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.
Last week was our (almost) annual pilgrimage to Death Valley National Park in California in search of heat and dryness. March in the Valley can be fickle – cold and rainy has happened in past years – but this year didn’t disappoint. Amongst the usual tourist activities (a tour of Scotty’s Castle, a drive through Titus Canyon, and a long, bone jarring drive to the Racetrack), we got in some actual hiking. All of these hikes are at or above 3,000 feetso temperatures ranged comfortably from 50º to 75º F, usually with a mild wind. But full sun and very low humidity (8%) called for lots of sunscreen and water.
The big trip this year was a backpack through the Evolution Basin region in California’s John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. The trip was partly on trail (the John Muir Trail (JMT)) and partly cross-country. Weather was generally excellent, except for afternoon thunderstorms, the worst ravishes of which we were able to mostly avoid until the last day. It’s been a drought year in the Sierras, so there was no late season snowpack to speak of and we were thus spared the need to carry ice axes and crampons that might otherwise have been needed for safety on some of the cross-country segments.
After finally hiking Mount Lassen the day before, we thought it would be fun to try climbing Castle Dome (4,700 feet) in Castle Crags State Park. We also figured this might be our last chance since the park is slated to be closed next year because of California’s budget woes. The most popular hiking route is the Crags Trail which leads to spectacular views from the base of Castle Dome. Our goal was to climb the Regular Route (high Class 3 – low Class 4) to the summit of the Dome, where the view was anticipated to be even bigger! Although Sullivan describes climbing the Dome itself (Hike #98 in his Southern Oregon & Northern California guide (Second Edition), his description of the actual climbing route isn’t very detailed, so we used the one from SummitPost. It’s not a technical climb in the strictest sense but (as Sullivan says) it’s only for “confident scramblers” – as there are places where a slip could have very tragic consequences.
I’d always meant to hike up Mount Lassen in Lassen Volcanic National Park someday but “that some day” always seemed to somewhere in the future. The effort I put into climbing Mount Shasta (twice) might have been one reason Mount Lassen got neglected for so long. Then 3 years ago, we decided it was time to hike Mount Lassen and take another step toward climbing all of the 9,000+ foot Cascade volcanoes. Our only problem was that Lassen’s summit trail was being rebuilt (slowly) and was only open at odd times. This year it was scheduled to be open only on the 4th of July weekend, the weekend of August 13-14, and Labor Day weekend but could still be closed AT ANY MOMENT! Attempts in recent years had been derailed by road closures, lack of enthusiasm for a long snow climb, wildfires, and trail maintenance. Labor Day was booked, so we drove to the Mount Lassen Trailhead with just a little trepidation about its being open (yes, this time we did call ahead).
Once again we slipped the damp caresses of an Oregon winter to wallow in the harsh, but sunny, landscape of Death Valley National Park. Even with soaring gas prices ($5.18 at Furnace Creek!), the trip was, once gain, worth it. Plus this year we were joined at times by our friends Wayne & Diane and Alan & Janet, so this one was an extra special get-away. We allowed ourselves plenty of time each day to enjoy the sunsets while sipping appropriate adult beverages on the patio of the Furnace Creek Inn (liquid intake being an important part of desert hiking). Overall, another great trip – cloud-free sun most days, daytime air temperatures between 65º and 75ºF, plus fun hikes. Definitely a winter refuge for these water-logged, sun-starved Oregonians. Continue reading →
I spent a lot of time hiking and climbing in Death Valley National Park back when I lived in Califoria and the today’s Park was just a Monument. Then we moved to northern Oregon and talk of a “winter get-away” suddenly gained a lot of traction. Despite time-off from work being at a premium, we finally managed to spend a few days touristing and hiking in Death Valley – where there was a great deal of sunshine and only a tiny bit of rain (despite it’s being a wet year in California). Continue reading →