Caribou Wilderness Backpack

Posted in Backpacking, Dogs Allowed, Mountains with tags , on February 19, 2013 by richlea

Brother J stepped up to the plate and planned the backpacking trip for August 2010: a weekend in the Caribou Wilderness just east of Lassen and north of the town of Chester. It’s somewhat difficult to find good information about the Caribou Wilderness on the internet, so he used Backpacking California, edited by Paul Backhurst, to formulate a plan of attack.

Jeff selected this trip Simon, Lea, Rich, Dena and Jeffspecifically with his lovely girlfriend, Dena, in mind. Dena prefers indoor plumbing and even more importantly heat, but gamely joined the group for the trip. Dena’s cousin Simon joined us as well. After the obligatory “we’re all still happy and nobody is tired and cranky” group photo at the Caribou Lake Trailhead, we set off down the trail. We didn’t bring the mutt on this trip, but dogs are allowed on leash in the Caribou Wilderness.

on the trail

trailside pond

The route had only a small amount of climbing and passed a number of picturesque ponds and lakes. In just 5 short and relatively flat miles, we made it to our destination – Triangle Lake. sunset from the ridgeAfter some searching around for the best spot, we set up camp on the west shore at the base of a jumbled rock hill. Our only neighbors were across the lake, and we had the solitude we were hoping to find. Lea had energy to spare and clambered to the top of the hill to catch the sunset.

On Day 2, we woke up ready to explore the neighborhood. Our topo map showed a nice 6-mile hike along a trail west from Triangle Lake towards Lassen National Park, then south towards Red Cinder Cone, followed by a cross-country scramble back to camp if we felt up for it.along Triangle Lake

The weather was perfect as we headed out, encountering yet more small and charming lakes along the way. Overall, the landscape was quite flat, and after we made the turn south towards Red Cinder Cone, the lakes disappeared and the trail became quite sandy. Not too surprising for a volcanic landscape.

The group was game for a cross country trek back to camp, so we struck out from the base of Red Cinder Cone, topo maps in hand. dinnerAfter a couple of miles of thrashing across uneven and somewhat brushy terrain – and a few map checks – we tiredly regained Triangle Lake and made our way back to camp and a well-deserved fire and dinner. The fire was another bonus on this trip, as campfires are allowed with a permit anywhere in Lassen National Forest (outside of developed campgrounds). Our more frequent destinations in the eastern Sierras are usually too high for campfires.evening fishing

Revived by our meal,  Simon decided to break out the gear for some early evening fishing. We enjoyed watching the action, but nothing much was biting.

The still evening air turned Triangle Lake into a near-perfect mirror, Triangle Lakereflecting the low hill across the lake. We eventually retreated to the fire and shared a wandering conversation before crawling into our tents.

On Day 3, everyone decided to venture out on their own. Before we did, however, Simon had another groovy bonus for us: fresh bacon! Theorizing that it would take much longer than three days for bacon and eggs to go south, he had brought plenty of both. Being the generous sort, he shared a bit with the rest of us. Needless to say, Simon now has a permanent invitation to all of our backpacking trips.

After capping our breakfast with freshly sizzled pork flesh, the fisher folk among us went in search of better lakes, while we set out on another day hike. This time we headed south on a loop that the topo map indicated passed numerous lakes. Gem LakeWe weren’t disappointed, passing Eleanor, Jewel, Gem, North Divide, Black and Turnaround Lakes, as well as many small unnamed ponds and lakelets.

The trip involved some route-finding, as the trail fromLAdams_100827_1020391_co_sml Jewel to Gem Lake shown on the topo map was faint to nonexistent. The landscape was fairly open and we found Gem Lake easily. We noticed a stiff wind forming waves on the lake and the first shreds of cloud blowing across the North Divide Lakewestern sky.

