The Trinity Alps, that is. For those who don’t know, the Trinity Alps are this pristine piece of beauty in northern California with dramatic granite outcroppings, thick pine forests, and deep blue mountain lakes. They are far enough from civilization that at night the sky is illuminated by a grand canopy of stars undisturbed by light pollution and cell service, but close enough to cities that we could experience it in three days. The idea for the trip formed on a slow day at work. Lili (also known as Liliana) is a coworker with a zeal for life, a tinge of purple in her otherwise blonde hair, sky blue eyes, a background of studying abroad in Slovakia, and an earnest smile. Our topics range broadly, and somehow we got it into our head that it would be a good idea to go backpacking. Now, I am the kind of person that always has ideas but doesn’t always follow through, but something about this idea stuck to the slick corridors of my brain. I knew a few other people who would want a good escape, for although I am not a full time student during the summer, working two jobs and taking two summer classes had ended up taking up a majority of my time (granted, I am working two indoor jobs surrounded by good people to be able to go to University and do things like go backpacking; I am not ungrateful). Adam, tall, bearded, stout of heart and can drink like nobody’s business, originally hoped to go but ended up not being able to because of work. Celine, short haired, bright eyed, strong moral sense of right and wrong, grew up in the same town as me, ended up being able to join us! We decided to venture on the Canyon Creek Trail, culminating in the Canyon Creek Lakes, as Celine had hiked it previously and it would be a moderate challenge for Celine and my first backpacking trip. Together, our trio (which eventually came to be known as Relics, for the acronym R, L, C) drove down from Ashland to Whiskeytown. Our route was as follows: I5 south to Yreka, where we cut to Highway 3 down to Weaverville, then west on 299 to Junction City, and then north to the Canyon Creek Trailhead. We left our car there (Celine’s little two-door affectionately nicknamed “She-Beast”), attempted our last poops in the restroom beside the parking lot, took an obligatory selfie, and headed down the trail.
On day one, Monday, we arrived at the trailhead in the evening, probably around four or five. We hiked to the sound of thunder and the flash of lightning, ominous clouds hung overhead bearing down and adding to the weight we carried on our shoulders. A light drizzle fell, enough to actually cool us while walking rather than drench us and our spirits. The forest was filled with crashes as huge pieces of bark were stripped from the trees and fell through the branches and towards the damp ground. What a great omen. We were surrounded on both sides by tall mountains, so we knew the sun was going to set earlier than we were accustomed to. We had a small map, however truth be told we simply had to follow the trail. There were some landmarks we were supposed to pass, such as The Sinks, that we never were able to identify. As the light faded and we guessed that somewhere behind the dark clouds the sun was preparing to drop below the mountains, we came upon a small open meadow that we decided would be the perfect place to make our first camp. Although the majority of the thunder and lightning had passed us by, and the light drizzle turned into a faint mist, we decided to set up our two person tent rather than try and sleep in hammocks. The meadow was large enough that another set of backpackers, Fiona and Matt, decided to tent near us. We had no problem with this, as they seemed kind and eager as us, we just were a little unsettled when they set up their bear bag a little too close to our tent. And they shook out their tent unnecessarily early in the morning. (Note: I don’t know if it is common knowledge or not, but when backpacking you pack all of your food/food like items into a bag and swing it up over a branch so it is out of reach from any curious bears). We ate our first meal that night, simple food items that could be cooked with boiling water. I feasted on a vegetarian and sans gluten mushroom lo mein (not because I am opposed to eating meat nor having a gluten intolerance, in truth this was the most cost effective meal. I know, that was a weird feeling) with a side of rice, and it was incredibly satisfying. That night, the three of us crammed into the small tent, which wasn’t too uncomfortable, and in fact I think we were all grateful for the body heat that we produced.
The next morning, we got up relatively early, ate oatmeal with dried mango pieces which provided a nice sweetness to the plain oatmeal (steel cut, of course), and set out to do the rest of the trail. I would guess that the first day we had gone two miles, meaning that we had about six left to go. We began in high spirits, as the sky had turned from cloudy to clear, and as we followed the path we could see we were following the side of one of the ridges. We came to a small spring, and here used Celine’s water pump to refill our waters. We crouched gratefully in the shade, stripped off our backpacks, and drank the cool waters with gratitude. After we had topped up everything, we followed the trail up some exposed switchbacks, zig-zagging our way up the mountain. We could see across the canyon where small waterfalls had formed from the previous night’s storm. We hiked further into the canyon, passing great hulking granites, tall pines, scattered deer and numerous sunbathing lizards, and essentially following the creek. We were able to quickly arrive at the Lower Falls, which feel into a little clear pool where about three people were swimming and sunbathing. We stopped and took a brief rest here, but knew we had a long way to go so we ultimately kept going. Soon, we got into a sort of a rhythm, and the weight that we bore on our shoulders didn’t quite weigh so heavily on our minds. There were times when we would talk, swapping stories and laughing, opening up little by little regarding who were and where we came from and where we wanted to go, and there were times when we walked in silence, with only the stillness of the woods and our heavy breath. We took turns leading (we fancy ourselves progressive and proponents of equal opportunity, with different people leading we could walk at different paces and that was nice), and I noticed that my backpack, like many other things and people rife with age, was a little noisy and creaky. I could feel my water bottle swing from its place on my carabiner, but there were times when Lili and Celine were so quiet behind me that I was afraid I had lost them. We kept climbing and hiking past the one fork in the trail (left for Boulder Creek Lakes, right for Canyon Creek Lakes (we stayed right)), and finally arrived at where we would make camp. We had finally come to a vista point, after being shrouded by the dense forest around us. The trail leveled out for a little bit, before starting to climb, and there in the level spot, there was a small grove that was right beside the creek, with soft ground and plenty of space. A small pool was just north of our camp, being fed from a small waterfall, and the water flowing out over the canyon where we had just come. It was a sort of edge, not quite so sharp as a cliff, but with a gentle slope that the water just meandered over, like an old friend who sees you in the coffee shop and ambles over. As soon as we saw it we knew this was where we would make camp. However, we had not quite arrived at the lakes yet, so we dropped off our gear and took just a dayback for the remainder of the hike. We could now move much quicker, with a refreshed spirit and reinvigorated zeal. We kept crossing the creek, seeing pieces of an old rusted pipe scattered about, leading us to theorize on its origins (mining equipment?) and comment on its aesthetic (like a relic of a lost civilization). Somewhere on this mini hike, Lili left our group for a little bit with the poop trowel and some biodegradable toilet paper. When she came back, she reported that everything was successful, and we were elated! It was the first time on the trip someone had gone number two (to be fair, she had done it on previous trips, but Celine and I were still wilderness-poo virgins). We kept hiking through ferns and beside great, hulking rocks. After about a mile, we walked over one last hill, and found it: Canyon Creek Lake.
