Saturday, July 18, 2009

Trinity Alps Trip Report: Part 2

Summit Pass Vista 01

Part 1

Next day, with a leisurely start, we still got moving by about 6:30 am. Originally, the plan was to head to Diamond Lake today, then to Deer Lake the following day--basically adding the Four Lakes Loop onto the Anna Lake loop. After talking with Don and Griff about the limited campaing and Deer and Diamond, we decided to camp two nights at Summit Lake instead, and do the Four Lakes Loop as a dayhike.

In theory, this was an easier day than day 1: less mileage, much less gain. We headed south from Lake Anna and up the low ridge (dodging some lingering snowfields), then down to Billy Be Damn Lake. So far, so good. More...
Billy Be Damn 04

Circling Billy Be Damn on the west made me a little nervous, sidehilling on steepish and very loose slopes (on the right, above), and for some reason it seemed more difficult than it normally would. We caught up with a use trail that traversed over to a steep but straightforward gully (more loose stuff) up to the notch.

Here's where it got...interesting.

The other side was a steep chute with extremely loose gravel, scree, and a few talus-sized rocks that could really cause some damage if they got moving. Lou went down first, and I gave him plenty of space before I started down myself. At which point, flailing my way down this mess, I realized I had pretty much lost my mountain legs. Still recovering from the day before, I was unsteady on my feet on a slope that was unstable to begin with--decidedly sub-optimal. Eventually I made my way down to where I could get out of the scree chute and onto terra firmer, and then continued the descent to Echo Lake.

Echo Lake 01

On the way down, we got our first views of the Granite Trinities--quite a contrast with the assorted metamorphics of our part of the range (the 'Red Trinities'). One of the things that impressed me about this area was the amazing variety of landscapes within a fairly compact range.

We caught up with the trail just before Little Stonewall Pass, ending the off-trail portion of the trip. The pass is a very short climb, then a switchbacking descent to a level traverse through open forest above Lower Siligo Meadow. Lots of Phlox in this section, and a fair amount of Flax. Paintbrush, Red Heather, Cinquefoil--all the usual stuff. Not as spectacular as Bowerman Meadows, but here and for the rest of the trip there were consistently plenty of wildflowers to look at.

Siligo Meadows 01

Soon we reached the near edge of lower Upper Siligo Meadow. The trail has been rerouted around the meadow here--good for the meadow, and good for us, since it looked pretty boggy in places. Skirting the meadow on the west, we came around to the north side and started up the riser to the upper Upper meadow. Only 200' or so of climbing, but somehow it seemed endless. I think this is where we realized how much the morning's cross-country, and the previous day's workout, had taken out of us.

Another brief bit of level walking through upper Upper Siligo Meadow, then another 200' or so of switchbacking ascent to Deer Creek Pass.

Deer Lake 01

At this point, we were getting pretty tired--still recovering from the day before. Not too happy, then, about the drop from Deer Creek Pass, knowing we had to make it all back and more. From here to Summit Lake it was a long traverse through a shadeless moonscape of talus and sparse brush, plus a few extra-extra-long switchbacks up to the ridgeline; I can't complain about the grade, but I can complain about the distance. Along the way I did spot a tiny stand of Copeland's Speedwell, a rare species limited to the Klamath Mountains. Still: hot and tired, and still climbing.

Finally we came out at the ridgetop--no, actually, there were still two more hidden switchbacks, as if to mock us--and then we came out at the ridgetop and got our first views of Summit Lake. A painless descent on the spur trail, and we were there. We set up at a spacious campsite with some excellent sitting rocks and a good firepit just a little bit south of the trail's end. Summit isn't as strikingly beautiful as the lakes we had seen so far, but it's pretty enough; the delicate pink Lewisia growing all around us brightened things.

Another lazy afternoon; a game of Scrabble and a game of cribbage, both of which Lou won, and happy hour, where everyone's a winner. After dinner Lou built a roaring fire (or, in his phrase, caveman television). And then to bed.

