In 2015, my adventure hiking partner – Brad – and I did a partially on-trail, partially cross-country figure-8 loop (post) around the Three Sisters in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness. In 2016, we did a similar on/off trail loop in Oregon’s largest wilderness area, the Eagle Cap Wilderness (post). This year, we sketched out another on/off trail loop in the high country of the Trinity Alps Wilderness in Northern California. Our initial plan was to start at the China Spring (or Gulch) Trailhead, go up past Grizzly Lake and over Thompson Peak (the highest point in this wilderness), then down the Rattlesnake Creek drainage, and back up to the trailhead via the North Fork Trail. This particular trip didn’t work out much as planned but it was still an adventure with a highpoint.
Big Blue Lake is situated at the northern end of California’s Russian Wilderness. I came across it in Lautner’s Day & Section Hikes, Pacific Crest Trail, Northern California (2010), where reaching it is portrayed as an off-trail adventure hike. And so it was. Going cross-country to Big Blue is a lot of work but, once you’re there, it’s an exquisite turquoise blue gem of an alpine lake, set in a rugged granite bowl. On reflection, it would have been better to have hiked to it on a cooler day and on one where the scenery wasn’t faintly obscured by smoke from a wildfire smoldering some 10 miles to the northwest in the Marble Mountain Wilderness (Island Fire). Ah, hindsight.
The Cook and Green Loop is one of the more challenging (i.e., character-building) hikes in Northern California’s Red Buttes Wilderness (a wilderness more readily accessible from the Oregon side). The loop consists of the Cook and Green Trail (USFS #959), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and the Horse Camp Trail (USFS #958). It can be done in either direction. Clockwise it is a gradual 11-mile, 3,600 foot climb up the Cook and Green Trail and the PCT to the Horse Camp Trail junction, and then a steep 4 mile descent down that trail to the trailhead on Forest Road 1040. The other way is a stiff 3,600 foot ascent followed by a gradual 11-mile descent. I’d done the loop clockwise in January 2015, when there was only a miniscule amount of snow along the Siskiyou Crest (post). Plans for doing it counter-clockwise languished until the desire to see how much snow the very snowy winter of 2016-17 had left on the Crest overcame my reluctance to climb 3,600 feet (the LovedOne opted to garden instead). So a bright, sunny, and destined to be very warm, day found me starting up the Horse Camp Trail at an absurdly early hour.
We’ve done several hikes in the Red Buttes Wilderness in Northern California, including a scramble to its high point (the eastern summit of Red Butte at 6,739 feet) just this last June (post). However, it’s such a beautiful area that we’re always looking for new hikes to explore around here. So, after wandering around in the virtual wilderness of the internet, I came across a few mentions of Towhead Lake, which is situated in the southeast corner of the real Red Buttes Wilderness just northwest of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Our trailhead for this hike was at Cook and Green Pass, which we reached via a good gravel road (Forest Road (FR) 1055) which comes up from the Oregon side of the border just south of Applegate Lake. At the pass, the PCT crosses FR 1055 (which continues south and down as FR 48N20 to the Seiad Valley in California) and is joined by the terminus of the Cook and Green trail (USFS #959) coming up from FR 1040. There is also a signed “Service Road” that goes west from the pass (there’ll be more about this road later). We started hiking south on the PCT as in climbed gently up the slopes of Cook and Green Butte,
We made our first foray into the 225,114 acre Marble Mountain Wilderness (details) during the low (or no)-snow year of 2015 with an out-and-back hike to Marble Valley from Lovers Camp (post). But then our local – an actually printed on paper – paper had a small article about a loop hike from Lovers Camp, up the Red Rock Valley, north along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and then back via the Canyon Creek trail that looked interesting. And so it sat on our ever-lengthening to do list for more than a year. Now seemed like, with weather (rain, snow, cold!) predicted for the days ahead, the opportune moment to finally try this loop. Unfortunately, the LovedOne was sidelined by a utility inspection, so this one fell to me as another solo hike. So, alone (sniff, sigh), I drove to the Lovers Camp trailhead outside Fort Jones, California. This is one trailhead that’s accessible all on paved road, but the last 7 miles is one lane and twisty – and is slow going if you get lodged behind a horse trailer or someone challenged by curves. However, once you finally get to it, there’s ample paved parking and a pit toilet.
The Sierra Buttes (8,591 feet) are a striking geological feature in the Tahoe National Forest near the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. They are composed of highly erosion resistant quartz prophry that exploded from undersea volcanoes about 300 million years ago. We were attracted to them – as are many others – by the unique lookout on their high point, their presence on the Sierra Peak Section’s list (SPS List), and the fact that we hadn’t spent much time in this northern part of the Sierras. Later we would find that this lookout is billed as a major tourist attraction in just about every brochure covering this part of the Sierra Nevada. You can drive – probably not with a 2WD sedan – to within 0.5 miles of the lookout but we opted to hike up from the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) trailhead off Forest Road 93-02 (you can also do a longer hike up by starting at Packer Lake). We got to the trailhead fairly early only to find several cars already there, dirt bikers roaring along the road, and a way station for a mountain bike race that was scheduled to start soon. We would also encounter a lot of people along the trail. Our bad for doing this hike on a weekend!
Granite Chief (9,006 feet) sits on the edge of the Granite Chief Wilderness (details), just west of the Squaw Valley Ski Resort. We chose to approach the peak via the Granite Chief Trail (USFS #15E23) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), with a little cross-country on a sandy use trail at the end. This peak was attractive both for the view from its summit and for the views that could be had along the Granite Chief Trail and the PCT. If there’s anything tricky about this hike, it’s finding the start of the trail.