CO – THE Colorado Trail, Collegiate West Segments CW01 and CW02 (08/22)

In a flashback moment I found myself on Clear Creek Road passing by the reservoir with views of Mount Harvard, then past the road crossing for Collegiate East (CE) Segments 11 and 12 where I’d hiked in June (blog link). The Collegiate West (CW) route roughly parallels the CE and shares tread with the CDT (Continental Divide Trail).

Sheep Gulch Trailhead is a bit further down down the road and for southbound hikers marks the end of Segment CW01 and the beginning of CW02. My plan was to hike south to Lake Ann Pass before returning to the trailhead and hiking north to Hope Pass.

Lake Ann Pass

I found myself back in aspen trees. I hadn’t been below 10,000 feet in quite a while. I enjoyed the first few miles hiking south from the Sheep Gulch Trailhead. After so many recent miles above treeline, this was a pleasant change. Little did I know until I returned that I was on a slow descent, no wonder I was smiling.

As typical during monsoon season, the daily rains kept flowers blooming.

It’s always nice being in wilderness areas, which means no bikes and no motorized vehicles. Although this area is now called Collegiate PEAKS Wilderness, signage was either made in error or with a previous name.

As I hiked south there were several visible peaks including the Three Apostles.

Granite and Virginia Peaks.

The creeks were running full after all the recent monsoon rains. I loved only needing to carry a liter or water.

As I gained elevation, the views became even more WOW.

My first view of Lake Ann didn’t disappoint. I knew I didn’t have another 1,000 feet in a mile left in my legs so would enjoy an afternoon and night at the lake and tag the pass in the morning.

The views in the lake basin were WOW with plentiful flowers and colorful mountains.

This colorful range includes La Plata Peak.

Paintbrush was still showy at this elevation.

I had a front row seat to watch the evening storm develop before eventually dumping heavy rain, accompanied by somewhat distant thunder and lightning. Can you find my tent?

I was hoping for alpenglow in the morning, but with clouds blocking the morning sun, this bit of glow with lake reflection was the best I got.

With an early climb out of the basin I enjoyed more reflections. The area highlighted in morning glow is Lake Ann Pass, my destination.

I was warned by a group who camped near me that the trail was hard to follow and using a digital map or app would be helpful. I was concerned as I wasn’t able to top off my phone battery due to an apparent power cord failure.

Much of the trail switchbacks through rocks. I gave myself a reminder to turnaround if I found the trail difficult to follow. Thankfully I found it quite easy to navigate.

I was thrilled on the smoothish sections between the rocky mine fields.

Lake Ann pass appears to be within a short distance, but . . .

Then you turn the corner and find more.

There were occasional views of Lake Ann to distract me from the climb.

Huron Peak is the predominate mountain.

When I reached Lake Ann Pass, I was surprised to find a valley filled with fog much as I had on the previous segment near Cottonwood Pass.

On my way down I passed a few hikers going up and when I turned around later I captured this photo of one on the pass.

There were some flowers to be found along the way including these phacelia. I also found past peak Colorado Columbine and Sky Pilots.

I reminded myself constantly getting up is only halfway, focus on each step coming down all those rocks.

I relaxed once back at the lake junction.

Lousewort has been a common bloom along the trail this summer.

Larkspur and Monkshood have also been plentiful, although now past peak.

I found some more of the unusual gentian.

Without afternoon rain it was uncomfortably hot on my return trip. I was grateful for the creeks and shade where I could cool off.

This truly was a gorgeous forested section.

As I neared the trailhead I had views of Hope Pass, my next destination.

This section is 25.9 miles with 6,122 feet elevation gain and 4,163′ loss. Since I wasn’t able to charge my phone I wasn’t able to track this hike after Lake Ann. My estimate is it was 19 miles and 3,300′ elevation gain/loss round trip. I was leaving the remaining miles south to Cottonwood Pass for another time. This profile is to Lake Ann which was 9.7 miles with 2,100′ of gain.

This is from the FarOut app showing the estimated distance and elevation gain/loss between the lake and the pass.

Hope Pass

I debated for a long time whether I wanted to tackle this pass from the Twin Lakes or Sheep Gulch Trailheads. Either way it’s an ascent of 1,000 feet per mile; however it’s only 2.5 miles from Sheep Gulch whereas it would be a 3.5 mile ascent from the Twin Lakes plus additional miles requiring an overnight trip.

Much like the early part of the hike south toward Lake Ann, this hike north was in a lovely forest before topping out above treeline. I was offered views of Hope Peak before I could see the pass.

Eventually the pass came into view with Quail Mountain to the east and Hope Mountain to the west.

The 2.5 mile ascent went by fairly quickly and soon enough I could see the finale.

To the north were views toward Twin Lakes Reservoir, and what I missed by hiking to the pass from the other direction. A met some hikers who spent the night at this pond.

To the south I could see the drainage that led to Lake Ann Pass as well as the big peaks like Mount Harvard.

I have mixed feelings about these prayer flags on Hope Pass. They break LNT guidelines but maybe remind hikers about peace. This is the view to the east toward Quail Mountain. It looks deceptively small from this angle.

Before reversing course I chatted with a few thru hikers, runners and a couple who were hiking up Hope Peak. It was nice to peer into the Lake Ann drainage and way down to the valley where my car was parked.

The beginning of the aspen groves signaled a drop in elevation.

The segment from Twin Lakes to Sheep Gulch is 9.8 miles with 3,606′ gain and 2,644′ loss, assuming southbound travel. My round trip hike was a little over 5 miles and 2,500′ gain/loss. I left the remaining miles for another time.

