Thursday, May 28, 2009

Morris Meadows Hike


I've been trying to think of what I want to say about hiking last week every day since getting back... I don't just want to list where I went, what I did, and how it smelled. I also don't just want to talk about the place itself. Here's my take on the human relationship w/ this place:

I took a week off work, last week, and went hiking in the Trinity Alps. I've never been there before, but my sister and her husband went last fall and said it was beautiful. I'm not exactly sure how I ended up there myself. I'd been planning to take a hike on the PCT with a couple good friends, but it was to early in the season to do the stretch of trail we wanted to do. Somehow, we got to talking about the canyon creek hike in the Trinity Alps.

BTW, the Canyon Creek and Morris Meadows hikes are beautiful. They are both well suited to multi-day treks. For example, one can camp at Morris Meadow the first night and do day hikes to a number of lakes a few miles away from it before hiking back out.

We got a lot of great information about Canyon Creek and also the trail up to Morris Meadows from a couple guys that work at Sports LTD in Redding. They set us up w/ maps of the area, and helped us out w/ what gear and food to bring, etc. They were regulars to places like this and had a lot of experience to share. Good stuff.

As it turns out, it's really simple to pack out into the woods for a couple days. In fact, hiking up Canyon Creek or to Morris Meadows isn't really like going out into the wilderness at all. They're incredible places. The lakes up above Morris Meadows make me think of Yosemite. They aren't as heavily trafficked as Yosemite, but there is a steady flow of people along each of these trails all summer long. It's a very human (but not touristy) place to go over the weekend or a few days because of this. Even considering the bears, it's our place, at least along the trails, like so much of the rest of the world.

Hmm... I think that what I'm saying is that it is a very controlled environment, because of all the human traffic in this area, despite being out in the sticks. Hiking these trails is being without the ammenities and comforts of home, but it's not like going out into the wilderness. So... someone who doesn't normally camp or hike shouldn't be intimidated by spending a couple days in the Trinity Forest.

I don't really have any experience hiking or surviving in the wildernes, aside from a few day trips up different mountains and the couple hikes we (myself and a few great friends) in the Alps last week. This was very much an experiment, at least for me, learning about what gear, food, shoes, etc. to take and be comfortable/sustained. One really doesn't need much to spend days or even weeks out in the woods. Also, well trafficked trails, like those we hiked in the Trinity Alps, don't even require good maps or navigational skills to hike, so long as one doesn't deviate too far from them.

We found that there are just a few simple items needed for a successful three day hike out into one of these places from Spring to Fall, without consideration to rainy days or camping where you can't build a fire:
  • A decent pack that fits: A 65L pack is great. Bigger works, but you don't want to fill a bigger pack and hike around w/ it. Try one on in a store and get help sizing it, as a correctly fit pack makes a big difference in one's comfort and endurance.
  • A sleeping bag w/ compression sack: Most packs now have a pocket for the sleeping bag at the bottom, and most sleeping bags now will pack down relatively small. A 40 degree (F) bag works great once the snow melts in the Trinity Alps. A 20 degree bag might be a smidgen more comfortable really early in the season.
  • Sleeping pad: Some of these pack down very small. For their weight, I found that they make a worthwhile difference in comfort at night.
  • Small tent or tarp: This may not be a requirement. I borrowed a small one person tent this time. It kept the bugs off of me at night and provided a wind barrier during one of the colder evenings. My friend M. just rolled his sleeping bag out on a small tarp and called it good.
  • Pants and shorts: Or maybe just pants. Just something light weight. Those polyester pants w/ the zip off legs are cool. I wore a pair of shorts and brought a light pair of fleece pants for if it got cold.
  • One or two shirts and a sweater: Since it doesn't mater how dirty or stinky one gets when hiking, there isn't much of a reason to bring more. The sweater's nice in the evening. My fleece sweater did a great job taking the edge off the night's cold in my 40 degree bag.
  • A pair of clean socks and underwear for each day: It's so important to take care of one's feet and crotch. I found that regular briefs were the best at preventing chafage.
  • Shoes that you have worn for at least fifty miles before the hike. Running shoes work fine, but expect to stop frequently to pick rocks out of your socks from the trail. High-top shoes might be advantageous. If you like going barefoot, it might be worth trying wrestling shoes or some other variation of a moccasin. Blisters will ruin your trip, so don't buy new shoes right before going.
  • A cooking pot, spoon, fork, knife, cup, matches, and lighter: All one's food can be cooked in one pot (shared between people even). It's not worth packing more than that.
  • Food:
    • 1/2 cup dry grain per day to cook for dinner; rice, quinoa, barley, etc.
    • Two pkgs instant oatmeal per day for breakfast.
    • A reasonable amount of Fresh or dried veggies per person per day. Cook it w/ your grain at dinner.
    • 1 pkg salami for third day (so good).
    • Powdered milk and coffee teabags. Powdered milk makes coffee and oatmeal so good in the morning.
    • Dried fruit and jerky for snacks. Dried mangoes are sooooo good. Bananna chips, trail mix, etc.
    • 1 bagel per day for lunch.
    • 1 bottle of hooch for drinking around the camp fire and first aid.
    • Salt, pepper, generic spices, butter: in small containers (zip lock bags) and not a lot of each.
It's important to remember that we're perfectly capable of not eating for a week, so there's no reason to bring a whole bunch of food that's just going to get packed back down the hill. Food for several days gets really heavy.
Dried stuff is both light and cheap. I only spent about $10 on food for each three days of hiking. It's probably worth experimenting w/ the freeze dried meals. It's pretty simple to just add hot water to a bag of stuff for dinner, and they are pretty light. I found that the Chicken Stew meal from Mountain House (I think that's what they're called) was pretty satisfying, but the spaghetti was shit. Neither of them were as good as sautéed veggies with quinoa, but they offer variety.
  • Misc:
    • Flash light and backup batteries/bulbs
    • First aid kit.
    • Soap for dishes, hands, etc.
    • Toilet paper and maybe wet ones packets.
    • Hat and sunscreen, particularly if you're pasty/nearly transparent.
    • Small shovel or trowel for clearing area around fire pit and burying solid human waste. I think they're required if you make a fire.
    • A bear canister for areas that require this.
  • Water bag and filter: My 3L camel back style water pouch was great. Just set it at the top of the pack. With a water filter, water doesn't have to be boiled before consumption. With as much water as we were drinking, it was totally worth having. I used 2.5-4L water per day. That would have been a pain to boil in a small one qt. pot ahead of time.
That's not much stuff is it? Not really. These are what I consider to be necessary for eating and sleeping on a trip without foraging or hunting. They'll all pack easily in a 65L bag. Additional types of things might be helpful for a longer trip.

