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 fog 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 the morning.

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)