Mountain weather really can change in a heartbeat, but the day continued sunny and warm and we soon regained a well-defined trail in a small ravine below Gem Lake and turned west towards Black Lake. We lingered over a lunch of salami, cheese and crackers before heading north, passing North Divide Lake on our way back to camp.campfire

Everyone returned safely from the day’s adventures by dinner time, and we made a rousing fire for our last night in the woods.

A spectacular full moon rose over the hill across the lake, peeking through an increasing layer of clouds. If you have never seen a full moon rise over a landscape otherwise free of artificial light, well, you should. It sounds corny, but it really does feel like you can reach out and touch it. There is also a much greater sense of activity all around you on a full moon night, which can be both energizing and a bit creepy. In any case, with our bellies full we gradually wound down and went to bed, leaving the night to the critters.moonrise over Triangle Lake

A few hours later, a couple of us woke to the unmistakable smell of a forest fire. We quickly checked the campfire, but it was out cold. We looked for a glow on the horizon and listened for anything out of the ordinary, but could only sense a faint smell carried on a light breeze from the south. It was unsettling, but we knew we could retreat to Triangle Lake if push came to shove. With that thought, we went back to bed and slept uneasily til a gray dawn broke.gray dawn

The morning of Day 4 was overcast and downright cold. The wildfire smell from the night before was gone, and it soon started sprinkling.

We chuckled about the unseasonable August weather as we packed up our camp and headed down the trail. We stopped laughing as the sprinkles turned to solid rain and the temperature continued to drop.
wet tent shaking Rich in the rain

As motivation goes, an icy mountain rain is pretty good. We picked up the pace and hoofed it towards the trailhead.

By the time we made it back to the car, it was pouring and, even with all of our foul weather gear on, we were shivering, wet and ready to go home. We dropped in our gear, loaded up and headed to Chester for what is always the best part of a back woods trip – the post-excursion grubdown. Unfortunately, the poorly marked Forest Service roads can be a little like a giant corn maze and one of our cars ended up far east of Chester on Highway 44. Keeping a good map or gazetteer in the car is recommended, as cell coverage doesn’t exist in this neck of the woods. After some casting about and a few pit stops, we all eventually regrouped and warmed up with lunch in Chester before hitting the road for the 3-hour drive back home.

Caribou Wilderness boundary

Steep Ravine Weekend

Posted in Cabin, Coast, Weekend with tags , on April 10, 2011 by richlea

After a decade of dithering whether the cabins at Steep Ravine were worth the price and the effort to get reservations, we booked Cabin 9 for a birthday weekend.

No need to keep you in suspense – they are very much worth the price and the effort. One caveat, however – you must consider lack of indoor plumbing and electricity charming rather than distressing.

Since Steep Ravine is only 2 hours away (near Stinson Beach), we had time to visit our favorite port maker on the way – PragerOne of the few remaining family-run, small-time wineries left in Napa, Prager never disappoints in either its port or its hospitality. After chatting with the pourer, we picked up one bottle to age and one bottle to drink right away.

We then wound our way over to the coast, following the two-lane backroads for fun. You never know what you’ll see, and this time it was an incongruous Bactrian camel pastured with a herd of cows outside of Petaluma.

We eventually made our way to the Steep Ravine compound. A giant steel gate and a steep one-lane road separate the cabins from the unwashed masses passing by on Highway 1 just south of Stinson Beach.  We entered the secret combination provided with our reservation and slipped on through to our own (mostly) private ocean-front cabin.

We unpacked using the handy wheelbarrows to move our stuff from the car to the cabin. We knew about the wood burning stove and brought plenty of firewood, but learned a few things for next time: bring at least two lanterns, and plan to hang your food at night to avoid the mice (thanks to Rob and Maggie for the second tip!).

After admiring the view from our front windows for awhile, we headed out to explore the grounds. There are 10 cabins and 7 campsites perched on the cliff above the ocean, all with tremendous views. They lack curtains, however, so be sure to bring some towels or sheets to hang up for added privacy. The curtain clips are already there, so just clip a towel in place and make yourself at home.

