About fifteen years ago, I purchased a couple of hiking guidebooks to the Trinity Alps region of California. I had heard so much about this wonderful area, and was eager to explore it. But somehow, I always ended up in the Sierra or the Cascades, and never made it to the Trinities.
This year, after being frustrated by wilderness permit quotas and hassles, I decided it was time to go for it. I bought an up-do-date guidebook, and settled on an overnight hike up the steep Stoney Ridge trail, over Stonewall Pass, and camping at Echo Lake. I drove out to the ranger station in Weaverville, and issued myself a wilderness permit, with no hassles.
I spent the first night camped at the Tannery Gulch campground, the closest open developed campsite to the trailhead. I enjoyed happy hour and a nice pasta meal, before turning in for the night. I got up early in the morning for coffee and breakfast, and to get packed up for the hike. The drive up to the trailhead is a steep narrow six mile drive on a dirt road, and reminded me why I drive a Subaru!
When I arrived at the trailhead, it was already warm at only 9 am, so I got going in a hurry. This steep trail is a toughie… it gains four-thousand vertical feet in five miles up to Stonewall Pass. And as a result, it is almost guaranteed solitude. I met only four other people on the trail during my two days in the backcountry.
The early part of the trail is in relatively shady forest, but as it climbs, shade becomes a rare commodity. By 11 am, I had drunk all of a liter bottle of water, and was well into the second liter. I nursed the bottle all the way to the pass, and hoped to see an opportunity to refill before too long. The trail was in generally good condition, though there were a number of blowdowns (fallen trees) across the trail… one of which I fell over trying to negotiate, resulting in a spectacular cut on my left calf.
The climb up to the pass is spectacular. The red peridotite rock which dominates the area, gives it a really different feel. The trail switchbacked steeply through meadows and alpine flower gardens, until I finally made it to Stonewall Pass (7400′). And wow… what a view. Many of the high granite peaks and ridges in the Alps lay before me, as I rested from the long climb. The view was only marred by the poor air quality of the day.
Following was a steep, rocky descent into Van Metre Meadow. Fortunately, I came across a lovely spring, and was able to replenish my water bottles. The day was hot, and I was getting a little dehydrated. After another mile-and-a-half of hiking, both downhill, then uphill again, I came to the unmarked spur trail to Echo Lake. I was pretty tired at this point, and my attention was lagging, and about a thousand feet before the lake, I tripped on a rock. The thing about carrying a twenty-five pound pack on your back is, that it throws your center of gravity off, and makes it much more difficult to stop a fall. I hit my right knee and elbow, and cursed loudly, as I sat there being mad. After hauling myself back up, I made my way into the rocky bowl surrounding Echo Lake. What a spectacular spot!
I sat by the shoreline and rested, taking in much needed water, while I contemplated where to set up camp. I finally settled on a rocky shelf just above the lake, and settled in. Unfortunately, I had developed a “nice” heel blister on my left foot on the climb up to the pass, and it was pretty painful by this point. I was not looking forward to the climb back to the pass the next day.
Echo Lake has a deserved reputation for the finest sunsets in the Alps. There is a nice notch cut in the bowl, which faces directly west, giving an unobstructed view of the setting sun. I thought the red rock cliffs around the lake would provide a fantastic alpenglow show as well, and it did not disappoint. Just wow! After the sun went down, I snuggled into my sleeping bag under the stars, exhausted, and sleep came quickly.
I woke to an early sunrise, which was almost as spectacular as the sunset, and made some coffee to warm up a little from a chilly night. I wanted to get going early while it was still cool, so got dressed and packed quickly, and was on the trail by 8 am. The climb back up to the pass was much more pleasant in the cool morning, despite my aching heel blister. The air quality was much better that morning, so the views from Stonewall Pass were even more spectacular.
But I still had five miles of (mostly) downhill to go, before I was finished. It was late morning, and was sunny and warm, and I was just ready to be done. But the scenery was spectacular, and helped me to ignore my sore feet. I met a young solo female backpacker on the way down, and shared my experience at Echo Lake, which was her destination.
By mid-afternoon, I was back at the trailhead, happy to be finished, and ready to head home for a hot shower and real bed. And my sweetie, of course.
So my first adventure to the Trinity Alps was successful, but much more difficult than I had anticipated. I guess when the guidebooks say that it is steep and hard, I shouldn’t ignore that! But the scenery was utterly spectacular, and the solitude was just what I needed. I will be back!
Stats: 14 miles round trip, with 4000′ of vertical elevation gain & loss.
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