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Thompson Peak is the highest summit in the Trinity Alps and the second highest in the Coast Ranges west of Interstate 5, beaten (just barely) by Mt. Eddy. Thompson lands on several peak lists and with almost 4,000ft of prominence, is the most prominent peak in CA that I have yet to visit. Bob Sumner and I been keeping in touch so as to climb this together when our schedules aligned. I had been spending the last five days in the area doing lots of other peaks, so this wasn't such a big deal to me, but Bob Sumner had driven some 11hrs from Los Angeles to do this as a day hike with me on a Friday before driving home the same day. He had driven up Thursday, stopping to climb South Yolla Bolly before meeting with me in the afternoon along the Callahan-Cecilville Rd. We didn't make it to Thompson as you've probably already figured, but rest assured when we started out in the morning, that was where we were headed to.
We had camped about 5mi from the China Gulch TH, the shortest route to reach Thompson Peak, but the longest possible drive from civilization. The Canyon Creek route from the south is paved to the TH, but entails about 10-11mi of hiking one-way. Our route from the northwest would be about 8mi one-way. The two guidebooks I have botch up the description of getting to the TH, calling it "China Creek" or "China Springs" (the latter is what appears on some topo maps), and not really getting the driving directions right. Some of this is due to the TH having been moved by the Forest Service sometime in the past few decades. To differentiate, the newer one was called China Springs for a while, but with the old TH decommissioned, the name China Gulch was moved to the current location. All Forest Service signs currently call it China Gulch. From the Callahan-Cecilville Rd, one turns south at the East Fork Campground, following the road for about 4mi until the pavement ends at a fork. A FS sign indicates taking the right branch to China Gulch (about 5mi of good dirt/gravel road). More signs are found at mostforks further up. If in doubt, take the most-used fork going up.
Driving together in Bob's Jeep, we got to the TH at 4,800ft around 6:45a, there already being a half dozen vehicles at one of two parking areas. It was hunting season, and though not as busy as it would get on the weekend, there would be no rest for the deer. We started off on the trail, whose new alignment allows for an easy first mile traversing the slope before it begins a more rigorous uphill section. Most of the area we hiked through had burned sometime in the last 4-6yrs. I reached the top of the trail where it goes over a saddle at 5,900ft around 7:30a, Bob following up a few minutes later. I was surprised when he expressed that he was feeling exhausted, as we hadn't yet gone 2mi and gained just over 1,000ft. He wasn't sure that he'd be able to finish the hike and expressed that if he was on his own he'd turn around here. What to do? If I went on without him, he'd either have a long wait for me back at the TH or I'd have an extra five miles to walk (or hitch a ride) back down to my van. Neither of those options seemed very nice and I wasn't really hot on reaching Thompson on my own - it would be more fun if Bob could join me. After a few minutes deliberation, I hit upon another idea - Rays Peak. I had identified this P1K beforehand and hoped we (or maybe just I) would be able to do it as a bonus. I had given up the idea when I realized it was 1.5mi of cross-country each way off the already long day's route. Maybe we could just do that instead? It so happened that the turnoff was at the saddle we had just reached. Bob decided he could probably do 1.5mi, so just like that, the plan took a sudden twist.
The route to Rays Peak follows the ridge WNW from the saddle, the beginning part of the cross-country going through an area of heavy downfall and a bit slow, but it gets better after about 10min and we found the rest of the route having little downfall to contend with. There was some sidehilling to get around the north side of Pt. 6,753ft, but most of the ridge was a fairly easy walk. Past Pt. 6,753ft, Rays' summit comes into view and appears it might be a bit of a brush-fest, but by staying close to the ridge we were able to skirt the heavy brush quite nicely. The last hundred feet or so becomes an easy class 3 scramble, quite fun. Thompson and Caesar rise up in the background, making for some good photo ops, though I did my best to ruin these with my weak skills.
It was shortly after 9a when we reached the summit - no register, no cairn, just a nice perch from which to take in some great views in all directions. We spent about 15min taking a break to enjoy the summit before starting back down. We hoped to find a more direct route back to the TH and had been eyeing the various options during our walk along the ridge to Rays. The GPSr helped identify exactly where the TH was, and which subsidiary ridge would reach it. We backtracked about 1/3mi to an intermediate bump before turning northeast. In order to avoid going up to the top of this bump, we started down before reaching it, making a descending traverse across its steep, forested North Face, eventually landing us on the NE Ridge. Once on the ridge, it was 1,500ft down in less than a mile, with no real brush to fight and easy cross-country travel. This would undoubtedly be the quickest route to Rays if that was the only objective. We were back at the TH by 10:30a, a far shorter day than we expected.
We drove back down to the van, cleaned up a bit and got ready for a long drive before departing. I was away first, Bob remaining to do a little more cleanup before heading home to Hawthorne, NV. I drove back down to the Callahan-Cecilville Rd, and settled in for a long drive. I'd gone just over seven miles when I passed a Forest Service sign on the left for Eddy Gulch LO. I recognized this as a CC-listed summit and pulled over to mull whether the van would be able to make the 11mi drive up the dirt road. Bob came driving by a few minutes later, pausing to see what I was up to. With hardly any effort, I was able to talk him into taking an hour and a half detour to drive up to the lookout. Without much thinking, I jumped in his car wearing flipflops and forgetting my camera. I used my GPSr to take some photos, but had neglected to clean the camera lens which was filled with dust and dirt from much use. The road was long and in decent condition, but it would have been probably three times slower in the van - I was happy to be in the Jeep driving at a more reasonable speed. We found the lookout tower womanned by a very nice lady named Jody who spends 3 days a week at the tower during the summer months. After joining her in the tower's cabin, we took delight in pointing out peaks we knew (Rays, Thompson, Russian) and getting Jody to help with those we didn't (Blue Ridge, Salmon, Marble Mtns), plus lots of other tidbits that came to mind while we took in the fantastic views the summit affords. In all we spent about 15min there before heading back down. Once back at van, we parted ways for good this time, but I'm sure we'll be back together up this way before too long...
This page last updated: Mon Sep 19 20:30:44 2016
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