Looking across a burned area towards Whitney Falls and Whitney Creek Canyon.
The fires this summer have been discouraging both here on Mount Shasta and elsewhere in Northern California. Yet, in the midst of this gloom, there are all sorts of hidden turns of events and some unexpected good news. Such is the case with Whitney Creek on the north side of Mount Shasta.
The creek, flowing northward from the massive Whitney Glacier, is home to Whitney Falls, the destination of the lone hiking trail on Mount Shasta’s north side. The falls is one of the four large waterfalls on Mount Shasta and, like the trail that leads to it, the only one on the mountain’s north side. It is also in the heart of the area burned by the Lava Fire.
Whitney Creek has been notorious for its fickle flow and its occasional overflows from glacial outburts. While it hasn’t had the latter this year, a similar phenomenon after a period of intense rain from a passing thunderstorm. Flash floods, a danger with a storm like this, were an even larger threat following the fire. As anticipated, the creek rose to dangerous levels, bringing with it a tremendous amount of sediment and rocks. Though not quire the same as the glacial outbursts, the end result was the same. The creekbed was filled with mud and debris, clogging the passage under Highway 97 and forcing Whitney Creek outside of its banks. It was necessary to bring in backhoes to dig the debris out and allow the creek to flow freely again.
Whitney Creek at Highway 97 in 2017.
Whitney Creek at Highway 97 in 2021, after the creekbed was filled by flashfloods.
Whitney Creek at Highway 97 in 2021, after an emergency excavation.
Where the creek once flowed through a flat landscape choked with brush, it now cuts a muddy course through a channel lined with large mounds of dirt and rock. I suspect this altered landscape will persist for a while, until a flow large enough cuts the back and collapses sections of the pile into the surging water. Until that happens, this section of Whitney Creek’s appearence has been altered a fair amount. Also worth noting, whoever operated the excavator had some fun building a massive stack of balanced rocks. A new landmark, suspect.
When I was there, it was shortly after the flashflood waters had abated. Yet, even then the flow of the water was unpredictable, with surges and subsidence causing its flow to change course within its muddy channel.
While there were no obvious changes in the creekbed’s landscape, it seemed to flow like frazil ice, with channels opening, flowing and then blocking up, only to repeat the process else where in the creekbed.
As interesting as that may be, I did commit to some good news, so let’s have it! Looking at a map and seeing the waterfall’s location, it is natural to assume that the trees all around Whitney Falls burned. While the falls would no doubt survive, the view of the falls would be significantly altered by the presence of blackened, burned and dead trees. Thankfully, it appears that this is not the case.
Whitney Falls before the Lava Fire.
There are a couple of places along the highway where it is possible to see the falls. From these vantage points, it is easy to see that the trees around the falls did, in fact, survive. There are a few burned ones mixed in, but, by and large, the vista of the falls is intact!
The falls are hard to see, but the trees around it are green.
Of course, while the area around the falls is intact, the area below, through which the Whitney Falls Trail travels, is burned. This too, however, may be a net positive. The notoriously hard to follow path passed through some dense brush that was in dire need of some lopping and clearing. That is no longer and issue and the opportunity to rework the trail in the wake of the fire now presents itself.
Indeed, there are bits of good news from throughout the fires around the North State. When the massive Dixie Fire exploded to the north and burned past Chester into Lassen Volcanic National Park, the summer camp I took the boy scout troop to, Camp Fleischmann, was right in its path.
Camp Fleischmann lies between Chester and Lassen.
There was no structure protection in that inferno and I assumed the camp a total loss. In the aftermath, it has been revealed the camp (and its trees!) are largely intact!
Even the campsite my troop used, which lies on the far side of the lake from the main part of the camp, appeared to have survived the flames.
All post fire images found here.
The fires can seem overwhelming at times, and the scars left by them may be deep and long lasting, but there are still many things to be grateful for. The survival of some trees in a favored spot or the continued existence of a beloved destination are gifts in the midst of the smoky pall that hangs over all of us. There are many more out there and as the smoke clears, we will commence to look for them. When found, we must give thanks for the blessings in the destruction. We need to keep looking up.