Mt. Hilton P500 CC / WSC / TAC

Jun 27, 2018
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile

While I was perusing maps to see where in NorCal I wanted to go next, I was originally looking at the far northern Sierra, then the Warner Mtns, then the far north coast ranges around Preston Peak, finally settling on another trip to the Trinity Alps. It's such a pretty area that I can't leave it alone for long. Plus, daughter wasn't interested in joining me this time, so I figured I'd get some long hikes in, ones she'd be far less excited about. I can save the drive ups for later in the summer. Mt. Hilton is the second highest summit in the Trinities, only about 60ft lower than the monarch, Thompson Peak. Both are long day hikes, but Hilton is the easier of the two with about 16mi and almost 6,000ft of gain.

In order to combine a climb of Hilton with the long drive from San Jose, I was up at 4a and starting from the Canyon Creek TH a bit before 10a. There was very little chance of running out of daylight so close to the summer solstice, even with this late-ish start. The TH starts at 3,000ft which made for a warm start in the 70s. Mosquitoes were out in force too, though these could be managed with some DEET and would become less of problem after the first hour. The bigger nuisance were the small flies that buzzed about my face, a dozen or more for much of the first two hours - I was wishing I had my headnet since the DEET does nothing to deter them. A number of them ended up in my mouth for small choking fits, others in my nostrils, and overall they were raining on the enjoyment of my first trip up the Canyon Creek Trail. It's probably the most popular trailhead in the whole of Trinity Alps, understandably. The parking lot hold about three dozen cars and all but a few spaces were occupied when I arrived. The trail crosses Bear Creek at the half mile mark, then moves over into the Canyon Creek drainage where it follows the canyon to the north, never straying far from the east side of the creek. Views begin to open up after the first hour, but even these are limited until much further upcanyon. As I plied the trail I found many of their owners camped along the creek under cover of large trees that keep things cooler than they might be otherwise. I was happy to find the flies petered out after about 5mi and would not return for the rest of the day, even when I came back down the same way early in the evening. When I got to the confluence of Canyon Creek and Boulder Creek, I noticed on the map that my trail fork up Boulder Creek goes a bit out of the way before finding its way back to the Boulder Creek drainage. So I followed a use trail at the confluence that led to a very fine cascade on Canyon Creek, then scrambled up class 2-3 rock, hopped across Canyon Creek and eventually met the Boulder Creek Trail higher up. This trail climbs from 5,000ft at the confluence some 700ft up to Boulder Creek Lakes where it ends. The trail moves in and out of forest, eventually opening up as it approaches the lakes. I left the trail where it reaches its highpoint before dropping slightly down to the lakes. The trick in the first part of the cross-country is avoiding some nasty brush on the right side, neatly winding up through dry creek drainages and grass slopes, with very little brush to contend with if one keeps a careful eye. The cross-country is just over a mile in length, but climbs 3,500ft. What I thought I should easily be able to do in two hours took me nearly three. So much gain! The slope just seems to go interminably upwards forever. Once the vague East Ridge is gained, the brush relents but there is lots of talus/rock still, and a few minor cliffs to avoid. I carried axe and crampons with me but these proved completely unnecessary. There was enough snow to make some delicious Gatorade slushies, but hardly enough to be troublesome.

It was 2:30p by the time I topped out at the summit, less than 100ft lower than the range highpoint at Thompson Peak. Haze obscured the distant views (Mt. Shasta couldn't be seen today) but the close views around the highest peaks of the Trinity Alps was nothing short of spectacular. I looked at the ridgeline extending north to Thompson Peak, a tortured stretch more than 3mi in length. I recall that Leor Pantilat did this traverse as a day hike a few years ago and have a lot of respect for such accomplishments - no such traverse for me today, as I would be happy with just Mt. Hilton. An ammo box held two register books dating to the early 1970s, both full as of 2016. The few parties summiting since then have taken to filling in empty spaces as I did on the front of the second book. The peak appears to have been exceedingly popular in the 70s and 80s, slowly garnering fewer entries with each successive decade.

Not surprisingly, the return went much faster, taking me less than 4hrs to find my way back to the start. There were several parties making day trips up to the Boulder Creek Lakes and more tents erected at the various campsites along Canyon Creek than I had seen on the way up. I made a few brief stops to photograph some of the fine wildflowers on display, mostly as an excuse to take a quick rest break. I was pretty tired by the time I got back just after 6:30p, but not overly so. Good thing too, because there's more on tap for tomorrow...


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