Friday, June 11, 2010

Memorial Day: Canyon Creek

So for Memorial Day, I headed out on my first non-snow camping trip of the year. Usually, I'd have been on several trips at this point, but triathlon training has definitely occupied a lot of my time this spring. Now that summer's here, though, and the snow is finally melting in the Sierras, backpacking and camping are back on my priority agenda.

Anyway, Memorial Day weekend morning, K. and I headed north. We took the back roads to avoid the I-5 misery (a good plan, as I can only amuse myself by identifying the fruit and nut trees in the orchards that line I-5 for so long). We didn't have much of a plan - basically knew we wanted to go somewhere in the Whiskeytown area, since neither of us had been there before, and we figured we'd sort out the camping thing one way or another. The nice thing about California is that there's tons of national forest land here, and it's almost all open for "dispersed camping." Basically, you can pull off the road and pitch a tent almost anywhere. It's my secret for always finding a campsite when I go to Yosemite (Stanislaus National Forest, yay), and it has the added bonus of camp without a single RV, boombox blasting Lady GaGa, or drunken frat boy in sight. Woo!

First stop was Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Whiskeytown Lake is astonishingly beautiful -- I really had no idea. It's go the same clarity and blue-ness of Tahoe, although it's smaller, nestled in the hills with snow-capped mountains framing it. It looks like something out of a storybook.

The day we were there, we saw dozens of sailboats gliding across the surface of the lake, which is a little surreal when they're framed by snow-capped mountains in the background. We tried to do a hike to one of Whiskeytown's supposedly spectacular waterfalls, but were stymied by overflowing streams (200% of normal, as we later saw on a sign in Trinity National Forest). We hadn't brought hiking poles or water shoes with us, so we ended up having to turn back because we felt that the stream crossing simply wouldn't be safe. And K. has been airlifted out of a hiking once in his life, so no need to risk a repeat. K. did spend a while teaching me how to take great water pics with my Christmas-present DSLR that has been sorely neglected this spring. I now know how to blur water artistically, which is fun.

All the campgrounds at Whiskeytown were full. Unsurprising, since it's one of the biggest camping weekends of the year. But what was surprising was how uncrowded it felt, despite that. I think this area is a bit of a secret. Folks from the Bay area and Sacramento tend to head East or South, to Tahoe and Yosemite and Big Sur, and they forget all about this area. I'd rather be here than Tahoe, though, anytime. No cheezy motels and casinos, no crowds, much more unspoiled beauty.

Anyway, we pressed onward into Trinity National Forest, where they allow dispersed camping (unlike the National Rec Area, which has protections in place closer to what you'd see in a National Park). K. is a bit of a map geek, and had figured out by looking at topo maps that this area was likely to have great river-side places to camp. And boy was he right. After poking around a bit down some dirt 4WD roads, we discovered pretty much the perfect campsite, right next to Canyon Creek. You just won't get a campsite this ideal in a campground.

Before we found this perfect site, we first pitched our tent in a wooded area nearby. It was lovely, but the mosquitos were BAD, and there wasn't a great swimming hole. So when we went out for a walk after setting up camp, we decided to move. . . . but we really didn't want to take down the tent and put it up again . . . leading to this:

Is this the oddest thing you've ever carried on the top of the 4-Runner, K?

Anyway, the tent made it safely to our new campsite, where we spent the next 2 nights relaxing and taking icy cold dips in the creek. I've swum in some cold water in my life (Lake Superior -- brrr. Or San Francisco Bay, anyone?), but nothing could compare to this. I'm pretty sure the water we were swimming in had been snow about 5 minutes earlier. Anyway, swimming might be a bit of an exaggeration. It was more of an ohmygodthisissofreakincold jump in, squealing, go under, and get the hell out kind of thing. No photographic evidence, I'm afraid. I was too busy shrieking like a girl to even think of the camera.

Canyon Creek is a tributary, I believe, of the Trinity River, and it's pretty much gorgeous the whole way along. All weekend, we were surrounded by scenery like this:

Or this:

We hiked in the Trinity Alps, and K. took what might be my favorite picture of myself ever.

Plus the dogwoods were in full bloom up there. Just lovely.

Monday, on our way home, we took a detour in order to drive along the Trinity River. I rafted on the Trinity last year, when the flow was quite low. This year, it was ridiculously high. So high, in fact, that we didn't even see any rafters out there at all, I suspect because the conditions were so fierce. But the river did hold one final surprise for us. As we were driving along 299, we saw 2 bald eagles sunning themselves and fishing from a cliff above the river. With the help of my awesome zoom lens, Ken caught this amazing picture:

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