Colorado Trail Segments Hiked:

As of this post, I’ve hiked about 246 miles toward The Colorado Trail plus 175 bonus miles (repeats/side trails) with over 70,000 feet of elevation gain/loss.

Tips:

  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Guidebook and Databook are helpful in planning section hikes. The guidebooks details parking and trailhead options along with the elevation profile. Far Out was a great way to plan my turnaround based on mileage and elevation gain/loss. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.
  • Buena Vista is a GREAT resupply and regrouping town.

Resources:

CO – THE Colorado Trail, Segments 1-5, Waterton Canyon to Kenosha Pass (06/22)

Hiking all or part of THE Colorado Trail has been on my agenda for several years and became a knee rehab goal. This 485-mile trail runs between Denver and Durango, passing through six National Forests, six Wilderness areas, traverses five major river systems and penetrates eight of the states mountain ranges. 

Much like other long trails, if you are thru hiking, you can’t pick best time for each section, but as a self-proclaimed cherry picker and section hiker, I’m happy to jump around when opportunities present. The first five segments (or sections) are lowest elevation and tend to heat up early, and with each passing week after snowmelt, water availability lessens. When the window opened and logistics came together easily, I found myself at this iconic sign.

Was I ready to traverse 70+ miles with significant elevation gain while traveling between 5,000 and 11,000 feet? hadn’t carried more than 2+ days of food since my knee surgery. I wanted to budget food based on 15-mile days but that would certainly set me up for failure. That far exceeded my training and fitness. Begrudgingly I packed 6+ days of food for 10-mile days. With thunderstorms forecast, possible frigid temperatures at higher elevation and exposure through a few burn sections, I added my rain gear and umbrella. I about cried when I saw the scale register 27 pounds. The night before I tossed and turned considering what I should remove. In the end I didn’t remove anything, and kept thinking of the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I was super excited to finally turn this concept into reality!

Segment 1 – 16.5 miles (2,380′ gain, 2,239′ loss)

The challenges of this segment include road walking on compacted surface in the heat, limiting miles to 8.7 if you don’t want to carry water for dry camping or if you aren’t able to hike 16.5 miles to the next water source.

The walk through Waterton Canyon was an easy stroll with restrooms, shaded picnic tables, and garbage bins every couple miles, plus nearby river access.

This canyon is known for Bighorn Sheep sightings. I thought it was going to be a bust but at the last rest area these youngsters came down the hill. They were headbutting and humping. It was an entertaining sight.

I was happy to be on single track with shade after the long road walk.

Another benefit of being a section hiker is that I didn’t need to share cramped campsites. I saw 5-25 hikers, runners and bikers daily, most out for the day or a section, as it was still early for the thru hiker crowd. I only shared a camping area one night out of five.

I finally earned some views and even saw some snowy mountains.

In this segment I found a few blooms including prickly poppy, grass widow, skullcaps, penstemon, larkspur, milkweed, columbine, and I believe euphorbia, plus lots of butterflies.

Prickly Poppy
Grass Widow
Penstemon
Big leaf viola
Skullcaps
Penstemon
The Colorado State flower, Blue Columbine
Iris

Segment 2 – 11.7 miles (2,482′ gain, 753′ loss)

Water is again a big challenge as there are only two sources. The first at the beginning and the second 10 miles later. There are two large burn areas devoid of shade.

The South Platte River is a bit of an oasis. I took a nice break in the shade before loading up with 4.5 liters of water for the climb and dry camping.

I used cooling strategies to get me through the exposed burn scar of wetting my shirt, head, hat and buff at the river, then adding my umbrella to keep me shaded.

I was happy to find some shade at the 2.5 mile mark. I couldn’t carry those 10 pounds of water any further in the heat. It made for an early day but better for my wellness and success.

I was left wondering if I needed a helmet but thankfully no UFO’s bonked me upon the head.

It was a relief to reach the fire station and find the spigot on with water available. Such a humanitarian gift and one worthy of a donation (NorthForkFire.org) with no natural water sources in this segment after the South Platte River. The 4.5 liters I carried was just right.

Blooms I found on this segment in additional to those I saw in the previous segment.

Wild geranium I believe
Paintbrush in yellow, orange and red

Segment 3 – 12.5 miles (1,975′ gain, 1,549′ loss)

This segment has far fewer challenges with more plentiful water, shade, views, and gentle terrain. The trade-off is bike activity especially on weekends.

The sculpted rock formations dotted the landscape through this segment.

The highlight for me was finding this Abert’s Squirrel.

“Abert’s squirrel or the tassel-eared squirrel is a tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus native to the southern Rocky Mountains from the United States to the northern Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico, with concentrations found in Arizona, New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado.”

This chipmunk in camp loved his salad. He ate so many greens.

Buffalo Creek was the best source thus far. I’d been surprised by the minimalist streams called creeks.

I heard some big ammunition fire but thankfully no stray bullets.

Segment 4 – 16.4 miles (3,271′ gain, 1,373′ loss)

The challenge in this segment is elevation as the high point is nearly 11,000 feet. I also found the 5 miles of steep, rocky old logging road at uncomfortable grade. There is also a lack of shade during the long 6-mile meadow section.

I was surprised this old road was considered trail once I entered wilderness. I was happy for shade but not for the unrelenting grade on very rocky surface. My initial impressions didn’t match my previous experience in this wilderness (blog link).

I was super happy to leave the road and find wonderful hiker grade single track trail.

I didn’t even mind when the trail got rocky as I made my way toward the pass. However I was very disappointed to find no view.

I’m guessing this 6-mile meadow is colorful with blooms if your timing is just right.

There were several side creeks sporting marsh marigolds.