The cabins were originally built in the 1940s and the property was eventually sold to the State in 1960. They were restored in 1980 and are now available to everyone as part of the State Parks system. How great is that?!

They are extremely popular, however, and it takes some serious dedication to reserve one, as they sell out within minutes of going on sale. Your best bet might be a weekday in winter, which is how we got in.

After a tour of the grounds, we settled in to watch a gray March sunset from our cozy cabin. As we cooked dinner on our camp stove, a bottle of wine and a fire made us snug against the elements.

The next day we headed out for a loop hike up Mt. Tamalpais and over to Stinson Beach. The morning dawned just as gray as the day before, but no rain. Every hike is more exciting with some off-trail bushwhacking, and as luck would have it, there was an abandoned and rapidly disappearing trail just above Steep Ravine.

The dense fog raised the stakes on finding and following the faded trail. Our trusty topo map brought us safely to Pantoll, however, where we sat under the eaves of the ranger station for a damp lunch before heading back down the Steep Ravine trail.

The Steep Ravine trail is one of the, if not the, best trails on Mt. Tam. It winds down a steep canyon, entering a redwood forest about halfway down. Late afternoon along this creek, with golden light filtering through the tall trees, is a magical experience. Unfortunately we only had gray, gray and more gray that day, but the walk still quieted the mind.

We made a right at the bottom of the hill and trotted into Stinson Beach for a late lunch/early dinner at the Sand Dollar – very tasty. We browsed through a town a bit after dinner, then headed home to watch a watery sunset.

The next morning, we packed up and started working our way home. Why is it always uphill at the end of a trip? This is the point where you ask yourself if it was really worth packing in all those books, bottles of wine and cooking supplies.

On the drive out to Highway 1, we were fortunate enough to see one of the local notables – an orange newt. A flyer in the cabin asked visitors to avoid running over newts on the access road, and sure enough, we had to dodge around this fellow on our way out.

We finished up our trip with a delicious breakfast at the Parkside Cafe and reluctantly headed back to reality. We will undoubtedly be back to this lovely slice of California in the near future.

Redwood Regional Park Loop

Posted in Dayhikes, Dogs Allowed with tags , on January 6, 2010 by richlea

We packed the pooch in the car on a windy Thanksgiving weekend and headed for the Oakland hills. Redwood Regional Park is another Bay Area wildland gem, accessed from multiple trailheads along Skyline Boulevard. We started at the Skyline Gate Staging Area, which was completely full by the time we arrived at 10:30.

We battled our way into a parking spot on Skyline and struck off down the trail. Like all good Bay Area parks, Redwood is dog-friendly. We saw lots of happy dogs and owners throughout the day. Our loop followed the West Ridge Trail (dodging several fast mountain bikers), then turned left on the French Trail.

We dropped off the ridge and wound through several dark, almost primeval hollows shaded by second-growth redwoods. The wind howling through the treetops and the golden light made for a very atmospheric hike. Though we were mesmerized by the near-constant shower of redwood needles and small branches, our initial excitement turned to a kind of dread when several large trees crashed to earth surprisingly close to the trail.

We picked up the pace and hoofed it down the Mill Trail which connected with the Stream Trail along Redwood Creek. The valley bottom was sheltered and we were able to enjoy a more peaceful walk along the creek. The stream was dry as a bone despite several days of rain earlier in the week, so it wasn’t quite the full redwood forest experience.

We had to pay the piper at the end of the hike with a steep climb out of the creek bottom, but Briza put her shoulder into it and dragged us up the hill. Altogether, the hike was about 4 1/2 miles and only took a few hours.

We needed an after-hike pick-me-up, so we navigated our way to Chocolatier Blue in Berkeley. The urban dining options available within 20 minutes of the park are another tremendous plus to this hike.

