Early Trinity Alps Peak Bagging
If the Trinity Alps had a Golden Age of Mountaineering is was in the 1920s and 30s. Legendary Norman Clyde made over 30 ascents, many of them firsts, in the 1920s, but was not big on documenting or recording his efforts. Hatfield Goudey , a mountaineer’s name is ever there was one, wrote the following article for the Sierra Club Bulletin covering the state of mountain climbing in the Trinity Alps in the 1930s
There are no major unclimbed peaks in the Alps, but certainly are some spires or projectiles untrodden by the foot of humankind. But no one can be sure. No matter how remote, no matter how difficult your climb may be, there is always the chance that Norman Clyde was there first.
THE TRINITY ALPS - RECENT OBSERVATIONS
By Hatfield Goudey
In northern Trinity County, California, is an area of a few square miles where extensive glaciation has carved a number of peaks into forms which will interest the mountain climber. The area is popularly known as the Trinity Alps and, excepting Mount Eddy, contains the highest peaks of the Klamath Mountains. The highest elevation is Thompson Peak (8936 feet) (ed. note: actually 9002 feet) and a number of points are only slightly lower. Generally the higher peaks rise from three to five thousand feet above the valley floors but the climber will find little if any difficult climbing before reaching the last five hundred feet to his goal. On the final pinnacles, however, he may find any degree of difficulty he desires, although there seems to be an easy route on nearly every peak. The range contains two small residual glaciers, or glacierets, which lie on the northeast slopes of Mount Caesar and Thompson Peak. These are the only existing glaciers in the Trinity Alps and, I believe, in the Klamath Mountains.
It is the purpose of this paper to present a guide to routes among some of the interesting peaks, based on the recent experiences of Mr. E.F. Gregiore and myself, with valuable information contributed by Messrs. J.R. Dempster and Homer D. Erwin. There seems to be no literature which describes the region in any detail, so it is believed this guide may be of some value to other climbers. Topographic maps of Sawyers Bar, Etna, Weaverville and Big Bar quadrangles cover the area, but in using them, allowance should be made for topographic inaccuracies. (ed. note: still true today: The map is not the territory) In particular, one will have difficulty with the last two in the finer details. Forest Service folder maps are useful for road and some trail delineation’s.
APPROACHES BY ROAD
One may go from Redding, via French Gulch, Trinity Center and Coffee Creek, to Big Flat; via Weaverville to the Trinity Alps Resort on the Stuart Fork; via Weaverville to a point two miles above Dedrick on Canyon Creek; via Weaverville and Helena to the Yellowstone mine on East Fork of North Fork, seven and one-half miles from Helena; or via the same route and the Forest Service road to Hobo Gulch, whence it is one mile by trail to Keystone Ranger station. From Yreka, one may go via Etna and Sawyers Bar to Cecilville and points on the road which extends a few miles up the South Fork of the Salmon River. One may also reach any of these places by connecting roads from the coast.
APPROACHES BY TRAIL
It must be borne in mind that trails, except where they serve lookout stations or are used by packers, may not be brushed out and may then be difficult to follow.
From Trinity Alps Resort a fair trail follows Stuart Fork to Morris Meadow (12 miles) and Emerald Lake (17 miles). Between Morris Meadow and Emerald Lake a trail turns N to zigzag to a 7200 foot pass and descends to upper Caribou Lake. From a point on the Stuart Fork trail, eight miles from the Trinity Alps Resort, a trail turns up Boulder Creek to cross a high pass and connect with the Canyon Creek trail four miles from Dedrick. From the end of the road on Canyon Creek a trail follows the creek to Canyon Lakes (10 miles). From the Yellowstone mine a good trail crosses Backbone Ridge to Keystone Ranger station on the North Fork, crossing Rattlesnake (12 miles), to Grizzly Creek, gradually becoming poorer, to its end at Grizzly Meadow (30 miles). On Rattlesnake Creek the Bob’s Farm trail follows the creek for four miles, where one may turn off and follow a ditch to an old five-stamp mill and pick up a trail which leads to Middle Fork and Bear Valley Meadow on the South Fork of Rattlesnake Creek (8 miles from the mouth of Rattlesnake).