Geum triflorum, prairie smoke, three-flowered avens, or old man’s whiskers
Hummingbird Moth

After exiting the meadow and climbing to another saddle, I was once again disappointed to find no views.

Segment 5 – 14.6 miles (1,858′ gain, 2,055 loss)

The altitude challenge is the primary concern; however there are also some long exposed sections without shade, as well as expected bovine companions and poo water.

This segment is considered the first of the best sections. I was thrilled to find views and long traverses.

My timing couldn’t have better as a trail crew cut 49 logs off the trail the previous day. I met them in the morning and shared my many thanks for this gift.

I was super excited to find this solo Fairy Slipper Orchid.

I suspect the meadows will be filled with blue iris soon.

Kenosha Pass marks the end of Segment 5, and for me the end of this 5 segment section. What a great reminder of my first steps back in 2017 (blog link).

This was a fab test of my fitness following my knee surgery and rehab. I’m super proud of myself for hiking this 70+ miles with about 10,000′ elevation gain.

I was thankful I finished a day earlier than planned as smoke blew in from the fires in New Mexico and Arizona. I would not have wanted to hike in those conditions (but would have had to).

Tips:

  • Consider earplugs if you are noise sensitive at night. There is a lot of plane traffic. You might also have noisy neighbors.
  • Have strategies for dealing with the heat, such as salt/electrolyte capsules and drinks, umbrella, and buff to keep wet. Sunscreen especially for lips.
  • Bring a water scoop and prefilter for minimalist streams.
  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Data Book are helpful. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.

Resources:

CO – Uncompahgre Plateau (05/22)

How in the heck to you say Uncompahgre? One source says “uhng·kuhm·guh·gray,” another “un-come-pah-gray.” I’ve been practicing but dang I just can’t get it.

The Uncompahgre Plateau adjoins BLM managed Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, where I’d just spent a couple days (blog link). This area as well as the forest is OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) and hunter focused, with lots of campgrounds, but there are also a few designated hiking, biking, equestrian trails.

I’m learning these Colorado mesas and plateaus host unexpected forests. When viewed from the desert floor they appear as rocky escarpments but as you gain elevation, my kind of gifts lay waiting in every fold.

The coolest thing happened early my first morning. I was sitting in my car drinking my first cup of coffee when I looked up and saw this bobcat wandering past, just a few feet from my car. Blurry photos but you get the point.

I found a few floral delights near my campsite also.

I was excited to find this plant below as I saw a less mature variety at the Colorado National Monument when I visited a couple weeks previous (blog link).

I found these later which should make it even easier to identify. Townsendia incana (Silvery Townsendia) most likely.

There are three main roads dividing the plateau. I started with the Divide Road in the northern section off Highway 141. Some sources reference the sections as North, South and Mountain.

Unaweep Loop

A friend recommended the Unaweep Trail. I quickly researched and put together the route which included a mix of trail types and conditions, and way more miles than I would have chosen to hike. The first section was basically open to all types of users except standard vehicles.

I didn’t think too much about this grouse until . . .

She got all pissy and started closely circling me, hissing, squawking and flapping wings. I had to defend myself with my poles. She would not get the message. It was a battle I ultimately won but it wasn’t fun and in the future I would use my pepper spray. I’m sure she had a nest or young ones nearby, but obviously she still felt threatened.

The next trail is open to a few less users and is mostly single track.

This is how they limited access, not a bad idea.

And finally I found the hiking trail. Well . . . little did I know it would be a lot of Type 2 fun. I don’t like how this forest requires long miles of multi-use trails to reach a hiking/equestrian trail.

Oh where oh where is the trail? Frequently THE trail was indistinguishable from animal trails. Adding to the challenge was the fact that the trail on the ground didn’t match the digital trail. So yes, I spent a lot of time wandering and wasting energy.

Thankfully there were blooms to put a smile back on my face.

Larkspur
Cool to see this color variation on the Larkspur
False Lupine
Wallflower

The trail crosses over this ridge, before dropping straight down and then wanders along before eventually crossing Bear Canyon Creek.

This trail is a lot steeper than it looks. You’ll see on the profile photo at the end of this section.

The views would have been dramatic on a blue sky day. This is looking down on Highway 141. Basically the trail wraps a bunch of rocky escarpments.

The trail tends to keep you walking just above the rocky outcroppings, providing plenty of viewpoint opportunities.

As you transition between the escarpments, it was nice to find creeks.

You also get views of Grand Mesa where I spent time a couple weeks previous (blog link).

I was super excited to find blooming hairy clematis.

Blue Bells
Columbine

The best views are to the west where you can see the highlights of Utah including Castle Valley and the La Sals. Sadly lighting was far less than ideal.

The prize for a slip and fall was this fritillaria lily I would never had seen if not for this incident.

The next part of the loop was beyond Type 2 fun given the number of hours I’d been on trail. I felt a bit like this guy. From the hiker/equestrian trail you connect to the Snowshoe Trail, which sounds wonderful but take my word it’s anything but fun. It’s a straight rocky chute favored by motorcycles. I had to dig deep to climb, climb and climb some more.

I was almost dancing with joy when I reached this OHV road. It was 7pm and I could walk/run the 4.5 miles to finish this loop. If I wasn’t so scared of trail conditions I could have taken the Corral Fork Trail.

The first steep descent shown in the profile below was off the ridge toward the beginning of the hike; that last steep ascent is that motorcycle trail. The good news was this hike followed two days of backpacking. I felt like I was finally getting my trail legs after being on the road for a few weeks, and focusing on daily jaunts.

