THE BLUES

I heard from a friend that the road to Blue Lakes was finally open as of this past week. I’ve always wanted to go there and never have. Until now.

I woke up while it was still dark and began packing up my tent and other belongings. As I mentioned in the last post, I forgot my headlamp. It is a bit tricky holding onto your iPhone light with one hand, while taking down and folding up your tent with the other hand. It was a one-handed tent folding extravaganza. Well, I managed to do it fairly quickly, and did not wake up any of the neighbor campers in the process. I drove down the hill and over to the Blue Lakes.

This was supposed to be a short and very easy two mile hike (one way). Of course it never works out that way for the Waterfall Madman, does it? At the first (lower) Blue Lake, I found that the road was blocked/closed. It was only blocked with a couple measly pylons that I could have easily driven around, but there was a closed sign there, and I was unsure why the road would be closed. It should be open but maybe there was a good reason it was blocked, such as snow on the road, giant mud pit ahead, road damage, etc. etc. I have never been here before, I did not know the ropes of the land so to speak, so I parked my car and walked. This would add 2.5 miles (one way) to my hike.

That is no big deal. However … now I had a sun issue. I had to be at the waterfall before the sun got onto it. By my calculations, it was now touch and go and I did not think I would make it in time. There was only one thing to do: run. On the downhill parts of the hike of course, not the uphill parts. I do not like to do this on my hikes, but I figured I had no choice. Much better to do this than to arrive at the waterfall too late and not be able to take a decent photo. So I ran and ran and ran, trying to make up just a little bit of time on the hike. Fifteen minutes or so was all I needed.

By the way, the Blue Lakes are incredibly beautiful – if I did not say so yet. The snow capped mountains in the background, and the blue colored lakes (yes, they are blue colored). Wow. A bald eagle soaring through the sky (yes indeed!). There were mosquitoes as well, the only negative thing I found there. There was snow on the trail as well, starting at 8200 ft. This created a conundrum. The trail follows a seasonal creek for awhile with steep banks. There were big unstable snow bridges on steep snowy slopes. I climbed high above the creek to get around this section. The route got much better after that, but it was very difficult to follow the trail proper with the snow cover. All of this slowed me down immensely. Could I still make it in time?

I arrived at the creek crossing. It was only a half mile from here to the falls, but I was late now. I could not jump or rock hop across this creek. I would be getting my feet wet for sure. However, to change out of my boots and into my water shoes would take precious time which I did not have. I walked straight across the creek in my boots. Two quick steps into the water. My feet were now wet but I did not care. I ran down the trail.

And promptly went right past the waterfall. You cannot see the falls from the trail, and it is difficult to know exactly where it is or where to go. I came down to the lower cascade, which is not terribly interesting, but I took a couple quick photos. Now I had to climb back up the hill to get to the main waterfall. I figured by now I would be too late, and the sun would be on the falls. I hoped, I prayed, I would not be too late. Thankfully, it was still in shade. Actually, I still had a lot of time to take my photos. Whew.

It is incredibly steep here. In order to see the waterfall you need to climb down the crumbly, near vertical slope. I did not have my rope. That was a mistake. This was dangerous stuff but I had to get a photo of this waterfall. Was it foolish to go down here with no rope? It was not ideal, but no, I was careful, very careful. I took some photos. Now I could relax.

On the way back, when I came back to the creek crossing, I saw, I glimpsed, a large brown animal running away as I approached the creek. What was that? Was that a bear? Was that a cougar? Or was that a deer? I did not see it clearly, and it could have been a cougar, but I think it must have been a deer. I hoped it was a deer. At least it was running the other direction.

I took my time hiking back to the lakes. No more running. Let’s enjoy the rest of this hike, shall we? When I got back to the lakes, I found many cars had now driven up the road. I guessed the road was now open officially, but in fact, I learned that they had driven right past those pylons that were blocking the road. I could have done this, had I known it was ok to do so. Oh well, it was a good hike. It was a beautiful hike.

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MYSTERIES

I have never been to the waterfalls on Hwy 4, Ebbetts Pass before. This seemed like a good weekend to go up there. In fact, I have never driven Hwy 4 from the Markleeville side. I drove up to the summit from the Arnold side once, but that is it. I have to say for such a major highway, the road is extremely narrow going up to the summit on the Markleeville side. You sure hope a big truck won’t be coming down as you are driving up.