From Cecilville there are there routes to Grizzly Creek. One trail, by way of Cecil Lake and Cold Springs to the Molitor mine (15 miles) and Grizzly Meadow (23 miles), involves nearly five thousand feet of climbing to the Molitor mine and about two thousand feet from there to Grizzly Meadow, but it offers some excellent views of the peaks. Another route leads from the mouth of Ray’s Gulch, by many zigzags, to connect with the Cecil Lake trail at Cold Springs. The distance from Cecilville is about the same from this route. The best trail crosses the South fork a half-mile above Garden Gulch, passes China Springs and crosses the “Low Gap” to connect with the Grizzly Lake trail about two miles above the Molitor mine. The climb to the “Low Gap” is 3500 feet and up Grizzly Creek is 1500 feet. The distance from the South Fork to Grizzly Meadow is about 11 miles. From the end of the South Fork road a good trail connects with Big Flat (11 miles). About three miles up this trail another trail turns off to cross the South Fork at Little Grizzly Creek, follows up the South Fork and Little South Fork to the old Talcott Cabin (six miles from Little Grizzly Creek). From Big Flat a trail follows the South Fork to its head, over a 6700 foot pass, and down Willow Creek and Deer Creek to Morris Meadow (12 miles). Another trail from Big Flat crosses the backbone of Caribou Mountain to Lower Caribou Lake (7 miles).
The foregoing are all trails that will be of use to the climber in the western part of the area. Several trails lead to the eastern massif from Stuart Fork and Swift Creek. For them the reader may consult the maps and Trinity Alps Resort.
For the purpose of description, I divide the region roughly into four sections: the East Ridge - the massif east of Stuart Fork whose summits average about 8,000 feet, culminating in Gibson Peak; the Sawtooth Ridge - the ridge from Mount Caesar to Willow Creek, with summits reaching 7000 to 8000 feet; the Middle Range - between Stuart Fork and Canyon Creek, with Mount Caesar as its northern termination, containing summits up to 8915 feet; and the West Range - west of Canyon Creek, which contains ten or twelve summits exceeding 8600 feet, and of which Thompson Peak is the northern termination.
I use the name Mount Caesar for the peak three-quarters of a mile E N E of and slightly lower than Thompson Peak (locally the name is used interchangeably with Thompson Peak). I have numbered the highest peaks of the West Range from north to south, Thompson Peak becoming Peak 1. Peak 2 is locally called Wedding Cake, from its form as seen from Rattlesnake Creek, and this name I have retained. Other names used which are suggested by the form or location of the natural feature are: Saddle Peaks (peaks 4 and 5) - which resemble a Mexican saddle, particularly as seen from the north; Sawtooth Creek and Sawtooth Lake - the creek flowing northwest from Sawtooth and the lake on its course (ed. note: This would be Ell Lake and its outlet stream); Grizzly Falls and Grizzly Meadow - the waterfall which empties Grizzly Lake and the meadow at its base. Other names are from the U.S. Geological Survey or Forest Service maps.
Canyon Creek Lakes (5500 feet) is probably not the most beautiful base camp from which to climb, but from here one can climb all the twelve or fourteen points which exceed 8600 feet in elevation. Each may be easily reached in a day, although only two, Thompson and the Wedding Cake, may be seen from the lakes.
Morris Meadow (4400 feet) offers a superb view of Sawtooth and it, as well as peaks of the Sawtooth Ridge, may be climbed from this commodious base. A Forest Service camp ground was established here in 1935.
Emerald Lake (5100 feet) is a beauty spot from which Mt. Caesar and minor peaks may be climbed.
Caribou Lakes (upper lake, 6600 feet). Caribou Mountain, some peaks of the Sawtooth Ridge, and other minor peaks may be climbed from here.
Little South Fork (3700 feet). Camping places are on the stream above Talcott’s Cabin. Mount Caesar and minor peaks may be climbed, but some brush must be overcome.
