06 August 2012

Spanish Peak

Bucks Lake Wilderness

Plumas National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

I found a nice loop to go on, estimated it to be at least 17 miles, and found the trail to make it a nice smaller loop to go on instead. This one had seemed small, so I added in an excursion to a couple lakes at the side. And then I battled a printer far too long to get a map out of it and got to bed far too late before starting the hike the next day at Bucks Summit where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses Bucks Lake Road. I found the trail marked "closed" due to the fire north of the wilderness and across a large river canyon. At the top of the trail post was a copy of the forest order closing the trail. I found that it only applied to places north of highway 70 while I was south of it and wouldn't be going near it.

start here
Sign at the trailhead, which is only the summit in the sense that it is the high point of the road.

As I decided to ignore the "closed" signs that were clearly overstating it a little, a ranger drove up to be sure the signs were being informative and current enough. After talking all around it I managed to establish that the posted order was the current one and I hadn't misinterpreted it, but that a new order to close the trail was getting the once over by lawyers and once it was posted, I could be cited for disobeying it. The problem was not any personal danger I would be in entering the area due to the fire, but the difficulty in handling through hikers bumping out at Belden along the highway. I was just an unfortunate side effect. She even suggested that I should take my return route instead, which I thought was odd since that puts me in the same area and should be just as bad as going up this way if it was bad at all. Having established that it might be a grey area for me to head up the trail, but there was no danger due to the fire there so no reason to prevent me from going, I turned again and started up the trail.

delicate purple flowers
Indian paintbrush was well represented along the trail, especially in the lower areas. These are some more abundant, more delicate looking, flowers.

orange wasp on white flowers
A brightly colored wasp pollinates a flower.

The trail climbs along an old road bed, the manzanita and other bushes reaching inward and small trees starting up in the unused portions. It makes a very easy climb occasionally crossing a small stream as it goes. The young and scattered trees of new growth leave many meadows and openings to look out to the mountains to the south.

southward view
Checking out the bumps to the south.

the side of the mountain, the road/trail below and a little of the view with red bluffs
Looking out over this very green and thin forest. The trail, once a road, makes its way up the hill below.

many flowers and small shrubs
One of the many meadows in the spaces between the trees. Dragonflies flew all over the place over the ones with a little water like this one.

yellow dicots
A few brash and happy yellow flowers along the way.

The trail flattens out as it enters a huge meadow. The trail stays up on the side of the meadow and has lost the old road bed as it continues. Trees hug in tighter and taller after the meadow, then open up again as rock outcrops start up on the steep slope the trail traverses.

big meadow as the trail flattens out
Coming to a fairly flat section, a large meadow dominates the view. I got the feeling that there would be a campground in the flat among the trees on the other side, but there wasn't.

butterfly like a singed leaf on a dried mule ear leaf
This was a rather interesting butterfly. It sat mostly with elaborately scalloped wings closed so it looked like a fallen and long dead leaf.

white butterfly on pennyroyal
Another butterfly taking advantage of the blooms of the pennyroyal.

rocks poking out of the slope of the land
The face of the mountain becomes more rocky around the east side.

The trail regains the old road bed and continues to climb at an easy pace toward Spanish Peak. Eventually, among some short manzanita, a wooden sign announces the spur to Spanish Peak which is also the old road's destination at a ruined lookout. I did have to climb over one fallen and still green tree on the way, but the trails here seemed well maintained.

a piece of the Pacific Crest Trail
A piece of the Pacific Crest Trail. This section is often marked with the PCT crests nailed to trees.

bright red flower with five thin, long petals
Some delicate looking red flowers so narrow they might be easy to miss if not for their bright color.

Taking the spur is an easy walk up to the peak. There is one last little climb where a fallen tree blocks the old road and the trail goes up a small hill instead, and then the view opens up. The east side of this wide, flat peak drops suddenly in cliffs. The old fire lookout is now no more than a few concrete feet and some cable extending down the small steep hill before the cliff. I found the peak marker down this hill slightly. An old ammo can on a slab of concrete holds trail registers and oddities.

smoke from the Chips Fire
Looking north, the smoke from the Chips Fire dominates the landscape.

old concrete feet for the lookout foundation
Spanish Peak Lookout: "Elevation 7057' T24N R8E SW 1/4 of section 18. A classic "PNF MOD" style lookout design, Spanish Peak evolved through several phases of redesign and reconstruction. Originally built in 1913, rebuilt in 1922, modified in 1933; it was finally a 19' x 30' standard wooden cab on the ground with living quarters. Doris Rippy was the last Spanish Peak lookout, when it was finally closed December 2 of 1966 during a driving snow storm. The site remains, less than a mile off the Pacific Crest Trail in the Bucks Lake Wilderness." (From: Lookouts of the Plumas National Forest.)

some of the cliff on the side of Spanish Peak
A little of the old cables and the cliff that marks the east of Spanish Peak.

