Wed, Jun 13, 2018
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Today's adventure brought me to the western edge of the Trinity Alps Wilderness in the Six Rivers National Forest. There were a couple of summits on the CC-list and a few found in Wayne Moss's Trinity Alps Companion, a couple of lists I've been working on in no particular hurry. I had tried a day earlier to reach Trinity Summit from the south via the Grizzly Camp TH, but had lost the trail in a dense section of brush a few miles from my goal and had to turn back. Fires in 2009 and 2013 had burned large portions of the Wilderness, a boon for buckthorn and other brushy plants. Adding to the difficulties, the trails in this part of the forest seem to get irregular maintenance, sometimes none at all. My plan today was an ambitious one, covering more than 18mi, with more than four miles of cross-country to and from Tish Tang Point and unknown conditions on the trailed sections. I was happy to manage all of it in less than 9hrs.
Getting to the Mill Creek Lake TH at the edge of the Wilderness is a bit of a chore, something like 30mi of winding mountain roads from Orleans on SR96, though most of it is paved. I was 37mi south of Orleans in the town of Willow Creek late in the afternoon when I decided to do this hike the next day, and was expecting to take several hours of driving into the evening to get there. I was happy to find there is a far shorter route from the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation just west of the Wilderness and north of Willow Creek. The excellently graded Big Hill Rd goes east from the Trinity River 11mi up to the reservation boundary where it joins the paved forest road with another 5-6mi to go to get to the trailhead. I was a little worried I might find a locked gate at the boundary but was happy to find no such obstacle and made it from Willow Creek to the TH in less than half the time I had expected if going through Orleans.
I was up in the morning and starting my hike by 6:20a. The trail immediately forks in three directions. The left fork goes to Mill Creek Lake, the right fork would be my return route. I headed up the middle fork which goes uphill to Water Dog Lakes before joining the Horse Ridge National Recreation Trail. Before reaching the lakes, the trail goes over the southern shoulder of North Trinity Mountain. An easy cross-country jaunt goes several hundred feet up to the summit which I reached in only 40min's time. The summit is on both of the lists and is also a P1K, yet seems remarkably unremarkable. The summit is large and rounded, trees mostly blocking the views. I had some trouble finding rocks to shelter a new register I would leave at the summit atop the benchmark, then headed down the southeast side of the peak to return to the trail.
A few minutes later I reached Water Dog Lakes, a few small ponds looking more like swampy marshes than alpine lakes. A couple of backpackers were camped there, still sleeping, the only other visitors I would run into all day. I took a few photos before quietly leaving them undisturbed. I joined the Horse Ridge Trail and started south along the crest towards Trinity Summit, about two miles away. I made a slight detour enroute to visit the minor summit of unnamed Peak 6,146ft, little more than a collection of rocks amidst the forest. South of here, the trail passes through a large meadow area at a saddle and a poorly-marked trail junction before climbing up to Trinity Summit. I arrived soon after 8:30a to find the old guard station still standing, much as it has since the 1930s, though perhaps a bit weathered. The inside is plain and mostly empty, though one can't help but think "hanta virus" when walking around. The front door was locked but the rear one not so, allowing me a brief visit inside. There is a campsite on the north side of the building, an outhouse behind the bushes to the west and what looks like a small barn further to the south. There are two areas vying for highpoint, one immediately behind the guard station in the bushes where I found a very dated canteen lying half-buried. The nicer summit is found to the south where a rock outcrop makes a far better summit than a clump of bushes. I left a register here before continuing south along the ridge.
Less than a mile south of Trinity Summit I came to a trail junction I was looking for. The east fork drops down through Devils Hole on its way to the Grizzly Camp TH about 7mi to the south - the very trail I had lost track of the previous day. It would have been interesting to follow this trail down to see where I went wrong, but that was going to be more effort than I cared for - I still had a lot of unknown on the route ahead. I took the right fork that drops off the crest as it makes its way downhill towards Corral Creek in the direction of Tish Tang Point. The trail started off nicely but I lost it after about a mile. This part of the Wilderness had burned in the 2013 Corral Complex Fire and five years later most of it is more brush than forest. It took me almost two hours from this point to reach Tish Tang Point, a distance of about 3mi - not great, but nowhere near as bad as it could have been. I tried to follow a trail shown on my GPSr down to Patterson Meadows where I hoped to find another trail junction. I found appliances and other stuff from a homestead that once stood in the meadows but few signs of a trail. The cross-country travel wasn't bad and once I reached Corral Creek at the meadows I found the beaten path of a trail I was looking for on the west side of the creek. This trail heads north towards McKay Meadows and eventually back to the Mill Creek Lake TH, giving me hope that I could use this for the return rather than going the long way back up Trinity Summit.
I stayed on this trail for only a few hundred yards before striking off to the west towards Tish Tang Point. There were no trails shown on the map and none discovered for this two mile stretch. I had to go up through a saddle at about 5,100ft, then drop down to a lower one at 4,500ft before climbing up to the summit whose elevation doesn't quite reach 5,000ft. This was the hardest part of the day with the most brush - not overwhelming, but I had to pick and choose my route carefully to avoid the brushiest places. The final climb up to the summit involved walking along downed logs to get through the thickest parts of brush. I found the summit to be the least summit-like of the four I visited - flattish, no views, heavy brush, low elevation. I happened upon a large boulder to call the highpoint but left no register since I had no other rocks to hide it in - the next fire would simply consume it without a second thought. This CC-listed summit should definitely be delisted as it has no redeeming qualities that I could discern - you wouldn't even recognize it from a distance if you didn't know where to look.
I followed a similar return route from Tish Tang Point to Corral Creek, picking up the faint trail pretty close to where I'd left it. I soon became dismayed when I had trouble following the trail through several creek crossings and boggy areas that quickly had my boots wet. Would my route continue like this for the remaining five miles? It would not. East of McKay Meadows the trail goes through a saddle where it becomes an actual roadbed. Once driveable all the way to McKay Meadows, the roadbed now serves as a trail and I was highly confident that I could follow it even if there was little foot traffic to preserve a use trail. The road traverses the west side of the crest around the 5,200-foot level as it makes its way in and out of several side creeks in the Tish Tang a Tang Creek drainage (now there's a name to remember). It was a pleasant enough hike that would take several hours to finish, and I was most happy to be done with the brushy cross-country business. I returned to the TH by 3p, still with plenty of daylight to drive back down to Willow Creek for gas and refreshments before driving back up into the hills south of town. A very good day indeed...
This page last updated: Sun Jun 17 18:39:10 2018
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