TR: Lois, The Grizz, and Kalmia Country (Trinity Alps)

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TR: Lois, The Grizz, and Kalmia Country (Trinity Alps)

Post by creekfeet » Tue Oct 20, 2020 2:48 pm


Having previously done China Gulch to Grizzly Lake and back as an extremely rushed mid-Autumn day trip, my buddy Austin and I decided we needed to spend a little more at what is in many ways the gem of the Trinity Alps. But for good measure we tackled it from a different trailhead, and hit some other obscure lakes in the vicinity. Here’s how it all went down.

(My hiking partner took all photos, but hey, they sure are pretty!)

Day 1: Hobo Gulch Trailhead to Last Chance Camp
grizz falls.jpg
I made it up to Weaverville mid-afternoon, and met Austin at the library. We’d planned out a shuttle run, so I dropped my car at Canyon Creek trailhead and hopped in Austin’s rig to head up to Hobo Gulch. Not long after leaving the paved section of the Hobo Gulch road, we saw a hobo hitchhiking on the side of the road. Being late afternoon, I was certain we’d be the last car this gentleman would see all day. “We should pick him up,” I said. “No way else he’s getting a ride, and the karmic implications of leaving him high and dry could ruin the trip.”

Austin agreed, and we pulled over. The moment the car stopped I remembered that we were in the middle of a pandemic, and you’re supposed to limit human interaction. My fears intensified when we got closer and I saw the open meth sores on the dude’s face. He couldn’t rightly explain where he wanted to go, but we took him aboard anyway. Turned out he was a prospector, and had a good feel for the mountains. He said he’d tried to get to Grizzly Lake earlier in the week, but couldn’t handle the scramble at the end. Considering the amount of difficulty he had getting in the car, I was shocked he’d made in that far.

We ultimately dropped him at the top of some random ridge about as far from water as you can get on the road, which struck me as odd for a man toting a gold pan. But maybe he knew of some hidden spring or something. Anyhow, we pressed on somewhat grateful to be devoid of his company, and got started on the trail.

The Hobo Gulch Trail parallels the North Fork Trinity River, and has the option of taking the low or high route. We chose the low route, wanting to stay close to the water, and knowing high water and rapids wouldn’t be an issue in the drought. The late day sun shining through the oaks and maples was idyllic, as was the gentle rip-rapping of the slowly meandering water of the river.

There were either three or four wet crossings that required boots off. It was fun though, and was augmented by a swim at one of the crossings. We had considered camping at Rattlesnake Camp about five miles in, but there was someone there already so we pressed on for Jorstad Cabin. Unfortunately there were people there too, and they had a loud-ass dog, so we kept pushing. The next two campsites we passed were also occupied, which baffled us since there had only been five cars in the parking lot.

We had the energy to keep plugging along, but we no longer had the support of the sun. As dusk faded to night, we reluctantly put on our headlamps, more to search for acceptable campsites than to see the trail. But the trail itself got a little tricky to follow. It was overgrown to the point that there were sections where the brush created a full tunnel over the trail, and other sections had streams running down that had evaded poorly constructed water bars.

After so much hiking we were at first determined to find a great campsite, but then it dawned on us how late it was, and that we needed nothing more than a flat place to rest our heads. Around 9:45 we finally found a pretty decent little spot on the river. We hardly bothered with dinner before calling it a night.

Day 2: Last Chance Camp to Grizzly Lake
sunset grizz.jpg
west from grizzly.jpg

The whole day was a solid slog. The initial part of the trail was overgrown, but it opened up after the trail left the North Fork to follow Grizzly Creek. This section of the trail was pretty, but unspectacular until Grizzly Falls came into view. The waterfall is a sensational free-falling, thin gush of water that propels itself with ample power off the precipice of Grizzly Lake. It also reminded us that we had a long way to go.

With the falls mostly in our sights, we approached Grizzly Meadow, a nice place with a meandering, oxbow creek running through it. One part of the creek had impossibly clear water, and it looked to be about chest deep, so naturally we jumped in. It was arguably the coldest water I’ve ever been in. It must’ve been spring fed to be that clear and cold, but it provided a great shot of energy before the ascent up to the Grizz.

The actual trail to Grizzly Lake dies in the meadow, and gives way to a well-cairned scramble. While tiring, it’s not a technically challenging route, and we made good time, making it to the lake at 3:00. This gave us plenty of time to explore the waterfall from all angles, swim, nap, and scout our route for the next day. Also much to our joy, there were only two other people camped there. This took us by surprise, especially because word on the Grizz grapevine was that there had been over forty people at the lake a few days prior for the Fourth of July weekend. We drank to our good fortune, and got a good night’s sleep for the adventure ahead.