Unaweep Canyon

There are three primary roads providing access to the Uncompahgre Plateau. The Divide Road (aka Forest Road 402) is the one I initially took south from Highway 141. I returned the same way after my Unaweep loop hike. “Unaweep Canyon is a geologically unique canyon that cuts across the Uncompahgre Plateau. It is unique because two creeks, East Creek and West Creek, flow out of opposite ends of the canyon, separated by the almost imperceptible Unaweep Divide.” Source: Wikipedia

There are several worthwhile place to stop along the canyon. I wish I’d known about the Unaweep Seep Natural Area, about 8 miles north of Gateway. It has some interesting botany and geology. The Hanging Flume Interpretative Area is thought provoking.

You can see the flume supports on the right side of the river in this photo.

The drive along the San Miguel River to access the recreation of the wooden flumes was worthwhile as well.

I wished I’d done more advance research. There wasn’t cell service in the canyon so I couldn’t get additional details.

I picked up the Paradox Valley Petroglyph Tour brochure and followed the directions to the Hunting Magic Panel. I wanted to find the Shaman Panel as well, but after fighting the rancher gate and feeling uncomfortably warm, I decided I’d save that one for the future.

On my way to the Black Canyons of the Gunnison National Park (blog link) I also crossed the Plateau using the Delta-Nucla Road aka Forest Road 503 aka 25 Mesa Road.

After spending time in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, I returned to the west side using the Dave Wood Road aka Forest Road 510 before connecting to the Divide Road aka Forest Road 402. I hiked the Dave Wood Interpretative Trail (aka Simms Mesa). I downloaded the brochure and found it interesting, and the hike quite enjoyable.

The Divide Road provided some great viewpoints looking toward the San Juan Mountains, with Mt Sneffels dominating at 14,158 feet. I’m hoping to spend some time on the Colorado Trail and this was a great tease.

The road naming confusion! Old Highway 90 out of Montrose is known as Forest Road 540 or the 90 Road.

Tips:

  • Delta and Montrose are good resupply locations. Montrose has travel center truck stops and a KOA for showers. On the west side, Gateway has a general store as does Naturita; I don’t recall if either had fuel stations.
  • Montrose has a Public Lands Visitor Center with information on both USFS and BLM options.
  • There’s a nice variety of camping options with paid and unpaid campgrounds as well as dispersed campsites.

Resources:

CO – Grand Mesa National Forest, Early Spring Jaunting (05/22)

Known as the world’s largest flat-top mountain, it exceeded my expectations when I found real forests, lots of lakes and hiking trails, and nothing resembling flat. Altitude was around 10,000 feet, giving my lungs reason to complain.

It was a great escape from the heat but not so good for hiking. I wasn’t surprised, after all it was mid May and still early spring at 10,000 feet.

Some plants are early spring bloomers. You won’t hear me complaining!

I found plenty of lakes in early thaw status.

The Crag Crest Trail was calling my name. If only I could get through the parking lot without postholing to my knees. But with infrequent overnight freezing, that wasn’t going to happen.

From this vantage point, I found marmots, a pika and some fat robins singing the sounds of spring. They were camera shy and didn’t want their portraits. During this trip I saw five marmots, a pika and a weasel, several elk and lots of deer.

I also enjoyed some colorful sunsets and sunrise views.

It was fun to witness the “here today, gone tomorrow” when the ice suddenly disappears.

The Scotland Trail is possibly at the lowest elevation. I met some rangers who recommended giving it a try. Well I did and found snow within 1/4 mile and soon it was 75% snow with deep postholing. I have up after a mile and took a short-cut back down to the road.

Road walking proved more enjoyable.

Even then I found sections of snow to wade or waddle through.

I wonder who you will be?

I enjoyed finding surprises.

From the mesa you could see many of the big mountain ranges.

With the recent snow melt, I found these buggers. I was thankful for my mesh window coverings on my car. I hear this area is known as mosquito hell in the early season.

Tips:

  • The Ranger Station Visitor Center is only open seasonally, usually opening Memorial Day weekend. However they had WiFi available outside the building and open heated restrooms with a potable water refill station.
  • There were a few large snow parking areas which I’m guessing offer dispersed camping in the summer.
  • Based on the infrastructure at Grand Mesa Village, a private holding within the forest, my guess is this is a busy place in the summer.

Resources:

UT – The Great Salt Lake (05/22)

As I continued my eastward travels, I said goodbye to Nevada and hello to Utah. I’d deliberately chosen a more northward crossing as I’d not been through this part of Utah and had never visited THE Great Salt Lake. Traveling through miles of alkaline soil was not the most attractive but interesting none the less. The reward was this view of THE Great Salt Lake!

As per my style, I looked for access areas more remote than the popular options. I found Stansbury Island. The drive was interesting as the road was bordered by what appeared to be holding ponds and magnesium and brine shrimp plants. This is an interesting article (http://tooeleonline.com/captain-stansbury-visitors-overlook/).

I hiked the interpretative trail where I learned more about the lake and the expedition.

I found a few blooms along the trail.

Claret Cup
Wallflower
Larkspur
Evening Primrose

This is part of the shoreline of what was Bonneville Lake and is now I presume overflow for the Great Salt Lake.

I should have taken a photo when I first arrived but I got distracted visiting and then walking the interpretative trail. By the time I got to the shoreline the wind had grown strong and the water turned brown. Initially the foam was white but soon it turned chocolate milk brown.

Although I’d hoped to camp nearby so I could witness sunset and sunrise on the lake, Mother Nature had other plans. The gusty winds made the area very unpleasant. There was also an incoming storms predicted to drop snow nearby so I selected my campsite carefully and found myself on the Pony Express Route. This seemed perfect after spending the previous night on the Wagon Trail.

