9,026 Feet and Midnight Swims

Two days off. Well, one full day off and one partial day. The mountains were calling. And I guess I felt like I should answer, I forgot to pick up last time and felt rude.

Sunday, I got off work and headed to Sportsman’s Warehouse across from where I worked  to pick up some last minute supplies such as a UV Water Filter Pen and some biodegradable toilet paper. You know, the essentials for someone who is going on a longer-than-a-hike-but-shorter-than-a-backpacking-trip kind of trip. I’ve heard of Mt. Eddy before, but not really known anything about it and could never positively identify it on a lineup of the peaks of northern California.

Still, I set out to Mt. Shasta where I met my adventure buddy Kiva, transferred my backpack (an 80’s style blue and red external frame beast nicknamed “The Jankmeister” for its plethora of sounds and creaks when hiking) to her Jeep, and we set off.

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The Jankmeister and I

Our hike would take us past the three Dead Falls Lakes (there were no falls, at least not at this point of the year), and to get to the trailhead, we took exit 751 off of I-5, headed under the freeway, took a right at the t-intersection, and followed the road onto Stewart Spring road. In around 5 miles, there is the Forest Road 17, and we turned right onto this and followed the beautiful mountain road for around 14 miles and found parking lot on the left at Parks Creek Summit. We left everything non essential in her car, and set off!

The trail began relatively level, and Kiva and I set off with our backpacks and good spirits, beginning the hike sometime around 5pm. We followed the trail along the side of the mountains, winding along from the pine forest to the exposed areas that offered us a view of the valley below. We crossed a few small streams that would have been nice to refill water bottles at, but ours were still full. At some point, we were on the infamous Pacific Crest Trail, a trail I have wandered into and onto numerous times, and dreamt of taking it for a longer hike one day. Around two miles into the trail, we found a junction, and followed the geography to the lake basin and ended up finding Middle Deadfall Lake. After the hike, the expanse of clear blue water was a welcome sight. We trekked along its western shore, passing a few small groups of people that were suntanning or swimming. We passed a few good campsites, before finding a beautiful grassy opening near the southeastern shore. The ground was soft and level, and seemed perfect for a tent campsite. We dropped off our backpacks, and decided to explore unburdened.

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First arrival to Middle Deadfall Lake

After rounding the muddy eastern shore that was dappled with small red paintbrush flowers and purple bell shaped flowers, we headed back to our campsite to gather firewood before the encroaching darkness. As we started to make our campsite more cozy, two pct  hikers emerged from the trail.  One was male, lanky, maybe late 20’s,  with a long beard and weather-grizzled face. He seemed neither threatening nor welcoming, simply weary from a long days hike. We learned he was from LA, where he had originally began his hike northward. His companion spoke with a German accent, used two cross country hiking poles, and wore a light rain jacket. They found the same meadow we were in, and also decided it was perfect to camp in. We had nothing set up and knew their hike was more intense and strenuous than ours, so we decided that Kiva and I would camp farther westward in one of the other spots.

We set up the tent, gathered firewood, and felt comfortable as the sun was beginning to set. I took out my smaller pack from my backpack (backpack-ception, I know) and rushed down the trail to lower deadfall lake, where we would be able to see the sunset more clearly. The sky was changing from its light blue to brilliant hues of pink and orange.

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We sat, perched on a rock, watching the sun droop low behind the trees and then slowly beneath the horizon, and as darkness crept we decided to head back past lower lake to our campsite at Middle Deadfall Lake. We boiled some water and decided to make our dinner, Mountain House dehydrated meals. If they can be afforded, these are delicious and great for hungry hikers. Hers, chicken and rice, and mine, pasta primavera, warm and tasty dinners that were complimented nicely by our fire and inexpensive white wine.

