This Memorial Day there were no trees that needed to be hunted down. Instead we planned a long weekend to use our brand new backpacks! The drive from San Jose up to Snow Mountain Wilderness on Friday afternoon took a lot longer than we expected. Holiday traffic made getting out of the Bay Area pretty bad, and then the last 2.5 hours of the drive were on 25 miles of unmaintained gravel and dirt roads. We didn’t get to the campsite before dark like we had hoped, but at least it wasn’t snowing like 2 years ago. We camped at the West Crockett trailhead just outside our car for the night.
The next morning we packed up camp, had a bit of oatmeal, and started out on our backpacking weekend. We had chosen to take the North Ridge trail up to the east peak of Snow Mountain. We estimated the days’ hike to be about 7.8 miles, but it ended up closer to 8.8. The difference might be due to old trails being rerouted or something, but either way it was a long day. A huge majority of the day was spent on steep uphill switchbacks as we ascended from a river up to the summit. Some of the hike went through a large section of forest that had been seen bad fires several years ago and it looked dead and sad.
The hike the first day was hard, no question. Our packs were heavy and the terrain was steep and exposed. We didn’t see many other people around, which was not surprising since this is one of the least visited national forests in the country. We did run into 2 separate groups with dogs and one other couple. The couple said I looked familiar and asked if I went to Wellesley, I said no I went to Northeastern, but both Boston schools! What a weird coincidence out there in the backcountry. We actually saw that couple again the next day, too.
We eventually did make it up to the summit, about 8.5 hours after we set out. We had plenty of daylight to sign the summit register, set up camp, eat dinner, and prepare for an amazing sunset. We could see a lake in the distance to one side, the west peak of Snow Mountain to another side, and the lights of the towns in the Sacramento Valley to another side. Nobody else came up there the entire time and we had a whole mountain with its views of the valleys and stars all to ourselves all night long. That experience was amazing. The only down side was it was pretty windy. We had our tent well secured, but it was a little rough sleeping through the wind whipping at the fabric.
The next morning we packed up camp, ate our breakfast, and started back down the mountain. This day we were running into people left and right! Not sure where they all came from or how they got so far into the wilderness that early in the morning, but we passed many, many people all day. Our plan for this day was to follow the Crooked Tree Trail about 7.5 miles to a waterfall and camp for the night. Again this day turned out to be closer to 9 miles and it was really wearing on us.
We did make it to the waterfall and found a gorgeous camping spot that seemed left just for us. It even had a built up fire pit if we had had the energy to deal with that. Exhausted as we were we set up the tent right away so we could just lay down. Then we tried out our new hammock, which was a great addition to the campsite. The only major down side to this spot by the water was the mosquitoes. Dinner ended up being rushed and unpleasant as we tried to avoid being eaten for mosquito dinner. I think we slept the best of the three nights at this spot with the soothing waterfall sound, no wind, and no animal activity. Also we were just worn out.
I think this particular trip was a little more strenuous and adventurous than I was really ready for. I’m proud that we did it, but it was borderline not fun in the process. There were times I was wishing we hadn’t taken on so much and wondering if I was going to actually finish.
On the bright side we had no bear encounters, and did not see a single rattlesnake. There were tons of cute lizards running everywhere, but I kind of liked them. I also fell in a river with my pack on while trying to cross it, so that was exciting. Since that happened only a mile into the hike on the first day I had squishy shoes for quite a while, but at least I had extra socks with me. We’re both bruised and sore and dirty, but it was an adventure and an experience.