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Castle Peak Wilderness, CA
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Nathan Moody
(atomick) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Castle Peak Wilderness, CA on 07/10/2008 22:40:17 MDT Print View

Trip Report: Castle Peak
(Some images inline - many more available at target=_blank>

This trip was in two portions: A hike in to Paradise Lake via the PCT, across the shoulders of Castle and Basin Peaks, and a day hike out from Paradise Lake to White Rock Lake, also via the PCT. Likewise, it had two purposes: general vacation and my girlfriend's first real backpacking trip, who had ACL surgery last year and a bunion to contend with. How would she cope with a 30-mile weekend and a 28-pound pack?

We couldn't go ultralight due to my girlfriend's initial apprehension about comfort and convenience; I had to carry our bear canister with 6 person-days of food, so I had to opt for my Osprey Atmos 50 pack to carry about 30 pounds in all (although my gear and clothing, sans pack, was only 12 lbs - the rest was food, bear canister, water, and some of my girlfriend's stuff).

The Trail
We left from near the Boreal ski resort and quickly hit the PCT heading north; the trail was wonderful, mostly duff or soft sand, with few stretches of muck or loose scree. After going up and over Castle Peak's west shoulder, we descended to Round Valley, whose open beauty was marred only by the legions of mosquitos. We then climbed up onto the west shoulder of Basin Peak and down into the wooded Paradise Valley. We left the PCT to follow a jeep road to Paradise Lake's granite lip; the lake was gorgeous, with small stunted trees on flyspeck islands that looked like bonsai. The second day we returned to the PCT and headed north to White Rock Lake via the Mount Lola Trail; we ran into three thru-hikers charging through the insect-infested valleys. The final day we packed out down the PCT, retracing our steps.

We were joined by three friends for the first night only.

The Conditions
Of course, the smoke from the hundreds of California wildfires was an issue, but we were lucky; the closest fire was 30 miles away and the wind was favorable most of the time. The mosquitos were the worst I've seen in the Sierras due to the snowmelt (even with this being the driest spring on record). Tiny patches of snow remained and only covered the trail in 30-60' sections less than 10 times in the whole trip. The trail was otherwise loamy, soft, or powdery, and make for lovely walking. The lakes were cold, but swimmable, and made for refreshing clean-ups in camp. Temperatures were in the 70's (Fahrenheit) and warmed into the low 80's on the last day due to an incoming heatwave. Temperatures at night only went into the high 40's, and the only moisture was morning condensation - no rain in sight.

The wildflowers were, of course, in profusion this time of year. Stickseed, ceanothus, mule's ears, penstemon, buckwheat, lupine, pennyroyal, and much more...all sorts of flowery goodness, mighty impressive.

What Worked
My Girlfriend. :-D She really enjoyed it and it felt like a natural extension of all the dayhiking and car camping she's done (much of it with me, but I've been backpacking without her for several years). She used a leg brace and poles, and she just rocked it! She's already thinking about where else to go, and that's the sign of a successful trip!

The Destinations. The lakes in this region are small but surrounded by forest and granite. Quaint but have a majesty to them, and there were very few other people around. Extremely pleasant.

Inov8 Flyroc 310's + SportShield Anti-Friction/Blister Powder. I had reservations about using the Flyrocs with 30+ lbs. in my pack, but all was good. I used 1 tbsp of SportShield each morning to great effect. My feet ached each day from use, but nothing worse than any other footwear I've used, and I didn't suffer any blisters. I used these with REI shorty gaiters and got THREE teeny pebbles in my shoe. Over three full days of hiking. ROCK ON.

Bug Netting. We each had a headnet and they saved our sanity bigtime...see What Didn't Work below.

What Didn't Work
Early-Season Mosquitos. I'd heard stories and dayhiked in some raging mosquito swarms, but never this bad and never while trying to do the simplest of camp chores. Total brutality.

