You Can't Get To Hayfork From There
Copyright © 2002-2005
by Richard S. Platz, All
Ides Cove Loop Trail Backpack
Yolla Bolly Middle Eel Wilderness
June 29-July 4, 2002
No, they were not hunting
Seen by night from the air, a vast region of blackness
lies bounded by the twinkling necklace of US 101 on the west
and the sparkling valley sprawl of the Interstate 5 communities
on the east. This black-hole territory between State Routes
36 on the north and 20 on the south is invaded by no towns nor
primary roads and encompasses portions of Six Rivers, Shasta-Trinity,
and Mendocino National Forests. In its heart lies the Yolla
Bolly Middle Eel Wilderness.
Blue Lake is situated northwest of this relatively
unknown and little-used wilderness, and on several occasions
we have traveled dusty roads to its northern reaches to backpack
into North Yolla Bolly Lake, Pettijohn Meadow, Cedar Basin,
and Black Rock Lake. Our destination this time was the Ides
Cove Loop National Recreation Trail in the far southeastern
corner. We puzzled over whether to drive the long paved road
east to Redding, south to Corning, and then back west to Paskenta
to catch a dirt road to the trailhead, or attempt the more direct
route over Mendocino Pass on forest roads from the west. By
telephone an ill-informed Covelo rangerette estimated the time
of travel to be about the same either way, five hours. Thus
we opted for the scenic forest route, and soon discovered how
wrong a ranger could be.
We drove south on US 101 to Longvale, then cut
back on State Route 162 to Dos Rios through the Eel River Canyon
where the Northwestern Pacific Railroad used to run, and may
some day run again. Clearly visible from the highway were slides
that had wiped out the tracks and the entire railroad grade.
Dos Rios is little more than a bridge over the Middle Fork of
the Eel River, and there we turned northeast on a narrow, winding
paved road to Covelo on the southern boundary of the Round Valley
Indian Reservation. We made a last stop for supplies, then headed
for the Eel River Work Center, where a bridge recrosses the
Middle Fork and the pavement ends.
The map shows an impossible spider web of forest
and logging roads and no clear route through the maze. We stopped
at a small tin-roofed store at a dusty cross-roads and asked
a man leaning against the building how to get through. He pointed
to the dirt road climbing due east and told us about a sign
at the top of the grade pointing toward Hayfork that would point
our way. We drove into the Mendocino National Forest on FH7
and began a long climb up the ridge toward Mendocino Pass. There
never was, and could not have been, a sign pointing to Hayfork.
You can't get to Hayfork from there.
As we climbed, the panoramic valley of the Middle
Fork of the Eel opened out before us. We stopped to read a plaque
informing us that this was the route over which the white settlers
drove the Indians a century ago, relocating them from the prized
lands around Chico to the remote Round Valley Indian Reservation.
At 5005-foot Mendocino Pass the road signs and map proved equally
ambiguous. Following our instincts, we turned left on the graded
gravel road running north along the spine of the mountain, hoping
we were on forest road M2.
weary of the drive, we decided to look for a campground to spend
the night. In time we stopped at a sign pointing left up a steep
dirt road to Wells Cabin. The map showed that Wells Cabin should
have been on our right. But Government Flat was straight
ahead, where it was supposed to be, according to both sign and
map. So we took the left turn and quickly climbed to the entrance
to Wells Cabin Campground (elev. 6206) on the right. An older
sign just past the entrance pointed straight ahead to Government
Wells Cabin Campground is located in a red fir
forest with lots of bird activity, but no water. Huge dead branches
reach out like arms from the massive trunks. No one else was
there. We examined each of the half-dozen campsites and selected
the large open one at the bottom beside a meadow.
As we pondered the alternative routes to Government
Flat, the whining, groaning, and clunking of an approaching
vehicle grew louder. I hurried up to the campground entrance
and flagged down a battered and faded blue-and-white jeep, topless
but for a roll bar, rocking and rolling up the hill from Government
Camp. The two occupants appeared to be Indians in their late
forties, or escaped convicts, or characters out of the movie
Deliverance, but who could really tell? The heavy-set
driver shut off the engine and leaned back with a broad smile.