The chocolates at Chocolatier Blue are exquisite. Although as finely crafted as a five-course French dinner, these hand-made chocolates are an entirely affordable culinary experience. We’d recommend bringing a five-spot and an open mind. Our chocolate stop put a lovely finishing touch on a golden late fall hiking day.

Calpine Lookout Weekend

Posted in Dogs Allowed, Lookout, Mountains, Weekend with tags , , , , on September 27, 2009 by richlea

We fell in love last weekend. Yes, it was our fourth anniversary get-away and we were already in love, but we both fell head over heels for this place. The Calpine Lookout is maintained by the US sunrise at the lookoutForest Service and located just outside of the town of, you guessed it, Calpine, California. In case that doesn’t ring a bell, Calpine is just north of Sierraville, which is just north of Truckee, which is… well, you can just look it up on Google Maps.

hero dog

Anyway, we found the lookout with no trouble. The nice part is that there’s a gate across the access road, so once you’re in with the gate locked behind you, it’s like your own private estate. Except the occasional mountain biker or forest ranger may show up  unannounced.

We lugged our gear up the stairs and settled in. Rich threw together a fabulous camping dinner while the dog and I explored our surroundings. Did I mention that pets are allowed at the lookout? A boon for dog lovers.

dinnertime spread

We turned the propane lights on as evening settled in, giving the lookout (and us) a very warm and fuzzy feeling. After a mean game of Scrabble, we hit the hay early.

evening at the lookout

The next day we settled on a short 4-mile roundtrip hike to Deer Lake via Upper Salmon Lake.  We wanted to have enough energy to get up and down the stairs that evening, so we skipped the 10-mile Mt. Elwell-Long Lake loop.

skipping rocks at Deer Lake

After finishing up the hike in the early afternoon, we headed east to Portola where we found the Western Pacific Railroad Museum and this zebra-striped snowplow.  I think every retired guy in Portola volunteers at the museum – I know I would if I lived there.

zebra snowplow

We completed our circuit by heading south through Sierra Valley and back west to Calpine and the lookout. The long day wiped the dog out, so she caught some shut-eye on the lookout walkway.

dog tired

As we were making dinner, we noticed a rather large fire on the northwest horizon. Though we didn’t have official fire reporting duties, it felt like our lookout experience was complete! We wrapped up our second and last evening with a small fire of our own in the outdoor pit.

last evening

North Fork Big Pine Creek Backpack

Posted in Backpacking with tags , , , , , , , , on September 1, 2009 by richlea

Don’t be fooled by the anonymous-sounding name – this backpacking trip was anything but blah. The east side of the Sierras is generally gorgeous, and this chunk of landscape didn’t disappoint. We started the trip on a Wednesday, turning the normal 5-hour drive to the town of Big Pine into a leisurely 7-hour drive, stopping for lunch in Markleeville, a latte in Lee Vining and hot springs near Bridgeport and Mammoth.

We car-camped that night at Big Pine Creek Campground. What a find! Our spot (#22) was next to Big Pine Creek, but #9 looked particularly appealing. It had the foundation of an old cabin in it, complete with a 20-foot (now outdoor) fireplace. Quite the spot to roast marshmallows.

Looking south as we headed up the trail.

Thursday morning we packed it up and headed to the trailhead parking lot. Our destination was somewhere up the North Fork of Big Pine Creek and would depend on where we ran out of hiking energy. As with all eastern Sierra backpacking trips, we started out in the high desert but quickly transitioned to an alpine climate.

The first stop of note was Lon Chaney’s cabin in Cienega Mirth, built in 1929. Front porch of Lon Chaney's cabinThe cabin is now only used occasionally by wilderness rangers passing through. We were fortunate enough to get a look inside, however, as a couple of Forest Service staff were there working on the case to add the cabin to the National Register of Historic Places.

The trail then climbed past the first of the numbered lakes. First through Third Lakes are a classic glacier turquoise blue, fed by silty runoff from the largest glacier in the Sierras, the Palisades Glacier. First Lake

At this point, our energy started to flag. We dragged ourselves past Second Lake and finally settled at a campsite overlooking Third Lake.

