevada on infamous Highway 50, America’s Loneliest Highway. Having visited Great Basin National Park twice previously, I was optimistic that this might be my lucky day to score a walk-up ticket to Lehman Caves. But first I had to get there, and well before the 9am tour time.

The caves are protected and only accessible with a Park Ranger tour guide. Although this Park is in the middle of nowhere the tours are frequently booked full, as reservations are available online. There are two types of tours available, the 60-minute Lodge Room tour and the 90-minute Grand Palace tour which includes the Gothic Palace, the Music Room, the Lodge Room, Inscription Room, and the Grand Palace. Thanks to having an hour in my favor once I crossed the Utah/Nevada border I arrived just as the Visitor Center was opening and was first in line for a walk-up ticket. The tour was booked full but it was indeed my lucky day and I was extended a spot.

The lighting in the caves was a disappointment as it altered the natural color of the limestone formations especially in photos. For the most part the formations are monotone as depicted below and not pink as shown above.

The formations were fantastic as well as the geology behind them. These caves have about 300 shield-type formations as shown below.

These stalactite daggers were hanging off the ceiling. 

The guts of a broken stalactite. 

By far my favorite part of the tour was learning the history. Ranger Mark told us the Grand Palace cave was used as a dance hall once upon a time. This was prior to the current entryway. Access was through a hole in the roof where you needed to use a rope and primitive steps for entry and exit. Can you imagine the local high school prom here? The local chapter of Elks Club also held their meetings in the cave.

The Inscription Room is appropriately named for graffiti of the time, made with candles. The Park quickly learned more damage was done by trying to remove these markings than leaving them in place. Current philosophy of NPS is that any artifact in place more than 50 years is to be considered historic and left in place.

According to our guide, Mr. Lehman discovered the cave entrance in 1885. Although not his property, he took claim and began offering paid tours. It received National Monument status in 1922.

The beginnings according to the NPS website:

President Warren G. Harding declared Lehman Caves a national monument on January 24, 1922. It was dedicated in a grand celebration on August 6th that involved the American Legion, the mayor of Baker, and local school children. In 1923 the caves and surroundings were designated a State Recreation Ground and Game Refuge. White Pine County followed suit and proclaimed the whole Wheeler Peak area a Wildlife Preserve.

The U.S. Forest Service administered Lehman Caves National Monument, but demonstrated little presence at the cave, allowing private operators to do as they pleased. Clarence Rhodes, a former restaurant owner and chauffer to Nevada’s governer, was made the official custodian of the caves, and was allowed to keep guide fees for his pay. The approved tour fees were one person, one dollar; children under twelve, free; groups of twelve or more, five dollars. Truly bargain rates for tours that often lasted three hours or more!

The Rhodes
Appointing Clarence and his wife, Bea, as custodians made sense, as they had purchased 50 acres of Lehman’s property next to the cave entrance back in 1920 and had already been guiding visitors. Their presence in the cave was made official through a permit from the Forest Service.

Improvements began in and around the cave, with stairways replacing rope ladders, floor excavations providing more headroom, sleeping tents being placed in Lehman’s orchard, and roads to the cave entrance being improved.

The Rhodes were ever alert to increase business, so they began developing one of the rooms of the cave as a meeting place for large groups. Weddings were performed in the cave. Musical selections were played on the stalactites and stalagmites. Dances, picnics, and pageants were held on the grounds, and pack trips were offered to Wheeler Peak. In 1928 the Rhodes constructed 15 new cabins (one remains near the Lehman Caves Visitor Center today, known as the Rhodes Cabin) and a log lodge that provided regular Saturday evening “concerts” for guests and locals.

The Rhodes tenure at the cave lasted until around 1930, when Mr. and Mrs. Elroy Cue moved in to manage the area. Shortly afterward the Rhodes property was purchased by the county, and donated to the federal government.

The National Park Service Arrives
Executive Order 6616, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt on June 10, 1933, transferred control of all national monuments, including Lehman Caves, to the National Park Service. Otto T.W. Nielsen was appointed as the first “Park Ranger in Charge” in 1934. He reported to the Superintendent of Zion National Park, who was administratively responsible for the monument.

During the next decade, several cleanup, rehabilitation, and repair projects were conducted in the cave and on the surface by New Deal agencies such as the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Civil Work Administration. Lehman Caves was littered with debris, tin cans, lumber, and broken formations, all evidence of the heavy impact early visitors had on the cave. The Wishing Well was a small room filled with trinkets left by visitors who believed that if they left an item and made a wish, it would come true. One pool alone yielded 700 objects, including coins, a garter, and an American flag.