Grizzly Meadow and Grizzly Lake (6400 and 7100 feet). I think this is the most ideal spot in the Trinity Alps, although somewhat remote. Here are combined the highest peaks, the highest waterfall, the bluest lake, and the glaciers. the trail ends at the meadow, and the climb to the lake must be make on foot. To those who don’t mind the wind and the glare, I recommend the lake; otherwise stop at the meadow and it will be found quite fine enough. Fisherman be advised! There are no fish in Grizzly Lake, despite rumors to the contrary. Mount Caesar and Thompson Peak may be climbed easily, and some peaks to the south of Thompson may be reached in not too long a day.
Middle Fork, Rattlesnake Creek (4100 feet). There is a camping place where the trail crosses, and by ascending the creek bed from here one may get through the brush to the upper basin, from which Thompson, Wedding Cake, and Peak 3 may be climbed easily. Not recommended when the stream is at flood, neither the route nor the camping place is very appealing.
Bear Valley Meadow (5300 feet). A nice spot. Saddle Peaks, peaks 3, 6, 7, and others may be easily reached from here. Whether or not they may all be climbed from the Rattlesnake side is another matter. The prospect presents some sheer escarpments in the higher reaches. By crossing the West Range and going farther afield, Thompson, Wedding Cake, peaks 7, 8, 9, 10, and others could be reached if one could only penetrate the brush to a convenient base. I know of no trail or route that would be plausible.
There are no trails connecting the bases by short routes. A few passes which may be used for knapsacking are here described but all are more or less arduous.
From upper Canyon Lake, via Sawtooth Creek (ed. note: this is the outlet stream from Ell Lake) and the lowest gap immediately N of Sawtooth Creek, keep to the glacial bench on the N side until nearly above the outlet of Emerald Lake, then descend to the lake. Reversing the route, ascend the rounded dome S of Emerald Lake outlet and follow the glacial bench to the aforementioned gap, which will be found behind a pointed peak and S of the small tarn above Sapphire Lake. Some brush on Sawtooth Creek.
There is a good but rather obscure pass S S W of Emerald Lake outlet and almost due north of Sawtooth. From Emerald Lake, ascend dome S of dam, thence, S W , to northward-protruding buttress on the glacial bench, up ridge then ledges S E to the pass, which lies S E of the buttress. Easy descent to Sawtooth Creek and Canyon Lakes. From Canyon Lakes, this pass will be found to the N E of the most prominent southward projecting buttress in the east-west ridge N of Sawtooth Creek. This pass is slightly higher than the one just mentioned, but is probably more direct and avoids some brush.
From Canyon Lakes (pass W of lower lake, E of upper lake), via upper meadow, to cross the crest of the West Range just N of the Wedding Cake, thence maintaining a level across the S W side of Thompson Peak, cross its W ridge at its lowest point and descend almost directly to Grizzly Lake. We relayed 170 pounds over this route and, while easily passable, it was not an easy task. One may also cross the Thompson-Caesar col, but this rougher and the distance, though seemingly less, is about the same.
From upper Canyon Lake, via a steep gully on the W side of the lake, a glacial bench, which circles around under the peaks of the West Range may be gained. From this bench, via a low gap between peaks 7 and 8, then crossing to the head of East Fork of North Fork is easy. There is a small lakelet set deep below the col on the W side. This pass may be used to climb peaks 7, 8, 9, and 10. Farther N on the bench one may cross between Saddle Peaks and peak 3 to the South Fork of Rattlesnake Creek and Bear Valley Meadow; or between Wedding Cake and peak 3 to the head of Middle Fork of Rattlesnake.
From near the head of Emerald Lake ascend a long rock gully to the N, crossing the crest of the ridge, thence follow glacial benches to the W, skirting Caesar glacier, cross first gap N of Mount Caesar and descend to Grizzly Lake.
