Castle Crags State Park - June 22, 2012
Narration and pictures by Diane Rannow

We planned this camping trip for the end of June specifically so we could hike Castle Crags State Park before it's permanent closure July 1, 2012.  Even though the Castle Crags Campground was already closed, the park was expected to be open.  Imagine our dismay when we found the park already closed.  

Time to implement Plan B... Since the entrance was gated closed, we accessed the Crags Trail via the PCT trail where it crosses I-5.  Sullivan rates the Crags Trail difficult at 5.4 miles round trip with 2120 feet elevation gain.  We added about another 3.5 miles and 400 more feet of elevation gain.

Unfortunately, the first 3.5 miles was a steady climb through viewless dry Douglas fir woods with a few incense cedars... basically no flowers, mushrooms, rocks, creeks, meadows, views, etc.  There were quite a few wild ginger in bloom along the beginning of the trail and one or two "openings" that had a couple of flowers. 15 of us headed up the trail.  We're soon spread out on the trail with the faster hikers out of sight.  The weather was mild... partly cloudy, partly sunny with a slight breeze in the morning.

As we reached the crags themselves, the wind picked up and it was rather chilly.  I was working hard enough that it felt good.  The trail changed from a mostly smooth steady uphill trail to a challenging, uneven rocky one.  The faster hikers pushed on to the top before stopping for lunch.  Some of us stopped to eat as soon as we got to a place with a view.  Sounded good to me... it was noon and I was hungry and my legs were exhausted.

After a needed break, we all headed on up the rocky trail.  Clouds were increasing and we could barely see the bottom of Mt. Shasta.  In spite of that, the views got better and better the farther we went.  The trail continued to steepen and the views continued to improve as the path twisted up past fantastic spires, clefts and tilted crags.  The two other slow hikers turned around after awhile and I continued on toward Castle Dome on my own.  As I neared the end of the trail, the rest of the group started passing me on their way back down.

Determined to reach the top, I struggled upward with shaky legs and heaving lungs. We started at around 2200 feet elevation and ended at about 4700+ elevation. Doesn't sound that high, but it sure felt like it.  I didn't know if my legs would lift me up another rock.  Finally the trail leveled out and crossed a bedrock granite upland of manzanita bushes and disappeared at the base of Castle Dome.

Katchan and Al were still up on top when I reached the end of the trail.  Katchan went with me to explore the area and climb up to a saddle where we could look down on both sides of the crags.  It was fantastic!  Castle Dome would have been too hard to climb and I was content with what I did.  A raindrop or two convinced us it was time to head down (plus everyone else would already be well on their way down and would have to wait for us).

Just after we left the rocky part of the trail, the raindrops increased into a light, soaking drizzle and continued the whole way down.  So... instead of a viewless dry woodland we hiked down through a viewless wet woodland.  It was a really tough hike at 9 miles and 2500 feet elevation gain.


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