Colusa County Highpoint Trip Report
"Snow Mountain Delivers 28 Hours of Hell"
Date: December 2005
Author: Robert Greene
This wasn't supposed to be a trip report, just interesting reading for the masses.
My winter CA high points are always epic and frequently peppered
with near disaster, and Lake/Colusa would not be an exception to the rule.
The drive from the Bay Area was about 3:30 -- my car nav system
suggested exiting at Williams, taking CA-20 west to Leesville Road
to Leesville Ladoga Road up to the intersection with the normal
suggested route through Maxwell. I guess this is shorter, but not
recommended as much of the route is unpaved (thankfully the unpaved
portions were actually quite smooth). I took the Maxwell route on
the way out and it was quite a bit faster.
Since I didn't want to maul my car, I opted for the longer Deafy
Glades approach. I was right on my start time, getting off at just
before 9am. My plan was to day trip the entire thing, but "just in case",
I brought along extra water, a day's worth of food,
a sleeping bag, an "emergency shelter" (from REI), plastic boots
(because I was breaking them for next month's trip), and crampons
and ice axe (as reports indicated the snow level was around 5,500 ft).
Everything seemed great, so off I clunked in my funny boots, serious
overkill for hiking around on some trails at 3000 ft!! About a mile in,
I decided to grab some breakfast from my food store in my daypack.
That's when I discovered mistake #1 ... in my jubilant
departure, I'd failed to attach the daypack to the backpack. After a
bit of pondering, I decided that it was only 13 miles left, I'd just
eat afterwards. How bad could going without food be.
Onward I went, crossing Stony Creek -- it was running about 3-4
inches deep. I clumsily fell off the rocks into the water, but hey,
plastic boots, are waterproof. That was cool. There was a good layer
of morning fog; I was waiting for that to burn off as I ascended.
By around noon, I reached the intersection with the "normal" trail
(about 2500 ft of gain and 4 miles). It was actually pretty slow going
in the plastic boots. And the
wasn't getting better. In fact, shortly after passing onto the main trail,
the fog became extremely dense and it started raining.
I pressed on in barely navigable conditions, eventually reaching a
point very close to the peak itself (at around 6,700 ft altitude).
Still no snow, but now the fog was total white out (I could barely
see my hand in front of my face) and the rain was pouring. Slowed by
the painful navigation by compass and GPS, I'd burned all the excess
time to my 3pm turn-around time. Despite being so close to the
summit (about 3/8 of a mile and just 300' elevation), I had to opt
to turn-around in the hopes of leaving the mountain in the daylight.
Unfortunately, the trip back down to the Deafy Glades trailhead took
as long as the trip up due to continued deteriorating weather
conditions. At 6pm, I hit the intersection, but couldn't even find
the trail in the dark, fog, and rain. I thought the chances of
following the trail via GPS was low and risky.
As an alternative, I determined that descending to the Summit
Springs trailhead and then taking the auto roads back to Deafy was
reasonable. Though the distance was much longer (about 12 miles vs 4),
I thought the road would be easy to follow, and I could make a
good downhill pace, still exiting by 10 pm.
I proceeded down to the Summit Springs trailhead - I'll tell you,
having that bathroom appear out of nowhere was like a miracle
wandering along what the dark and fog had turned into a trail
navigation nightmare. After that, I went across the parking lot,
and down the steep road, eventually reaching an intersection.
The intersection didn't match any of my trip reports.
But it had the M-10, which was the road I needed.
I started down the road, following it for some distance before a
rare sign (on the opposite direction of travel) informed me that
Stonyford was behind me. That was bad. I reversed travel, returning
to the intersection, and scouted it out. This intersection
evidentally contained two M-10 connections, 17N06, 24N02, and 17N29.
I never found the 2nd M-10 connection (the pitfalls of the fogout).
I spent quite some time analyzing the choices, and the strange
configuration of 24N02, M10, and 17N06 which didn't seem to
correspond to any of my instructions which indicated that M10 led to
24N02 which led to 17N06. Beware anyone using the SummitPost driving
instructions, I don't think they are 100% accurate.
After a bit, I decided to try out 17N29, and see if it went south
enough that I could bushwhack over to M10. This was the beginning of
desperation, but luckily I shortly came back onto my Topo, looked at
my position and decided it was crazy to hope to cross country over
to M10. At about 8:30pm, I rolled out the emergency shelter,
sleeping bag, and determined to pick up this whole debacle again in
I was soaked (after being in non stop pouring rain for about 6
hours), and before you knew it, I'd soaked everything was wasn't soaked.
The only things that were dry I had on were my socks. Thanks boots!
I dumped all the stuff I wanted to dry out into the sleeping back in
the hopes that my body heat would dry stuff a bit, put my plastic
boot inners inside the emergency tube tent so they'd stay dry, and
rolled into the sleeping bag, still dressed in everything. The night
was "fun"... where by "fun" I mean broken by intense shivering and
fun little leg cramps (I think I'd discovered Adam's potassium
deficiency problem --- by this time, it'd been some 22 hours since my
last meal). For some odd reason, water was seeping into the head
area of the sleeping bag, despite the emergency shelter, which
wasn't helping my warmth at all. This also was a clue I ignored...
Around 3:30am, I decided I'd suffered enough, was worried about
possible hypothermia, and a bit worried that the leg cramps my
worsen and leave my incapacitated. So I got out, started packing
everything up. Well, what do you know, the REI plastic survival
shelter wasn't waterproof at all. Add my sleeping bag and the
plastic boot liners to the "soaked" list. Now literally everything I
had was soaked.
I packed everything up, and I am ashamed to admit, hiked back up to
the Summit Springs trailhead, arriving there around 5:30am. The
reason I'm ashamed to admit it is that I had one objective in
returning there ... to convert the bathroom into a tent. So, I set
up shop there, tried to pile everything out so it could dry out,
and mostly suffered another 4 hours of sleep. It was better because I
wasn't being flooded, nor winded to death. Yeah, I hadn't mention
the winds yet, there were plenty, and they were cold.
At 9:30, it was light enough to continue my odyssey. I packed
everything up, redawned all my wet equipment, and did the only smart
thing ... went back up to the Deafy Glades intersection and
descended it in the light. Though it was raining and still foggy,
daylight made all the difference. On the way out, I had to cross
Stony Creek again. It was running about 3 feet deep. One day's
difference. That, and the snow on the ground (on top of my car)
at 3,200'. Yikes, good weekend choice!
I never ran into any water problems (I had plenty), but I guess your
saliva glands shut down after a while if all you do is drink water.
When I got to my car, I broke my 40 hour fast with a soft cookie,
and it was the hardest thing in the world to swallow, it actually
hurt every part of my mouth. Not pleasant, but it went away rapidly.
Who knew that...
The bad: missing the summit by 1/2 a mile even though I felt just
dandy adding some 9 more miles to the trip walking around in the
dark later. I found out that hiking around in your plastic boots on
level ground and not getting blisters doesn't mean much when you do
serious hiking (received a monster painful blister on one foot).
The good: I found out what stuff of mine that I've had for a long
time are no longer waterproof (gloves, rain pants).
And, of course, I survived!
And I didn't have the SAR guys waiting for me to note down,
"Subject walked out during deployment.".
That would have been embarassing.
Climb statistics: 23 miles round trip; elevation gain 6,100 feet; 28 hours duration.
large topo of route (1.4 MB)