Wed, Jun 20, 2007
Day two of our county highpointing/fishing expedition. My 10yr-old son Ryan had joined me for four days in NE California chasing the last of the county highpoints I had yet to climb. The previous day we had climbed Yuba and Butte Counties, today was the day for Hat Mtn. Enroute we planned to fish at Lost Lake, a lake we had on very good sources to be a Can't Fail fishing spot. This was somewhat important because typically we have terrible luck fishing, and it is rare when we actually catch anything. By "we" I really mean Ryan, because he's the one that really enjoys the sport. I'm sort of just along for the ride, not even owning a fishing rod, and use it as an enticement to get Ryan to hike and climb. This might be a contributing factor on why we don't catch much.
It took us two and half hours to drive from Susanville to the TH for Hat Mtn following the directions in Suttle's book, which are still accurate. The last part of the road was a bit much for the van with partially protruding rocks exceeding my comfort level on what I would allow to pummel the undercarraige. We found a small spot off the road to park, packed up our stuff and headed out shortly before 9a.
We hiked about a mile up the road before coming to an open mesa, partially sage, partially meadow where the ground was more saturated from runoff. Before us was a scene that I was not expecting. It took me a few minutes to realize I had misread the topo map ahead of time. What I thought was a hike up to Lost Lake, was incorrect - the iso lines were indicating a downslope. We had first to hike down to the lake (as yet, not visible), before beginning the hike up to Hat Mtn. (there is also a 4x4 road that goes directly to the lake, approaching from the east - this is a better alternative for the start if you have a vehicle capable of negotiating the road.) Once I had this straightened out in my head, I realized Hat Mtn was the sloping peak rising ahead of us to the south. It didn't look too bad at all from this vantage.
We continued following the road until it gave out completely soon after it started to descend. I thought we'd find some type of use trail, but it was pretty thin, not at all what one might expect for a trail shown on the topo map. In fact it had become quite overgrown, and it was only by following a series of orange ribbons that someone had kindly thought to place, that we were able to follow the route. It was a pretty good jungle bushwhack, easy enough for me, but about as tough as Ryan would have liked. He handled it like a trooper, and after an hour we had reached the north end of Lost Lake.
Our first surprise was that we found another father and son already fishing at the lake. Surely they had not come down our primative route on the same mid-week day to this way-out-in-nowhere lake. This was when we found there was a road directly to the lake, though we didn't realize we couldn't have driven it anyway in our 2WD van.
Almost immediately upon reaching the lake, we set up the fishing rod and started trying our luck. We had been fairly sure of success, having brought aluminum foil, onions, a lemon, and seasoning with which to prepare and cook our bounty. Our second surprise came on more slowly as time dragged on and we didn't catch any fish, not even a nibble. It didn't help that we saw the other boy pull one in from across the lake. I tried to explain that maybe it was the wind (it was blowing pretty hard) or lateness of the morning that contributed to our poor luck. Ryan grew despondent, and once again I felt like I was failing as Dad.
Ryan tried for two hours before giving up the chase, and we both felt pretty bad. Later I came to find that our "reliable source" had failed to mention that they had snorkled the lake, found the deep pools, and had used a boat to reach them, never fishing from the shore. Ryan and I had walked halfway around the lake in those two hours, ending up at the campsite on the southwest end of the lake. The other pair were in the process of taking down their tent and would be gone before we got back from Hat Mtn. We guessed maybe their luck hadn't been all that great either.
We left our fishing gear near the lake and started up to Hat Mtn. Without a trail, we followed a fairly direct route, staying under the forest cover as much as possible to avoid the chaparral out in the more open areas. We paused at a patch of lingering snow to throw a snowball and cool off our water bottles, then continued up towards the summit plateau. The plateau slopes to the west in a gentle fashion, but is mostly covered in knee-high brush that provided a bit of challenge to find our way through. The higher part of the summit is more rocky and easier to negotiate. Along the way, I told Ryan stories about the trees and rocks that we passed to take his mind off the arduous climb ("arduous" being relative, of course). I found a piece of obsidian that looked like it had been part of an Indian hatchet, and told Ryan how the Indians used obsidian for arrowheads, as well as other weapons and tools, and how they traded this valuable commodity with other Indian tribes. This was fascinating stuff to Ryan and he eagerly carried this piece and another one we found in his hands as we made our way up. Unfortunately he tripped about five minutes later and the two pieces flew from his grasp. We were unable to find them again among the brush, so I told him, "Easy come, easy go."