As forecast I awoke to fresh snow coverings on the mountains 360-degrees around my campsite. It was a good day to wait out the storm, do a little research and figure out where I’d be going next.

Resources:

CA – Early Spring Jaunting, Far NorCal Style (Feb 2022)

No precipitation since January 5th combined with warmer than normal temperatures has led to spring in February. According to my photo archives blooms are 3-6 weeks early. The good news is it gave me plenty of opportunity to race to find new blooms along a variety of nearby trails.

I continued to see blooms I’d already photographed and shared from my January jaunts, so instead I focused on the new hit parade. First up was Milkmaids. “Cardamine californica, or milkmaids, is a flowering plant in the family Brassicaceae, native to western North America from Washington to California and Baja California. It is common in a variety of habitats including shady slopes, open woodlands, chaparral and grasslands in the winter and early spring.”

Nature’s color wheel gifted me purples. Top and bottom left is Blue Water Speedwell found in Whiskeytown Lake where water receded during the winter. Top right is a nightshade, middle right is Tolmie’s Pussy Ears or Star Tulip, with lupine in the bottom right.

February 10th brought me my first poppy.

It was easy to appreciate these non-native Cape Marigolds rather than the sad barren burned canyon. I also found a new friend I’m calling Bino (binoculars) Bob. “Dimorphotheca sinuata, the glandular Cape marigold, Namaqualand daisy, or orange Namaqualand daisy; syn. Dimorphotheca aurantiaca hort. is an African species of plants native to southern Africa.”

The early spring parade continued with bush poppy in upper left, which I first found last year at the end of April in peak bloom. This year the plants still look to be in winter hibernation stage but I found a few buds and blooms. It’ll be interesting to see if the bushes come back to life this year. Bottom left is phlox and sage is one the right. The details on the phlox leaves was a wonderful surprise.

One day when I didn’t find any new blooms I found these new leaves. The top row are oak leaves, I’m in love with the one on the left which is black oak. The bottom row is those nasty leaves of three . . . let them be, otherwise known as poison oak.

One day my color wheel was red, with the winner being Scarlet Fritillary.

It took two trips to get these amazing photos of the purple larkspur (Delphinium). February was a breezy month making photography extra challenging like with these red larkspur. It seemed longer than expected to see my first paintbrush.

It’s fun to find surprises like these white Blue Dips and white Hound’s Tongue. The photo in the top right is poison oak flowers, which I had no idea existed until a couple years ago. Bottom right is Hound’s Tongue nutlets (seed pods).

Chasing the blooms kept me mixing up my trails and interested. Top left, Redbud; bottom left, Violet. Top right is Wild Cucumber, followed by Sulfur Pea and Mediterranean Stork’s-Bill.

I was excited to find the small bloom in upper left of below photo, only to be disappointed to learn it wasn’t a native. Oh well, it’s a beauty regardless, Henbit Deadnettle. The blue are Scutellaria tuberosa, Skullcaps, ones I first learned about last spring. You can see size comparison with my new friend Bino Bob who’s about 1.25″ tall.

Finding blooming Fritillaria affinis aka Checker Lily became a game of too late, too early, marginal and finally just right.

I ended my month of wandering the nearby trails with these finds. Top left, Fringe Pods. Top right, Nemophila heterophylla (Small Baby Blue Eyes) and Claytonia parviflora (Miners Lettuce). Bottom left, Mountain Phacelia. Middle, Cream Sacs. Bottom right, Clematis.

I also continued my quest to find unique photographic subjects like this algae.

Acorn woodpecker granary. “With their sharp, powerful beaks, Acorn Woodpeckers excavate custom holes into trees that are the perfect size to hold an unusual food—acorns. Each Acorn Woodpecker group works together to maintain and defend its acorn collection. The same tree, called a “granary”, is reused over generations to store the winter food supply.”

Often it felt more like March with numerous high wind warning days. On those days I had to be a bit more strategic about my choice of trails in order to avoid crashing burned trees. Thankfully I had options. After a few months of closure (due to winter light festival) at the McConnell Gardens, I was off to see the early blooms. As if on cue Summer Snowflakes and Lenten-roses were awaiting my visit.

Neighborhood walks during these wind events had me finding first fiddleneck blooms. I pulled this photo from my archives as they were impossible to photograph on the day of my walk. “Amsinckia is a genus of flowering plants commonly known as fiddlenecks. The common name is derived from the flower stems, bearing many small flowers, which curl over at the top in a manner reminiscent of the head of a fiddle. Fiddlenecks are in the family Boraginaceae, along with borage and forget-me-nots.”

Winter finally returned toward the end of the month, but the lupine didn’t get the message. In my search for interesting things, I found this colorful weed. “A weed is a plant considered undesirable in a particular situation; a plant in the wrong place.” Well this one happened to be in the right place. Not only does it add a little beauty along a powerline dirt track, but it also helps stabilize highly eroded post-fire soil.

I found this interesting bud on some neighborhood trees. It looked tropical and out of place. However as the week progressed and I studied further I realized it was developing gumballs and before I knew it out popped some leaves of the Liquid Amber (Sweetgum) tree.

As they say a picture is worth a thousand words, in this case a perfect depiction of our lack of precipitation. Mt Shasta has bare spots in February and Lake Shasta has a very large bathtub ring (140 feet below maximum mid month). My apologies for this crappy quality phone photo.

Although I’d rather be traveling, I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue rebuilding my base conditioning while enjoying a blooming early spring. My body knows I need to keep climbing these hills if I want to enjoy the bigger mountains I plan to hike this summer.

