On July 26, 2003 I headed out from Medford, Oregon with the goal of climbing Bear Mountain the highpoint of Del Norte County in Northern California. My wife accompanied me because she thought it would be nice to spend a few hours knitting and reading a book while she waited for me at the trailhead. It only takes about 2 hours to travel from Medford to the trailhead. The roads were fine and we had no problems finding the trailhead. We did have some excitement though. On Little Jones Creek Road an adult bear jumped out into the road ahead of us and we followed it for about 300 yards up the road until it decided to jump off into the brush. This area is well populated with bear and many geographical features are named after the bear.
At the trailhead, I packed up with my hiking gear and included a full gallon of water. I had studied the topo’s and found a few trip reports on the web and determined I was not going to hike all the way to Devils Punchbowl and then up to Bear Mountain. It appeared that hiking to Buck Lake then up to the ridge and following the ridge to Bear Mountain was shorter and easier. Big mistake.
I made good time down the trail, found the Buck Lake turn off and hiked up to Buck Lake. Buck lake is shallow not as pretty as Devils Punchbowl, but it appeared to be a good place to picnic and fish. I continued around the east side of Buck Lake and traversed up to the ridge that leads to point 5,232. So far so good.
I followed the ridge line south and it became very brushy. The going was slow. I continued slogging along trying to find a path through the brush and over the rocks. The rocks were better going than the brush, but there were gaps that were brush filled. The day was turning warm and I was drinking a lot of water because the route was a lot of work.
I continued around the ridge and it became steep around 5,600 ft elevation and it was quite rocky. The east side did not look passable so I stayed on the west side and fought the terrain. Not much brush now, just steep talus and scree. In Places this was Class 3 interspersed with Class 2 scrambling. It was a lot of work and eventually I worked my way around to point 6,241 that I passed on the south side without climbing over the highpoint.
Once past point 6,241 I found the ridge that leads up to Bear Mountain. I also finally got a good view of Devils Punchbowl far below me to the north. The final climb up to the summit was much easier than the ridge that I climbed from Buck Lake. I finally got to the summit 5.5 hours after leaving the trailhead by climbing this “shortcut”. I was exhausted and nearly out of water. My shins and hands were bruises and scratched from this long bushwhack. I decided to take the route down to Devils Punchbowl to get back to the trailhead.
Finding the correct chute down to Devils Punchbowl was a little problematic because of a steep cliff below the ridgeline. I finally found one that looked like it had been used by other hikers and headed down. It is steep and I had to use my hands a few times along with the vegetable belays to get down a few spots. I ran out of water on the descent and when I finally got to the lake I was really dehydrated. I drank right out of the lake. It tasted great and refreshed me for the long hike back to the trailhead and my wife who was waiting.
I filled a couple of Nalgene bottles for the hike out and started making my way around the lake. This wasn’t any picnic either. Lots of rock hopping and it took forever. Jumping from one rock to another I twisted an ankle pretty good. Good thing I had hightop boots on. It really hurt, but I continued and kind of limped around to the lake outlet. There were several campers near the outlet and I’m sure they wondered where I had come from.
I tried to hurry along now because I had told my wife that I would be back in about 6 hours. I was already late and I knew she would worry. I had taken a 2-way radio with me so I could communicate with her, but I was out of range or on the wring side of the ridge most of the day. Finally, when I was below the second lake and at the top of the ridge above Doe Creek I made contact with her and told her it would be another couple of hours before I could get back to the trailhead.
I continued limping along and had no trouble following the trail all the way back to the car. During this walk, I discovered that I had lost my radio, so I couldn’t communicate with my wife any more. At the trailhead my wife was glad to see me, but miffed that it took so long. My wife had made acquaintance with a camping couple who were going to hike to Devils Punchbowl the next day. As luck would have it, they were from Medford also, so we asked them to look for my radio and we gave ihem our phone number. Do you believe they found it, called us, and returned the radio? Great people here in the northwest.
This was a long day because of the cross country bushwhacking. It took about 10.25 hours to go 12 miles and climb 4,000 feet. I had saved about a mile and 600 ft of elevation gain, but it took at least an extra 3 hours to travel the ridgeline. This was my 21st County Highpoint. The moral of the story is to stick to the trail.
Here’s a link to another Trip Report from someone else who took a “shortcut”
Bear Mtn Shortcut