Um... I'll talk some about some experiences from hiking last week below.

One of the things I was uncertain about on this trip was what to eat. Maybe I don't cook enough at home and I didn't know what sorts of things to bring. I came away from these hikes with a lot of confidence. I'd be totally comfortable now traveling on a well groomed trail for a week or more at a time in fair weather. It'd be pretty easy to scale up the above food stuff for extra days, adding a little more variety as well as quantity.

I still need to work on navigation for longer hikes to more obscure places. There are great topographical maps available from lots of places. The forest service office has them, and they can be found on google maps or google earth. There are a number of other places. Even w/ a topographical map, though, I don't have the skills to figure out which ridge I'm on and trek cross country. A lot of people use gps now. Talk about easy, right? It's probably a good idea to get familiar w/ a gps before taking off blazing a new trail, though. This stuff w/ require more consideration.

Well... It's 11PM and I've lost my train of thought. Here are some photos of plants and critters we saw up there:






The Morris Meadows trail head is about 17 miles from the CA-299/CA-3/Main St junction in Weaverville. Here is a map showing how to get there from the junction. Hwy 3 winds around Trinity Lake for a few miles before the Trinity Alps Rd. turn off. It's about 15 miles out Trinity Alps Rd., the last couple of which are unpaved, but in good condition.




We arrived pretty late in the evening and decided to camp just a couple miles into the trail. There are established camp sites every few miles along the trail. We opted to trudge off into the brush at a nice spot by a creek, though, and cleared a little fire pit.

Ha ha, we opted to bring a whole chicken to cook for dinner the first night and set up a rotisserie over the fire. We sprinkled it w/ salt, pepper, rosemary, and a couple other spices and slow roasted it. After about 45 min, it was cooked through and delicious!






The second day, we packed up camp and hiked the rest of the way up to the meadow. The trail follows the Stuart Fork River for about 9 miles before reaching the meadows. The trail is in great shape and crosses a couple of large footbridges.




Here's where the trail opens up into the meadow:




There are lots of nice places to camp around Morris Meadow. We found a nice spot by the creek in the back corner of the meadow.













We had a relaxing evening after setting up camp and took off to explore the next day. M. and hiked up to the first of the three lakes further up the valley. The first of the lakes is about 1k feet higher than the meadow, so the trail up there winds out of the pine trees into buck brush and exposed granite.






The lake has a big hand-built dam. The middle of it's been torn out, so it doesn't hold water any more, but it was probably used for some mining operation years ago. There's an "abandoned ditch", as it's called on the maps, on the opposite side of the valley Stuart Fork river runs up that the water from this lake probably used to be routed along.




We hiked out the next day. That is all.