Wed, Jul 10, 2019
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Peak 5,493ft previously climbed Wed, Feb 18, 2015|
Little Bally previously climbed Wed, Feb 18, 2015
Buckhorn Bally previously climbed Tue, Feb 17, 2015
I had originally planned to climb Thompson Peak in the Trinity Alps today, but with a later-than-expected finish on Sawtooth the day before, I didn't feel like doing the 3hr+ drive around to Cecilville that evening. Instead, I hatched a new plan to visit a couple of CC-listed summits in and around the Whiskeytown NRA, west of Redding. South Fork Mtn and Ducket Peak had so far eluded my attempts to reach them. In 2015 I had visited the area on a first effort, tagging Shoemaker Balley, Peak 5,493ft and Little Bally before running out of steam several miles short of Ducket and South Fork Mtn. Five days later I made a second attempt to reach South Fork Mtn from the east, combined with a climb of Kanaka Peak. The effort was cut short after reaching Kanaka Peak, soon after leaving the trail when I ran into an abundance of poison oak. More than two miles of such terrain was incredibly disheartening. "This place needs to burn," was my thought as I dejectedly headed back to my car that day. And in 2018, burn it did. The Carr Fire was one of the largest fires in the state that year, burning more than 90% of the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and all of the routes I had used in 2015. 2019, then, seemed like the year to do it, though it was summer before County Line Rd was opened and by then temperatures were getting too warm. Fall or winter would be a better time to do this, but with temperatures forecast to only reach the high 70s, today seemed worth a shot. Besides the burned terrain, I had other factors going for me. On that first effort, I had the van and couldn't drive more than a few miles up County Line Rd. This left more than four miles each way that I did by bike. With the jeep, I could not only drive the parts I had biked, but I came to discover there's a rough forest road going to the crest northeast of Shoemaker Bally that I could drive. This would get me to over 5,000ft where I slept nicely the night before. Lastly, I could skip Shoemaker Bally on this go-around, seeing as it was a side trip to reach it.
I was up with the sunrise around 5:30a and starting off soon after 6a. It was in the 50s with a cool breeze that I relished, knowing that it would warm up soon enough as the day progressed. Contrary to what the fire maps had indicated, the fire did not torch the entire landscape. Much of the first couple miles along the ridge were much as I remembered in 2015, with low brush making for relatively easy going. Some of the trees survived individually and in pockets, with sufficient survivors to help repopulate the slopes in the coming decades. Going over the intial Pt. 5,625ft on my way to Peak 5,493ft, I could see where the fire had run up to the ridge in places before petering out in the low brush. In other places it swept over the ridge or perhaps up from both sides. I also noticed right from the start that Ducket Peak wasn't nearly as far away as I had imagined, only three air miles to the southeast. My route would make a large, C-shaped arc around the periphery of the Cottonwood Creek drainage - perhaps I might be able to make a more direct return through the drainage? I could see logging roads in the folds of the mountains around the drainage and thought these might come in handy. That whole drainage is outside the NRA (as is Ducket Peak), but I doubted I'd run into any issues trespassing through it.
It took me an hour to reach the first summit, Peak 5,493ft, whose highpoint is a rocky outcrop a short distance northwest of the spot elevation on the topo map. After another mile and a quarter of mild cruising along the crest, there begins a nasty 800-foot descent to a saddle with Little Bally. Today's entire route is characterized by sandy conditions. Mixed with rock or dirt in places, there's no escaping that most of the day's hiking is on sand. The stuff covers the slopes making the uphills a bit tedious and the downhills a breeze. This section I now descended is a bit short on sand to make for a pleasant decent, having an underlying layer of hardened sand that makes for slips and falls that can speed out of control if one isn't careful. I used whatever bushes I could find to grab onto as I descended this part carefully, remembering how the return up it on the previous visit was terribly trying. This would be the section I was least looking forward to, and it played a big part in my decision later to make a loop of it by cutting across the Cottonwood Creek drainage. The climb up to Little Bally is non-trivial but at least not dangerous, about what one might expect from a P1K. I reached its summit by 8:45a, around the 2.5hr mark. This was as far as I had managed on that first visit and I was feeling pretty good about my prospects today. I paused to leave a register here since it was also a CC-listed summit in addition to a P1K. This is the sort of summit that sees so little traffic that the register could easily last decades. And yet there were two more, even more remote.