Big Changes in the Cave
Plans to build a cave entrance tunnel that would eliminate use of the somewhat hazardous natural entrance are mentioned as early as 1925. The old stairway that led down some 60 feet from the ground to the first room of the cave was a barrier to many who wished to see the cave. Although some objections were voiced by National Park Service officials concerned about visitor experience and destruction of the cave’s natural beauty, the project was declared feasible in 1936, and was completed in 1939. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the current exit tunnel, of similar construction, was installed.

Candles were the standard lighting for many years in Lehman Caves. The Rhodes introduced carbide lanterns in the early 1920s. While bringing electricity into the cave had been considered since the 1920s, it wasn’t until 1939 that funds were made available. The first electrically lit cave tours began in April 1941. The complicated system was difficult to maintain, though, and had frequent failures. It wasn’t until 1949, when new reliable generators were installed, that continuous cave lighting was assured.

Science and Culture
In 1947 the first significant addition was made to the known cave when NPS laborers Tom Sims and John Fielding found and opened a 200 foot area near the natural entrance known as the Lost River section. Five years later the Gypsum Annex was discovered when another employee removed a boulder blocking the entrance. The first maps of the cave were developed by the Salt Lake Grotto of the National Speleological Society in the late 1950s. The map, completed in 1960, shows over 8,000 feet of passageways.

As knowledge of the cave increased, so did its popularity. Sir Edmund Hillary, of Mt. Everest fame, toured the cave with his family in 1962 as part of a U.S. Forest Service sponsored tour of the area. In 1959 Lehman Caves made its first television debut as the background for a one-minute Viceroy cigarette ad filmed by MGM studios. Portions of a movie originally titled The Wizard of Mars, a science fiction horror take on the popular Wizard of Oz, were filmed inside the cave in 1965. The flick, was later renamed Horrors of the Red Planet.

Mission 66
Visitation dropped dramatically during WWII, but from 1950 to 1955 alone, visitation to the cave increased 56%, reaching over 18,000 per year. This trend was repeated throughout the national park system, creating strain on staffing and programming that was still geared to pre-WWII levels. In 1955 a long term action plan designed to improve and develop facilities, while fully protecting resources, was inaugurated and dubbed “Mission 66.” The plan was to implement these goals nationwide by the 50th anniversary of the National Park Service, which would be celebrated in 1966.

At Lehman Caves National Monument over $500,000 was spent on improvements. Additional employee housing, a visitor center (the current Lehman Caves Visitor Center), power plant, utility building, several thousand feet of new road, a 25 unit picnic area, and new utilities systems were constructed. Trails inside the cave were refurbished, and one third more cave was added to the regular tour.

Staffing increased during Mission 66 from three permanent and two seasonal employees, to five permanents and eight seasonals. During this time a new Spelunker Tour was offered for the first time. By 1966, visitation to Lehman Caves National Monument increased to 31,000 visitors.

The 70s and Early 80s in Lehman Caves
Throughout these decades, services and programs continued to improve and expand at the cave. Staff increased, as did monument visitation. The majority of visitors arrived from June through August. Sixteen cave tours , 1 1/2 hours long, were offered per day during these months, with a size limit of 40 on each tour. Candlelight cave tours were offered, evening campfire programs were held at a newly constructed amphitheater, and cave tour guide training became more formalized.

During the mid 1970s the National Park Service began development of a “Statement of Management” for each unit of the system. The first such statement for Lehman Caves National Monument clarified that the purpose of the monument was:

“to preserve the caves for their unusual scientific interest and importance. Use shall be promoted and regulated to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

The monument was divided into management zones (natural, historic, and development), with the majority of land zoned as natural. Under these zones, the Gypsum Annex and the Lost River section of the cave were closed to protect fragile areas and historic resources. In 1983 the Talus Room section of the cave was closed to the pubic after a two-cubic-foot rock fell from the ceiling. This room, still considered unstable, remains closed today.

Lehman Caves National Monument Is Abolished
The movement to make Lehman Caves and the surrounding areas into a national park began as early as the 1920s. But it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the concept became reality. In the Great Basin National Park Act of 1986, Lehman Caves National Monument was formally abolished, and all lands incorporated into the nation’s newest national park.

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