11 February 2017

Smith River: Cold Spring Mountain

Six Rivers National Forest

Smith River National Recreation Area





DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3

(Day 1 of 3) Looking at four days that should be practically dry, I headed out for some backpacking. Just a little jaunt taking up three of the days that should be quite easy except for whatever complications winter has for me. With two spots along the way nearing 4000 feet, there should be at least a little snow. The road from Gasquet Toll Road to the Elk Camp Ridge Trailhead is indicated to be 4WD, but is currently in good repair and suitable for a little car with reasonable clearance. There is no sign to distinguish it from the spurs for power lines along the way. In fact, it is marked as one of these spurs with a temporary sign as two of them lead away from it in a few feet. It does look a little more maintained, so I turned up it and it happened to be correct. Since I wanted to do a loop, I grabbed a turnout halfway up to hike the rest of the way. There are actually some good views even before the trailhead. There are some nice spots looking into the valley, but what really catches the eye are the mountains that rise an extra 2000 feet compared to the ones I will visit.

Siskiyou Wilderness
The peaks of the Siskiyou Wilderness rise up sharply to the east seen through the valley of the Middle Fork Smith River.

The trailhead itself has a bit parking area, but is also unmarked. A signpost is left from an attempt to mark it, but ceremonial shotgun blasts have obliterated the upper half. A truck drives up as I start up the trail, so I have a fellow and his dog as hiking companions for a bit before they head off for the mountain top. He points out that the time to be up here is May for the rhododendron. Except for a few short steeper bits, the trail climbs easily upward among trees in a 20 year old burn. Between the recent storms and the burn, there was some worry about trees across the trail, but there are very few and the trees are generally quite small anyway.

start of the trail
Elk Camp Ridge Trail getting started.


madrone along the trail
A few madrones among the trees to start.

ridge trail
Gaining the ridge, the valley of the North Fork Smith River becomes visible.

I can just make out a little snow among the trees on the ridge to the south. That seems to be a little lower than I am going to be. Off on the other side, I can almost imagine a coast line and ocean. It is there, but it is hard to distinguish in the haze. Further out, there seems to be a stack of clouds sitting on the water.

snow spots to the south
Tiny snow spots in the ridge to the south and a bit more snow on the higher mountains behind it.

northerly peaks
Out to the north are some more mountains covered in snow up in Oregon.

view to the ocean
Trail along the ridge and the view to the ocean where Castle Rock is just distinguishable as separate from the mainland.

As I climb, I start to see a little snow here, too. It is tiny amounts at first.

Cold Spring Mountain
Cold Spring Mountain looms up ahead through the trees.

plants pushing away the snow
Small bits of snow are left and the plants are pushing it away quickly.

The trail flattens out even more as it approaches the top of Cold Spring Mountain. Water floods the trail in one spot. It is probably spring fed, but is not the spring the mountain is named for. The snow gets a little thicker as I get ever so slightly higher. I know the trail does not quite go to the peak, but as I pass a high spot to the left I can just feel it looming over there. No clear trail goes the few feet to the top, but someone has marked the highest rock on the flat top with a few more stones. The view is out through the thin trees and actually better from other spots.

possible spring water
A flow of water flooding a short section of trail is probably spring fed this close to the top of the mountain.

mountains through the trees
Those mountains continue to dominate the view, but from the top of Cold Spring Mountain, it is through the trees.

top of Cold Spring Mountain
At the top of Cold Spring Mountain.

Heading back the short way down to the trail the same way I came up, I notice the rock cairn offset from the trail marking this spot. The snow is thicker as I start down the north side of the mountain. My brief companion had gone over the top of the mountain to a view spot he likes before turning back. As I get to the same area, I am having a bit of trouble with my poor abused camera. It seems to have gotten some moisture inside the lens which is condensing into a undesired filter for each picture. I work at it with lens cleaning cloth, but it seems unhelpful and with time just keeps getting worse.

snow on the trail
More snow on the trail, but still not particularly bad or difficult.

ice crystals
Ice crystals that have grown on the snow since it fell.

bigger trees
A few bigger trees.

The trail seems to suddenly dissolve into a dry creek bed which is quickly replaced by a wet creek bed. This must be Cold Spring. I want to go find a corner marker along the creek, so I follow it down a little way. It flirts with a bit more creek. Maybe it really is the trail. Off on the side is the camping area I expected would be near the spring and is my destination for the night. It seems to be generally under two inches of water, so I decide against actually camping there after all. As I try to follow the side of the creek away from the trail, the vegetation becomes difficult to pass, so I decide against actually finding the section corner as well.

underwater trail
The trail becomes a creek for about a quarter mile near Cold Spring.

Cold Spring Camp
Cold Spring Camp seems to be part of the spring with shallow pools everywhere.

Water continues down the trail for a surprisingly long time before finally getting diverted down the steep slope beside it. Being a ridge, there are not a lot of places to grab water, so I get some before moving on to find a much drier camp. This part of the ridge seems to be particularly good for those views to the east of Wounded Knee and Broken Rib and other mountains. An old road crosses and a sign marks the mileage to either end and to Cold Springs. More signs mark the trail in either direction including ones for an adopt-a-trail program. The organizations that have done so have faded away. A broken sign faded almost beyond recognition warning against destroying artifacts marks the way I came suggesting there might be something historically interesting up here. Unfortunately, I do not know what that might be. It was a pack train and mining road in the 1800s. Past that is a mysterious flat area that seems to have been cleared for use as a helicopter pad a few decades ago. A little further is a corner marker from 1938 to satisfy my desire to go looking for one with a lot less effort. Just a little further and I have found a flat spot to put down my shelter with the door still giving me a view of those snowy peaks.

many snow covered peaks
The peaks of the Siskiyou are looking stunning and crisp today. Too bad the camera is not feeling the same.

closer look at the snow
An old fuel break helps make the distant view nice although it does not do much for the near view.

I am expecting there to be a bit of moisture coming out of the air as it cools with sunset, but there is very little. It has actually been quite cold up on the ridge the whole time and there was only a short part of the climb when I removed my bike sleeves. The wind does kick up a little across the ridge, so the shelter is nice against that. It will be nice against the brightness of the waning full moon tonight as well.

Continue reading: day 2




©2017 Valerie Norton
Posted 17 February 2017

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