Mon, Mar 30, 2015
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There's no trail leading to the summit of South Yolla Bolly. Instead the South Yolla Bolly Trail traverses around the summit in a large loop, the highest point still some 600ft below the summit. The cross-country is super easy, however, if one follows the East Ridge starting at the junction of the two trails just past the TH (also the boundary for the Yolla Bolly - Middle Eel Wilderness). Starting off through sparse forest understory, it takes only about 15min for the views to start opening up and maybe another 30min to reach the top. The views on a clear day can be spectacular as one might expect from a P2K summit, stretching west to the Pacific Ocean, east to Mt. Lassen and the northern Sierra, north to the Trinity Alps and Mt. Shasta. With a weak storm coming in through the area, the visibility was not great, but one still gets a fine sense of the huge area the views encompass. I found some snow on the northern aspects of the mountain but not enough to be a hindrance for most of the miles I covered on the day. I found a cairn at the rocky summit, but no register, somewhat surprising. Later I learned that others have left registers in the past, but apparently they don't last all that long.
From the summit I continued west along the ridgeline that stretches on for almost eight miles. I picked up the South Yolla Bolly Trail about 3/4mi from the summit after descending about 400ft. The going becomes quite pleasant at this point. The trails in this Wilderness appear to be lightly used, often barely discernable. The signs at the junctions are often faded or missing, suggesting it has minimal funding. These combine to add to the charm of this remote area. Though not without its undulations, the ridgeline is pretty tame and the views are outstanding along its length. The trail I followed sticks mainly to the top of the ridge. About two miles along the trail can be found Harvey Mtn sitting just off the main ridge to the north. A short cross-country diversion through a burned forest section takes one to the top of this minor summit where there is a good view to the east of South Yolla Bolly.
I was soon back on the trail continuing west another 3mi to Sugarloaf Mtn that marked the westernmost excursion I would make along this ridge. One can continue another two miles cross-country to Hopkins Peak or head northwest and north on many miles of trail that take one around the Buck Creek drainage to the north. My route would head south along another ridgeline separating the Minnie Creek drainage to the west from the Thomes Creek drainage to the east. Along this ridge lies two other named summits including Solomon Peak. The cross-country up and over the summit of Sugarloaf was fairly easy and open. I dropped off the east side of the ridge to regain the trail system that connects to Hammerhorn Ridge and eventually Forest Road M2 some miles to the south. A trail reaches to Solomon Peak from the south but would be a bit out of the way to approach from that side. There is a nice scramble up to the peak from the north which I used to reach the top around noon. There are two closely spaced points vying for highpoint status. The benchmark is located at the NE one, but the higher one to the SW is where I found the only register on the day, one left by John Vitz (no surprise there, seeing as it's a P1K) the previous year. The furthestmost peak on the day was another 1.5mi to the south, Hammerhorn Mtn, and it was to this I next turned my attention.
I descended the trail heading south, past a junction and then onto the summit of Hammerhorn. The name alone is worth a visit, btw. Only the last small stretch is cross-country as the trail traverses the west side just below the top. At the rocky summit open to views I found a reference mark pointing to a benchmark I was unable to locate. It was either buried somewhere under the talus littering the summit perch or has been removed. To the northeast rises South Yolla Bolly looking very far away at this point though only about six miles by air.
Rather than follow the outbound route over Sugarloaf and Solomons, I made use of the trail network to bypass these summits on the return and cut off some mileage. In bypassing Solomons on the trail to Last Camp I came across the only significant snow I had to cross, this on some north-facing slopes above the camp. The snow was beautifully consolidated without being icy or too soft and it proved no hindrance at all. Last Camp was mostly dry as I passed through it and the snow had all but disappeard by the time I reached tiny Kingsley Lake, one of the few found in the area. My route took me down to a crossing of Thomes Creek at an elevation of 5,500ft, the lowest point on the day's entire route. From there it was a long 1,200-foot climb back to the main ridge, taking about 45min but seeming to be twice as long. I was pretty tired by this time. I followed the ridge back towards South Yolla Bolly, then took the trail traversing around the south side of the mountain. Though longer than the northside route, it allowed me to tag one last peak that lies off South Yolla Bolly's South Ridge, Twin Peaks. This required about 3/4mi of cross-country through forest with minor brush, mostly low-lying manzanita. As the name suggests there are two summits. The higher one is to the south where the benchmark is located with a sweeping view to the west and south. The lower north summit offers a better view of South Yolla Bolly. After meeting back up with the trail I spent the last 45min in returning to the TH at Ides Cove and further to where I had left the car.
It was after 6p and the air was starting to chill. My shower was not the best with tepid water, but it was still refreshing. My day was still far from over though as I spent the next several hours driving back to Corning where I stopped to grab dinner, then north to Red Bluff and more dirt road driving back into the Mendocino National Forest to near the top of Tomhead Mtn where I planned to start the next day. There are shorter routes connecting the two without driving back out to Interstate 5, but I had been warned by Dennis Poulin in his TR that that route is long and arduous on very windy roads - better to take the improved roads with higher speeds. It was nearly midnight before I crawled into my sleeping bag in the back - I did not forsee an early start the next day...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: South Yolla Bolly
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