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I had spent the night camped quite cozily in the back of the van at the Stuart Fork TH following a long six hour drive from San Jose. I was not up particularly early because of the late arrival, not starting out until after 8:30a. I found the Stuart Fork drainage to be much like Canyon Creek - long, deep V-cut canyons driving deep into the heart of the Trinity Alps where the highest summits lie at their headwaters. The canyon is heavily forested with a fairly lush understory in places closer to water. Late in the season as it was now the main creek is fairly subdued but still flowing with plenty of water. In Spring and early Summer it is more like a torrent. Most of the first two hours is spent in the forest with only fleeting views to the surrounding peaks. There is a footbridge over Deep Creek at the three mile mark, but oddly there is no such bridge at all across the Stuart Fork when I reached the junction for the Alpine Lake Trail. I found the crossing almost trivial, but it could easily be a much bigger deal with higher water levels. Following this, the trail makes a deceivingly easy traverse for half a mile over to the Boulder Creek drainage whereupon it begins a relentless 2,500-foot climb to Alpine Lake in about 2.5mi. A junction is reached about a mile from the Stuart Fork crossing, poorly signed and hardly obvious. If you miss it, you'll stay on the main trail heading southwest over a pass into Canyon Creek. The trail to Alpine Lake is fainter and may or may not be marked by a small cairn. I was using my GPSr for navigation and knew to look for the upcoming trail junction. I only saw the broken sign on the tree after coming back down.
Views begin to open up on the ascent to Alpine Lake, both forward towards Bear Gulch Peak and behind me looking down the Stuart Fork drainage and across it to the Red Trinities. I reached a small meadow downstream of Alpine Lake at the end of the long climb, marked by a large erratic boulder lying in the streambed. It was time to head cross-country after crossing the creek but the slope looked uncomfortably brushy upon first look. Closer inspection found a rocky streamlet channel that allowed me to get through the lower brush section fairly unscathed and with some rather fun class 2-3 scrambling as unexpected bonus. Rising higher above Alpine lake below me to the south, the brush gives way to a section of blocky granite before moving into more forested terrain rising all the way up to the crest. The summit emerges from the forest to allow unobstructed views of a surrounding sea of granite that forms the heart of the Trinity Alps. Perhaps only Sawtooth Mtn to the northwest offers finer views of these two main drainages, Canyon Creek to the west and Stuart Fork to the east. The weather was quite nice at this time, now almost 1p, and I spent about half an hour enjoying a summit lunch while taking in the views.
While I often prefer to modify my return route to explore different terrain, I was unsure that I could improve on the section through brush and decided to retrace my steps back down the south side of Bear Gulch Peak. Upon returning to the small creek emanating from Alpine Lake I chose to follow the remaining short bit of trail to the lake to have a look. I briefly considered taking longer for a refreshing swim but it proved too cold for my liking and I left almost as quickly as I had arrived. I would spend most of the next three hours returning to the TH, pausing to take pictures of scenes along the way that now had more light than when I had passed through in the morning. In particular I enjoyed the views descending from Alpine Lake of the Red Trinities and the Stuart Fork drainage. At Deep Creek I noted a 10-foot waterfall off to the side of the bridge that I had completely missed in the morning despite its telling sounds that would seem hard to ignore.
It was well after 5p by the time I returned to the TH where I found a few more cars keeping mine company than there'd been earlier when I started out. Still, rather quiet as one might expect late in the afternoon on a Sunday. I drove out through the Trinity Alps Resort to Hwy 3 and then north to Coffee Creek. I would drive most of the paved portion of this secondary road up to the Boulder Creek TH where I planned to hike the next morning. Though mine was the only vehicle parked here for the night, a few of the local residents returning home would periodically drive by over the next few hours - not quite the remote location I had imagined it to be, but a nice spot to spend the night...
This page last updated: Sun Nov 15 11:03:42 2015
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