Photos are from hikes and walks in the Redding area including,

  • Clear Creek/Cloverdale Area
  • Keswick/299W Area
  • Mule Mountain Area
  • Sacramento River Trails
  • Swasey Recreation Area
  • Westside Trails
  • Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

Yes there’s a lot of ugly in a burn, but views are open and when you look closely you find beauty in nature’s smaller gifts.

CA – Trinity Alps Wilderness, Tangle Blue Lake Trailhead . . . spring jaunting

While you’ll find information for Tangle Blue Lake in guidebooks, it takes more than casual preparation to find the trailhead as there’s no signage at the highway junction. In fact this sign at the trailhead no longer exists. This is a photo from my 2013 visit. 

This is your 2020 welcome board.

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone refer to this as the Grand National Trail, named for an old road to the Grand National Mine. This sign has been defaced since I took this photo in 2013. Maybe because the mileage isn’t exactly accurate. It’s now 3.75 miles from the trailhead to the lake although I’m not sure how far along the trail this sign is located.

This sign is long gone as well. I’d like to think it was removed by the Forest Service for maintenance rather than stolen.

Expect 1,200 feet in elevation gain on a well-used, rocky, easy-to-follow trail. According to Mike White’s Trinity Alps book, “Legend suggests that Tangle Blue Lake and Creek were named by an early resident of the area who started his trip into the wilderness after awaking from a long night of partying to find his feet tangled and the air blue.”

It’s a rare treat to get the lake to yourself like I did. There are far more private campsites along the creek or further up the trail.

Marshy Lakes

There are several options for exploring off the main trail, although signage is somewhat lacking and trails are not necessarily maintained. My goal for this trip was to hike to Marshy Lakes, then up to East Boulder Lakes, followed by a northwest jaunt on the Pacific Crest Trail, then returning on the Tangle Blue Lake Trail which connects to the Eagle Creek Trail.

You’ll need decent navigation skills to find the lakes. Along the main spur trail, you’ll see a pond before finding a trail near a “no hunting” sign which leads to Little Marshy Lake.

There is a mighty fine camping area which is on private property, a carve out in the wilderness (shown below on the map). The memorial is for a mule or horse. They even have piped water to a faucet. So fancy!

The lighter shade on the map represents private property which includes a little more than half of Little Marshy Lake, the end with the camp.

At the far end of the lake, you’ll find this waterfall created from Big Marshy Lake’s outlet.

Big Marshy Lake.

East Boulder Lakes

I recommend reversing direction slightly from Big Marshy Lake to reconnect with the old road and current use trail to the PCT. Attempting a short-cut ends up being a lot more wasted time and effort. You can see my track on the above map photo when I wandered to the left of the trail.

When I hiked the PCT in 2015, I wasn’t inclined to add miles so I was excited to see the East Boulder Lakes basin. I explored the ridges on both sides of the pass but wasn’t motivated to hike down into the basin itself.

Pacific Crest Trail

The PCT provided spectacular views down toward Big Marshy Lake and the mountains towering above Tangle Blue Lake.

The close-up details of the rocks was worthy of closer inspection and pondering the geologic history.

You can expect snow on the PCT in early spring. Some patches had serious consequences should you slip.

I spent a night along the PCT where I got to watch this bald eagle hunting for it’s dinner.

It was a perfect place to watch the nearly full moon rise while smiling at this sunset view.

The next morning I enjoyed a brilliant sunrise with Mt Shasta hidden within.

I continued hiking northwest on the PCT. My next POI was Middle Boulder Lakes basin. It was filled with a frog choir. I’d need earplugs to camp there. I considered hiking the loop that connects these lakes with Telephone Lake.

I caught a little cell signal for an updated weather forecast which told me no lollygagging.

I found a great view of the northern side of Caribou Mountain and other major peaks of the Trinity Alps.

I tried to find a view down to West Boulder Lake but without a trail and steep cluttered hillsides, I wasn’t too motivated to play hide and seek. However, there’s a trail junction on the PCT for another lakes basin which includes Mavis, Fox Creek, Virginia and Section Line Lakes.

The lakes aren’t visible from the junction but if you hike up a bit and explore the ridge, you can find this view of Mavis Lake.

I was able to see Virginia Lake with my naked eye, but it was hard to capture with my camera. It’s tucked just below the granite side of the mountain. I met a group who were staying at Fox Lake. They said it was a great base camp from which they’d spen one day hiking to all the lakes in the basin and the next up to the PCT and down a side trail to Wolford Cabin. So many options for loops and trip extensions. Be warned though, trail conditions are a big unknown especially given recent fires.

Bloody Run Trail / Eagle Creek Divide / Eagle Creek Trail / Tangle Blue Trail

I reversed direction back to this trail junction. I had no idea if I’d find remnants of trail or if it would be a big mess or . . . it was a big mystery but one I was willing to at least take a stab at ground truthing. I was happy to at least see this sign on the PCT (it reads Bloody Run Trail and Eagle Creek Divide).  As you may recall I found the sign for the Eagle Creek junction when I was on my way to the Marshy Lakes.

Step 1, go the 1/4 mile to the divide. Take a look around and see if I could find a trail that matched my digital map.

I found the divide without incident on a fairly well used trail to a campsite. From there I wasn’t able to find the trail that connects to Wolford Cabin but found the light use trail continuing down Bloody Run to this junction. By this time I was beyond hopeful as I’d dropped quite a bit of elevation and was not looking forward to reversing direction.

I was thrilled to find this sign at the junction of Eagle Creek Trail and Tangle Blue Trail.

