Fri, Oct 6, 2006
|Story||Photos / Slideshow||Maps: 1 2||Profiles: 1 2|
I slept well. With the seats folded down there is more than enough room for me to lie down in the back of the van to sleep comfortably. Add an inflatable air mattress and a down sleeping bag, and it feels almost as good as sleeping at home. I had set the alarm for 6:30 but found it hadn't gone off when I got up anyway a few minutes after that time. Turns out I'd set the alarm for evening rather than morning, so it wasn't going to go off for another twelve hours yet. I'd been waken by cars driving by what I thought was a remote trailhead on the backroads of the Trinity National Forest. But today was Friday, a workday for most folks, and the trucks that drove by were heading to a nearby logging job.
I got up, ate a breakfast bar, and after packing up my gear I headed out on the Deadfall Creek Trail. It is eight and half miles to the summit, with about 2,800 feet of gain for a moderate outing. Mt. Eddy is the highpoint of Trinity County and the highest peak west of Interstate 5. I was on the second day of a three day spree through the far northern counties of the state in quest of some highpoints I had yet to visit. Yesterday's crappy weather had given way to clearing skies just as predicted, and though it was cold (39 degrees at the start, 44 degrees upon my return), it was shaping up to be a good day for hiking.
Chainsaws fired up about a mile to the north as I started on the trail heading east up Deadfall Creek. I hate to see logging in the Sierra, but somehow here it seems more natural. Rainfall is more plentiful and the trees grow big and the forests thick, and it feels like the effects of logging have much less impact than the drier Sierra. The one detriment I noted was the thin oil films that coated many of the boggy puddles that I passed by as I hiked up the trail along the creek. It might be good for keeping mosquitoes at bay, but in general it can't be a good thing for the environment. I was surprised to find the trail muddy in places, expecting October to have dried up things much as they do lower in the state. It certainly is drier this time of year with all the meadows a golden brown, but water seems to linger in places longer than elsewhere in the state.
I hiked in the shade as the sun came up shortly after 7a. The ridge to the east blocked the sun in the upper part of the valley, but further to the west the forest was already brightly lit. I crossed the PCT within the first half hour and made my way up to the crest and another trail junction just before 8a. Turning left, I followed the trail as it switchbacked up the south side of Mt. Eddy for another 25 minutes until I reached the summit. The wind, absent almost entirely up until now, was screaming across the summit ridge from the north. Traces of snow from the previous few days were about the summit, and wind-blown ice clung to the north sides of everything about the summit. A dilapidated wood cabin was in its last throws on the broad summit while a powerful wind blew over the ridge from the north. It was biting cold as i took off my gloves to take a few pictures, and I could not stay long at the summit. Mt. Shasta, rising dramatically to the east another 5,000ft higher had its upper half enveloped in cloud and looking even colder than my own summit.
I had spied the interesting West Ridge while on the trail below and had hoped to take it for an alternative on the return, but with the wind blowing it would have been too cold for my liking. I retreated back down the trail, protected from the cold on the south side of the peak. As I jogged down the trail, I ran across a pair of hunters about halfway back. I spoke briefly with them, long enough to ascertain they were out looking for deer (I'd seen none all morning) and to wish them luck. I paused at picturesque Deadfall Lake but was disappointed that conditions were poor for a good picture with the sun overhead. I was back at the trailhead by 9:30a, for a total outing of two and a half hours. That was the easy part of the day. I still had much driving and a longer hike to do in the afternoon.
I changed out of my boots that were still a bit damp from the previous day, but well on the way to drying out nicely. I got out my drinks and snacks for the drive, and headed back out to I5. Holy crap - there's a lot of driving ahead! Driving north, I briefly considered turning left past Yreka and heading west on SR96 for Salmon Mtn. But that would leave the much harder Bear Mtn to do on Saturday, the same day I have to drive back to San Jose which would be too painful. I also looked over my maps to see if there was a shortcut from SR96 to US199, but my maps don't have much detail and it would probably take longer with windy dirt roads to contend with. I continued north through the towns of Ashland, Medford, and Grants Pass in Oregon before turning south again on US199. Hours go by.
Even once I got to the turnoff on Little Jones Road I find I have more to contend with. Two miles up the paved forest road I come to a halt behind a large Forest Service SUV. Getting out of my car I walk up to survey the holdup. A large trailer truck hauling junk from a landowner's property has slipped off the road at a sharp turn and tumbled 50 feet down the embankment before trees stopped further carnage. Trees more than a foot in diameter have been snapped like matchsticks in fighting the force of gravity. The driver is unhurt luckily, but the rig is a total loss and two huge tow trucks are assisting in hauling out the unlucky vehicle. I'm told that it will be hours before it is cleared, but one of the tow truck drivers informs me of another road at a fork a mile back that can be used to bypass the mess. This was good luck on my part, and though the road is unpaved, narrow, windy, and quite steep in places, it is navigable by an ordinary vehicle and only takes me about five miles out of my way.
