Paradise Lake lies beneath Kings Castle along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in Northern California’s Marble Mountain Wilderness. The lake can be reached from the west by hiking north or south along the PCT or from the Paradise or Lovers Camp Trailheads or from the Box Camp Trailhead. The Box Camp seemed less well known than the other two trailheads (Lovers Camp can get extremely busy) and the Box Camp Trail itself has been described as recently reinvigorated, so it seemed like an interesting way for a first visit to Paradise (Lake). The onset of cool Fall weather and the recent lifting of this area’s closure due to the Salmon-August Complex Fire where all that were needed to get me headed south to the Marbles.
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.
A line of weather – the remnants of Tropical Storm Lydia – passed through our area earlier this week, bringing with it some brief, but much appreciated, precipitation. This moisture cut a lot of the smoke out of the air and gave crews a chance to get a better grip on the many wildfires still burning/smouldering in the surrounding forests. Temperatures were down too, which also helped with the wildfires. But air quality in the valley was still marginal, so, once again, surrounding summits were called upon for fresh air. After Mount Ashland, Aspen Butte, and Mount McLoughlin, the remaining nearest tall one was Mount Eddy, a 9,025-foot peak due west of Mount Shasta; one that we’d hiked previously in 2009 and 2015. It’s a popular moderate hike past lakes to big views (particularly of Mount Shasta) and one high enough to be above much of the remaining smoke. With the LovedOne once again volunteering at the library, I did this hike mainly for exercise in some fresh air.
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.
For our sixth, and last, hike during our week wandering the Golden State, we decided it would be interesting to visit a waterfall. After consulting Soares’ 100 Classic Hikes in Northern California (2014 edition), we picked Feather Falls as our goal. It was low altitude (so no snow issues), had paved access, and was described (at 410 feet) as the sixth highest waterfall in the United States. In this wet year, we also figured it might be a more spectacular water feature than usual (and we were right). So, bidding a fond farewell to the Garlic Capital of the World, to drove to much less fragrant Yuba City, California, and, after a night there, on to Feather Falls. We arrived to find one of the largest paved parking lots we’ve ever seen at a trailhead (it would be overflowing when we got back). What the guidebook failed to mention is that this is likely one of the most popular dayhikes in the Plumas National Forest. Fortunately, our habit of arriving early and hiking steadily kept us ahead of the crowds for the whole day.