Stream in Sam Mack MeadowThe next morning, refreshed, we tackled the Glacier Trail, hoping to get an up close view of the Palisades Glacier. Although we were eventually thwarted by one of its terminal moraines (made of loose scree ready to drop a half-ton boulder on our heads), the scenery along the way was spectacular. We particularly enjoyed the stream in Sam Mack Meadow.

Day 3 dawned clear and windy. We scrambled out of bed to catch the sunrise glow on the peaks near our campsite, then prepared for another day exploring the surrounding basin.Sunrise over Third Lake

We trotted (well, panted) up to Sixth Lake, then took a semi-secret path from the outlet down to Fifth Lake. This path isn’t shown on USGS maps, but afforded a great view of Fifth Lake from above.Fifth Lake and Mt. Robinson

We then backtracked slightly to take in Summit Lake. We had decided that we wanted to head out to Bishop for a bed and a real dinner that night, but didn’t want to miss any of the sights in the basin. Summit Lake was a winner, with tremendous views of the Palisades Glacier that we hadn’t reached the day before. We also saw dozens of fish jumping and spotted one grandaddy trout.

View of the Palisades from Summit Lake

Then it was down the trail to camp, to pack it up and hike it out. We arrived back at the car with aching feet several hours later. After a night in Bishop and the traditional breakfast at Jack’s, we were homeward bound.

Morgan Territory Loop

Posted in Dayhikes, Dogs Allowed with tags , , , , , on December 28, 2008 by richlea

We headed out to Morgan Territory last Friday for a much-needed hike. We chose this hike because we’d done it once before (Lea loved it, Rich didn’t like the pugnacious cows), and because the park is quite accomodating to dogs. We parked at the main lot after a slightly nerve-wracking drive up Morgan Territory Road – there were only two other cars at the trailhead.

Our loop started with the Coyote Trail, a steep, muddy bootpath that follows a small drainage down from the parking lot. This trail was delightful the last time we visited in the spring, but winter rains had made it treacherous. Hmm, probably why we didn’t see any other bootprints on our way down.

Coyote Trail

We slalomed to the bottom before turning into a meadow populated with a few of the numerous resident cows. We leashed the dog and gingerly skirted the local bull, managing to get by without incident. We were lapped at this point by two guys, who quickly disappeared over the next rise.

Cow Meadow

Once past Cow Meadow, we turned right on the Stone Corral Trail and started to climb. About halfway up, we noticed that the two guys had already gained the ridge and had turned south towards the parking lot. We looked left, where the trail (actually more of a fire road) continued north, then looked right across grasslands to where the pair had disappeared along the ridge. Right seemed faster, even if it did mean going cross-country. We struggled to the top of the hill and found the Volvon Trail on the ridge. The Volvon Trail continues that fine tradition of naming places for the people and animals that used to live there before the modern world arrived.bonsai on the ridge

Within a quarter mile, we came to a welcome outhouse at the junction of the Volvon and Valley View Trails. As we paused for a snack, a pair of mountain bikers passed by. We then trundled south down the Volvon Trail, following the rise and fall of the ridgeline and admiring the backlit oaks in the late afternoon sun.

Volvon Trail

We detoured right on the Prairie Falcon Trail for nice views of the creek drainage we had slid down a few hours earlier on the Coyote Trail.  As we turned for home on the Condor Trail, a coyote started yipping and howling behind us. Rich ran back up the trail, and sure enough the coyote was sitting on the hillside in a late patch of sun, talking up a storm. The funny thing was that there were a couple cows in the meadow below the coyote, and they were completely unbothered by the racket.

Once we finished watching the coyote, we returned to our car via a short uphill climb. The parking lot gate closes at 5pm, and we made it with about 15 minutes to spare. All in all, a nice break from the holiday madness and a fun 5-mile hike.