25-Aug-2004 -- A quest to achieve all zero GPS readings…
This was the kind of place and experiences you usually will only read about in Outside Magazine or maybe National Geographic Adventure Magazine. A story of something unique and challenging – done just for the fun of it. With a backdrop of the extremely scenic Trinity Alps Wilderness, there is potential for an adventure filled story that may make you want to go out and experience it for yourself.
I had planned to reach this confluence at the end of June with my sister who loves to write and was up for the adventure. Events beyond our control precluded us from taking our planned trip and I was resigned to making the trip next year.
A few weeks later, I received a call from my long-time friend and college roommate, Jerry Heikkinen. He was in Klamath Falls, Oregon for a couple weeks, had the weekend free, and wanted to see what I was doing. His idea was to meet up and go hiking around Mt. Shasta. I asked him if he would rather go on a quest to achieve all zero GPS readings at 41n-123w.
Without knowing what this would entail, he said sure. I then told him it was 14 miles with 3500 feet elevation change…each way. He still said sure. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get there over the weekend so plan B became hiking in on Wednesday the 25th and out on Thursday the 26th. Our plan was further modified when we discovered his flight back home from Klamath Falls left at 5:00pm requiring us to be back in Weaverville by noon on the 26th.
Thirty miles in thirty hours. The adventure begins…
I arrived in Weaverville on Wednesday at about 9pm. I was able to locate the ranger station and fill out our wilderness and campfire permits needed for the hike. Jerry arrived a short time later. In our hotel room, we carefully inventoried our packs and prepared for the next day.
Early the next morning, we ate breakfast in a small cafe before driving north to the trailhead. Turning west towards the Trinity Alps Resort, we continued until we reached the trailhead at Bridge Camp Campground. Signs at the parking area (Picture #9) said it was only 14 miles to Emerald Lake.
The trail was in excellent condition and it was fairly quick and easy hiking – even with a considerable load in our backpacks. Near the second footbridge, we found a place we thought would make a good campsite after we had visited the confluence. We lightened our load by carefully stashing some of our stuff and continued on towards our objective.
The views along the trail are simply spectacular! Our GPS estimated we would reach Emerald Lake at 2pm. We arrived just a little behind schedule. At the dam on the east end of the lake, there is a significant hole as shown in picture #8.
The confluence is located southwest of Emerald Lake. Initially, it appeared to be easier to get to the other side of the lake by remaining south of it and working our way across a large boulder field. The brush on either side of the boulders is impenetrable. In hindsight, it would have been much quicker to stay on the trail on the north side of the lake and then proceed south to the confluence. We had left our backpacks on the boulders south of the lake for the confluence attempt – meaning we would have to come back that way to retrieve them.
Once beyond the west end of Emerald Lake, it was time to start climbing towards the confluence. The path of least resistance had me scrambling up just west of a waterfall. After climbing about 300’ vertically, I realized that I needed to be on the eastern side. With no realistic way to get across only about 30’ to my left, I had to descend about 200’ and then cross through some very thick brush (leaving lots of scratches on my legs) before I was able to climb back up again.
Jerry chose a different path. He remained high and to the east and was slowly making his way towards the point. We kept in touch and remained oriented to each others position and progress through our Garmin RINO’s. Our paths finally converged and we eventually managed to get within 40 meters of the confluence. A steady mist was now coming from over the mountains to the west. It had been intermittent all day making the rocks very slippery for the climb. Now it was just making things worse.
We stopped to rest and take in the incredible panoramic view. This part of the hike had taken much longer than planned. It was now almost two hours beyond our planned turn around time. Part of our hike back to our campsite would now be in the dark. I was ready to call 40 meters good enough for a successful confluence visit.
Jerry had caught confluence fever – saying that we didn’t come this far for a less than perfect GPS reading. Onward he went as I took pictures from what would be my closest point of approach.
Picture #1 looks northeast from the confluence and shows the extreme slope of the terrain. If you think it looks steep – it looked even steeper to me when it was wet! Picture #2 looks north across Emerald Lake. Picture #3 looks west. You can see Sapphire Lake in the center of the picture. We did not make it that far but were told by some fellow hikers on their way back down that there is a lot of neat old equipment up there. Picture #4 shows my closest point of approach on my GPS. Picture #5 looks west across the south side of Emerald Lake. Some of these rocks are huge. Watch your step here – you could easily fall several feet between them. Picture #6 looks southeast and up towards the confluence from a point west of Emerald Lake. Picture #7 also looks southeast and up towards the confluence. It was taken about half way down the hill from the confluence.
Jerry managed to get within 10 meters according to his RINO but the disposable camera he had brought for this trip focused well beyond the GPS screen. We had come well within 100 meters but the additional effort required for only an incremental improvement in our GPS location for a better picture was just a bit too much. We were tired, wet, hungry, thirsty, and still had a long way to go back to our camp.
Satellite geometry also conspired against us. We were climbing up the north side of a very significant northeast-southwest running escarpment blocking visibility from an entire hemisphere of the sky. Consequently, those satellites that were visible were all oriented generally east-west and were north of us, creating a position error ellipse biased in a north-south direction. This corresponded to up and down the steep slope of the ridge and we had chased our position long enough on these wet rocks.
It was time to climb back down the side of this giant rock wall. It would still be at least an hour before we would be back at the dam. We retrieved our packs, filtered some more water by the dam, and prepared for our hike back down to our camping stuff. We eagerly anticipated a hot dinner in only about 8 long miles. It was dark as we arrived back at our campsite and started to set up the tent and gas stove for dinner. When it was time to light the stove, we discovered that my “waterproof” matches were not the same as “strike-anywhere” matches.
Flashback to the night before, when we inventoried our equipment: We had left all our “unnecessary” stuff – including my magnesium fire starter behind to save weight. I’ll probably never live that one down…
We went to sleep hungry and very tired. The next morning, our scrambled eggs remained dehydrated in their bags. They were of little use without a source of hot water. We packed up for the remaining 6 mile hike back to the trailhead. It was fairly easy going along the trail and sunnier than on the way in. Both Jerry and I were sore and I had developed a couple of blisters on both of my feet. We finally reached the trailhead – and our cars - a little ahead of schedule. On the drive back to Weaverville, we stopped and devoured a great lunch at a local pizza restaurant.
What a tremendous confluence adventure! It was probably the most scenic I’ve been to so far. I wouldn’t characterize this confluence the most difficult – there’s a well maintained trail 95% of the way there and you are likely to encounter several people along the way. This confluence only requires willpower (and maybe strike-anywhere matches) for a successful visit. The river will provide all the water you need along the way.
Thirty hours is not even close to being enough time to take it all in - or zero out your GPS. My hat will be off to the first person who can return from this confluence with a perfect GPS reading – I’ll even buy that hardy individual a cold beer!
You should plan on at least 2 days minimum for this one.
Jerry had to leave to catch his 5pm flight out of Klamath Falls, Oregon (he made it with plenty of time). My next stop would be the trailhead leading to 40n-123w.