As the sun completely set, I was shocked by a sound I rarely heard – silence. My first instinct was that some predator was nearby, and the bugs had grown quiet. I connected this to my childhood memories of backcountry exploring near ponds, and I would hear the loud communications of frogs, yet when I drew near the life drew silent, as in some defense mechanism. So the absence of even bug noises made me paranoid for a short while, and I used my flashlight to scan the surrounding area behind us. Still, the night grew darker and I realized that there were no nocturnal bugs at this location, no mosquitoes, no cicadas, no crickets. The only sound was the familiar crackle of the fire, and our voices. It was as if a blanket of tranquility lay upon the valley, and we were the intruders into the abyss of silence.

After the wine had time to take effect, we decided that a night swim was a good idea. We changed, and stepped away from the warmth of the campfire into the cool night and waded into the cold water. We learned that this would not be as easy as other night swims we had gone on – the ground was not solid, rather it was an invisible maze of slick rocks and logs that made wading an elaborate and awkward dance. Our feet gingerly felt ahead for a solid surface as our bodies descended into the dark water. No doubt about it, it was frigid. Not even the warmth of Chardonnay could protect us now. Still, we had swam in the icy waters under Mossbrae Falls, so there was no way we could turn back now. We passed the point of no return, and under the starlit sky, counted backwards from three until we dunked our heads underwater. The rush was incredible.

We ran, or hobbled quickly out of the water, and back to the safety of our campfire, following our ancient and primal instincts of being drawn to a fire’s warmth and light. I grabbed all the remaining wood we had, and threw it all onto our fire until it blazed, and then we shivered and laughed and huddled. Finally, our fire burnt out and we retired to our tent.

The moon rose sometime in the middle of the night, illuminated everything in the white glow, and I remember when I awoke to relieve myself, I looked out and surveyed the nocturnal landscape, feeling strangely enlightened by both the present moonlight and the knowledge that few creatures were awake in the valley.


 

The next day would be our day to climb Mt. Eddy. After a breakfast of oatmeal, We decided to leave our tent up, store our heavy items in there, and take some water and food and cameras.

The hike up the hill started easy, passing upper Deadfall Lake, and then steadily climbing in elevation. At one point, we passed two older women who were from Washington and were extraordinarily friendly. We encouraged each other up the hill, and climbed the switchbacked trail up to the summit.

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Finally, we made it up the 9,026 feet to the top. The trail up to the top is barren, with sparse shade. The peak is rocky and unwelcoming, but provides a beautiful view. We could see the lakes below us (I kept trying to see our tent to make sure no one was stealing it, but to no avail), the peak of Mt. Shasta and Black Butte, and we could follow the trail of I-5 northward until we could even see the forlorn Pilot Rock. To the southeast, we could even make out the jagged peaks of Castle Crags. Our Washington hiking compadres joined us at the top, and we talked more about the sights and our backgrounds. One of them had never seen the redwoods, a fact that took me aback. My advice to readers: see the redwoods. The verdant green forests are truly a spectacle. But I digress. We took more pictures, talked some more, munched on banana chips and sugary dried mangoes, and then decided to take our leave.

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Once we got back to Middle Deadfall Lake, we stripped out of our sweaty clothes, and jumped into the lake. The water was still cool, but invigorating and clear. We could swim out and about and still see the bottom. We found trees that were decomposing in the water, and in the end crawled onto a half submerged tree to lay on the top and just enjoy the splendor of the sun. Finally, we crawled off, nearly dry, to break down our tent.

The hike down, as always, was much easier than the hike up. We passed several couples heading up the hill, and as we wound along the side of the hill, we saw people down in the valley hiking, and we wondered where they came from.

In total, we hiked around nine and a half miles. My backpack worked well for short trips, but I found angry red marks where the external frame dug into me. The night was calm and quiet and the water was cold, the food was delicious and satisfying, the hike was difficult but rewarding. The next day, I would have to go to work, but it is trips like these – short escapes from work and into nature, that I crave. The expanses of nature will always call to me, and as long as I am able, I will answer.

Until next time, never stop exploring.

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