According to the map you can connect to/from the PCT to the Tangle Blue Trail. I didn’t find any evidence on the PCT but I found this sign along the Tangle Blue Trail and it looked like a fairly straight shot through an open meadow but I didn’t check it out so it remains a mystery.

I found a few old trail blazes on trees. I wouldn’t attempt this trail without excellent off-trail navigation skills. When you temporarily lose the trail, backtrack and watch the digital map as the old trail stays fairly true to what’s shown on the maps.

Cairns were well placed in many spots, and very helpful with the navigation game.

It was a beautiful area filled with meadows, flowers, streams and views.

The lower section is more in the forest and bit messier than the upper section. Had I been paying better attention and not gotten off track a one point where I found myself in a manzanita quagmire, I would have been 100% thrilled I’d taken this alternate. Buy hey, I came, I explored, I survived.

I was especially excited to find this sign on my way back to the main trail. Yes, the Tangle Blue Trail exists!

After that wild day, I found a cozy spot to call it a night. If I hadn’t gotten off track, I probably would have camped along the Tangle Blue Trail where I would have had more open views. But that too is all part of the adventure and something that will keep this trip memorable.

Grand National Mine

On a previous trip I took the side trail to explore the mine. I didn’t find a sign this trip, but it’s pretty easy to spot the old road. You can see the red roof of the old stamp mill in the lower left corner of this photo I captured as I was coming down the Tangle Blue Trail from the Marshy Lakes/Eagle Creek junction. You can see the old road above the mill. Someday I want to come back and continue further up the road to the ridge. I’m sure it would offer excellent views.

As of my 2013 visit there was lots of debris left behind. According to the Trinity Lake Revitalization Alliance, “The Grand National Mine produced about 1,500 ounces of gold, 2,200 ounces of silver, and 1,900 pounds of copper between 1934 and 1937. A few ounces of gold and silver were produced in 1930 and 1931. Nearly 54 percent of the gold was from quartz veins, which assayed at an average value of $23 per ton. The owner estimated that some 22,600 tons of material was in the three veins of the main mine diggings as of the late 1960s. At some $20 per ton, that was a value worth pursuing. Of course, now that the mine is wholly within the Trinity Alps Wilderness, it has been retired for all practical purposes.”

Flora and Fauna:

Early spring flowers were abundant on this trip. I was especially happy to see the lavender pasqueflowers just waiting to become Dr. Seuss blooms.

Although I thought these were all bleeding hearts, it appears a couple are really steersheads, all in the Dicentra family.

This trip was devoid of bears, instead my wildlife was this snake and a lot of frogs.

For a high-use trail, it had very little trash or obvious TP. I picked up quite a lot of micro trash on the first section and later on found these sunglasses. They were covered in mud and looked like they’d been lost a long time ago.

A little something new to get used to as we experience this COVID-19 global pandemic.

Adventure Dates:

  • June 2-5, 2020

Hike Details:

Resources:

Links:

Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links may be included which provide me a tiny kickback to help pay for this site.

 

CA – Trinity Alps Wilderness, Swift Creek Trailhead . . . early spring jaunting


COVID-19 message from Shasta-Trinity National Forest. “We ask the public to please recreate responsibly. Law enforcement and/or search and rescue operations may be limited due to COVID-19 issues. High risk activities such as rock climbing, etc., or backcountry activities that increase your chance of injury or distress should be avoided. Please read our frequently asked questions on the U.S. Forest Service Coronavirus (Covid-19) webpage http://www.fs.usda.gov/about-agency/covid19-updates”


With the trailhead at 4,000 feet, it’s a gamble to find out how far you can get before finding high water creek crossings or snow fields requiring a bit more effort than reward. The majority of hikers, especially those out for a day jaunt, target Granite Lake or Foster’s Cabin.

License plates serve as snow survey trail markers. It’s hard to imagine the snow being that deep.

Spring snow melt makes the cascading waterfalls exciting and noisy.

If you choose to follow the trail to Foster’s Cabin, the first obstacle is Parker Creek. The bridge was washed away years ago and early spring means you’ll either need to ford the creek or find logs up or down stream.

I like that this trail provides access to many other trails which can be used to create loops or longer out and back hikes. With federal budget cuts, trail condition and recent maintenance reports are not easy to access. Some trails are considered “maintained” while others have been left to volunteers or to return to nature. I’d like to volunteer with the forest service to make this information more available.

Sometimes the cabin is locked, other times not.

Continuing west past the cabin means a wet feet treacherous crossing of Swift Creek.

If you’re lucky these logs upstream might still be in place making for a nice dry feet crossing of Swift Creek.

Landers Creek Trail

Getting to Landers Lake early season might prove to be a bit of a challenge. First, this sign is to the east of Landers Creek whereas maps show the trail starts to the west. Second with blow down and snow it’s nearly impossible to find clues as to where the trail might be.

The trail veers far to the east as shown by the blue line on the right. You can see the black dotted line showing possibly the original trail. The blue line on the left was me attempting to find the trail. This is the digital map on Gaia. I tried several layers and none showed the location of the current trail. My paper USFS map matches this view.

I located the trail just before this wet feet crossing of Landers Creek.

Once located, I found the trail to be well maintained and in excellent shape.

Snowmelt continued to provide delightful waterfalls.

Soon it became apparent Landers Lake would not be reached on this day. Staying on the main trail to gain additional heights and these views was a better option.

Looking down at this unnamed lake, my viewpoint into the Union Lake drainage and turnaround was at about 7,100 feet. Those ridges to the west looked worthy of some future exploration.

A little extra off-trail navigation might be necessary to avoid meadows that have become ponds.

Finding dry places to camp can be a bit of a challenge.