Anyway, my idea was to drive up there after work on Friday, and camp in my tent at the campsite up near the waterfalls. Normally I would take the Gator (as we call it affectionately – the SUV), and sleep in the vehicle, but my wife had the SUV this weekend, so I drove the little car. No possible way to sleep in that thing so I brought my tent instead. I arrived at the campsite, found quite a few open spaces, selected one of them, paid my fee, set up my tent, then took off to find some waterfalls before dark.

I have heard this waterfall called Silver Creek Falls and Upper Cascade Falls. I never understood the Upper Cascade name. It makes no sense. Does this mean there is a lower Cascade Falls as well? I also did not know if these were two separate waterfalls or they were one and the same. Well I think I figured out the mystery now that I have finally been there.

There is a sign along the road near the top of the falls that says Upper Cascade Creek. So that explains the name. Actually, there are three creeks that come together here, and two more drop in below the falls (and a few more below that). One of the other creeks is Silver Creek. In fact, after they all come together Silver Creek rules the day so that technically makes the official name of this waterfall Silver Creek Falls. But if you want to call it Upper Cascade Falls, then go right ahead.

Silver Creek Falls is certainly a beautiful cascade, 64 ft. high. I walked down on the granite rocks below the highway. You come to a fabulous view of the falls from on top of the rocks. The dropoffs here are intense. I got as close to the edge as I dared, I was not wanting to slip off the edge on that slick granite.

I enjoyed the view, made it to a couple other waterfalls in the area as well, then arrived back at the campsite at dark. This is when I realized I did not have my headlamp. Doh! Where was it? Did it fall out of my pack? Or did I leave it in the other vehicle? (the latter, as it turned out). It is supposed to always be in my hiking backpack so I was a bit stressed about not having a light. At least I had my iPhone light. As long as my phone battery did not die, I would be all good for one night.

Also, as I locked the car for the night, I noticed small red lights on the doors. I have never noticed this before. I don’t usually drive this car, my wife does, but still you would think I would have noticed this before. Why are they on? Why aren’t they turning off? I had no idea what was going on. Would the car battery be dead in the morning because of this? It was a bit worrisome but in the end I decided it must be normal for them to be on. The battery was not dead in the morning.

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UP UP AND AWAY

I heard from someone that Whitney Creek was flowing as of last week, and flowing fairly well. I decided to make a return trip on the longish weekend (which was *not* a long weekend for me, since I had to work on Monday – but I still made the trip up north anyway). I drove out to the Mt. Shasta trailhead to sleep in the car so I could get a very early morning start, same as I did last year. I swear the road is getting worse every year. This is the third time I’ve been out here with my SUV, and I think it will be the last with this vehicle, even though I would really like to come out here again. Next year I will be bottoming out, I am certain. Indeed, I was worried all night about the drive back out the next day.

Bolam Creek at the trailhead was completely dry. What? I had checked out Whitney Creek at the highway, and it had decent flow. I figured Bolam would have a good flow as well, but not so. What does this mean? Figuring out Whitney Creek is a mystery long in the making. If Whitney Glacier is melting, then it is logical that Bolam Glacier would be melting also. My theory is that Whitney Glacier is not melting at the current time (ie. this month), and all the flow in Whitney Creek was coming from snow melt. Perhaps there was a little glacier melt in there as well. In the drought years, I do not think Whitney Creek had any substantial snow melt in the spring, but this year was a big snow year, and it makes sense that there would be a decent flow in the spring. The good news about all this is that all the flow (and more) that I saw down at the highway would be going over Whitney Falls, and none of it was from Bolam Creek (the two creeks join together before the highway).

Another interesting tidbit about Whitney Creek: I recently saw a couple photos from 2013 and 2017 of the creek (from the highway) and they were drastically different. In 2013, there was no bank along the creek bed, and now there is a fairly steep bank. What does this mean? It seems to me that there must have been an event in the last four years on Whitney or Bolam Glacier that went completely unknown and which created this bank (such as the event on Mud Creek Glacier a couple years ago – which did not go undetected). The normally very small flows on Whitney Creek (especially during the drought) could not have created such a bank along the creek. What do you think? I find stuff like this very fascinating.

Anyway, more good news. There were no mosquitoes at the trailhead. I expected quite a lot, actually, but there were none at Lassen, and none here at Shasta. No complaints about that. It was a very warm night in the car, about 50 degrees. Despite the warmth, and despite me being worried about driving that awful road the next day, I still managed to sleep fairly well. I got up in the dark and began my hike up to Whitney Falls and beyond at 5AM.

