Backpacking to Caribou Lake in the Trinity Alps

Storms were hitting the Sierra Nevada but farther north was dry so that’s where we headed for Memorial Day weekend.

I’ve taken to watching hashtags of place names for conditions reports. Before the weekend, two people had posted recent photos of the high country. After the weekend, dozens and dozens of photos went up. Summer has started.

As it tends to happen, we had a great time in the mountains. I’m more relaxed and all ready to go back. This felt like a good kick off to another hiking season.

The trailhead at Big Flat is a long way out. Nearly three hours from Redding. Once we left Highway 3, it was a solid hour down Coffee Creek Road, more than half of that on dirt.

The Caribou Lakes are popular. We shared the basin with probably 15 other groups. Lindsey and I made camp high up and away from most of them and had a great view. We stayed two nights. Sunday sent us exploring and finally up the pretty steep snow to Sawtooth Ridge. We’d considered dropping down and looping around to Big Flat but opted-out. The view down the Stuart Fork and across to the mountains all around was fantastic.

The view from Sawtooth Ridge in the Trinity Alps. Still plenty of snow in the high country.

The view from Sawtooth Ridge in the Trinity Alps. Still plenty of snow in the high country.

Other things? We read issues of the New Yorker. Ate dinner late. Nipped some bourbon. Talked about all of the campers below.

The Trinity Alps have a fantastic conditions report that’s stewarded by the Wilderness lead. You can see it on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest homepage. It talked about the severely limited trail maintenance dollars in the area. I did a bit to help the situation on my way out by clearing hundreds of sticks and stones, a few trees and fixing drainage issues. It made for a fun day. We also split off the main route and hiked the Caribou Gulch trail down. As expected, it needed even more repair but was still very passable and a nice way to go.

Building the Pope to Putah Creek trail near Lake Berryessa

After being on the volunteer email list for far too long, I finally committed to showing up. Luck would have it that we’d be “finishing” the Pope to Putah Creek trail near Lake Berryessa.

Led by Bam Bam, the crew was a bunch of pros. It was great to meet the people that maintain the greater Bay Area’s trails. Out of the ten volunteers this weekend, at least half of them seemed to volunteer every other weekend. They’re the ones showing up, weekend after weekend, to retread, brush and log-out.

I sometimes complain about the condition of trails in places like Ventana. These were the people that work to fix it.

Trail building with Tuleyome on the Pope to Putah Creek trail.

Trail building with Tuleyome on the Pope to Putah Creek trail.

The Pope Creek to Putah Creek project has been ongoing for at least a few years. Yesterday, we extended the tread all the way to it’s destination. And then, at Putah Creek (flooded by Lake Berryessa), we drank champagne (8 ounces between 10 people) and went for a swim.

It’s an interesting trail. Brand new. Remote. Scenic. Backpackable.

Not yet really ready. I learned a fair amount about what it takes for volunteers to build new trail. At this point, there’s still quite a bit to do. Widen and re-bench it. Rebuild steep sections. Brush. Sign. In it’s current shape, it’s almost as if it’s disappearing. Some sections are definitely a first hash. Get something on the ground. Break through the brush. Make it to the creek.

We made it.

Props to all who regularly show up to build our trails. It’s an incredible, and important hobby. I had a good time meeting all of you on this stint.

Car camping and day hiking in Napa Valley and around Calistoga

For Valentine’s day, Lindsey and I went to Napa. We left on Friday after work and stayed through Monday. It was a blissfully extended weekend.

I pulled a new-to-me camping stunt by leaving my sleeping bag at home. Two towels, a yoga mat and a down jacket were finicky but warm enough. A quick trip past fancy wineries on Saturday brought me to a department store for a new blanket.

Unsurprisingly, it was a hiking trip. Wine tasting? Sit inside?

The town of Calistoga from the Old Mill Hill trail.

The town of Calistoga from the Oat Hill Mine trail.

We ended each hike at dusk. The perfect time.

Saturday: an afternoon/evening loop around Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

Sunday: the camp host (who saw stickers on my car, introduced himself as a PCT trail angel aspirant) shuttled us for a point to point hike. That coup saw us hike the ~11 miles from Highway 29 in Robert Louis Stevenson SP, out the Table Mountain Trail, across the Palisades Trail and then down the Oat Hill Mine trail. The Palisades portion is lightly traveled, narrow and really fantastic. Our time of year was just right. Green, wildflowers, and the Poison Oak was leafed out enough to see, but not huge enough to encroach.


Oat Hill Mill.

Monday: hiked the summit of Mt. Saint Helena. Second to last party to summit. Shared it with a dust devil (how cool!). Drove home via Middletown and Butts Canyon Road (how neat!).

Beyond that, it was a great date weekend. Lots of good food, good times, time around the campfire and games.

The summit of Mt. Saint Helena.

The summit of Mt. Saint Helena.

Backpacking Cache Creek – Judge Davis Trail to Wilson Valley

A big crew of us left after work for a Friday night sub-24 hour backpacking trip. I’ve been wanting a trip like this for a long time.

We hiked the five miles in the dark – no headlamps. Had a camp fire. Whiskey. Stayed up late. Crawled into bed under huge oak trees.

Saturday, most of us packed up and headed out early. A few stayed – and reported river otters.

I didn’t take any photos. I hardly brought gear. Bag, pad, two burritos and not much else.

It was a great time with good friends.

Car camping the Mono Lake region

Lindsey and I headed to the rain shadow for MLK weekend. It’s mid-winter, but it’s a drought and temperatures are mild. We had a great weekend.

With ice and snow at elevation, and curiosity trumping fitness goals, we did more exploring than exercising. The list of places we visited is long:

  • Travertine hot spring: where we soaked and camped the first night
  • Lundy Canyon: where we drove over snow and then walked up canyon just a bit
  • South Tufa: where we lunched and said hi to the lake
  • June Lake area: where we walked up from Silver Lake, hit ice again and played a riddle
  • Mammoth: where we went to the store
  • the green church: where we went to Hilltop hot spring
  • Mono Lake: where we returned to disperse camp
  • Pickle Meadow: near the Mountain Warfare Training Center, where we walked, crossed the river and climbed a basalt monolith

It was a really rejuvenating and grounding weekend marked by good company, asking lots of questions and comfortable nights camping.

I hardly took pictures but I did take this one. Mono Lake, Calif.

I hardly took pictures but I did take this one. Mono Lake, Calif.

Trip planning for 2015

Hiking Stebbins Cold Canyon loop at Lake Berryessa

We loaded up the car and headed to Berryessa for an afternoon hike. Fun company, nice light and just the right amount of casual effort make it one of our best local hikes.

The day was marked by emergency responders descending on the canyon as we were heading out. Two helicopters, a plane and two volunteer firefighters from Vacaville were the first wave. It was hard to really know what was going on – what they told us was that they thought that a climber had fallen. I helped in a minor way by finding and directing them to a game trail that they could follow. It’s not a crag that I know to be on climber’s lists. After quite a bit of searching, the helicopter found one person and lifted them out before returning to the accident site. We left before seeing full resolution. It all seemed fast paced – a worrisome sign. Back towards the trailhead, probably a dozen fire trucks were starting their response.

Lake Berryessa in the background.

Lake Berryessa in the background.