I think there is a nature-seeking characteristic deeply ingrained within me. The appeal of trekking through the wilderness with only the supplies that fit into a frame backpack feels undeniable.It’s not difficult to see why if you’ve ever hiked a trail that overlooked a serene lake unoccupied by mankind; if you’ve ever stumbled upon unique flora and fauna while adventuring under the shade of a massive California redwood forest; or if you’ve reached a summit with the spectacular view of the valley floor below. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint exactly when and where this appreciation for nature and passion for the outdoors first emerged; however, I fondly remember explorations like the ones described above.
My family and I would frequently journey to a nearby lake and enjoy extended weekends camping. I cherish the memories of playing in the water, splashing with my sisters and the new friends we’d make with our camping neighbors. At the end of the day, we’d gather by the warm glow of the campfire, which left a smoky smell that would linger on my sweatshirt for weeks after, and we’d roast marshmallows and play board games until the embers faded.
One summer, when I was probably about 14, the emerging Les Stroud “Survivorman” zeitgeist had intrigued me enough to experiment with wilderness survival and “backpacking”. I told my parents my plan for our yearly camping trip: I would survive the weekend with only the supplies that could fit in my backpack – a small one I used for school. I bought a canteen, packed nonperishable food like trail mix, and had everything I thought I’d need. As you would expect from a 14 year-old kid with very little outdoors experience, I was underprepared. I attempted to fill my canteen by taking water from the lake and sterilizing it by boiling over the fire. It’s very tempting, when you’re 14, to just take bottled water from the ice chest your family brought so you can go play with everyone instead of sitting over a pot of boiling water in the middle of a 100oF day.
Most of my plans trended toward similar failure. Tri-tip with fresh fruit salad and buttered corn-on-the-cob proved to be more alluring than opening a can of pork-and-beans by hand. I chose to sleep in a tent, protected from mosquitos and shaded from the bright light of the morning sun, rather than resting my head on a rock while curled up in my sleeping bag lying in the dirt. Still, even after these enticements crushed my will, the romantic naturalist ideals I had developed never faded. Before my last quarter at UC Davis, I jumped at the opportunity to backpack for a couple days in the Trinity Alps Wilderness in Northern California.
The Trinity Alps Wilderness is part of the Shasta-Trinity, Klamath, and Six Rivers National Forests. The 525,627 acre wilderness sits about 4.5 hours north of Davis and just northwest of Redding, CA. The Trinity Alps consist of the large granite mountain ranges called the White Trinities, reddish ultramafic (low silica content) rocks composing the Red Trinities, and forested peaks that have been dubbed the Green Trinities. A total of 55 alpine lakes are scattered throughout the territory, completing an appealing assortment of glacier-carved geological formations. One of my friends from Davis grew up in Redding and had hiked in the Trinity Alps, so he invited me and one of his friends along for a three-day trip.
I still had not invested in an appropriate frame backpack, but I felt more knowledgeable and prepared than when I was 14. I jury-rigged my Camelback with rope and stuffed it full, carrying my tent, sleeping bag, three-days of food, a couple of gallons of fresh water, and supplies. The trailhead was at an elevation of about 4800’, accessed by a steep, tortuous dirt road that strained my economy car and caked it with dirt. Although we left Davis early in the morning, we stopped in Redding for lunch and to pick up our third party member. The winding dirt road, only about six miles long, ended up taking nearly an hour for my little car to chug to the top. By the time we reached the trailhead, the sun had rested in the horizon, and we knew we’d be racing the darkness to set up camp by Stoddard Lake.
Bright green bulbous plants, conifer and pine trees, and white granite rock scattered the trail, which featured outstanding vantage points of the surrounding forested mountains. We arrived at Stoddard Lake late in the evening, exhausted but still needing to pitch our tents and start a fire for dinner. Even while fighting this timeline, we couldn’t avoid the distraction of the tranquil mountain lake. It was the most pristine and clear lake I have ever seen, like a mirror reflecting the surrounding forest and mountains. We unpacked our gear, turning on our headlamps as the sun set behind the mountains and the night’s purple hues replaced the bright blue of daylight.
Trinity Alps does not require bear canisters, which typically keep food safe from scavenging bears. However, the bears still may rummage through backpacks so it was recommended to hoist our gear high between two trees. The bears can climb and get the food if it’s too close to the tree trunks, and they can pull the bags down if it’s too low. This presented an engineering problem for us; we had brought plenty of rope, but we just had to find a couple of trees with high enough branches. Our first attempt put our backpacks right in the center of two trees, but the weight of our supplies stretched the rope, which slacked too close to the ground. Eventually, everything was situated, and dinner was started.
I had brought trail mix, beans, and sausage. I also had enough extra space in my bag to pack fresh fruit in Tupperware containers. This didn’t sound appealing for three straight days, but I packed efficiently, not lavishly. Luckily, the two other campers brought rice and lentils with Sriracha sauce and peanut butter & jelly with bread. We traded food throughout the trip to enhance the variety. The meals turned out to be pleasantly satisfactory.
My friend from Davis and I had planned on sharing a tiny two-person tent. His friend from Redding had decided not to pack a tent, wanting to sleep under the bright stars. That first night, as the fire started dwindling away, we got ready for bed and zipped our tent up. Not any sooner, the flap was unzipped. He told us he could hear creatures of the night approaching our campsite, creeping around and scavenging for food. Whether or not this was true, we calmed his uneasiness and crowded the three of us into the tiny two-person tent.
On the second day, we hiked to Doe Lake. It was a strenuous hike but reached elevations of nearly 7200’, providing expansive views of the wilderness. We brought fishing poles and bait but didn’t catch anything on the lake (except our lines on rocks). Just the experience of relaxing by a quiet lake was enough to leave me content and placated. On the way back to Stoddard Lake, we collected fresh water from a cool stream along the trail, using a portable water filter this time instead of attempting a crude distillation. We spent the rest of the trip lounging around Stoddard Lake, reading books, and exploring the surrounding trails before packing up and heading home the next morning. The trip was an exciting exploration of Northern California wilderness, and I look forward to similar adventures in the future.