I debated about just hiking straight up the dry Bolam Creek. Would that be easier than taking the trail? I thought about it, it would be a shorter distance, but in the end decided to take the trail. The creek bed looked very rocky, and I thought it would be slow going. I’m pretty sure that was a good decision. I did decide to hike up the creek bed between the 2nd and 3rd creek crossings (which is a short distance). That section was not too difficult, except I did take a header and almost smashed my head onto some rocks when I fell. I got my arms up just in time to arrest my fall. I cut my pinky finger but I am not a baseball player, so it was not something that was going to stop me from continuing the hike (see my previous blog post regarding pinky fingers).

Whitney Falls was flowing pretty well, and I got there just a bit past sunrise. It was definitely much better than when I was here last year. I was very pleased. I brought my big lens up to the viewpoint, and I took a number of photos. But quickly. I still had a big hike to do. There were mosquitoes at the Whitney Falls viewpoint. Not many, but a few. What the hey? There are none down at the trailhead, but some up here? I was not be expecting any of the buggers up here.

My goal was to continue up Whitney Creek into the upper reaches of the canyon. It would be a tough climb, and I did not want to bring my big, heavy and expensive lens up there. My back would not be happy if I carried it up. What should I do? Surely, no one was coming around to Whitney Falls today. I decided to leave it in the bushes along with my jacket which I did not need any longer. I would retrieve them on the way back down. Leaving a $1000 lens out in the middle of the wilderness. How smart is that? I didn’t think the bears would want it. It would not taste very good.

The trail up the canyon follows an old road, which is no longer a road, and it is highly overgrown with brush. Nonetheless, it is a trail. People obviously hike up here, there are rock cairns and occasional ribbons showing the way. I was a bit surprised to see any human markings up here, in fact I thought I would be battling through thick brush the entire way up. Then I realized that this is one route that climbers take to the summit of Mt. Shasta. It is not one of the usual routes up to the top, but I guess it is still used occasionally. About half way up, however, I lost the rock cairns. I made my way back over towards Whitney Creek, thinking it would be much easier up that way if I got over to the lava rocks along the creek (yes, Mt. Shasta is an old volcano, if you did not realize that). Bad choice. The lava rocks consisted of huge boulders, and some of them were loose, and if you fell on any of them, it would be a seriously catastrophic issue. It was dangerous to walk on this stuff. The mosquitoes seemed to like the lava rock also. I got off the lava as soon as I could, but now I had to battle thick brush all the way up to the Middle Falls. I really thought this section of the hike would be fairly easy, but it was extremely difficult. I battled onwards and upwards. Finally I made it up to the Middle Falls (pictured here).

Initially, I was thinking it would be fun to camp up here at this spot, and I had considered it. In the end, I decided to just do a day hike in the morning. I’m glad I decided that. The hike up to this point was just too incredibly difficult. To see the Middle Falls, you need to cross the creek above the waterfall to the other side. It was a bit difficult to jump across the creek, but I found a spot where I could do it without getting my feet wet. I could hear constant rumbling in the creek, as the creek carried hundreds of small stones downstream, and occasionally bigger ones. I went to the brink of the falls, and I could see the stones tumbling off the waterfall. You certainly would not want to be standing under the waterfall at the bottom. Not that you could get down to the bottom anyway. I thought I’d be able to get a good view of the falls from the other side, but there were literally no views to be had except for one looking down at the falls from the brink, standing right at the edge of the cliff. I could not see the bottom of the falls from here, and unfortunately the sun was already on the top of the waterfall. I was on time and I should have been early enough for photographing the falls. Clearly, I miscalculated somehow. Darn it.

I still wanted to get to the Upper Falls. Hopefully, I would have enough time for that, but considering how difficult it was getting up to the Middle Falls, I had my doubts. I jumped back across the creek, then continued up the canyon. All of a sudden, the trail was much easier. The rock cairns were back, and I was on a regular trail again. The rest of the way to the Upper Falls was quite easy. So where did the actual trail go from the Middle Falls on down? On the way back down, I tried to take a different route, but it was just as difficult, if not more so, and I lost the rock cairns on my way down as well. I could not find where the actual trail went to, and I sure did look for it. It would make this hike much easier for next time if I could figure this out, it is such a difficult hike scrambling through all the brush. The good news however: my knee was completely fine. I had no troubles with it at all, and considering how strenuous the hike was, that is saying something. The Madman is back in business now (I hoped).