Parkers Creek Trail

It’s easy to miss the sign that signals this junction off the Swift Creek Trail. Fair warning: this is a steep rocky trail with some erosion issues but otherwise easy to navigate.

Wet snowy trail is a given.

This is where the trail crosses Parker Creek. With a steep slippery snow slope, it marked my turnaround.

Upstream options didn’t look any better.

Finding this tarn was a fun reward.

Deer Flat Trail

Along Parker Creek is a junction for the Deer Flat Trail.

The first obstacle is getting across Parkers Creek. This giant log upstream made for a dry feet crossing.

This is definitely an unmaintained and wild trail. Yogi likes these conditions.

This was a fun blowdown to work around. The tree was huge!

Cairns mark the route in many open meadow areas. I’m guessing Deer Flat is accessed more frequently from the Poison Canyon Trail.

Knowing weather was changing, I took advantage of this view of the 7-Up Peak ridge to find a home for the night.

There were also view of Lassen as well as Trinity Lake.

It turned out to be a good location to watch sunset.

First light invited another day of exploration.

The forecast said otherwise.

Overnight temperatures reminded me it was still more winter than summer.

I love seeing the blue ridges.

Early blooms will keep you entertained.

Adventure Dates:

  • April-June, any year, depending on winter snow levels

Resources:

Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links may be included which provide me a tiny kickback to help pay for this site.

CA – Trinity Alps Wilderness, Stuart Fork Trailhead . . . early spring jaunting

I like the mystery of early season hiking. Going somewhere knowing you’ll most likely be turned back by unsafe creek crossings or snowfields that are hard and icy, soft and wet, or filled with post-holing Type II fun. It must be the curious adventurer in me that doesn’t care about miles covered instead just wanting to see what I can see, go where I can go, while being completely fine turning back when things show me that’s best for this day.

Spring has it’s own schedule. How much snow did winter bring? With the trailhead at 2,800 feet, it’s one of the lower elevation options and a good place to test conditions. Most often you can’t get far until late May or early June. These mountain should still be draped in heavy white coats.

In a few weeks most of the white will be gone. This is Bear Gulch, one of the less popular ways to reach Morris and Smith Lakes.

Morris Meadow will soon be filled with lush green grasses and cheery wildflowers.

With few hikers and campers, the bears roam free.

Signs of spring are everywhere.

Snowmelt means raging waterfalls.

Mother Nature reminds you to pay attention to the weather forecast and to be prepared for springs storms.

While Emerald Lake shares a little reflection, Sapphire and Mirror Lakes remain masked beyond the fog.

These prayer flags added a punch of color to this well-used campsite on this dreary day, but they don’t belong in the wilderness. I gained a few LNT credits by taking them with me.

I go prepared for wet feet on these spring jaunts. Between water crossings, wet meadows, creek-like trails and snowy traverses, it’s just a fact of life.

On trips like these I’m happy to have my phone loaded with e-books for those times I might need to spend time in my tent waiting out a storm. It doesn’t hurt to find a great view campsite where you can be entertained by the storm.

The aftermath of rain, is magic.

The warm sun might encourage a few breaks to recover from the rain showers.

Wandering off the beaten path might lead you to find cool geologic features.

And you might just find a perfect campsite.

You can find early spring blooms to observe and photograph.

I’m happy to find trails free of litter but I always seem to find lost items that need to be hauled out.

Adventure Dates:

  • April-June, any year, depending on winter snow levels

Resources:

Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links may be included which provide me a tiny kickback to help pay for this site.

2020 – Blooming April, Spring Doesn’t Care

I recently read a poem about how spring goes on regardless of this pandemic. Since spring brings me joy, I’m choosing to spend as much time seeking out the treats mother nature provides in this all-too-short season.

2020 is proving to be a spring I’d rather forget. I like many others, most likely including yourself, are wishing we could fast forward into summer and be done with Stay Home orders. I’ve learned to let go of things I can’t control and instead focus on those things I can such as my personal happiness. The dark short days of winter can bring on bouts of depression, something I’m more likely to avoid in spring when I happily languish in the warm sunny days. Instead of travel and backpacking, I spent time running, biking and walking primarily from my house. My car didn’t leave my garage for three weeks.

I discovered and fell in love with these rock roses.

Since I’m missing my wilderness wildflowers, I really appreciate neighbors who share their blooms.

The Sacramento River runs through town bordered on both sides by about 20 miles in trails. It’s within walking distance of my house and gives me plentiful green space and a place to breathe.

The trail harbored these colorful jewels.

When I finally decided to drive 10 miles to a dirt trail, I found so much joy.

With flowers lining the trail, I didn’t even mind hiking through lands dominated by fire.

I’d never seen such a mass dispersion of pussy ears (aka Calochortus tolmiei). If this was all I’d seen I would have been happy.

But no, my treasure hunt continued. What a delightful way to spend a few hours.

I stopped at Black Bear Pass where I found this wreath, which I though was a lovely tribute to the aftermath of the 2018 Carr Fire. When I got home and was processing my photos I couldn’t believe what I saw at the base of the stump. It took some work to lighten enough to see the surprise. I still can’t believe I didn’t see it when I was taking the photo. My guess it was hauled up on horses.

I finally decided to drive a bit further for my next hike and was thrilled to find these beauties.


I closed out the month hiking among more of nature’s jewels. I hope you all made the most of this forced pause.

What will May bring? Maybe some waterfalls to go along with more wildflowers? The draft policy for opening my home county indicates a ban on non-essential travel out of the county. Will I continuing being just a tiny bit of a rebel? We topped 90F degrees so that’ll be my motivation if nothing else. Air conditioner vs wilderness?