Insufficient Repackaged Bug Repellent. Ah, yes, the urge to repackage to just carry enough liquids that you'll need - well, I planned for one person, not two. We ran out of bug spray so had to do an hour of uphill switchbacks in 80° weather wearing windshirts or rain gear. Easily lost a pound of water weight from that section alone. Lesson learned!

Osprey Atmos 50 Shoulder Straps. Too narrow! I've gotten spoiled by the width of the Gossamer Gear Miniposa shoulder straps, which really work well for me. It didn't kill me, and didn't leave any marks or anything, but definitely less than ideal.

Western Mountaineering Megalite Sleeping Bag. What?!? This is because a 30° bag was far too warm for the high-40's nighttime temperatures. 1.6 pounds' worth of warmth could have been maybe 1 pound, at most, if I'd have packed a lighter down quilt, which would have been fine. As it was, I slept with the bag over me as a quilt wearing almost nothing and I was still almost too warm. It's a great testament to the WM Megalite's warmth, though!

Too Much Food. We had 1.5 pounds of chow left over, and that INCLUDES eating cold pudding on the hike out. *AHEM* As long as I'm carrying the bear canister, we'll resolve that one for the next hike for sure! :-)

Edited by sharalds on 07/11/2008 00:16:59 MDT.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Castle Peak Wilderness, CA on 07/11/2008 00:16:06 MDT Print View

>...I used these with REI shorty gaiters and got THREE teeny pebbles in my shoe. Over three full days of hiking. ROCK ON.

Perhaps you meant 'rock off'? ; )

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Castle Peak Wilderness, CA on 07/11/2008 10:23:10 MDT Print View

Thanks for the trip report Nathan, and the lessons learned. Sounds overall like a very good time.

I hiked the area for the first time last fall, doing the clockwise Castle Peak loop. It is a lovely area, and proved a nice opportunity to see evidence of the gradual transition from northern Sierra to southern Cascades--probably the farthest south I've ever noticed the hints so clearly. It's also the only place I've spotted mountain lion tracks (quite fresh, too). We saw zero evidence of bear, and hung our food without incident (for future reference).

Sorry to hear about the buggy bugs, but from one year to the next it's nearly impossible to guess when the peak's going to hit! In a more typical year you'd probably hit their peak a month later.

Hard to miss the knee brace in the photo. Please extend my compliments to "Robo-Hiker" on a job well done :-)

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Castle Peak Wilderness, CA on 07/11/2008 11:03:57 MDT Print View

Nice report! One of my favorite snowshoe areas around. Never have been there during the summer, maybe I need to!

David T
(DaveT) - F
. on 07/11/2008 11:31:58 MDT Print View


Edited by DaveT on 01/17/2015 11:16:21 MST.

Nathan Moody
(atomick) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: castle peak. on 07/11/2008 12:00:01 MDT Print View

I actually did NOT know a bear canister was optional, but the piece of mind it brought was pretty worth it - well, that and I have no other critter-proof food container (I'd have at least carried an Ursack or something to keep the rodents out of it - there were definitely little buggers up there looking for scraps and eating into trash bags). Thank you all for pointing that out!

We tried to do the hike from Paradise Lake to Warren Lake, but those are some of the steepest trails in the Tahoe region and Robohiker's leg didn't feel up to lots of scrambling...definitely on the list to do some other time.

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: castle peak. on 07/11/2008 13:22:32 MDT Print View

Hi Nathan,

A good no-go decision on the Paradise to Warren Lake trek. It's a very technical descent, and loaded with lots of misleading ducks and cairns. If there's a trail we never saw it. We ended up doing some class 3 descents (which I really don't like with a full pack) that probably weren't necessary had our routefinding been better. My suspicion, after reviewing my photos and GPS track, is we should have stayed farther north.

But that's just a theory :-)

Warren is a pleasant subalpine lake but we didn't camp there, heading into Devil's Oven instead.