It took a little more than an hour to make it from the lake to the higher south summit. We found a register there, and a number of familiar names among the many pages of entries. After Ryan made his own comments, we went over to the north summit which has better views, even if slightly lower. A second register is found there, and while some folks seem to sign both, there are many names in each register not found in the other. At the far north end of the summit are a couple of rocks commemorating the deaths of a John Baker in 2002 and R.P. Baker in 2004, neither particularly old nor particularly young.
For the descent, we decided we'd had enough of the sage on the summit plateau and started directly down the boulder route from the north summit in the direction of Lost Lake. Steep and somewhat loose, it made me nervous to watch Ryan descending, but he did so in good style and without mishap. In order to keep him in a safetly frame of mind, I told Ryan the story of my friend Terry who had smashed his finger on just such a boulder field a number of years ago. The whole descent took about 50 minutes, and just like that we were back at the lake by 2:30p - still plenty of time for fishing.
It was still pretty breezy, but Ryan wanted to try fishing again so we loaded up the rod with a lure. After a few minutes effort, Ryan shouted out "Snake!" I went over with the camera, and sure enough there was a 2-foot snake among the reeds along the shore. He handed me the rod so that he could pick it up, while I fumbled with the camera to get a picture. Looking down, I spotted a dead trout, only a few hours dead. "Hey look, a fish," I said. Distracted, Ryan picked up the fish and we lost the snake, never getting a picture of it. Ryan wanted to keep the fish to eat, and it took me a bit of effort to convince him it wasn't a good idea. He tossed the fish back in the lake. Still holding the rod, I suggested he try reeling in the line a little faster to keep the lure from dragging on the bottom. I made a cast and started reeling it in to show him what I meant, and to our great surprise it hooked a trout almost immediately. Highly excited now, Ryan asked for the rod back and proudly reeled our catch in. He wasn't a bad size either, and we were going to eat him, by Jove! After taking out the hook, I made Ryan do the honors of running the stringer line through his gills and out his mouth. I figured if he's going to be a fisherman he has to do some of the unpleasant tasks as well. We fished for another 20 minutes (this time both of us taking turns), but had no further luck - seems we may have just gotten lucky on the one we caught.
Undeterred, I cleaned the fish in the grass along the lake (making Ryan watch as I cut his head off and gutted it), we cut onions (with the same bloody knife) and lemon, prepped and wrapped our fish. We then collected firewood, made a roaring fire in a nearby fire ring, let it burn down to coals, then put our fish in to cook. While we waited for it to cook, we wandered over to the campsite to check it out, noting the cut logs for stools and the crude plywood table that someone had constructed. Reaching into my pocket, I was suddenly stunned to find the car keys were not where I had expected them. I checked all my pockets, checked them again, and then let Ryan know we were in trouble. The van was locked, so we couldn't get in without breaking a window, and we were in as remote a location as I could imagine. It would be a 15 mile hike to the nearest ranch the next day. We went back to our packs and searched them for the keys in the off-chance I had somehow mislayed them there. I kicked myself for leaving the keys in a pocket all day, something I rarely do. Better to have secured them to the inside flap of a pack as usual, but I treated this outing a little too lightly. Ryan could sense my panic and became equally worried. I commented that it must have fallen out when I reached in my pocket for something else. The thought that they might be up on Hat Mtn among the rocks was a possibility that filled me with dread. Ryan said, "What about the pliers?" Ah - I had pulled the pliers out of that pocket when we had taken the hook out of the fish. We raced over to where we had unhooked the fish and lo and behold, there was the key fob poking out of the grass. I picked it up and gave Ryan a big hug - disaster averted. It was striking how fast we went from Great Fun to Disaster and back to Great Fun again. That was enough stress for one day, even if it lasted less than five minutes.