ROUTES ON THE PEAKS
Our climbing in 1934 was confined to the Middle and West Ranges, and whether or not we missed some good bets in the other two sections we do know, but we probably did. Individually or together we ascended Sawtooth (both peaks, finding two names on the N W peak and one on the S E peak), Caesar (18 names), Thompson (cairn 11 names), Wedding Cake (no record), peaks 9 and 10 (no record) and some minor peaks. Also an attempt was made on the N N E face of Thompson. We had an opportunity to view the important peaks of these two ranges and nearly from every angle. In 1935 I used approximately the route from Emerald Lake to Grizzly Lake described above and traversed Mt. Caesar from E to W enroute.
In the following notes on routes where the term “inaccessible” is used, it refers to ordinary climbing methods.
THE EAST RANGE consists largely of round-topped summits and appears uninteresting to the climber’s eye. Perhaps Gibson Peak (8378) and some pinnacles in its vicinity would furnish a little interesting climbing.
THE SAWTOOTH RIDGE contains come pinnacles which, while not high, are sharp and should offer some fine rock-climbing. They may be reached from a base camp in Morris Meadow, Willow Creek, or upper Caribou Lake.
MIDDLE RANGE. Sawtooth, S E Peak (8915). One-quarter mile S of lower Canyon Lake ascend a long steep gully on E side of canyon, right-hand fork at about halfway and at about 8,000 feet climb out of gully to cross S W ridge through a low notch. Thence two benches and talus to S W rock-couloir, which descends from the two peaks. Ascend to nearly the crest, a ledge to the right a short distance, and walk to the rather broad summit. From Morris Meadow, ascend Bear Gulch, keeping high on the S side of the canyon until the lakes are visible (ed. note: Smith and Morris Lakes), pass the lakes and the S W rock-coulior is easily gained. There is a difficult route up the precipitous E face of the peak. It is best reached via Devil’s Canyon from Morris Meadow. This ascent was accomplished by Homer D. Erwin in 1935.
Sawtooth, N W Peak (ca. 8900). From lower Canyon Lake, ascend long gully mentioned under “S E Peak”, but take left-hand fork at halfway and follow it to the crest of the N W ridge; then, S W, by short, broad chimney, through a notch, and a short scramble on the S side to the summit. This is approximately the route of S.L.Berry;, Carlos T. Hittell and Alice Eastwood in 1901. They did not reach the S E Peak which is higher. They called the mountain “Sunset Peak.” In 1833, Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Dempster climbed the N W Peak from the N W from Sawtooth Lake (ed. note: Ell Lake). Mr. Dempster then crossed to the S E Peak alone. He says: “In crossing over, I kept to the S W of the ridge which joins the two summits, and had to do good deal of exploring to find a route. There are a number of steep gullies, with vertical walls running down to the S W, and in order to cross these, a little rock-work of moderate difficulty was necessary, and I had to descend perhaps 200 feet. In returning, I took a different route, keeping N E of the crest of the connecting ridge. This route proved somewhat easier and safer, and, as I recall, involved a descent of less than 100 feet from the summit.” Other routes on Sawtooth appear quite difficult or inaccessible.
Peaks 8235 and ca. 8100. Immediately S of Sawtooth. The latter is the Mt. Jupiter of the Eastwood and Berry party. May be reached from the route described for Sawtooth from Morris Meadow. The short final pinnacles may be interesting.
Mount Caesar (ca.8900). W ridge, N W face, N ridge, E ridge, and S face are all easy climbs. The N E face from the glacier may be a difficult route.
WEST RANGE. Thompson Peak (8936) (ed. note: actually 9002 feet) W and S ridges and S W face are fairly easy. N ridge only slightly difficult. E face and N E ridge are inaccessible. The N N E face rising about 500 feet quite steeply from the glacier is interesting. As seen from Mount Caesar a dark dike appears directly below the summit and at the head of the glacier, making a steep diagonal to the N going up this face. By means of this dike I was able to reach a point about 100 feet below the summit and gained 50 feet more by means of ledges to the S E. Here, lichen-covered ledges sloping outward in two directions to make a ticklish inclination warned me back. Still, I believe the route must be possible. Somewhat difficult to the point reached.
