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.
In the early 1970s, I was a frequent visitor to the west side of Pinnacles National Park (it was a national monument then) both for rock climbing and to spend time with friends who were then rangers at Chaparral. Some of my earliest rock climbs were done on the loose, crackless, downward sloping volcanic breccia that dubiously passes for “rock” at Pinnacles. I never made it over to the east side then and haven’t been back since. The LovedOne had never been there. So, after another night in Gilroy, California (“The Garlic Capital of the World”), we drove south to explore – for the fifth hike in our week of wandering the Golden State – the east side of Pinnacles. Thanks to the efforts of an early homesteader, Schuyler Hain, Pinnacles was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 as a 2,500 acre national monument. Since then, the monument has increased in bits and pieces to its present size of about 26,000 acres. In 2013 President Barack Obama signed legislation passed by Congress that redesignated the monument as a National Park.
After saying good-bye to Ken and Julie, we stayed one more night in Calistoga and then spent the next day driving further south to Gilroy, California, visiting bookstores along the way. From Gilroy (“The Garlic Capital of the World”), we would explore – for the fourth hike in our week of wandering the Golden State – the southwest side of Henry W. Coe State Park. At 87,000 acres (35,000 hectares), Coe is the largest state park in northern California and the second-largest in the state after Anza-Borrego Desert State Park east of San Diego. Yet, despite all the years we lived and hiked in California, including time spent in San Francisco, we never once visted Coe. So sad.
One of the goals for this visit to the Golden State was to catch-up with my old friend Ken (and his partner Julie) when his energies weren’t being given totally to the grape harvest. So after we finished our hike of Oat Hill, we went over to Ken and Julie’s for an excellent dinner, some of Ken’s wine, and a discussion of which hike to do together the next day. The weather forecast looked excellent – finally sunshine! – so we decided to hike the Moore Creek Trail from the Las Posadas trailhead down to the Moore Creek trailhead (brochure). This was the third hike in our week of wandering the Golden State.