After 15 minutes had elapsed we pulled our foil-wrapped fish out of the fire, opened it up, and started chowing. Chowing is a bit strong since we only had enough fish for an appetizer, but that made little difference. Ryan, normally adverse to trying new foods, had never actually tasted trout, and while not exactly eager at this point, he was steeling himself, working up the nerve to give it a try. The fish was a bit on the dry side, though not bad. It probably would have been better to take it off the coals after ten minutes (note to self for next time). Ryan decided it was "OK," but I don't think he really enjoyed the taste that much. Mostly it was the thrill of eating something he had killed. We picked the bones clean, fueling ourselves (in Ryan's words) for the tough climb back out to the car. After dining, we packed up the refuse, doused our coals til they were out, then shouldered our packs and headed out. Though we caught only one fish, that we got to make fire and eat it was a considerable treat and we judged the day highly successful. Not far from our fire ring Ryan spotted a second snake along the edge of the inlet creek. This one was smaller, maybe a foot long, and after a small struggle he managed to capture it. We took photos of the racer, then let him go back in the grass. We thanked the wildlife for allowing us to harrass them that day, and bid the lake goodbye.
The climb back out to the car followed much the same route as the way in (with expected variations when we lost the ribbons periodically), and shortly before 5:30p we were back at the car. We continued east on FS64 when we reached it, driving out to the paved road on the east side of the Warner Range. We hoped to find a motel nearby where we could stay the night, so that I could get up very early to climb Eagle Peak while Ryan hung out at the motel. The backup plan was a longer drive to Alturas, located some 40 or 50 miles further on, but I didn't really want to backtrack the next morning if I could help it.
Noting the time, I began to wonder if there wasn't enough time to do Eagle Peak the same day. When we passed the turnoff for Emerson CG a short ways after starting north on the paved road, I made a U-turn and told Ryan about my new plan. The hike, some 12 miles RT and 4,000ft of gain, would be too much for Ryan, so he'd have to stay at the TH. He was OK with the sudden change in plans, and went about selecting a movie to watch on the van's DVD screen while I was gone.
We got to the TH (Emerson Camground) just before 6p, and within five minutes I was on my way, telling Ryan to expect me in about 3 hours time, or just after sunset. Carrying just a fanny pack with a jacket and 12oz of Gatorade, I sped up the North Emerson Lake Trail. I made it to North Emerson Lake in the first hour, missing the trail junction just before the lake as I did so. It took only a minute to realize the mistake when I consulted my map, and soon enough I was on the trail up to the saddle southwest of Cole Peak. Once at the saddle, I continued to the southwest for a short distance before leaving the trail and heading northwest towards the summit. After a short stretch across a connecting ridge, the actual climb up the SE Ridge starts, and it soon becomes tedious sand and talus. I was moving pretty quickly, so I was quite tired by the time I reached the loose parts of the slope, and I had no patience for the tedium. In places I crawled using my hands up the slope as I slipped and slid, trying to keep my upward momentum. Finally, just at 8p, I topped out at the summit, maybe 30 minutes before sunset. Eagle Peak made state county #58 for me, marking the completion of the county highpoint list. I had no feeling of melancholy as I might have expected, probably because there are still so many peaks in the state left to explore. This was just another arbitrary list to tick off - it had been fun, but not the final goal by a long shot.
At the summit was a white tin can register, Mike Larkin and Bill Peters once again the last persons to visit before I got there. I took some pictures of the surrounding views in the fading sun, but those to the west were completely washed out due to the low sun. I could see Mt. Shasta looming far to the west and would have loved to get a picture of the sun setting behind it, but I wasn't going to wait the 30 minutes I'd need before the sun was down. Instead, I packed up my stuff and shot back down the mountain, making good time down the loose slopes. I was well below North Emerson Lake before I needed to pull out my headlamp, using it until I got back to the campground at 9:19p, a bit over 3hrs roundtrip.
I found Ryan asleep in the back of the van, but he woke up quickly when I opened it up. He'd gotten bored with his movie and gone out to play in the creek, but after a few hours began to get worried. He was very glad to see me, thinking something had happened. I think he didn't hear anything I said before I left, because I was only a few minutes longer than I told him I'd be. In any event, he was happy to see me. Rather than drive another hour to a motel, I suggested we simply stay put and sleep in the back of the van. Ryan readily agreed. I set him up in a sleeping bag and he was soon back to sleep. Meanwhile, I took a change of clothes and rinsed off in Emerson Creek before going to bed as well. It had been a long day, a full day, and for both of us, a really great one, too.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Hat Mountain - Eagle Peak
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