Trinity Alps Wilderness

I travel for my job sometimes. This summer, lots of cities and counties and school districts were considering new taxes (California!) and hired my company to see if that would fly. I got to rent cars and connect to one million points of wifi in different corners of the West Coast. Usually it was like drive-present-eat-work in hotel room-sleep-drive back, though I did have a wonderful meal at Texas Roadhouse in Riverside County.

When two different Humboldt County governing bodies asked for presentations, I lined them up to be on a Friday and then a Tuesday, and “volunteered” to stay up there for the weekend.

Classic grift!

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Flying to Arcata-Eureka airport is hilarious if you are as blissfully unafraid of air travel as I am. Did you know there’s this whole corner of SFO that has tiny planes you have to board via staircase (like Air Force One!)? Luckily, the man in the seat next to me let me use all of his overhead space for my backpack, and I was able to stow my business bag (about half as large, honestly) beneath the seat. On and about my person, I had an orange power blazer, laptop, two 3-inch-thick books of research, a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camp stove, two changes of business clothes and one of hiking clothes, shoes decent for both walking uphill for several miles and presenting facts to a council, an AUX cable, film camera, film, and snacks.

The night before my presentation there was a cold rain and a Warriors game, and I found a friendly bar where I ordered (expense-account subsidized) potato skins and hassled a man in a reversible Cavs/Warrior jersey. After delivering an inspiring speech about the concerns of voters in the Emerald Triangle the next morning (now immortalized on public access television), I made a failed attempt to get a quad map for the journey. Instead, the doods at the camping store told me that there’d been a big storm up in the Trinities and you know, be ready for snow maybe. I had no backup plan so I was gonna just deal with it. When I got in the car I realized I’d forgotten my freaking rain jacket, so I went back inside, bought a flimsy “emergency poncho” and commenced the drive to the Trinity Alps for some weekend warrioring.


Tragically, the Willow Creek-China Flat Bigfoot Museum was closed that evening. But I did stop to take a picture for my mom (who is extremely into Bigfoot) and buy wine in a juice box for the party of one I’d have that night at Ripstein Campground. It rained on me a bit as I savored my macaroni and cheese (cooked in two batches in my tiny pot), forcing me to get to bed about an hour after sundown. It was pretty cozy with my headlamp, smart wool longjohns (recommended GEAR) and Ender’s Game. I was jealous of the campfires nearby but not interested in them enough to make new friends.

The next morning, I was up early to break camp and let my rain fly dry out in the sunlight that filtered through the forest. When it wasn’t too dry but my coffee and oatmeal had been consumed, I tied it somehow to my rental car for some air along the mile or so to the trailhead. That was silly but it worked fine.

And then I was at the trailhead, all alone. I checked, re-checked, and re-re-checked that I had my essentials, then locked the car, buckled myself into my pack, and tightened the straps with purpose. Uphill I went, and it was postcard-pretty in every direction.


Snow was still clinging to some rocks up high, but I didn’t see any of it underfoot. The hike itself was largely under forest cover until it opened up into canyons. I was making excellent time considering the elevation gain is something like 250 stories.


I saw a zillion butterflies, and then I saw a waterfall! It was like being inside an earth-toned version of a Lisa Frank folder. Absolutely righteous.


My goal for the day was Canyon Creek Lakes, and I hadn’t decided upper or lower. But by the time I reached the final climb up a largely smooth granite face (marked by the only semi-useful cairns I’ve ever seen on a trail, I have so much cairn rage I may get into elsewhere), I felt pretty good about stopping at the lower one.

I had a lot of hours of daylight left, so I set up camp on one of the very small suitable patches of gravel (praise to my tiny one-person tent footprint GEAR) near the lake, ate lunch, refilled my water supply … all the housekeeping stuff that on most hikes I end up doing in the dusk or dark. It was kinda nice. I stood a bit more than ankle-deep in the cold water, sun hitting my face, tipping back the remainder of that wine juice box.

Thanks, Jeff!

Then a total cutie showed up and set up camp nearby. I asked him to take my picture with my film camera, and he did a kind of terrible job, but that’s OK. I was sort of tipsy by this time and finished the book I’d brought along, so I asked to read his New Yorker. He obliged and I sunned myself on the rocks, my sleeping pad a serviceable pillow.

Soon enough I was kind of bored. My knee was twinging pretty strongly but I hiked to look at Upper Canyon Lake, then came back down to make dinner and settle in for the night. When it came time to hang my food away from the bears, I resisted help from three whole generations of men. This was silly but I have my principles.

Sunday I was out of the woods by mid-morning, so I took my time driving back to the coast. The sky was clear and the moon was full at Samoa Dunes, where I met two women who had their own Trinity Alps stories and a huge adorable dog.

Monday night I got dinner and drinks with a client, who told me her life story which was so inspiring: an off-the-grid house, a late-in-life divorce, huge friendly dogs and plans to backpack like crazy now that she was unmoored. Oh and I guess politics, too. I was sad to part ways but she understood — I had an appointment for an outdoor hot tub, where I read Heretics of Dune in the gentle coastal drizzle in the remaining hours of gentle sunlight.


Trail: Canyon Creek — once again, big ups to [Plutonic Love] for the itinerary. I stopped at the lower lake, but she went on and made a longer weekend of it.

Lessons learned: Chilling by a lake all day rather than bagging miles is perfectly acceptable.

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