The Coast Range (yellow) & Klamath Mountains (blue) of northern California
The Klamath Mountains of northwestern California & southwestern Oregon are an extensive and varied chain that includes the rugged Trinity Alps, Marble Mountains, Siskiyou Mountains,
Eddy Range, Salmon Mountains, and the imposing Castle Crags.
Wild rivers cut through steep, heavily-wooded peaks here, with raptors & vultures flying overhead while critters scurry through the forest.
Due to the proximity of the southern portion of the great Cascade range,
luring aspiring mountaineers to their heights, as well as the low population density of the area, the Klamaths are possibly California’s most pristine & least-visited range. Mt. Eddy, the highest peak of the range, is also the highest peak west of Interstate 5. When summiting many of the higher peaks of the Klamaths, one has fantastic views of Mt. Shasta looming in the distance. Seclusion , serenity and solitude virtually unattainable in any of the Golden State’s mountainous regions are yours for the taking here!
Other unique features of the Klamaths are the propensity for sasquatch sightings (the Bigfoot Golf & Country Club & a bigfoot museum in Willow Creek on highway 299; the Bigfoot Scenic Highway also begins here), endangered steelhead trout (in the times of John Muir the rivers were so full with them that one purportedly walk across many of the region's rivers without getting one's feet wet!), secluded native American reservations, & amount of tracts of land illegally used to grow marijuana. The Pacific Crest Trail
passes through northern California here.
Rock composition varies in this complex range from metamorphic to limestone to reasonably solid granite. The Klamath Mountains include many of California's county highpoints, including Mt. Eddy & Salmon Mountain.
Despite the high snowfalls that can cover the area, the peaks' moderate elevations (few peaks reach over 9,000 ft) ensure that glaciation is in the area's past (& future, depending on when the next ice age gets here), but not present. This has been disputed by various folks. Check out the Overview section of the Thompson Peak page.
Regardless of ones opinion in the matter, there are numerous beautiful, glacially-carved lakes in the region.
The Klamaths are bounded by the Coast range, the Pacific Coastal region, the upper Sacramento Valley, & the Cascades. This is remote & rugged terrain! The major artery cutting through the region is highway 299, going from Redding to Arcata. The rest of the paved roads are minor and see little traffic. Following are some of the major access points:
· Redding (elevation: 557', population: 76,700)
: Redding, the Bakersfield of the North, is the primary access point from the upper Sacramento Valley. From Redding, the 299 (the fastest road through the Klamaths, bordering the southern end of the range, yet still 3 hrs from Redding to Arcata) leads through the Klamaths to Arcata, on the coast and 140 miles distant. Hot as hell here in the summer, the faster you can get through here the better. There is a good selection of fast food eateries & gas stations to satiate your base desires before continuing on to greener pastures.
· Arcata (elevation: 33', population: 16,300')
: This little college hippy town provides access to the range from the coast. Half of the town's residents seem to be perpetually stoned, and this is a good place to obtain organic vegan goods. Arcata is the home of Humboldt State University. The town square is nice, & there are some beautiful redwood groves nearby. To Redding, it is 3 hrs and 140 miles, and to Weaverville it is approximately 100 mi (both along the 299).
· Weaverville (elevation: 2,051', population: 3,554 (2000))
: The largest settlement between Arcata and Redding in the Klamaths, Weaverville is a gem of a little mountain community. Before venturing further into the mountains, it is worth stocking up on provisions here. It is also worth visiting the Joss House State Park,
the oldest continuously used Chinese Temple in California. Weaverville is the gateway to the Trinity Alps. From Redding it is 45 miles along highway 299 to Weaverville, and from Arcata, approximately 100 miles.
· Willow Creek (elevation: 610', population: 1,743 (2000))
: the “Gateway to Bigfoot Country,” Willow Creek
is a tiny town situated between Weaverville (also in the mountains) & Arcata (on the coast). Numerous references to bigfoot are to be found around town, and there's even a museum devoted to the mythical creature. The Bigfoot Scenic Highway
Highway 299 (aka the Trinity Scenic Byway):
This is the biggest access road in the region, skirting the southern end of the Klamaths. It is 140 miles from Redding in the Central Valley to Arcata on the coast, taking about 3 hours. If coming from Redding, take exit 680 (Lake Blvd). Weaverville and Willow Creek are both on the 299. Besides providing mere access, it is a worthy, beautiful drive on its own. Following the wild Trinity River, it is also known as the Trinity Scenic Byway. There are numerous campsites along the road, mostly toward the coast side.
From Willow Creek to Happy Camp (89 miles- allow 2 hours), highway 96 is known as the Bigfoot Scenic Byway; it provides a journey through "the region boasting the most sightings of Bigfoot of anywhere in the country." Beautiful country, the road also weaves through Karuk, Yurok, & Hoopa Tribal Reservations. From Willow Creek all the way to Yreka (on Interstate 5 close to the Oregon border) is 150 miles.
