"Gray Rock Dome" reflects in Gray Rock Lake
The ascents of "Harry Watkins" and “Gray Rock Dome” is something of a split personality. The first half of the trail is a mile of easy trail climbing at first and then descending in the Gray Rock Lakes Basin. Depending on which peak you are climbing, the second half of the trail, is either a difficult bushwhack followed by a rapid ascent up a steep talus pile or a scramble up a steep granite slope. In spite of the difficulty involved with reaching the summits, the route is blessedly short and offers huge rewards for the effort. Views abound in all directions, encompassing the Castle Crags, the Gray Rock Lakes Basin, the Eddy Range, Mt. Eddy, Black Butte, the northern California Cascades, including Goosenest and Willow Creek Mountain, Mt. Shasta and the Strawberry Valley, which contains the community of Mount Shasta City. All of this can be had relatively quickly, following a consistently scenic route and virtually guaranteed isolation.
"Harry Watkins" and Gray Rock Lake from the trail
No trails lead to the summit of “Gray Rock Dome” but the first half of the route does follow the Gray Rock Lakes Trail. In many ways, the trail is much easier than the drive into the trailhead. If driving a low clearance vehicle or unfamiliar with negotiating difficult dirt roads, it will be necessary to park a quarter mile below the trailhead and hike to the beginning of the trail. Even if one is not willing to climb “Gray Rock Dome” a trip into the Gray Rock Lakes Basin is well worth the effort.
The Gray Rock Lakes Trail is fairly level near the trailhead. The trail is slung on the slopes of a deep canyon and “Gray Rock Dome” looms ominously across the gorge. After 0.01 of a mile, the trail begins to climb steeply. The steep pitch is mercifully short and levels off swiftly. Views of “Castle Crags Mountain” and the southern cliffs of the cirque containing the Gray Rock Lakes come into view. Soon the trail begins descending into the lakes basin. Large Gray Rock Lake becomes visible as the trail descends toward the shore. A trail splits off to the right. This trail continues around the lake. The Gray Rock Lakes Trail continues to the left, toward Gray Rock Lake’s outlet. Several good campsites are passed, although the best is on the east side of the outlet. A large fire pit marks the site.
Gray Rock Lake from the trail leading to Timber Lake
Once on the east side of the lake, a small ridge begins to rise above the lake. The ridge is covered with Huckleberry Oak and at times can obscure the trail once it departs the lakeshore and begins climbing. The Gray Rock Lakes Trail climbs above Gray Rock Lake while a spur continues around the lake. The fork is difficult to find if the ground cover obscures the trail. No sign marks the junction. If one misses the junction and continues around to the southern shore of Gray Rock Lake, then the junction has been missed. Simply backtrack watching closely for the fork.
Once one begins climbing up the ridge above Gray Rock Lake, the trail becomes more apparent. About 100 yards from where the trail begins to climb the trail reaches another unmarked junction.
Upper Gray Rock Lake
To climb "Harry Watkins" continue up the trail to the north shore of Upper Gray Rock Lake. Stay to the right, skirting the western side of the lake. At the other end of the lake, scramble up the rocky slope, angling for the gully filled with trees. Follow the gully to the ridge, which leads to the summit. There is a substantial amount of brush on the ridge which means miserable going. Nonetheless, the route is straighforward and the brush does not last too long before the summit is achieved.
"Gray Rock Dome"
To reach "Gray Rock Dome", stay to the left and descend down the ridge. The more obvious trail continues to the right, climbing up to Upper Gray Rock Lake and the route leading to the summit of “Harry Watkins”. The less obvious trail descends to the outlet of Timber Lake. The northern portion of the lake is marshy and has some excellent meadows. The southern part Timber Lake is deep with a granite headwall dropping directly into the cold waters.
The marshy outlet of Timber Lake
Cross the meadows at Timber Lake’s outlet and enter the dense woods. This is the most difficult part of the route to “Gray Rock Dome”. No landmarks are visible and the ground is uneven and littered with numerous snags that require climbing. The best way to successfully navigate this section of trail is to maintain a route that is angled 45 degrees away from the outlet of Timber Lake. Maintaining this course will keep one roughly parallel to the base of “Gray Rock Dome” although this is no visible through the trees. Soon this route reaches the base of a short set of cliffs that are about 25 feet high. Climb the cliffs and follow their rim south. From here an extremely faint use trail can be found. This path leads up to the saddle that separates “Gray Rock Dome” from “Castle Crags Mountain”. The top of the saddle is surprisingly fertile, with a fair amount of grass and a small tarn. To the east, one can see lonely Scott Lake and distant “Castle Peak”.
The ridge leading to the summit
From the saddle the route to the top of “Gray Rock Dome” is obvious. One simply has to climb the steep slope to the craggy summit. It is better to stay to the west side of the ridge, since doing so will avoid some bushwhacking. Once the crags at the top of the mountain are reached, continue along their base to the true summit.
Mt. Shasta and environs from the summit of "Gray Rock Dome"
From the town of Mt. Shasta, head west on W. Lake, crossing over I-5. At the stop sign, turn left onto Old Stage Road. After 0.25 miles, veer right onto WA Barr Road. Continue south, crossing over the dam that impounds the Sacramento River and forms Lake Siskiyou. From the dam, continue 9 miles to the west, passing the lake and continuing up the Sacramento River. After 9 miles, turn left, crossing over the Sacramento River on a Forest Service bridge. Veer left after the bridge, then make a sharp right hand turn onto Forest Road 39N45. The well-maintained dirt road may not be signed, but it is hard to miss. It parallels the river for 1.25 miles before intersecting Forest Road 39N41. At the intersection, turn left onto FR 39N41. Again, this road may not be signed, but the level of wear on the road makes it obvious which way is correct. Continue up the road for 1.2 miles. At this point the road’s condition degrades dramatically and those with sedans or who are uncomfortable negotiating steep, severely eroded routes should park here and hike the 0.25 miles to the Gray Rock Lakes trailhead. For those with 4x4, simply continue to the trailhead.