Nestled in the mountains, with clear blue water, surrounded by noble peaks, with hawks flying above and a few hikers scattered around, we felt like we had found the all-elusive it. Heaven, Nirvana, El Dorado, Shangri-La, whatever word or words you would use to describe a piece of something otherworldly that must be earned and not given, providing a beautiful rest after a good days labor. Our first act: jump in. After finding a nice piece of rock to call our own, we ditched the little gear we had left (small backpack with lunch, camera, sunglasses, etc), and walked into the water like a child would go to embrace its mother. It was cold but welcoming, sending a jolt through our tired bodies. After swimming, we dined on the rock, a lunch of tuna and cracker and power bars and dried fruit. We lounged on the rocks, soaking up every ounce of sun (a few ounces too many, as we learned later), and spent the afternoon at the lake.
We headed back to our camp to actually set it up. We had left our backpacks there, warding off any potential camp-stealers, but this time set up our tent, hung our hammocks and bear bags, and laid out our old sweaty clothes so they could air dry. The rest of the day we just hung out here on our mountain paradise. We explored, I took my first wilderness poop (it was much easier than I anticipated, but I think my fiber heavy diet helped move things along – or rather, out – and I had a great vista of the valley below), and I attempted to do some some time lapse photography (not while pooping)(video to come later-again, not of pooping). We weren’t able to make a fire (legally), so we ate our dinner around a circle of rocks where we could tell that at one point, there was a fire. I ate vegetarian tikka masala with basmati rice, and I must say, it was incredible. To make it, we simply put the pouch in a pot of boiling water and heated it up. Celine’s little stove thing that resembled a jet boil was the perfect size. For dessert, an Odwalla bar with plenty of blueberries and sugar. We watched the sun slowly disappear behind the mountains, and eagerly awaited the sky to turn to night to see the inevitable blanket of stars. One rock protruded overlooking the valley, so we sat atop it and talked or simply gazed into the night. When it was time to turn in, we went to bed, I in my hammock, Lili in the tent, and Celine in her hammock (until the cold prompted her to join Lili), and I fell asleep gently swaying in the cool night.
The next morning, the sun streamed into our little campsite, and I pulled my sleeping bag farther over my head so I could sleep a little longer. We took a leisurely morning, eating more oatmeal and still in awe of our vista. This day we knew we would have to hike all the way back, however, it was all downhill so we weren’t really worried. We slowly packed up camp, making sure that everything was in its proper place, all of our weight was distributed in the best way, our forming blisters were properly mole-skinned, and our belly’s full. We headed down the hill, passing a few groups of hikers, and took our lunch at the falls we had passed the day before. We had the full space to ourselves, and left our backpacks on top by the trail and just did the short hike down to the base. The water was cool and clear again, and we were even able to swim under the waterfall, if just for a second, as the strong current pushed us back into the pool at the base. We found small lilacs on the rocks beside the creek, and ate up the last of our tuna as a few curious and large black ants wanted to join our picnic. We hiked the rest of the way, again fatigue hitting at the end, and the last bit was hiked in predominant quietude, but we finally arrived back at the small little parking lot filled with cars and no people, and took off our backpacks with the knowledge that we were not only shedding the weight of our gear, but our own inexperience. It was humbling to realize that we had survived for three days with only things we could carry on our backs (despite the fact that Celine was unable to properly empty her bowels in the woods, but not for lack of trying). We had no cell service nor wifi, but we had survived, and found in the wilderness the same it that draws so many people to nature: camaraderie side by side with solitude, incredible sights, a renewed sense of self- respect, and humbling thoughts about our place in the wild. On the drive back, we stopped in Weaverville for burgers and beer, and laughed our way back into Ashland, listening to a eclectic mix of music, watching the sun set, and coming back home under the same blanket of stars that we experienced in the Trinity Alps, but we were seeing them differently. I’m grateful to have traveled with Lili (who’s trail name we decided should be ‘Elder Lili’)-experienced and good natured, and Celine (trail name: ‘Tootsie’)-positive and forward thinking, and would gladly adventure with them again. ~~