When to Climb, Mountain Conditions
Most people will want to access the area when the snow doesn't impede progress. Late spring (Memorial Day is a great time to visit the region, as it is wonderful, but still uncrowded) through late fall (when the snow starts falling) is a great time to be there. The backpacking season is typically best from mid June through early October.
While not quite as affected by winter snows due to the lesser elevations compared to the Cascades or Sierra, the Klamath Mountains still receive abundant snowfall (up to 12 ft. in some places in heavy snow years), and avalanche conditions should be considered when contemplating winter travel in these mountains. Following are some resources to help assist in avalanche risk assessment for the area (bear in mind that avalanches occur most frequently at an angle of approximately 34°):
·Potential avalanche starting zones near Mt. Eddy
·Peterson Flat Weather Station @ 7,150' on the West side of Mt. Eddy
·Castle Lake Weather Station @ 5,900' on the West side of Hwy. 5
·Potential slide zones
starting points in the Castle Crags Wilderness
Also, calling in to the local ranger stations might get you less than desirable results if seeking useful (much less up-to-date) avalanche conditions ("Uh, there's a lot of snow up there!" might be a response). I would personally recommend calling the Mt. Shasta ranger station (530.926.4511), & asking to speak to Eric White, one of the region's experts. While it's not necessarily his jurisdiction, the storm systems that hit the Klamaths frequently are the same that hammer Shasta, so the conditions can often be extrapolated to a certain extent, if they're not directly comparable. Eric is also a cool & knowledgeable guy, & will likely try to help you out if he can.
In addition to the innumerable peaks that define the range, cragging possibilities exist for the adventurous technical climber here as well. There has been a renaissance of climbing development recently, with new areas & routes having been developed (& being developed) from the northern Cali coast to the dense woods of the Klamaths, since the mid 90s. Numerous limestone cliffs dot the region, many off the beaten path. From multi-pitch trad' routes to desperate sport climbs, there is an abundance of climbing here that many are unaware of! Buy (if you can find :) ) a copy of Bigfoot Country Climbing (Humphrey, Chemello) to learn more.
The Klamath Mountains are rich in wildlife. Elk, deer, river otters, black bears, mink, bald eagles, osprey, and peregrine falcons are frequently sighted in the dense forests, oxbowing rivers, and in & over the valleys. While several species of snakes inhabit the area, only rattlesnakes typically pose a threat.
The word Klamath is derived from tlamatl
, the Chinook name for the Klamath tribe, which is around Klamath Lake in Oregon, the source of the river. The California town of Klamath is named after the river (from 1500 California Place Names- Their Origin and Meaning, by William Bright).
National Forests & Wilderness Areas
Given the diverse topography & large area that the Klamath Mountains comprise, it comes as no surprise that there are numerous national forests & wilderness areas in the region.
Covering 1.7 million acres, Klamath National Forest occupies a large portion of extreme northern California. It is bordered on the north by Oregon, Trinity Alps Wilderness on the south, & Six Rivers National Forest on the west. Three major rivers wind their way through the forest- the Klamath, the Salmon, & the Scott- providing opportunities for mellow canoeing & inner-tubing to kick-your-ass Class V kayaking & white-water rafting. Contact the ranger station to find out more on renting watercraft or tour companies that offer organized trips.
Klamath National Forest
1312 Fairlane Road
Yreka, CA 96097-9549
Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest
3040 Biddle Road
Medford, OR 97504
·Klamath-Siskiyou Forests website by National Geographic
Shasta-Trinity National Forest
3644 Avtech Parkway
Redding, CA 96002
6 Rivers National Forest
1330 Bayshore Way
Big Bar ranger district
Star Route 1, Box 10
Big Bar, CA 96010
Lower Trinity ranger district
P.O. Box 68
Willow Creek, CA 95573
Orleans tanger district
P.O. Box 410
Orleans, CA 95556
Scott & Salmon River ranger districts
11263 N. Highway 3
Ft. Jones, CA 96032
Weaverville ranger district
P.O. Box 1190
Weaverville, CA 96093
Trinity Alps Wilderness:
The Trinity Alps Wilderness, north of Weaverville, is fittingly home of the grand Trinity Alps. In wilderness area is 500,000 acres, and has features a 400-mile system of trails.
·Klamath National Forest page for Trinity Wilderness Area
(being remodeled as of 7.10.’8)
On the west side of Klamath National Forest, this 153,000 acre wilderness area is rugged & seldomly visited.
·Siskiyou Wilderness (site being remodeled as of 7.10.'8)
Allegedly, Brian Harris (Public Affairs Officer), is the one to contact regarding both of these sites: (530) 841-4485
Marble Mountain Wilderness:
Just west of Scott Valley, the Marble Mountain Wilderness is 223,500 acres, & boasts close to 100 lakes. Access is relatively straight-forward, & part of the PCT runs through here.
·Marble Mountain Wilderness
Red Buttes Wilderness:
A small portion of this wilderness area is in Klamath National Forest, the majority of it being in the Rogue River National Forest in Oregon.
· Red Buttes Wilderness