Monday, February 14, 2011

Castle Lake Revisited

Hello all,
This post is going to cover a location that you should be familiar with if you have been following this blog for a while. I was back at Castle lake last month with a buddy of mine. It was his first snowshoe trip and overall things went pretty well. For those of you not from the area we are having an unusual warm spell. This made the first 1/2 mile a little tough. The snow was mostly a sheet of ice and it was more crampon work than snowshoeing.
Castle Lake from the North sore early morning
 This is Allan. He and I have worked together for about 14 years and he enjoys the outdoors as much as I do. He is good friend and an experienced outdoors man.Lately we have been keeping each other motivated to getting out and enjoy the outdoors on a regular basis. 
Nice icy steep slope to try out some new snowshoes on. I had to apologize a lot for my choice in locations.
 Once we topped out on the ridge the snow conditions improved and we were really snowshoeing. The cloud cover kept the temperature down just above freezing for the first part of the trip.
Topping out on the saddle before heading down to Little Castle Lake
Soon after crossing the saddle the sun broke through and the snow started to soften. Plus the temperature started to climb. It was T-shirt weather not long after.

Sun just starting to peak through. The flat area straight ahead is a small pond during the summer
This Was my first trip with my new to me GPS. I purchased a Garmin Colorado GPS for Christmas. It has added a whole new dynamic to my outdoor in-devours. The GPS interfaces with my topo map program allowing me to download my trips and create a route on the map. Below is the result. The system is very accurate and it provides good information on where I've been, how far I traveled and elevation gain and loss. I still take my maps with me. They never break and don't use batteries.

With the weather being unseasonably warm there was a lot more melting and runoff than you would normally see in January. We ran into quite a few large holes and some small ones on the east side if the ridge. We made our way down the east side and headed for little castle lake. The route down was pretty steep. Allan and I took more than you tumble. Just before reaching the lake there is a flat area where got our first good view of Mt Shasta.

Melt hole. There was a steady stream of water flowing under the snow here.

Small melt hole
First clear view of Shasta. This is when we started slapping on the sun screen.
We took a break at the lake had a snack and made plans for the rest of the day. With the clouds cleared out we had a great view of the surrounding peaks and decided to climb the peak to the east of Castle Lake. In our enthusiasm we headed pretty much straight up the right side of the ridge we just came down (green). We then turned right and headed to the top of the peak (yellow). The view from the top was well worth the work.

Destination: Rock out cropping to the right.
Taking a moment to catch our breath and enjoy the view.
The view.
Looking South at the Castle Crags wilderness.
More of the Crags. This was such an awesome view. The contrast of the snow and rocks was striking.
This was one heck of a climb. Little Castle Lake is at the base of the mountain  face at the top of the picture.

When we reached the base of the ridge and headed up we left our snowshoes and poles behind ( this we would later realize was a bad idea). The sun and wind had cleaned the center portion of the ridge completely free of snow for most of the hike to the top. Once we reached the top it was a gorgeous 360 degree view of far Northern California. The trip was tougher than it looks. When we could not stay on the rocks the snow and manzanita was deceptive and Allan and I post holed up to our knees more than once.

Heading to the top
View to the west
Looking down on Castle Lake from the top.

Black Butte to the North
Mt Shasta
Mt Shasta With Allan blocking part of the picture

Me Supporting  the great Cliff Bar company
Total wilderness guy in his element.
Lassen Peak  is about center of the picture. The peak is about 70 miles away as the crow flies.
Now that I have a GPS unit I have started Geocaching. There was a Cache near the top of the peak we just climbed and I thought it would be a waste to climb all the way to the top and not at least make an attempt at it. This is where not bringing the snowshoes becomes a bad idea. The cache was about  150' to the east from the top of the peak. The route to that area of the peak was mostly rock piles covered by a layer of snow of varying thickness and densities. I struggled to within 87' of the cache when I post holed up to my waist in the snow and wedged my lower leg between two rocks. My forward momentum almost hyperextended my knee. That ended  my search. I don't like to quit but this was getting dangerous. A mans got to know his limits. If I had brought my snowshoes with me to the top there would have been a different end to this story. Lesson learned. After breaking for lunch we headed back down the ridge and strapped the snowshoes on again. We were hoping to hit all three lakes ( Castle, Little Castle, Heart ) before calling it a day. As you can see from the map above we were very close to Heart lake. But not close enough we wanted to get back to the parking lot before the sun dropped behind the ridge. Maybe next time.
So close
Headed home
To the left of Black Butte there is a small white bump on the horizon. That is Mt McLoughlin in Oregon. That's about 85 miles away.
We survived. It was a good trip

Well that wraps up this excursion. It was a good day. The views were spectacular. The snow was great except for that little section I mentioned at the beginning. It was not any better on the way back down by the way. Allan had a good time and did not hold on to any hard feelings about the tougher sections of the trail I drug him over. He even shared his beef jerky on the drive back (that's always a good sign). For a first snowshoe trip I probably could have chosen something flatter. But where is the adventure in that?

