Adventure #20: Trinity Alps

Elated from our trip to the Olympics, Robin and I immediately began the hunt for our next trip. Our time at Buckhorn Pass made it easy to forget that it’s still very early season in June/July and most alpine areas in the Oregon and Washington Cascades are still snowed out, if not receiving fresh snow. We narrowed our options down to the Steens Mountains or Trinity Alps, both located in warmer climates and guaranteed snow-free while we waited for our local mountains to shake off their winter shrouds. The Trinity Alps edged out as the winner at a slightly shorter drive at 7 hours from Portland — we had our commute cut out for us.

Robin picked me up from work at 5:00 that Thursday and I exploded out the front doors, not unlike that scene in Grease where all the 30 year old highschoolers were let out for summer (life is almost always a musical in my head). The elation slowed as our path to I-5 was blocked at every attempt by rush hour traffic moving at a glacial pace. 45 minutes later, we hit the I-5 on-ramp and we were on our way south. We stopped in Roseburg for a nutritious Wendy’s dinner and Robin ordered a thing that can only be referred to as the Meat Cube: three beef patties bonded together with American cheese.

We rolled into Yreka, California, at 11pm and found our lodging for the night, the Relax Inn, a painted white classic 1940s cinderblock motel. I conked out immediately while Robin zoned out in front of Canadian Chopped. We checked out bleary eyed at 6am and finished the remaining two hour drive to the Long Valley Trailhead.

The hike in brought a surprising challenge: unexpectedly hot weather. I’m not a particularly strong hiker in the heat, and combined with a complete lack of shade and steady climb in elevation, my goose was pretty much cooked by 5 miles in.  The trail, however, was stunning, and spit us out of a pine forest into the aptly named Long Valley, which was a luxuriantly green expanse with a stream running down the center and wildflowers turned up to full blast. The tigerlilies were enormous with 6-10 blooms loaded onto a single stalk. Also seen: purple and yellow lupine, red firecracker things, morning glories, red honeysuckle, monkshood, shooting stars, asters, and countless others.

We reached the overlook above Deer Lake, where Robin left me in the shade and went to scope out Summit Lake to see if it had more solitude as the sites nearby were all 100% exposed and right on the trail; being the nutcase recluses we become in alpine environments, it’s in everyone’s best interest to get us further out.

Some time later, Robin returned and reported that some kind of promised land awaited over yonder ridge, so away we went, rallying for the final stretch of the day. We set up camp on the far side of Summit Lake, a turquoise lake sitting in a red volcanic rock bowl and surrounded by pine trees. No one else arrived that night and we had the whole lake to ourselves. We jumped in for a evening swim, surprised at how warm it was for having been snow just a week or two prior. I lolled around on my back and floated about, mentally adding private alpine lakes as one of life’s great pleasures.

The next day we set off for our hike around the Four Lakes Loop. It started with a  2,500 foot drop in elevation before entering an enormous meadow and starting the climb back up to where we started. Along the way, we took in Deer Lake, Luella Lake, Diamond Lake, and back home to Summit Lake. All were spectacular in color and the trail afforded some fascinating views of the area’s geology, namely a nearly perfect seam where white granite collided with red volcanic rock. Along the way we passed a couple with a corgi, who was my hero taking on really rough terrain on her 4″ stump legs. Watching her trudge up the hill, Robin and I devised a new spirit booster for future rough patches: “At least we’re not a corgi on a 20 mile alpine loop with no legs to speak of on a 90+ degree day.” That poor, sweet corgi looked at us with eyes that indicated a new low bar for morale, and it put all of my heat issues in perspective.

At the close of the lakes loop, Robin split off for a solo jaunt up to the top of Siligo Peak while I headed back to camp for another swim and some prime napping time. Robin stumbled back about an hour later, shins bloodied from his valiant bushwhacking to get to the top of the peak but mood lifted from the views he found up there. We took another swim, ate dinner, then pulled the rainfly off the tent to watch the stars and satellites scooting across the darkening sky. There was no moon, and at the night’s darkest point the Milky Way arced over Summit Lake like a snowy rainbow. One lone frog ardently croaked across the lake, otherwise all was silent and still.

Our hike out was hotter than when we came in, and the lower we dropped back towards the car, the more scorching the air grew. Robin later spot-checked the weather and saw that it was 96 degrees — too hot! Roasting and dusty, we headed home only to be thwarted by summer traffic near Sutherlin on I-5, resulting in a two hour delay to go roughly 14 miles. We experienced the 5 stages of grief during that time, and at one point Robin childlocked my window shut to keep me from trying to form an alliance with the semi-truck driver next to us. I maintain this was sharp survivalist thinking since the driver’s  refrigerated truck likely held what could be used as rations or currency in the event the freeway never kept moving again and we had to colonize I-5. Clearly Robin had just not reached the next level yet.

About an hour and a half into the traffic jam, the Lady Gaga dance party was over in our car and moods were increasingly desperate. We were silent, and from another car came the ear splitting shriek of a child. Not a crying child, just a kid screaming at the top of their lungs. We each nodded, thinking that the kid was only articulating what we were all feeling. The woman in the car next to ours was folded over her steering wheel in despair, head resting on an open map. It was a somber note to end an otherwise fantastic trip. We arrived home in Portland at 11:08, hours late, wiped out, and with a few choice words for ODOT, but a memory card full of the best photos we’ve taken yet, and for that we can’t truly complain.

Read Robin’s trip report here.

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