Summit Lake 03

Next morning we slept in until nearly 6 am. (Because we could. So there.) After a leisurely breakfast, we secured our food in the bear canister and started out on the day's hike.

First on the agenda was summiting Siligo Peak. It's a pretty easy walk-up; we started straight up the slope from the Summit Lake trail junction, and headed up toward a notch in the ridge. At the notch we picked up a use trail that got us through the brush on the higher slopes. From the trail it took us maybe 25 minutes to the top.

Siligo View 02

Siligo isn't the highest thing around (~8,160 or so), but the big valleys that surround it open up tremendous views of the whole Trinity Alps area: Middle Peak to the southeast, Gibson to the east, Deer Creek Valley and Seven Up Peak to the northeast, and the whole solid line of the Granite Trinities to the west.

Coming down, we got into a tangle of use trails for a while but found our way back to the gap, from which the original use trail took us straight down to the trail at the Deer Creek/Summit saddle.

Next up: Diamond Lake, on a bench over looking the Stuart Fork canyon; the pictures of Diamond had motivated me to check out this part of the Trinities in the first place. It did not disappoint. Descending to the lake, every switchback is another spectacular view; along the trail, lots of Mountain Mint, Western Blue Flax, and Wallflower.

Diamond Lake 04

Down at the lake, we wandered over to the outlet area to check out the view. Lush (slightly boggy) meadows, with Corn Lilies, Bog Orchids, and Reed Lilies providing vertical punctuation, against a backdrop of classic alpine granite. Only one campsite at the lake, though, which is one of the reasons we decided to do it on a dayhike instead of camping here.

Back on the trail and a gentle forested climb up to the ridge above Luella Lake, then a long descent in which Luella never seems to get any closer until you're almost there. From the lake down to the floor of Deer Creek Valley is the best wildflower display since Bowerman Meadows: Scarlet Gilia, Larkspur, Paintbrush, Yellow Lupine, Stonecrop everywhere.

Deer Creek Valley 04

Climbing up from the bottom of Deer Creek Valley, we couldn't help but be conscious of how much more arduous it would have been with packs on. We stopped for lunch about 2/3 of the way up to Deer Lake, then resumed climbing. We came out at Deer lake and hit the shoreline and...clouds of gnats. Gnats that would land on us and die. In great numbers. It wasn't like they were biting or anything, but it was kind of creepy.

Starting up from the far end of Deer Lake we passed through a garden of Western Pasque Flower, smaller versions of which I had seen at Lake Anna. When these go to seed they look like big fluffy mops; one guidebook suggests that they were the inspiration for Truffula Trees.

The least fun part of the day was revisiting the long, long traverse and switchbacks we had done before. Much easier without packs, though. We got into camp around 1:30 pm and had the rest of the afternoon to be lazy. Reading, happy hour, dinner, fire, etc.; all in all, one exceptionally fine day in the mountains.
Summit Pass Vista 02

And up at 4:49 the next morning for the hike out; figuring it would get hot in the low country, we wanted as early a start as possible. We were hiking shortly after 6 am, and made good progress, hitting Bee Tree Gap after an hour. Upper Long Canyon is lovely, all alpine meadows and peaks and expansive views, and we passed through another Pasque Flower garden right at the point where you would cut off the trail to Lake Anna.

Long Canyon 01

Further down I was expecting it to be mostly boring, but was pleasantly surprised: there we were lots of meadowy sections, and profuse wildflowers--our old friend the Naked Mariposa LIly, Scarlet Gilia, Mountain Spiraea, and so on. Sort of a nice lagniappe for that get-out-to-the-trailhead-fast last day. Just before the Bowerman Meadows turnoff, we passed a gorgeous stand of Washington Lily, one last burst of wildflowers before the end.

Back to the car around 10 am, and on the road shortly thereafter. As I said to Lou as we were approaching Vacaville, you spend 4 days in the wilderness filled with lovely peaceful thoughts of nature and then you spend 6 hours on the freeway recovering your misanthropic view of humanity.

But it's worth it.