Day 3: “Zero” Day to Lois Lake and Back
lois winning shot.jpg
grizzly lake from above.jpg

Never before on a backpacking trip had either of us taken a zero day. Hell, I’d rarely had a days when I was at camp prior to 5:00. But as I’ve gotten older and wiser, I’ve learned the joys of not hiking twenty miles a day. So while not taking a total zero day, we did plan what we thought would be a fairly mellow day hike to nearby Lois Lake.

To get to Lois, we ascended a series of ramps that make up the popular x-country route to Thompson Peak, the highest point in the Alps at 9,002 feet. The route was well-worn and pretty easy to follow. Where the use trail split more directly towards Thompson we left it, and made our way out of the Grizzly cirque and into the Mill Creek Drainage.

Once over the gap, we scanned the vicinity for Lois Lake. At first all we saw was a tiny snow melt pond not far from us, and our hearts sank. We knew Lois Lake looked small on the map, but what we were looking at was a puddle. But before total disappointment set in, I noticed the lake was just barely visible, maybe 400 hard-scramble feet lower in elevation than where we sat. It was simply further away than either of us had expected it to be.

The route we took to get there was tricky and not exactly ideal. It required a little talus hopping, sidehilling, and avalanche-chute descending. You know, basically all the stuff you wish to avoid when descending a pass. But we still made it to the lake in good time.

Lois Lake’s not exactly the lake of a lifetime, but it’s not without its charm. It has a nice cirque, with a giant unnamed peak rising behind it, and numerous dark, mysterious inlet gullies that feed it. To the west it gives way to one of the best infinity views imaginable, and a forceful creek that cuts its way through black rock, and open, dry country. The lake water was cold, but felt great after the descent.

After ample time enjoying the fruits of our labors, we took a slightly different route back over the lip that wasn’t any easier than the route we’d taken down. We also inadvertently took a slightly different route down to Grizzly that had its share of challenges. But we got back in the early afternoon, soaked in the lake, then soaked in the western views of mountains and drainages without end. Unfortunately we had to share the views with quite a few new arrivals, but so it goes at the Grizz.

Day 4: Grizzly Lake to Kalmia Lake
route to mirror pass.jpg
mirror and ledge route.jpg

This was the meat of the trip, and a day that was spent in parts of four different drainages. We got up early to begin the ascent out of the Grizzly cirque. There was a pretty obvious ramp to follow along the lake’s east shore all the way up to whatever the pass next to Caesar Peak is called. The backside of Caesar was stunning, perhaps my favorite scenery of the trip. It was still holding a solid amount of snow, much of which was melting off in ephemeral creeks that would eventually make their way to the Little South Fork of the Salmon River. If that name’s not long enough for you, the fork to the immediate east of that is called the Middle Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River.

Anyhow, we weren’t in this drainage all that long as we skirted around Caesar Peak, crossing a few snowfields en route to Mirror Pass. The pass itself was very mellow, and while the views of where we’d come from were impressive, the views down to Mirror Lake below were largely blocked by trees. However, we did have a very clear view of the ledge a few hundred feet above Mirror Lake we knew we had to traverse to get to Kalmia Lake. Stuck between two bands of towering cliffs, with intermittent patches of snow, the route looked terrifying, but doable from afar.

With great trepidation we started angling towards the ledge, trying not to lose too much elevation. While our line had seemed pretty good, we arrived at a point that was fairly cliffed out. However we did find one somewhat navigable chute to descend, and while far from being a good time, it did allow us to make it to the ledge without having to backtrack.

The ledge itself was even less of a good time. Pretty much the entire route involved sidehilling across scree deposited at the angle of repose, and there were multiple exposed areas where a mistake could result in a two hundred foot plummet. We took our time and mostly walked in or near vegetation, so we’d have something to catch us if we slipped. With every step I really regretted my decision to push my boots through another summer, instead of investing in a new pair. The tread on those puppies was not unlike bowling shoes.

The walk left both of us shaken for sure, but also gave us plenty of adrenaline for blasting over Kalmia Pass once we were out of harm’s way. Like Mirror Pass before it, Kalmia Pass was heavily wooded on one side, but the views looking back over Mirror, Sapphire, and Emerald Lakes were phenomenal. In actuality the views of these lakes had been unparalleled for much of the ledge route, but I’d spent pretty much the entire duration looking at my feet.

From Kalmia Pass we could see L Lake down below through the trees, but our destination of Kalmia Lake was on the other side of a hill, and thus not visible. Sitting atop a narrow ridge that divides the Canyon Creek drainage from the Stuart Fork drainage, Kalmia Lake is one of the most implausible basins you can imagine, and has no logical right to hold water. I feared it’s bizarre topography would make it difficult to find, and while we went a little higher than we needed to get there, it turned out to not be much trouble.