After looking around the lookout area and signing the register, I had a bite to eat and sketched some. I returned to the PCT and continued north past my trail down and to Granite Gap. Silver Lake is the only lake visible from the peak, but as I went, I saw more lakes below. The Granite Gap trail drops down to these lakes, each with accessible by trails although some are use trails.

flowers along the trail
Some pink petals that arrange themselves in an odd way.

I started down Granite Gap, but between the distance I had walked and the distance on the sign for the Right Hand Branch just to get down to Bucks Lake below and the distance I suspected to get back to the road and back to the Summit, I decided I couldn't really go down and tour the lakes like I had hoped. Still, dropping down the gap a little way allowed me to see Rock Lake and Mud Lake in addition to Silver Lake and Gold Lake. I did stop to sketch some more, but then returned.

Silver and Mud Lakes
Looking down on Silver Lake and Mud Lake on the way down Granite Gap.

Rock Lake
Rock Lake, which seemed to have voices coming from it while I was there. Gold Lake is on the other side of the rock outcrop.

granite walls
A little bit of the granite that makes up Granite Gap.

Gold Lake
Gold Lake is in a bowl below huge cliffs.

Climbing back up to the PCT, I returned to the Right Hand Branch and started down it. This trail is well used but it still tries to lose itself in the meadows. Although never quite managing, it does have a few green things growing in it sometimes. It also seems like a highway at times.

meadow along the way
The trail travels flat areas for a while with a few large meadows, sometimes trying to lose itself in them.

Suddenly hearing water to my left, I leaped at the chance to replenish my water supply. I found a pleasant stream among the thick and small trees which must be spring fed as the snow is long gone. The map doesn't show the spring and I thought about going and finding it since it must be near or in the last meadow, but I let it go. I still had a lot of miles to cover.

tiger lilies
Tiger lilies by the Mill Creek Right Hand Branch.

a touch of water flowing downward
A little bit of the stream, choked with flowers and other growth.

Continuing down, I crossed the stream to the left. The trail gets a little steeper and there are small outcrops of rocks visible through the trees. I cross another stream to the left and eventually come to small sections of switchbacks followed by long flat sections. Even the switchbacks aren't very steep, some quite flat. The trail is very lazy about getting down the mountain to the lake. I cross another stream to the left, then cross it again and come back to the main stream, now bigger. Eventually I can finally see the lake.

rock outcrop
One of a few rock outcrops on ridge edges along the way.

flowers along the trail
Quite the abundance of flowers by the stream.

Bucks Lake
First sight of Bucks Lake through the trees.

Meeting the Mill Creek Trail, I turned left to follow it around the lake and crossed over the stream one last time as it raged as best it could. The trail climbs a little here and there rather than follow the edge of narrow peninsulas. It passes beaches where the soil has washed out and grass sections where the soil has remained. It is generally somewhat within the trees and just outside of the Wilderness while many use trails head out to locations next to the water. The sun sets as I follow the trail around the lake.

inlet section for the creek
Looking along the side of one peninsula that was once a ridge. The old creek valley for Mill Creek Right Hand Fork is now an inlet where many fish jump.

beach on the edge of the lake
Erosion of the topsoil produces sandy beaches all around the lake.

roots that once sat in topsoil
The roots of a tree at the edge of a beach help tell the story of the topsoil that it once rooted into.

sun setting on Bucks Lake
The cabins by the lake turn golden in the late sun light as the sun sets over the mountains.

After hiking up a few swampy areas, I find myself at the road again. Here a map shows the various trails in Bucks Lake Wilderness with distances. It indicates that the trail around the lake is in the Wilderness even though the many "Entering Wilderness" signs would indicate it is generally outside. It does not have the one last trail I'll take to get back to the car as that is definitely outside the Wilderness. In the gathering gloom, I cross the road to a trail marked Bucks Creek Loop rather than the expected Bucks Summit. It says this is the north branch and the south branch is 400 yards down the road on the other side of the stream. Figuring it wouldn't matter much in the dark, I start up the north branch as it is closer. It follows close to the road and I hear a few cars along it, mostly going in the other direction. It runs somewhat through White Horse Campground. It climbs very slowly and has signs to indicate its direction anywhere there might be a question.

After a mile, I decide to pull out my lamp. After a little more than a mile more, I come to a sign pointing to the north loop and south loop, so this is the far end of the trail, but I am still not up to the summit. An unmarked trail proceeds the short distance to a dirt road and continues across it, still unmarked. It continues uphill, eventually dumping me out on the road a little sooner than expected, but very close to the summit. I cross to the other side and look again at the closure notices. The forest order posted at the top has not changed, but now it says the trail is closed 8.4 miles ahead at Three Lakes. I have to shake my head at that, since the more permanent signs for the trail indicate that Three Lakes is 11 miles away and the only real closure is still 19 miles away.

Checking my GPS, I find I went 18 miles.  Good thing I didn't go for the longer loop.

©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 20 Aug 2012


Anonymous said...

I know this is an older post, but thanks for the write-up! I'm planning to do this very same loop in a couple of weeks and stumbled across your blog as I searched for info about this trail. Great post and wonderful pictures!

Valerie Norton said...

You are perfectly welcome to find use in the older posts as well, and thank you!