After enduring 3+ weeks of wildfire smoke in the Rogue Valley, we needed to find someplace where we could hike under blue sky even for just a short time. After consulting various meteorological prognosticators, it seemed that Northern California’s South Warner Wilderness / USFS (which has been languishing on our to do list) might be just such a place. So we drove to Alturas, California and checked in to a hotel amongst a throng of people of their way to this year’s Burning Man in the Nevada desert just to the south. Arrayed as we were in grubby hiking clothes, we fit right in.
The next morning, we drove to the Pine Creek Trailhead for a hike to Patterson Lake, the largest lake in this wilderness. A premier backpacking and fly fishing hideaway, Patterson Lake can be reached from a number of trailheads but the most direct route is via Pine Creek Basin, a 12-mile round trip. We arrived at the 6,800-foot trailhead under smoke-free, cool, clear, full bluebird weather conditions.
For the first 2 miles or so, we climbed gently but steadily up through the forest along the South Fork of Pine Creek. This is one of those wilderness areas we have to share with cows but we only saw 6 all day and none on the trail.
After 2 miles, we left the forest and passed into the meadows and small lakes in Pine Creek Basin.
Some of the willows had turned color, signaling the start of Fall in the high country (this basin is at about 7,400 feet).
From the basin, we started climbing a broad sagebrush covered ridge,
with views of the Alturas valley and Mount Shasta.
We followed the trail as it worked its way up the broad ridge, mostly through sagebrush but through an occasional aspen or pine grove. Despite the drought, we found that many of the springs shown on the map in this area were still running, some quite strongly.
After about 5.5 miles, we reached the wilderness’ dividing ridge and a junction with the Summit Trail – which runs the length of the wilderness north to south.
We had a nice view back along our route and could, with a little squinting, see Mount Lassen in the distance.
We then followed the Summit Trail north toward Patterson Lake, under clear blue skys at over 9,000 feet.
The Summit Trail took us up to a high point on the east ridge of Warren Peak,
and then swung us around the ridge for an expansive view of Cedarville to the north.
We then dropped down 300 feet to the shores of Patterson Lake, which featured a flock of ducks, fish, and crystal clear waters.
The geology here is volcanic and the different ash and basalt layers from different eruptions are starkly evident. The Warner Mountains are a fault-bounded block of the Basin and Range province and have been uplifted between 5,000 and 12,000 feet along the fault zones. Bedrock of the area consists of 5,000 feet of coarse clastic sedimentary rocks of Oligocene age that are overlain by 5,000 feet of rhyolitic to basaltic volcanic rocks of Miocene age.
After lunch at the lake, we retraced our steps, getting a nice view south along the spine of the wilderness – with Eagle Peak (the wilderness high point) in the distance.
We descended through sagebrush,
and patches of fading corn lilies that clustered around the springs that dot the slope.
We had another look at Mount Shasta and of clouds that we hope are the harbingers of rain for this weekend,
and of the start of Fall colors.
A totally awesome hike (12 miles roundtrip; 2,800 feet of elevation gain) in an area new to us under perfect weather conditions! We’ll be back sometime – likely to dayhike Eagle Peak at the south end of the wilderness.