His gaunt, wiry passenger swung out and came around front to
lean on the fender, flashing a grin of bad teeth. They seemed
content to hunker down in the middle of the road and chat until
the sun went down. Uneasy, and perhaps sensing some primal tribal
gender custom, Barbara hung back by the entrance to the campground
I asked which was the better way to Government
Camp. The driver advised us to avoid the cut-off road they had
just come up because the route was steep, the culvert was washed
out at the bottom, and the creek was too rough to ford without
four-wheel drive. We'd do better to backtrack to the turnoff
and take a left on M2. Both roads led to Government Flat, and
there route M22 was well marked. We filed the information away
with that of the Covelo ranger and the man who saw signs pointing
They were not hunting. No, not at all.
Hunting season would not open for another six weeks yet. No,
they explained unhurriedly, they were scouting the roads and
trails in preparation for hunting. Of course, we both
thought, but did not say, up here, with no one around to hear
you or see you, who would ever know if a stray deer got taken
out of season?
Or a stray camper?
I told them we were thinking of spending the night
at the campground, and then wondered if I should have said it.
They advised us to watch out for mountain lions in the area.
Discoursing about the roads they had traveled, the places they
had visited, and the wildlife they had seen up here, they seemed
in no hurry to move on.
"Well, we'd better get back and start dinner,"
I said at last, the words echoing falsely off the slowly growing
timber. We bid our farewells, and as we walked back down to
the van, we heard their motor restart and listened with relief
as the jeep's growl faded off the mountain.
The evening was lovely in the deserted campground,
but we kept our ears perked for the sounds of approaching motors.
There weren't any. Had we spooked ourselves? Perhaps. The only
menace from those two affable hunters had been their complete
lack of menace. And yet, for all the bears and cougars and rattlesnakes
we might encounter, humans top the list of the most dangerous
The next day we drove many hours on forest roads
M2 and M22 to reach the Ides Cove Trailhead. The roads were
roughly graded, graveled where necessary, but more often scraped
out of the native soils and sandstone bedrock, with frequent
water bars for speed bumps, and full of roller-coaster rises,
curves, and drops. Side roads appeared suited only for off-road
vehicles and souls more daring than we. To average twenty miles
per hour was overly optimistic here. The road followed the terrain
outside the southern boundary of the wilderness, up and over
every ridge and down into every canyon to cross each creek on
a culvert or a single-lane concrete bridge.
At one high plateau we came upon the Johnson Cabin,
an abandoned homestead with a sign announcing an elevation of
5166 feet. A steep-roofed timber barn was all that still stood.
We got out and walked around a bit, awed at the remoteness of
Morning wore on into early afternoon before we
finally arrived at the trailhead parking at a large park-like
saddle forested with old-growth timber. It was a beautiful spot
on the eastern slope of Mount Linn and worthy of an over-night
stay, but our first night's destination was less than an hour
up the trail. So we ate a light lunch, repacked our backpacks,
locked the van, and started up the trail.
The short spur trail up from the parking lot entered
the wilderness and dead-ended at the major trail heading right
and left around Mount Linn. No signs pointed the way. Our map
didn't show any damned major trail going to the left. I wondered
if that trail might be the upper portion of the loop trail.
Luckily we encountered a fellow coming out that way who showed
us the South Yolla Bolly Trail on his newer map, which we studied
for a while. The Ides Cove Loop National Recreation Trail does
not go to Ides Cove. The new South Yolla Bolly Trail heads south
to Ides Cove, then swings west and north to rejoin the Ides
Cove Loop National Recreation Trail on the other side of the
mountain, completing a nifty 10-mile circumnavigation of Mount
turned right and hiked in on the Ides Cove Loop Trail, watching
on the right, but not finding, a second fork descending to the
lower loop trail. After forty minutes of hiking, and still looking
for the lower loop fork, we came to a small marshy lake with
no trail sign. We searched for unnamed ponds on the map, but
found none. I pulled out the GPS, into which I had entered the
coordinates for Square Lake, and soon determined that was indeed
where we stood.
