It has been absolutely perfect so far this weekend up here in Mount Shasta. The weather has been warm but not hot and the skies have been clear. While there are a lot of people here for the weekend, the area offers so many diverse activities, it has not seemed too busy…unless you go up to Bunny Flat or Castle Lake. The former in particular has been a zoo since the weather, along with the snow conditions, have been perfect for climbing Mount Shasta. Horse Camp and Helen Lake resemble large fraternity parties more than alpine camps. Plenty of folks are doing things besides climbing the mountain. Some are paddling on Lake Siskiyou or Castle Lake, others are enjoying the beach and awesome view at the Lake Siskiyou Resort. Some of the trails, especially along the McCloud River Falls Trail and Heart Lake have plenty of hikers but that leaves many others with no one or only a handful of enthusiasts enjoying them. Even though we aren’t at full access to all the trailheads quite yet, the Mount Shasta area is still blessed with an abundance of opportunities to enjoy the beauty and find some solitude.
While the trail along the McCloud River’s trio of waterfalls gets plenty of use, other stretches of trail along the river see little traffic. The most remote is the section of trail accessed through the Nature Conservancy’s McCloud River Preserve. This is the last section of the McCloud River accessible to the public, before the river enters a string of private fishing clubs. The preserve is located deep in the remote section of mountains that are a southeastern outlier of the vast Klamath Mountains. Unlike the more popular sections of the McCloud River, the geology here is not volcanic but sedimentary, uplifted marine rocks that have been carved into a deep, heavily forested canyon. The river is large and swift, cascading over a constant series of boulders, creating riffles and small cataracts. It is a beautiful and remote setting. TO reach this trail it is necessary to drive over a long dirt road which, while bumpy at times, is passable by low clearance vehicles. Trailhead parking is limited.
The only one of Mount Shasta’s color-themed buttes located on the mountain’s north side, Yellow Butte is a great high desert hike. The trail starts right off of Highway 97 climbs up the flanks of the appropriately named butte’s flanks to the summit. The name presumably comes from distinctive gold grass blanketing the little peak. Other prominent points are more ruddy and covered with juniper and sage, while Yellow Butte is free of these and remains surprisingly yellow all year. It does, however, have exceptional lupine displays. While we have passed there prime there are still flowers on the peak and it makes an exceptional afternoon hike. The views of the Shasta Valley are fantastic, with the nearby Haystack a highlight of the early hike and Sheeprock, the Goosenest and the Whaleback coming into view later. Of course, the views of Mount Shasta are awesome and nearly constant for much of the trail. The culmination is the 360 degree view from the top of Yellow Butte, perfect for an afternoon or sunset vista.
The headwaters of the might Sacramento River, California’s largest and longest river, is the wonderful Cliff Lake. The large lake is is tucked away in secluded Cedar Basin, so named because it contains the largest collection of high elevation Port Orford Cedars. These trees only grow in the Klamath Mountains and the Klamath’s related offshoots in Oregon. Watch out for their blue-green cedar leaves. Cedar Basin is also home to 5 lakes and several unnamed tarns. Cliff Lake is the largest and most beautiful but Cedar Lake, Lower Cliff Lake, Upper Cliff Lake and Terrace Lake are all beautiful in their own right. Cliff Lake gets its name from the massive, nearly vertical, cliff rising out of the lake’s waters and climbing 1,500 feet to the summit of Peak 7,149 (which I unofficially dubbed “Many Lakes Mountain” since a total of 14 lakes lie at its feet in three different cirque basins). All but Upper Cliff Lake are easy to reach. To get to Upper Cliff Lake requires a difficult rock scramble from Terrace Lake, since it is tucked away on a rocky bench halfway up the cliff. This is one of the best lakes in the Trinity Divide and it is a treat to be able to hike it without many other hikers. At the lake, be sure to stay on the east side of the outlet, since a private inholding, along with cabins, is found on the west side.