I have two new Blogs in the works and should be posting them in the next couple of weeks. The first will cover a trip I took last summer to Big Bear Lake in the Trinity Alps. The second will be my first attempt at a gear review. There are a few pieces of gear that I  think are great and would like to share with you.

Remember the best way to experience the outdoors is with your own senses. So take some time to get out there and feel the dirt under your feet, the wind on your face and the smell of good clean air as you breath it in.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Snow, Need I say more?

Last week I took my first Snowshoe trip on the slopes of Mt Shasta. I had decided prior to the snow falling that this winter I was going to invest my Snow time on Shasta instead of Lassen. It was a wise decision.
Mount Shasta from the South West at the Bunny Flat parking lot

 For those of you that are not familiar with Mt Shasta it is the predominate physical and geological feature in the north state. Reaching 14.162ft into the blue skies of Northern California it is majestic and awe inspiring.
Mt Shasta from Mc Cloud
I started my trip at the Bunny Flat parking lot. This is a common starting point for numerous destinations on the mountain including one of the most popular routes to the top of the mountain Avalanche Gulch. It is also the end of the plowing on the road that leads to the old ski bowl which was the route I had decided on. The weather was perfect. I managed to schedule my trip between two large storm systems and as you can see in the pictures the trees are still coated in snow from the last storm.
Bunny Flat Parking lot

As I mentioned above the weather was perfect

The route I took followed the road along the south slope of Shasta. On the way in most of the valley was shrouded in clouds as was the mountain. The snow covered trees and the unusual ice formations on some of them was more than enough to keep me occupied.
Soon after heading out the clouds moved in shrouding the mountain and only giving me an occasional glimpse of Shasta

This was a very cool. The tree is coated with ice.

For some reason the ice gives the tree an out of focus look. It is a very odd effect.
The road runs relatively straight until it takes a hard left turn and heads up to the old ski bowl. Just prior to the turn I crossed an old avalanche run-out. I don't know how old it is but it was a big one. 
Looking South. You can see the end of the run out where the tree line begins.

West edge looking North

Up the middle. As you can see not much was left behind
My destination was Gray Butte which is East of the road. To reach it I needed to leave the road and head off cross country. There is a camp ground at the turn I mentioned previously and that is where I started the cross country portion of my trek. There was not much visible to indicate I was traveling through a camp ground until I came upon the bathrooms.

This view gives a good perspective on the snow depth

Since I took this picture 4-5' of snow have fallen.
From here I headed out to Gray Butte. The forest here is very dense and the terrain is very uneven. Picking my path was an adventure, especially because I had never traveled this route before. Gray Butte provided an easy landmark and an exquisite view as I headed east.
This is a sample of the type of terrain I traveled through.

As I reached Gray Butte The clouds cleared enough for me to get a good look at the butte and a couple of glimpses of Mt Shasta.
Gray Butte through the trees

Mt Shasta

Me doing cool winter adventure stuff. One week later after some heavy snowfall a massive 1/2 mile long 5' deep avalanche came off the slope above and obliterated the area I am standing on.

Another look at Gray Butte

  Prior to heading up the mountain I stopped at the ranger station to get some first hand advice about the area I was going to be traveling in. The Rangers advised traveling around the south end of the Butte and traversing the South East face of the Butte to get to the top. I realized after checking the map and my watch that I did not have enough time to make a run for the top and be back to the car before dark. On to plan B. During the summer months there is trail that travels over a pass to the North of Gray Butte and takes you to the top via the East face. I decided to head up to the North end of the Butte and check things out.
The route I chose runs right along the tree line.
Close up of the route
Looking out over the valley. As you can see the clouds are pretty thick over the surrounding mountains
The route was not a bad choice it got a little steep for the last 100 yards or so but the view from the top was well worth the extra work. I took a break and had lunch on the ridge. The clouds drifted across the rock faces surrounding the ridge I was on. It was like watching a motion picture. From the ridge I had a good view of Red butte which was the backdrop for my lunch break.
Red Butte

Red Butte

Lunch Break. Making hot cocoa

Another ice tree

View of Gray Butte on the way back out.

After lunch and a good dose of God's creation in all it's glory I headed back down to life in the valley. Along the way the clouds lifted on the surrounding mountains and I was able to shoot a couple of pictures of the Castle Crags dome. 

Looking south

Castle dome

The crags
 The hike out was easy and all down hill. I got back to the parking lot just as the sun was setting. The clouds were giving off a rainbow affect that was just amazing. The picture does not do it justice.
You can see some color in the lower right portion of the picture

The road home
 As much as I enjoy my travels the road home to my family is the best trip I take.
Thank you once again for joining me on my journey into the wilderness. I hope this will encourage anyone who reads this to take a trip themselves and experience the the world we live in in an intimate way that can only be had by putting your feet to the dirt (or snow) and stepping away from society and into the wild.