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Get Out Here

06/26/2013 05:26PM ● Published by Enjoy Magazine

Why would someone leave all the comforts of home behind to opt for laboring up a rocky trail with a heavy pack only to sleep on the ground? There better be something pretty special up in those mountains.

Indeed, the experience of backpacking in the Trinity Alps, Marble Mountains and Russian Wilderness justifies the effort. Spectacular beauty pulls people in, but mental therapy also plays into the attraction.

“For me, it’s like a reset button,” explains David Dodd, an outdoor enthusiast and salesperson at Sports Ltd. in Redding. “I really like getting out and away from everything like phones and computers. You have everything with you that you need to survive. A lot of worries about day-to-day life just fall away. There’s not much to do other than enjoy beautiful scenery and relax.”

Combined, the three wilderness areas cover some 780,000 acres of land stretching from just north of Weaverville in Trinity County to the western reaches of Siskiyou County. The region is part of the Klamath Mountain Range, with high points such as 9,001-foot Thompson Peak and 9,025-foot Mount Eddy.

An array of trail systems, including the Pacific Crest Trail, weave through the alpine canvas and connect to stunning lakes tucked into massive granite cirques. These spots are spiritual amphitheaters where a person can swim, fish or just sit on a rock and zone out on waterfalls, boulders, pines and wildlife all in the same vista.

“They all have unique personalities, these lakes,” says Leon Nelson, who has logged hundreds of backpacking trips into the wilderness areas, including his first trek into the Caribou Lakes basin in 1947 when just a boy. “I tell people to expect the unexpected.”

The planning phase can be intimidating to would-be backpackers (how do you remember everything?), but it’s important to focus on the key factors to surviving outdoors, says Dodd.

“When you really break it down it’s pretty simple,” Dodd says. “Humans need food, water and shelter. I like to tell people, ‘Don’t get too stressed about all the little gadgets.’ If you have food, shelter, the ability to stay warm and keep hydrated, everything else becomes an amenity.”

The best investments a backpacker can make include a pack that fits the body well, quality and comfortable boots, and a lightweight, but warmly rated sleeping bag and pad. Water pump filtration systems and ultraviolet light technology devices are popular for treating drinking water. Layers of water-wicking clothing with an outer waterproof shell provide a good plan for staying warm.

Most backpackers use lightweight tents, but rigging a tarp system or using a lightweight hammock with a tarp are also popular methods for sleeping comfort. It’s important to remember that in the mountains, the weather can change rapidly. It can rain (or snow) any month of the year in these wilderness areas.

Once you’ve set up camp, it’s essential to hang your backpacks and food to protect them from wildlife, Nelson adds. The most common technique is to use a rope and a rock to throw a line over a high tree limb, then hoist a tent-bag full of food (and other items with a scent, like toothpaste). You want them out of the reach of creatures like deer, squirrels and bear.

Last summer, a backpacking group left for a day hike near Grizzly Lake only to return to chewed up shirts, socks and even a hiking pole strap.

“Deer can hugely be a nuisance,” Nelson says. “Rats can chew on the laces of your boots. You want to put things in a place where no animals can get to them – far off the ground.”

With hundreds of lakes and three large wilderness areas to choose from, it can be a little daunting to select a destination. Many groups select loops, which take them to a new lake each day. Others prefer heading to a single lake and spending the time doing day hikes.

With the incredibly light precipitation over the winter, this summer is atypical of a normal season for the wilderness areas. Many higher elevation lakes were accessible and free of snow by May. In a more normal year, the backpacking season tends to run from late June through September. Maps are available at the U.S. Forest Service headquarters in the region, sporting goods stores or online. Hikers should always scan the forecast before heading into the mountains.

For novices or families with younger children, both Dodd and Nelson mentioned Tangle Blue Lake in the northern Trinity Alps. The beautiful lake is just three miles from its trailhead. Popular routes in the Trinity Alps include the trails along Canyon Creek, Stuarts Fork, Swift Creek and Coffee Creek. Shackleford Creek Trail, Sky High Valley and Paradise Lake are popular destinations in the Marbles.

“That’s the hardest part, deciding just where to go,” Nelson says. •

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