In recently relocating to the Pacific Northwest, I find myself looking at new places for future explorations and wanderings. I’ve spent a lot of time hiking the Olympics and Cascades in Washington and love them, have an insatiable desire to really explore the Columbia Gorge and Mt. Hood area, and know for a fact I need to spend like a week around Mt. Jefferson. Above all of these places however, is the intrigue of the Trinity Alps in Northern California.
At 10 hours from my previous home in Los Angeles, and tucked far enough away from I-5 to not even pass my radar, the Trinity Alps were a place I knew absolutely nothing about going into my hike on the PCT this past summer. When my thru-hike got derailed and I started looking at places I wanted to pick up before the summer ended, this section of Northern California wasn’t one I really looked too hard at, which turned out to be a huge mistake.
I first discovered this tucked away section of California Wilderness in September of 2015, while meandering back along the PCT on my drive back south to Los Angeles. I took a detour out of Ashland along the Klamath River and then cut south along the Scott River Valley, a beautiful section of winding mountain roads interspersed with small abandoned towns and disused vestiges of civilization.
Scott River Bridge
As the road wound south, I came upon the town of Etna, a small community that had decreased in population to such an extent by the time I got there, that half the buildings in town were boarded up, most of the store fronts and houses left abandoned. It was creepy and cool in all the best kind of ways, and I spent far too much time taking pictures of all the cool brick buildings left behind to crumble into disrepair.
Abandoned Building in Etna
Scott Valley Drug Store
Boarded Up Mexican Restaurant
Flowers in Etna
I spent the night camping at the Boulder Lakes trailhead leading up into what I’d heard were some terrific mountain lakes, and hiked in the next morning, eager to see the mountains from on high, instead of just driving through the valley. I walked through the pine forest, distinctly different from other places, similar to parts of Oregon, in its volcanic outcroppings, but oddly interspersed with granite, like the Sierras far to the south. It was like a melding of two entirely different geological areas, and I found it fascinating.
I reached East Boulder Lake after about an hour, and immediately wanted to just sit on a rock and fish in the cool green waters. I was beautiful, calm, and I was entirely alone. It was great. I forged on ahead, tagging the PCT and walking through an amazing vista, complete with incoming thunderheads that obscured the peak of Mt. Shasta towering to the east, and swung back around to Middle Boulder Lake before losing the trail and scrambling up and over a mountain to return to the East lake. It was fun, and a little sketchy, but more than anything, it made me want to see more.
East Boulder Lake
Upper Boulder Lakes Basin
Trinity Alps from the Pacific Crest Trail
Middle Boulder Lake
With the impending thunderstorm approaching, I left and went on my way south, but I swore I’d return.
A few months later, on my way out of California in November, 2015, I was looking for something to take my mind off my growing anxiety at stepping out on a new path in life. I opted for a drive through Castle Crags and up the Castle Creek Road for another jaunt through the Trinity Alps, and was not disappointed.
Castle Crags Road
Fall colors were still in full effect as I started the drive, brilliant yellow aspens and bright orange oaks. The Crags loomed above the forested valley as I drove along, then up and over a ridgeline and into snow-covered fire roads that required all of my 4-wheel drive capabilities to traverse.
Every turn was a new perspective on the Crags, Shasta, and the sprawling mountainous expanse of the Trinity Wilderness. It was epic, awe-inspiring, and further set the seed in me to come back and explore the mountains in depth. Possibly a three day Memorial Day wander is in order, there’s so much to explore and so many hidden places to see.
Until next time…
Far more information than I could hope to compile is available on the area at Summitpost.org.