It was 2p when I finally reached the TH for Bear Mtn, the highpoint of Del Norte County. This would be the longest hike of the five I had planned, a total of about 15 miles and 3,300 feet of gain. I figured I had about 5 hours to get back by 7p when it would get dark. There were two routes that I knew of to reach the peak. The standard route was mostly on trail but involved an extra 1,700ft of gain due to an 850-foot descent down Doe Creek. The other route was half the distance but almost all cross-country. Andy Martin had taken three and a half hours to reach the summit via this second route, another highpointer much longer. With a good deal of bushwhacking reported, the best I figured I might do is two and half hours. If I took longer, I could return via the longer route on trail since I wouldn't want to be doing the bushwhack return in the dark. With this in mind I started jogging down the road that marks the beginning of both routes for the first mile.
My plan ran afoul quite quickly - within that first mile - as I missed the turnoff to start heading up the steep slopes for the cross-country portion. I was well past Siskiyou Pass before I realized my mistake. Luck was with me however as my mistake led to a very pleasant discovery. I expected the trail to start descending to Doe Creek at any moment but it merely continued a contouring route along the south side of the canyon. After I was past the junction to Buck Lake I realized I was on a trail not described by Suttle and not on the 7.5' map. As I found out later, the trail had been realigned a year ago and now it was possible to reach Devils Punchbowl at the base of Bear Mtn without the unpleasant descent along Doe Creek. Very nice. It doesn't avoid all the switchbacks climbing up from the creek, but at least 2/3 of them. When I reached the next junction I turned right and started up the very steep switchbacks leading to a ridge. They were incredibly steep actually, and I was glad to find some worthy switchbacks that tested one's mettle rather than the lazy packmule ones found elsewhere in the state. These were manly switchbacks, by God!
I'd had enough of them after about 15 minutes and I was glad to see I was now high enough where the trail traverses into the Devils Punchbowl. The route descends a short distance, then climbs up through heavily ducked lava flows. I mistook the lower, smaller lake for the Devils Punchbowl when I first encountered it, but a quick check of the map soon set me right. I continued following duck after duck (almost all unnecessary, but I didn't bother to remove any of them) until I reached the deep blue-green waters of Devils Punchbowl proper.
High walls surrounded three sides of the lake in a semicircle, Bear Mtn standing as the highest point along the arc. Suttle recommended traversing clockwise around the lake in order to reach a tedious talus chute. Without a trail to make things easier, the traverse around the lake was itself a chore right from the start and I grew frustrated that I had to go three-fourths of the way around the large lake before I could start climbing the chute. After completing less than a third of this traverse I stopped to consider options. The North Face of Bear Mtn looked almost vertical with what looked like crappy rock. Possibly fourth class, but possibly harder yet. The left wall looked less steep than the North Face and it looked like third class up to the NE Ridge. Once on the ridge it looked challenging but doable. So in a moment of inspiration I gave up on the talus chute and started up for the NE Ridge.
This turned out to be a wonderful decision. The climbing was sustained at class 3 and very enjoyable. The steep climb up to the ridge was challenging, but the NE Ridge itself was even more so, and thoroughly enjoyable. A small bit of easy bushwhacking combined with a bit of fortuitous navigating allowed me to follow the crest of the ridge with only minor deviations. An unexpected gem and the best scrambling I had on the whole trip put me in a fine mood as I arrived at the summit shortly after 4:30p. It was getting late in the afternoon, but I was almost sad to see the ridge end. I found a busy register along with the USGS marker at the summit. I attempted to make an entry in the register but could not get the pen to function. I stayed atop about ten minutes, taking pictures and assessing the return via the cross-country down the alternate route. I decided to see how the bushwhacking down the West Ridge went to the top of the talus chute before deciding which route to take back.
I did not get down to the top of the chute as quickly as I hoped and became nervous that if I chose the cross-country route I might run out of daylight. That could become a most miserable affair in the dark. So I played it safe and opted for the scree chute descent and back to the trail. Not wanting to do the three-fourths traverse around the lake, I took my chances and went clockwise when I got down near the shoreline. The cliffs or other impasse that Suttle warned against didn't materialize and I found it made a for a relatively easy return to the lake's outlet with only a modest amount of bushwhacking.
Once back at Devils Punchbowl, it was a straightforward matter to follow the ducks and trail back. I jogged as much as I could down the switchbacks and back across the traverse to Siskiyou Pass, then the final mile hike up the road and back to the van. When I arrived there shortly before 7p, I was greeted by one of several highpointers that had driven up to camp and then climb the peak the next day. They had seen my name in the sign-in box and wondered if I'd get back before dark with a 2p start. They had come up after the primary road had been cleared of the wreckage, so I was happy to learn I would not have to take the scarier dirt road in the dark on the way back. I got one more photo of the moon rising over Bear Mtn on the drive out before darkness overtook the land. It had been a successful day of peakbagging.
Unfortunately my day was not yet over as I still needed to drive to the next morning's TH. Off I drove, back down Little Jones Rd, south on US199, through Crescent City just as Friday's Cruise Night was getting started, south on US101, east on SR299, then north on SR96 through Yurok country and the Hoopa Indian Reservation. It wasn't until after midnight that I finally reached the trailhead for Salmon Mtn - at least it was paved the whole way. By 12:30a I had finally bedded down in the back of the van for some well-deserved sleep. It didn't look like I'd be getting up too early the next morning...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Eddy - Bear Mountain
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