Distances were deceiving. At seven thousand feet,
the Square Lake basin proved to be larger than it first appeared.
Verdant meadows bright with shooting stars and yellow flowers
rose up to the rounded gray sandstone shoulder of Mount Linn
a thousand feet above. Near the treeless crest, streaks of snow
endured on the north slope to feed the meadows, the lake, and
the patchy stands of pine and fir through a maze of streams
and seeps. The lake itself, choked in places by the encroaching
meadow and shallow water plants, still provided adequate open
from our long morning drive, we decided to spend our first night
at a clearing on a rocky moraine above the lake with views of
Shasta and Lassen. Two other good campsites, one below us and
one in the woods across the lake, threatened to be breeding
grounds for bugs in the meadow. No one else was there as we
set up out tent. Of course, as soon as we undressed and splashed
into the lake for a swim, a family of day-hikers, complete with
inquisitive children, appeared over the rise to do a little
fishing. They hung back below the rise while we dressed quickly
and retired to our campsite. After fishing for a while, they
left, but carried away with them the illusion of remoteness.
After dinner, we hiked a bit further along the
trail to the signed cutoff down to Burnt Camp. We returned from
our after-dinner walk to find that rodents had eaten into my
packet of hot chocolate and chewed through the tubing of our
water filter. Luckily we had some duck tape for field repairs.
The tubing leaked badly, but with a fist clenched over the leak
we were able to fill our water bottles for the rest of the trip.
we hiked the short distance to Long Lake. The trail was level,
but rough and rocky in places. We hiked again past the cutoff
down to Burnt Camp, rounded rocky outcroppings and circled back
into a gully, climbed a long slope, and entered a large verdant
meadow with a stream flowing along the path. Just below the
trail lay Long Lake in a U-shaped glacial valley, its outlet
framed by the V of the moraine, its upper reaches sweeping past
us to the left through sparse woods and shelves of riparian
greenery and rising to the gray north face of Mount Linn above.
A hundred feet up the moraine above the outlet
to the west we found a great level campsite with a stone fire
ring. Through the trees beyond were fantastic views of the North
Yolla Bollys, the Trinity Alps, Shasta, and Lassen. We set up
camp and swam in the lake, which was inexplicably warmer than
Square Lake. No campers or day hikers troubled us there, but
we did see one deer and a water ouzel on the lake. The temperature
hit a record 105 degrees in Redding, but the breeze coming up
and over the ledge was cool and helped keep the bugs away.
the moraine on the other side of the outlet we discovered a
rocky outcropping with an unobstructed view directly across
the wide wilderness to Tomhead Mountain Lookout and Mount Shasta
in the distance beyond. We were later informed by a hiker that
the lookout is operational. Someone was watching.
The North Yolla Bollys, stretching west from Tomhead
Mountain to Black Rock Peak and descending east to the badlands
of the Sacrament Valley foothills, is the southernmost reach
of the vast Klamath Mountain complex and geologically different
from the South Yolla Bollys on which we camped. Mount Linn is
geologically a part of the Coastal Range and is made up primarily
of graywacke, an immature sandstone deposited in an offshore
sedimentary basin, then uplifted more than a mile and a half
by tectonic forces.
Yolla Bollys also lie at a hydrological crossroads. The waters
from Long Lake spill down Slides Creek to the Burnt Camp meadow
spread out in shadow 800 feet below us to form the headwaters
of Cottonwood Creek, which flows east into the Sacramento River,
then south to empty into the San Francisco Bay. The waters from
the west and south flanks of the vast wilderness form the headwaters
of the Middle Fork of the Eel River and circle west and north
into Humboldt Bay. Snows melting on the north face of the North
Yolla Bollys across the valley become the South Fork of the
Trinity River, which flows north into the Klamath River and
thence to the Pacific Ocean at Klamath. We watched shadows engulf
the wilderness and the sky turn orange before we found our way
back to camp in the gloaming.
The next day we decided to hike much of the Ides
Cove Loop with daypacks and return to our splendid camp for
the night. The map showed that we could hike west and north,
follow the loop back east to Burnt Camp, and take the cutoff
trail back up the steep mountainside to Long Lake.
