The promise of unsettled weather in the near future pushed us toward one more “summer” hike before we’re hit by wet and cold (and before there’s enough snow for snowshoeing!). Thanks to the Hike Mt Shasta website, we’d had a great hike in California’s Shasta-Trinity National Forest a couple of days ago. Although other hikes in the Marble and Russian Wilderness areas beckoned from our never diminishing list of hikes to do (our way of bringing the myth of Sisyphus to hiking), the thought of one a little closer to home (that is, one that didn’t involve a four-hour roundtrip drive) was more appealing. Two that we’d done in 2016 about this time – Old Baldy and Vulture Rock (Point 6054) – seemed like good, close choices that could be fashioned into a loop hike. With the LovedOne begging off to set-up (after the bomb threat had been cleared) the now monthly library book sale, I was on my own for this one. I argued that bears and chipmunks rarely try to blow you up, but to no avail.
Well, the smoke has been blown away (mostly) and the wildfires that generated it are being brought further and further under control. However, it will take a big, wet storm to finally quell them all. Speaking of storms, the state’s October to December seasonal climate forecast for our area predicts stronger-than-usual storminess – with the first installment coming as early as later this week. Having had them deferred because of heat and smoke, we’re trying to squeeze in a few hikes before we’re hit by wet and cold. Thanks to the Hike Mt Shasta website, we’ve had China Mountain in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest on our list for awhile and today seemed like as good a time as any to go hike it.
While we were hiking in Nevada, a couple of cold fronts swept through Southern Oregon and Northern California, clearing out the choking smoke and bringing rain to stifle the many wildfires plaguing our area. Although the rain helped a lot, it wasn’t sufficient to put the fires dead-out, so several national forest and wilderness area closures remain in effect (likely till next Spring in some cases). This required a major re-think of our Fall hiking plans. Fortunately, the nearby Soda Mountain Wilderness was still open for business. It’s adjacent to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which is now under threat from the current administration’s utterly misguided belief that we have too much wilderness and not enough clear-cuts. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is more of a threat to our outdoors – wildfires or politicians? To assuage this unsettling thought, I headed out (the LovedOne having resumed her volunteer duties at the county library) to visit the various “pilot” rocks and peaks dotting the Soda Mountain Wilderness.
After hikes in the Ruby Mountains Wilderness and Great Basin National Park, we decided to enjoy some “big city” civilization (and a wider selection of microbrews) by heading over to Salt Lake City. Once there, we found time – amongst the bookstores, microbrews, and restaurants – to visit Antelope Island State Park, located about 40 miles north of the city. On our last and only visit to this park – while escaping briefly from a conference in Salt Lake – we’d had to deal with a fog so thick that we couldn’t see much beyond the hood of our rental car. But we’d heard that it was quite a beautiful area – when visible – so we took this opportunity to actually see it for ourselves. Well, long story short, it is an amazing outdoor venue, with spectacular views of the Great Salt Lake, along with the Historic Fielding Garr Ranch and free-ranging bison (among other desert animals of various sizes and temperments). The folks in Salt Lake are lucky to have someplace this nice so close by…
Another goal for our visit to Great Basin National Park was a hike to the summit of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak. This is the highest peak in the Park and the second highest in Nevada, the first being 13,147-foot Boundary Peak [climbed in 1985] near the California border. State boosters are quick to point out that, since part of Boundary Peak slops into California, Wheeler Peak is the tallest peak entirely within Nevada (so there!). There is also some glowering when the uninformed confuse Nevada’s number two Wheeler Peak with New Mexico’s highest point [climbed in 1993] which is – wait for it – also named Wheeler Peak (good old George M. Wheeler sure got around). Anyway, the climb of Nevada’s Wheeler Peak is a straightforward hike on a clear and easily followed trail, the only tricks being the weather and the altitude (the hike is all above 10,000 feet). Fortunately, we were able to wait for good weather and we’d also spent a couple of days acclimating elsewhere in Nevada.
Another goal for our roadtrip to Nevada to escape wildfire smoke in Southern Oregon was a visit to Great Basin National Park, which is located about 60 miles east of Ely, Nevada. We’d tried this twice before, only to be turned away by lingering snow in one instance and crowds from a car race in another. This late in the summer snow was not an issue and we were just plain lucky in avoiding conflicts with the car race, which was (yet again) running during our visit. Because the weather was not initially supportive of a Wheeler Peak hike (the park’s highest point and the second highest point in Nevada), we spent our first day in the park touring and visiting some of its other attractions, like the Lehman Caves and the Osceola Ditch.
This hike was part of a hastily arranged roadtrip to Nevada to escape the wildfire smoke that was smothering Southern Oregon. It was also an opportunity for me to visit a few localities I’d missed in years past, such as the Ruby Mountains Wilderness, which is located on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest about 30 miles southeast of Elko, Nevada. Almost 40 years ago, I drove into the Thomas Canyon Campground at the mouth of Lamoille Canyon, got out of the car, gazed in wonder at the surrounding glacier-carved escarpments, got back in car, and drove off. Because, in those days, I believed, with the ineffable hubris of youth, that I had places to be and things to do that were more important than wilderness. Oh, what foolishness. Well, those other places and other things have now come and gone, and it was finally time to visit this wilderness which I had so easily (perhaps too easily) spurned back in the day.