I had originally thought I would visit Ducket Peak next, the further of the two at about 2mi. That way I'd get the hardest one done, so that if I ran out of energy I could come back for a third, easier trip. Of course getting both of them done today would be even better. The idea of making a loop through the Cottonwood Creek drainage had been growing for the last several hours, and if I wanted to do this, South Fork should be next on the agenda, so without much deliberation I headed east along the continuing ridgeline in that direction, about 1.5mi distance. It would take me a leisurely hour to reach South Fork, where the fire did a superb job of clearing such non-essentials as the forest from the route. Halfway along, I came across what looked like a large, empty bear box. Probably it was for storing rescue gear or fire equipment, but it sure seemed out of place in this remote location. It wasn't yet 9:45a when I reached South Fork, I was still over 5,000ft and remained relatively comfortable with a light breeze. This would change rather quickly. On my way to South Fork I had started thinking I might be able to get to Ducket more directly by dropping down to the Eagle Creek drainage rather than reverse the route to Little Bally. While leaving a second register at this summit, I decided to follow this plan for better or worse - I wasn't convinced it would faster, but it would certainly be more adventurous. There were roads I could see below that would help with the navigation, including one on the east side of Ducket Peak that does an ascending traverse from Eagle Creek nearly to the summit. The trick would be to connect the various bits of roads without bushwhacking or running into unforeseen obstacles.
I retraced a short distance along the crest before starting down towards Eagle Creek to the southwest. I chose this spot to descend because it looked like the fire had done a decent job of clearing the brush from the slopes. The going was steep at first, but not dangerously, and I was soon on easier slopes under forest cover, most of the trees charred. Five minutes later I had stumbled on an old logging road that led nicely down the remaining distance to a better road I had spied from South Fork Mtn. It wasn't really "better", just wider perhaps, making it more visible, but as I came to find, none of the roads in the Eagle Creek drainage that I followed had been driven on in many years. I followed an old firebreak down to Eagle Creek where I spied a teenaged bear wandering about by the creek. I watched it for a short while until I lost it under the forest cover that had managed to survive the fire nearer the creek. Where I crossed Eagle Creek I found two channels. The first was in a somewhat deep ravine, brushy and not terribly inviting. Just past this, a second channel with more water appeared, this one more open and inviting enough that I stopped here to strip and cool myself off in the water. I had dropped nearly 2,000ft since the summit of South Fork Mtn, and at 3,200ft it was getting warm by 10:30a. It would help tremendously to cool my body temperature and give me the extra oomph I'd need for the 1,400-foot climb up to Ducket.
The cool down came at the right time, too, because the next effort was a 200-foot climb up a steep, sandy slope to reach the old logging road above the creekbed. From afar, I had expected the road to still be in service, but it was evident that it has been at least a few years since anyone had driven it. Washouts had taken out the road in several places and large rocks had fallen onto the roadbed in others. It made for easy cruising on foot, about 2mi with a single switchback as it worked its way up the east side of Ducket. The road goes over a saddle about 2/3mi north of the summit and there were tire treads spotted on the last half mile of the road to the saddle. A sign indicated that the area is part of a hunting club, not as benign as a timber interest, but better than a private homesteader. Just before the road went over the saddle, I left it to head up to the ridgeline directly, which I followed to the forested summit of Ducket Peak. It was just before noon and I was doing well on time, even if I was getting tired and a bit too warm by this time. I found the highest spot to be a 12-foot, class 5 summit block, a bit of surprise. After figuring out how to manage it, I left a register atop the highest rock, then came back down for a short break.
The next leg was the traverse of the Cottonwood drainage. I had studied it while going between Peak 5,493ft and Little Bally and again while nearing Ducket. What looked like a good road went north from the confluence of Cottonwood and Gimblin Creeks for several miles, then west up the slopes towards Shoemaker Bally. I would then have to scramble about 1,000ft up the east slopes of Shoemaker in order to gain the forest road I was parked on at the crest. The road parts would be easy, but that 1,000ft climb and the unknown parts of my decent to the confluence would be the most trying. Rather than return back along the Northeast Ridge to the road, I dropped directly down the north side to intersect the same road about 200ft below the summit. I followed this west for less than half a mile before determining it wasn't going to switchback down to the confluence like I'd hoped (perhaps a bit unrealistically). I left the road to head more directly towards my goal, happy to find that there was minimal brush to deal with and no cliff bands or other serious obstacles. In less than a mile I found myself along Gimblin Creek which I followed to the confluence a short distance away, along with my logging road, about an hour after leaving Ducket's summit. Like the one out of Eagle Creek, this road has been washed out and undriven for some time, but excellent for foot traffic. I was down to 2,700ft elevation so it was pretty warm. I would periodically wash my face and soak my hat in one of a handful of small streams that ran across the roadway. After about 2.5mi of roadwork, it was time to head uphill cross-country. This was the most trying part of the day given the gradient, amount of sand and my flagging energy reserves. A bit of breeze began to come up in the afternoon which offered some cooling, but I was sweating pretty good for most of it. I eventually reached the higher road about where I expected it, after which I could relax some and just hike up that last mile (and another 600ft of gain!) to where I'd started from in the early morning. It was 3p by the time I got back, making for under 9hrs on the day. It was almost three hours shorter than the previous day's effort, but the lower elevation and higher temps made it seem more tiring. It would not take me long to shower and break out some cold refreshment that went a looong ways towards reviving my spirits. A tough day to be sure, but one of my better outings this year...
This page last updated: Mon Jul 15 12:10:35 2019
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