Wedding Cake (Peak 2, ca. 8600). A short, slightly difficult chimney from the W gains the summit. Other sides are apparently inaccessible.
Peak 3 (ca.8700). Looks easy by the W ridge or S W face. Other routes more or less difficult.
Saddle Peaks (Peaks 4 and 5, ca. 8800). The N ridge should be gained with fair ease, whence the two summits are easily accessible. Other side are difficult or inaccessible.
Peak 6 (ca. 8800). The N ridge may be possible but likely a difficult route. S ridge and E and W faces appear inaccessible. This is the most inaccessible looking peak I have seen in the Trinity Alps.
Peak 7 (ca. 8800). Looks easy by a talus scramble on the S W. Other angles appear inaccessible.
Peak 8 (ca. 8700). A rather insignificant point easily gained from the W.
Peak 9 (ca. 8800). Also insignificant and easily gained from the W, though the E face is sheer.
Peak 10 (ca. 8900). (ed. note: Today this peak is called Mt. Hilton (8964 feet). It is a relatively easy climb from Canyon Creek Boulder Lake). From the N, peaks 8 and 9 appear to merge with an apparently easy route from the former to the latter. In reality they are separated by a small, deep basin with only a narrow ridge connecting them. From peak 9, by dropping to a ledge, I gained this ridge and reached the summit of Peak 10 by the N E arete, which proved to be easier than anticipated. The N face from the basin should be fairly easy early in the season, but the after the rocks break the snow there are still two possible short chimney routes. From the S the peak is apparently easy. The W and S W faces are sheer and the E may be slightly difficult.
Peak 10 is one of the four highest in the Trinity Alps. The others are Thompson, Sawtooth, and Caesar. There is very little difference in the elevations of the four. (ed. note: Thompson is 9002 feet, Caesar 8966 feet, Hilton 8964, and Sawtooth 8886. This means Mt. Hilton is third highest in the Trinity Alps by a mere two feet behind Caesar.)
From 9000 feet on Mount Shasta, Peak 10, which appears between Sawtooth and Thompson, did not seem to reach the level of those two peaks. Mr. Erwin, leveling from Sawtooth, took the following data: Mount Caesar - about the same elevation; Thompson Peak - one-half per cent plus grade; Peak 10 - possibly slightly lower than Sawtooth (nearly the same, however).
There are many other peaks not listed here, either because we have no accurate information concerning them or because they do not seem important enough to be included.
SUMMARY OF EARLIER CLIMBS
Alice Eastwood and S.L. Berry describe a trip made in 1901 to “Twin Lakes” (Canyon Creek Lakes) with Carlos T. Hittell and Dr. Kaspar Pischel. They climbed the N W peak of “Sunset Peak” (Sawtooth Mountain) and attempted Thompson Peak. Their route on the latter is a logical and easy one; their failure may have been due to an incomplete previous understanding of it.
Frank A. Williamson describes a trip up Stuart Fork and across the divide to “Hennessy Lakes” (Caribou Lakes). His photograph of Thompson Peak really shows Mount Caesar, behind which Thompson is hidden.
Edward O. Allen mentions an ascent of Mount Caesar, which he confused with Thompson Peak. He climbed from Stuart Fork.
J.S. Diller and Oscar H. Hershey climbed “Mount Courtney” (Caribou Mountain) about 1900.
Norman Clyde made about thirty ascents in 1922 and 1923, but I have no detailed record of them.
Recently, Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Dempster and Mr. Homer D. Erwin have taken an active interest in climbing possibilities here.
The Trinity Alps compare with the Sierra Nevada in many ways, but are on a reduced scale. The climbing is similar, with good rock (chiefly granite, with outlying belts of old schists) intersected by many dikes. Base camps should be accessible a month earlier than the average in the Sierra. An advantage is the comparative lack of mosquitoes. However, there are other pests - winged, scaly, and furry.
The region is best visited in late spring or early summer when snow covers the exasperating brush which reaches high on the mountains. there is some justification for the ambitious name of the group and it should be given more notice than heretofore.
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