Thurston Peak on a Smokey Day
I started out to hike Thurston Peak on October 12, 2005. I got to the summit on July 29, 2006. My October 2005 climb was aborted because of impenetrable brush on the east side of the ridgeline. I found a new route for my July 2006 attempt.
In October 2005 I accessed the trailhead at Hobo Gulch about 12 miles north of Hwy 299. Hobo Gulch is a popular trailhead for accessing the Trinity Alps Wilderness. I spent the night at the trailhead and then in the morning, I crossed the North Fork Trinity River and headed west straight towards the summit of Thurston Peak. This route measured out to only 4 miles each way with a 4,500 ft elevation gain. The route was steep coming out of the river. I made my way uphill a little over a mile with about 1,500 ft of elevation gain before I came to a brushy area that I couldn’t see my way through or around. I called it a day and returned to my truck.
I culled the topo’s of the Thurston Peak area and determined that I may be able to get to the summit from the west. I saw a trail on the topo’s that came within about a mile of the summit, so I figured I could get at least that close before heading cross country. Unfortunately, this route from the west measured twice as far with more elevation gain than from the east side.
On July 28, 2006 I left my home in Medford and headed south. This is a nice drive and I left I-5 south of Yreka, and made my way over the Hwy 3. I stayed on Hwy 3 all the way to Weaverville on Hwy 299. Here I followed Hwy 299 west along the Trinity River towards Eureka. This is a pretty drive. There were lots of rafters in the river and fishermen along the banks. It was a hot day and I almost stopped for a swim, but I stuck to it and soon found my turn-off to the trailhead.
Within a couple of miles up this good gravel road a nice big bear ran across the road ahead of me. This area is full of bears and I’ve seen many of them around here. I continued up the canyon and soon I was on a ridgeline heading north. I tried to take the first turn-off to Green Mountain Trailhead, but it was blocked by a down tree. I could see the road made a loop further on so I continued down to the end of the good road.
Sure enough there was a lesser road off to the right that went uphill towards the trailhead. I followed it up, past Clems Camp that has a large spring and then to the trailhead. The road isn’t very wide here and it was difficult to turn around. I returned back to the end of the good road to car camp for the night. It was a much nicer spot than the trailhead. Clems Camp looked like it might be a good spot too, but I didn’t want to get off the road into the muddy areas. It wouldn’t do to get stuck here.
I noticed it was a little smokey from some forest fires in the area, but this didn’t concern me at this time. I knew they were several miles away. In the morning, I got up early and it was real smokey now. I drove back to the trailhead and started the hike anyway.
The trail was wide and easy to follow. It went up and over Brushy Mountain and then down into a valley. It was smokier here and I couldn’t see the Thurston Peaks that were only about 4 miles away. I kept going. The trail was overgrown in this valley heading up to Green Mountain. There was a nice spring and a stream with water flowing.
I reached the fork where a trail went up to Green Mountain in about 2 hours. I stopped and rested for a few minutes and then continued northeasterly following this wide trail along the ridgeline. This would be a beautiful hike if it wasn’t so darn smokey. I started to hear helicopters working a fire several miles to the north. They seemed to be far enough away that I wasn’t concerned with getting caught by the fire.
Soon I reached Ladder Camp and then the trail traversed around a rocky knob on the ridgeline to an open saddle area at the base of the ridge that leads up to the summit. I knew I was only about 1,300 ft below the summit, but it was smokey enough that I couldn’t see the details of the ridge very clearly. The trail continued around to the north of the ridge, so I followed it for a ways. Soon it was leading me away from the ridge I wanted to climb and I didn’t see a way up to the ridge from the north. I decided to stick with what I knew and I went back to the saddle.
The ridge up to the summit didn’t look too intimidating so I started up. Right on the ridgeline there are a lot of rock outcroppings that impeded progress so I shifted off to the south and climbed talus and scree up a steep slope. It wasn’t too difficult and the climb went fairly quickly. When this west ridge met the Thurston Peaks ridge proper, I was almost there.
To the north was the summit about .25 mile away and only about a 200 ft climb from here. The ridge line going north had more of these rocky outcroppings, so I had to drop down some to the west to bypass them. I quickly made across the ridge to the summit block and then climbed a scree slope to the summit.
There was no register or benchmark on the summit and the views were obscured by all the smoke from a forest fire. I took some pic’s anyway and ate my lunch. I did notice that you could probably get to the summit from Hangar’s Roost. Also, if you could get through the brush from Hobo Gulch and get to the bowl on the east side of Thurston Peak, you could probably find a way up to the summit also. I will let someone else answer those probably questions on their hike.
After lunch I headed back down the mountain using the same route that I came up. Once back to the saddle area, I noticed the smoke was shifting. The smoke continued to diminish as I headed back to Green Mountain and by the time I got there, the smoke had all dissipated. I enjoyed my walk back down the valley to Brushy Mountain and then struggled back up the 1,000 ft to the top of Brushy Mountain. I was glad when I finally got back to my truck. I had covered 16.1 miles, climbed 5,382 ft and it took me 8.8hours. I also drank 5 liters of water. It was a warm day.
On my drive back to Weaverville, I got stopped in Junction City by a forest fire. The CHP had blocked Hwy 299 and there were helicopters and borate bombers working the fire. After 3 hours of waiting, the CHP said they had lost control of the fire and didn’t know if the highway would open again before the next day. I turned around and headed to Eureka. From Eureka I headed up Hwy 101 to Oregon and home to Medford. I got home about midnight after a very long day.