Apparently the reason Kalmia holds water despite it’s odd location is that according to a veritable source known as Wikipedia, it’s the snowiest spot in California. However it doesn’t hold much water, and is a quite shallow body of water that blurs the line between lake and tarn. It’s too small and off the beaten path to have ever been stocked, so it holds a healthy population of frogs, which I think were of the mountain yellow legged variety. The frogs were lovely, but it’s the lake’s infinity view across the upper reaches of Canyon Creek to Mt. Thompson, Wedding Cake, and Mt. Hilton that makes it special. I’ve seen it described as a little lake with a big view.

We spent plenty of time exploring the lake and surrounding areas before Austin offered me the smallest smidgen of an edible. An hour after eating it I thought it was pretty weak, until fifteen minutes after that when I was standing on a rock high above a cliff dancing with some ess-shaped trees. Not long after I thought it would be a good idea to curl up in my tent, so I did, and drifted off into a content, well-earned sleep.

Day 5: Kalmia Lake to the Canyon Creek Trailhead

One funny thing about the Trinity Alps is seemingly every lake, pond, tarn, and puddle has a name. It’s so different than the Sierra where there’s lakes thirty times the size of Kalmia that have names like “Lake 10,327”. For this day the plan called for angling downhill towards the aptly named L Lake, shaped just like it’s namesake letter punctuated by a period.

While we didn’t quite descend all the way to L Lake, we did find a series of cairns and boot paths that led us down a brushy ravine and down to a creek. In what’s super out of character for me, our route finding had been impeccable all trip. Austin had accidentally left his map behind, and I don’t own an Alps map, so we’d been navigating purely on instinct and sight.

But we’d gotten damn near to Canyon Creek Lakes without any dead-ends, re-routes, or anything, and thought we were in the clear. We even made the mistake of bragging about it. “The lake’s literally a stone’s throw away,” I said, before launching a stone towards Lower Canyon Creek Lake. “Well maybe not literally, but it’s pretty damn close.”

This trip report’s already been exhaustive, and I don’t want to belabor the staggering amount of route-finding errors we made, but basically every call we made from that point forward turned out to be the wrong call. We followed the wrong side of creeks, followed the wrong shorelines of lakes, took the wrong use trails, etc. In all the lake wound up being like 10,000 stone throws away, but we made it, and finally got back on a real, live trail.

We finished the popular Canyon Creeks Trail in no time, got to my car, and went up the Hobo Gulch road, fully expecting to see the hobo who’d hitched a ride at the start of our journey. While we didn’t see him, I blessed his spirit for the karma he provided for such an amazing adventure.
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Re: TR: Lois, The Grizz, and Kalmia Country (Trinity Alps)

Post by c9h13no3 » Tue Oct 20, 2020 3:46 pm

creekfeet wrote:
Tue Oct 20, 2020 2:48 pm
there had been over forty people at the lake a few days prior for the Fourth of July weekend
I'm trying to use context clues here, this trip was in mid-July? Dates are always useful for folks in the future.
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Re: TR: Lois, The Grizz, and Kalmia Country (Trinity Alps)

Post by balzaccom » Tue Oct 20, 2020 9:24 pm

This is a really nice report---gives me new reasons to explore that area more. Thank you.

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Re: TR: Lois, The Grizz, and Kalmia Country (Trinity Alps)

Post by Wandering Daisy » Wed Oct 21, 2020 10:05 am

Beautiful photos! I have climbed Wedding Cake from Canyon Creek early season with lots of snow, making plenty of route errors; easy to do in Trinity Alps terrain. Your report is making me really want to go to Grizzly Lake. Did you have to get permits? If so, how did you do that with COVID regulations?

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Re: TR: Lois, The Grizz, and Kalmia Country (Trinity Alps)

Post by wsp_scott » Fri Oct 23, 2020 6:29 am

Your partner took some great photos and you wrote a great report.

Grizzly Falls and Lake look awesome, but I would not want to share it with 40 people :)
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Re: TR: Lois, The Grizz, and Kalmia Country (Trinity Alps)

Post by creekfeet » Mon Oct 26, 2020 6:58 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:
Wed Oct 21, 2020 10:05 am
Beautiful photos! I have climbed Wedding Cake from Canyon Creek early season with lots of snow, making plenty of route errors; easy to do in Trinity Alps terrain. Your report is making me really want to go to Grizzly Lake. Did you have to get permits? If so, how did you do that with COVID regulations?
My friend picked up my permit before I arrived, but I'm almost positive there was just a self-registration box at the Weaverville ranger station.

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