Circling counterclockwise around Mount Linn, the
trail climbed through a beautiful mature forest that thinned
as we approached the snowy northwest shoulder of the mountain.
At the 7530-foot South Yolla Bolly trail junction, we emerged
from the trees entirely. Before us to the west stood Solomon
and Hammerhorn Peaks. The South Yolla Bolly Trail circled south
descending the barren, rough slope of Mount Linn towards Ides
could trace the Ides Cove Loop Trail as it continued northwest
for almost two miles following an exposed medial moraine toward
"D" Camp, circling several hillocks and tracing the
brushy spine linking them. On the near side of Mount Harvey,
a hummock only slightly higher than the others, we would find
the trail junction for the return loop to Burnt Camp snaking
unseen along the forested slopes more than a thousand feet below
We had a disagreement. Barbara was reluctant to
continue, arguing that the hike would be miserable on the exposed
trail in the noonday sun without any source of water. I insisted,
complaining we had only hiked a couple of miles in the past
three days, and if we didn't finish this part of the loop trail
today, we would never return to this territory. I prevailed,
but both of us proved to be right.
We headed out along the desolate, bone-dry trail,
in places cut precariously into the steep slope. The hike was
hot and tiring and a lot further than it appeared. At the trail
junction we looped back to the east and descended again into
the shade of the forest, hoping to find a stream to refill our
empty bottles. No water crossed our path until we reached the
massive cedars of Cedar Basin, where we drank, ate balance bars,
and rested for awhile in the shade.
Hot and tired, we pressed on, past the marked
site of Cedar Basin Camp, hoping for a long rest at Burnt Camp
on Slides Creek. When we arrived there in the afternoon heat,
however, we were greeted by mosquitoes infesting the place.
Slapping and scratching, we hurriedly refilled our water bottles
and began the 800-foot climb up the cutoff trail back to Long
Lake. The ascent was plodding and painful, along the buggy meadow's
edge, then switch-backing up the long sparsely-timbered ridge,
passing through a grove of striking mountain mahogany we were
too fatigued to relish, and at last attaining the familiar trail
junction. We arrived at camp exhausted and hungry, prepared
dinner, ate, and crawled early into our tent for the night.
next morning we meditated and rested at Long Lake. Around noon
we decided to hike the mile back to the trail junction with
the South Yolla Bolly Trail where we had begun our fateful descent
into misery the previous day. The snow field had shrunk noticeably
since our last visit. As we ate lunch in the shade of a lonely,
twisted pine, the views were spectacular of Hammerhorn and Solomon
Peaks and Mount Linn and North Yolla Bolly Peak and Black Rock
Peak and Tomhead. So much wilderness, so few people.
After lunch we hiked south for a while along the
South Yolla Bolly Trail until it began a steep descent over
the rim of a desolate bowl. The treeless landscape held a sterile,
We encountered a lone hiker climbing up from Ides
Cove. He had entered the wilderness from Low Gap on the north,
climbed to the Tomhead lookout, dropped down the South Cottonwood
Creek Trail and back up to the South Yolla Bolly Trail, then
looped around the south side of Mount Linn. He was heading for
D Camp, where he hoped to find water. It was he who reported
that the lookout was occupied.
spent another pleasant night at Long Lake, then broke camp early
the next day for our short hike and long drive out of the wilderness.
Near the parking lot, we finally located the north fork of the
Ides Cove Loop Trail at a small sign among a grove of small
trees. It had been easy to miss coming the other way.
At the trailhead we met a fellow from Chico as
he was preparing to hike in and told him about our adventures.
He had a brand new Summit GPS that he had never used, so I told
him about our GPS and gave him our computer printouts with the
coordinates of the lakes and trail junctions.
We then drove about an hour and a half to Paskenta
through the fire-ravaged foothills of the Sacramento Valley.
The descent was much shorter this way, and we vowed to use that
route if ever we return. Paskenta was closed. We tarried at
the ranger station and encountered a young couple looking for
water before entering the wilderness. They appeared woefully
unprepared and without the foggiest notion of what they were
Return to Backpacking