There was no snow the entire hike up to the Upper Falls at 7900 ft. At Lassen, I had complete snow cover at 7200 ft. There were not even any lingering snow patches here on Shasta. That is, until I got to the Upper Falls, where I found one big ice patch completely covering the face of the waterfall. Ugh! You could not even see hardly any of the waterfall. I walked up to it (which was difficult) to see if I could see any part of the falls flowing underneath the ice patch, but nothing doing. The second thing I was bummed about was the lower part of the cascade. It was only 10 ft. high, but if you look at Google Earth, it seems to be at least 30 ft. high. I would have been completely happy if even the lower part was that high. So basically, the Upper Falls was a whitewash. I did take some photos regardless, and relaxed for awhile. Going back down would be easier, except for that awful brushy section. It was getting hot now, also, so that would make the hike down longer and more tiring.

I almost got back to the main trail where I was hiding my big lens, when I heard something extremely odd. People! A big group of hikers were coming up the mountain, and not on the main trail to Whitney Falls, they were coming up the canyon above Whitney Falls. I asked them where they were going. They said, Whitney Falls. I said, you are going the wrong way (trying to be helpful). They said, no they are going up to the ridge above the falls and coming down to the waterfall that way. I said, ok then, have fun. Now …. I’m not going to say too much about that, you can hike wherever you want to hike, but that is a strange way to go to Whitney Falls. You won’t get any better views of the waterfall up that way, and it is very brushy, and not to mention it is hot. I would not want to hike that route myself. Anyhow, I found my lens undisturbed in the bushes. This big group walked right past it, did they not even see it? Not that they would have taken it, but it surely would have provoked a lot of curiosity had they seen it. It is not something that one normally sees in the wilderness.

I got back to the car. I was hot and tired. I still had to drive all the way home and work the next day. I did sleep very well that night back in my bed.

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WHITNEY FALLS, SUNRISE

Blog story coming …

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TO GRANDMOTHER’S HOUSE WE GO

    We were off to Grandmother’s house for the longish weekend, but first off we would stop for a hike in the woods at Lassen NP and this time my daughter Nekoda wanted to come with me. The traffic was horrible on this weekend and it took much longer than expected to drive up north. In addition, I came across an unusually large number of incredibly rude drivers. If you are going to drive slow why are you staying in the passing lane? And then you get upset with me or block me if I want to pass you? What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is wrong with you? Last time I checked you do not own the road. (Of course when I say “you” I am sure I am not referring to you the reader of this blog).

      Anyway, sorry about that little rant. It was already after 7PM when we started the hike at the Lassen trailhead. That would give us precious little time to get up to the waterfall and back before dark.

        The temperature was very cool. Considering it was over 100° in the valley, I expected it to be a lot warmer at Lassen. I knew it would be cooler than 100 degrees of course, but I thought it would still be quite warm in the mountains and the mosquitoes would be out, however it was cool enough that I had to wear a jacket, and the mosquitoes? None to be seen.

          I wore my knee brace for the first time in a long time, to give support to my painful knee. It worked all right. There were a couple times I turned it the wrong way, and experienced searing pain for the mistake, but mostly it was good. This was a fairly easy hike but it felt good, and now I was not too worried about the big hike coming up. One thing I was worried about was the snow. There was still a lot of snow starting at 6800 feet elevation and increasing much more as we climbed up. By about 7200 feet, the trail was 100% under the snow cover and pretty much impossible to follow. There were a couple times it took a while to figure out what direction to go, and I wondered if we would even make it up to the falls. My next hike would be at a higher elevation than this.

            The snow was hard packed and it was easy and fun to work on. You just have to be careful not to step in any big holes. There were a few of those. You could break a leg if you stepped in one. We were careful, though, and we had a lot of fun. Nekoda really enjoyed this snow walking. I told her that this is basically what I’ve been doing all spring so far.

              In addition to the snow, there also were the creek crossings. The first one was a doozy. The creek was rushing very fast. We were able to jump across it on the rocks, but we still did get wet feet in the process. Nekoda has much shorter legs than I do, obviously, and I was concerned. It was a pretty big jump. She did it perfectly. This is the stream coming from Forest Lake, the same stream that the waterfall would be on – sort of. Sort of not though, exactly. Anyway, it made me think that the waterfall should be fantastic.

                But it was not to be fantastic. The falls were flowing all right but not nearly as much as I thought they would be. In fact, I do not think this one ever really has great flow. Anyway, it was nice enough. I had to wade across the main stream to get up close to it, and it was quite deep and mushy. Nekoda waited for me on the dry side while I went to take photographs.

                  After taking the pictures, we had very little time to get down the mountain before dark. We hurried down as quickly as possible over the snow, over the river, through the woods,  and just made it back to the car when it was getting dark. Then it was off to Grandmother’s house we go. It was a lovely evening at Lassen NP.

                     

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