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Trinity Alps Backpacking Trip

July 8, 2015

This weekend I went on a 4-day backpacking trip in the Canyon Creek area of Trinity Alps Wilderness with Matt and Keilah.

Photo album is here.
Trip map is here.

Day 1

It took a long time to get to the trailhead. We made several stops on the drive up: REI for last-minute gear purchases, UPS store for custom printed maps, Games of Berkeley for a 3-person card game, Chipotle for that sweet 5000-calorie last supper, and the ranger station to fill out our permit. All that, combined with some horrific road work on Highway 299 made for a late start.

We finally got on the trail at about 1900, which gave us about 90 minutes of daylight to start our hike. The first thing we noticed was the unbelievably clear and brilliant water as we crossed over Bear Creek just a couple hundred meters up the trail. I think the effect is two-fold: 1) the granite rocks that make up the creek bed are very light in color, so they reflect more light 2) the water really is very clear.

The sun was already hidden behind the jagged ridge to our west by the time we gained sight of it behind the tall trees, but it was apparent that we were about to enter a true canyon with huge mountains on either side. As we gained elevation and the sun fully set, we entered a lot of fog and it started drizzling. We continued on up the canyon in the dark with our headlamps until we got to a somewhat flat area a little ways above Canyon Creek Falls. After a little searching we found a pretty good campsite and set up shop there.

When it came time to hang up the food backpack, we had an interesting run-in with a deer. I noticed that there were two eyes floating in the darkness, and they seemed to be following us as we looked for a tree. I was worried it might be a bear, but when we got back to camp it was a deer that was 15 feet away from us. It was not scared of us at all; even though I kept yelling and charging at it, it kept coming back.

I went to sleep in my hammock as the fog and mist rolled in (Keilah and Matt took the tent). Despite having a 10 degree sleeping bag, my back/butt got pretty cold during the night!

Time: 1900-2030
Distance: 3.9 mi
Elevation: 3,100' +1750 -250 to 4,650'

Day 2

We got a late start on the trail this day too, taking our time to get up, make breakfast, filter water, and break camp. Fortunately, there were no deer attacks during the night.

Once we got on the trail, we were surprised by just how big the mountains surrounding us were. They are HUGE! Since it was so foggy the previous night, it was hard to gauge the size of them, but they are really impressive.

The original plan was to head up Canyon Creek a little more, and then veer east off-trail, muscle 3000' up a steep gully, and head down the other side of the ridge. However, when it came time to execute that plan, it quickly became apparent that wasn't going to work. Even just getting close to the gully was a near impossible task due to the thick overgrowth in the way. We bailed on that plan and instead decided to take a more reasonable hike up to Canyon Creek Lakes.

On the way up we stopped at the roaring falls just above the confluence with Boulder Creek. There was a ton of water flowing and they were really impressive. I was standing and admiring the falls when I saw some movement on the ground. I instinctively jumped; there was a 4 foot rattlesnake coiled up at my feet! Fortunately, it didn't strike at me, and it slithered into a little hole that I had been standing right on top of. I have no idea how long it was sitting there, rattling at me (it was impossible to hear over the noise from the waterfalls), but I feel like I got lucky with the outcome.

We took our time on the trail up to the lower Canyon Creek Lake, and arrived around 1600. We found a pretty cool spot and set up camp behind a huge boulder out in the open on the granite rock. Then, having nothing else to do, we cracked open our growlers of Cellarmaker The Glow and Coffee Sessions: Modern Times. I did a little bit of exploring around the lake, but other than that we just hung out at camp for the remainder of the day.

That night we played a 3-person card game called Haggis, which was a ton of fun, but the tent was cramped and we were tired. This night, I was able to devise a questionable setup to string my hammock between two large rocks, using some of my paracord as the second anchor. This night was considerably colder, foggier, and windier than the last, and I regret not using my sleeping pad as an insulator.

Time: 1330-1600
Distance: 2.8 mi
Elevation: +1100 -100 to 5,600'

Day 3

In the morning we hung out at camp reading, napping, and talking. We finally got moving after noon, and started our descent down the canyon. On the way, I did a little bit of rock hopping along the waterfalls of Canyon Creek.

We found a very developed campsite a couple miles down, so we dropped our packs and went on a day hike up to Boulder Creek Lakes. The trail was pretty wild and overgrown, and this hike in particular was the perfect example of the widely variable climates we encountered in the Trinity Alps over our trip. Parts of it were tropical and covered with lush greenery and huge ferns; a couple places were dusty and dry with scraggly bushes; and at the top of the cliff where the lakes are is the rugged granite that constantly towers over you when you're in this area.

The view from the Boulder Creek lakes is incredible, and next time I visit this area I'd like to camp up there. It's quite the climb, but it would be worth it. Plus, it makes the western ridge accessible for a day hike!

The sun started setting so we headed back down the canyon to our campsite. We found a limited amount of dry wood and made a small fire in the fire ring next to the benches (I told you it was a very developed campsite). We were again visited by a deer buddy several times, and each time it came back I charged it away. I'm not sure what the best way to deal with them is, but it's sad that they're so comfortable around humans.

Time: 1330-1530
Distance: 1.6 mi
Elevation: +50 -900 to 4,800'

Day Hike Time: 1600-1930
Day Hike Distance: 3.6 mi
Day Hike Elevation: +1250 -1250 to 5,800'

Day 4

Today was our longest mileage day of the trip, mostly downhill, with Chipotle waiting for us at the end. We wanted to get back home at a reasonable time, so we left camp fairly early and took few breaks on our way down. It was nice that this hike out was considerably different than the hike in despite being on the exact same trail. Some features were recognizable, but because it was a hot day instead of a foggy night, it was almost brand new terrain.

Other than a bit of knee pain from all the downhill, it was a straightforward and relaxing hike out. The Canyon Creek watershed area is a place I'll definitely be visiting again!

Time: 1000-1600
Distance: 5.1 mi
Elevation: +200 -1900 to 3,100'