Snow Mountain East P2K CC / WSC
Snow Mountain West
Brokeoff Mountain P900 WSC

Thu, Oct 5, 2006
Snow Mountain East
Snow Mountain West
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

The weather over the Sierra was unsettled with small amounts of snow falling at the higher elevations and cold temperatures pervading the whole region. Rather than suffer under such conditions I decided to head north and tag some county highpoints that still remained on my todo list. The remaining ones involved a good deal of driving, and in order to save making too many such trips in the future, I hoped to climb five of the peaks in the three days I had available. Snow Mountain is the highpoint of both Colusa and Lake counties, a twofer in the highpointing parlance, and not very hard at all - about 8 miles and 2,000 feet of gain. The hard part was getting to the trailhead, a long distance from San Jose via US101 or Interstate 5. My plan was to climb this one in the morning, then drive north to Salmon Mtn in the afternoon.

I left San Jose not long after 2a, driving north on US101 through San Francisco (easy to do at that time of night). It was dark and drizzly for most of the drive. I had been watching the weather maps for the last few days and Thursday was supposed to be the lingerings of a weak storm passing through. It was not looking like anything close to an ideal day for hiking. Three hours later I was close to the town of Hopland and my turnoff point, but I was having trouble staying awake. Since I had the comforts of the van on this trip, I simply pulled over to the side of the road and took a nap in the back for a few hours. It was almost 7:30a when I woke up and continued driving. I wasn't going to make it to the trailhead at first light, that much was certain.

The driving was much longer than I had expected. 29 miles was on Forest Service road, half of it unpaved. A sign at the start of the road said the Bear Creek crossing could only be done with 4x4. What's this? I wasn't aware that I had a creek to cross (Suttle mentions nothing about it in his description), and kept my fingers crossed that my route didn't cross the creek. As it turns out - it did. I got out of the van at the creek crossing to inspect the road. Huge chunks of pavement had been ripped up and washed downstream a short distance, indicating that at one time it was paved across the way. Now it was rock and gravel, not looking deep, but it was unknown how soft the roadbed might be. It would have been something like 5 hours to drive around the other side at this point, so I went for it. Steam flashed out from under the car as the creek water splashed up on the engine block and the tires moved sloppily through gravel as I drove up the other bank - it was a bit dicey, but it went. The whole section of unpaved road (aside from the creek crossing) was in decent shape for 2WD, but it was still very slow going. I didn't get to the Summit Springs TH until 10a.

It was still drizzling on and off as I got out, so I packed my rain jacket and other warm clothes in case it decided to turn nastier. Visibility was about 50 yards and remained so for the entire hike, most of it done in the clouds. Within the first half mile the drizzle returned so the fleece and jacket went on. The ludicrousness of the situation was not lost on me. All this driving and a rather mundane outing to what purpose? So that I could claim to have been on an obscure county highpoint. It was both funny and pathetic at the same time.

I had read of others having some navigational issues in bad weather on this hike but I found no trouble myself. A trail follows all the way to the summit and is signed at all the junctions. Only by missing one of the signs would it have been possible to get lost - something certainly not beyond my capabilities - so I was careful to look for signs at any junction I came across.

It took an hour and half to reach the top of Snow Mtn East, where an aluminum register box had been fastened to the rocks by the California Alpine Club. There were two registers inside, both actively in use and neither going back more than a few years. Before I started back I hiked some 20-30 yards south to make sure I stood at the highpoint of Colusa County (the county line runs just south of Snow Mtn East). There was another local bump of rock where I found a small cairn without a register of any sort. I guessed this was the Colusa highpoint and left the barren landscape to the fog. Since Snow Mtn West was only a short distance away I decided to stop by there as well. The summit of the west peak is far broader and it was foggier and colder while I was wandering about. There is a large concrete structure placed by the USGS for triangulation many years ago. I took a picture of it and returned. Jogging much of the way back, it took only an hour to return to the car, but by now it was almost 1p.

I had not planned to be at the first summit of the day this late. I knew there were many hours of driving to Humboldt County and the trailhead for Salmon Mtn. Looking over my road atlas, I decided it would be much faster to drive to Lassen NP for Brokeoff Mtn than it would be to follow my original plan, and in order to still get a second peak in, I changed the order of things. The road out to I5 was just as long as the one I had taken in, but in much better shape. I was able to drive faster and in hindsight it would have been better to approach Snow Mtn from the east rather than the west as I did, probably an hour faster or so. It took me four hours to drive out to I5, north to Red Bluff, and east to Lassen. The weather had improved a good deal on the drive through the Central Valley with plenty of blue sky, but as I approached the higher country around Lassen, the clouds once again enveloped everything and is was heavily overcast and drizzly as I started out on the Brokeoff Mtn Trail. It was nearly 5p and not a great deal of daylight left.

The Brokeoff Trail is 7 miles and 2,600ft of gain, another moderate hike. But the elevation is over 9,000ft, and there was some fresh snow found at the highest elevation. Not enough to be dangerous, but enough to ensure that my already wet boots would remain soaked throughout the hike. It took an hour and fifteen minutes to reach the summit where visibility was about 10 yards and it was blowing hard and cold. The register cannister was packed full of decaying bits of paper and business cards, almost none of it readable. I didn't bother trying to leave my own record. I had hoped the weather might start to clear to give me views of Lassen Peak to the north, but it was not to be. On the way back, it started to clear a bit, and I took a few feeble pictures of the sun trying to break through, a small patch of blue sky that opened momentarily, and some scenic views that briefly made an appearance. The sun was on its way down by this time, and it was a losing battle for views. I managed to return to the TH just before 7p and shortly before I would have needed my headlamp.

That would have been enough for one day, but I still needed to get to the TH for the following day since the two planned hikes would be harder than today's. I drove north through Lassen Park (passing all of two cars on a deserted Thursday night), northeast to Mt. Shasta and the town of Weed (where I stopped at Jack-in-the-Box for dinner to go), then up the 10+ mile Forest Service road to the TH for Mt. Eddy. Thankfully, a paved road all the way. I pulled into the dirt lot at the TH, ate dinner, and bedded down around 11p. It had been one full day and it was not long before I was sleeping soundly.


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