Day 4 (July 13, 2016 – Medford, Oregon): “Longer Than Hoped”
It was 4:30am when we awoke. We wanted to get the early start on this day because we knew we were in for a long drive to a pretty out-of-the-way waterfall and then capping off the day with a long drive across the border into Oregon, where we’d be spending the last three nights of this trip. I know that was a part of the trip that Mom definitely looked forward to since she hadn’t been to the state.
It 5:40am when I was loading the car. That was when I learned that the lady working the third shift reception was already setting up breakfast nearly an hour early from the scheduled 6:30am start. That was good news for us since we didn’t want to wait all the way until that time just for brekkie. And so after I got the car loaded up and ready to go, I indulged in the included brekkie that had the usual Holiday Inn Express fare of sausages, scrambled eggs, and a hot cinnamon roll (that I knew would kill my paleo diet that Julie had me go on for the past couple of months).
So given the earlier than expected breakfast, we were checked out and left Red Bluff at 6:10am. It was forecast to be a hot day today and so the early start was supposed to bode well for us in terms of avoiding as much of the heat wave as possible, especially when out and about hiking.
As we drove south along the I-5 and we were approaching Willow, I was having regrets about not doing this hike to Stony Creek Falls on a previous trip while we were staying in Oroville. Admittedly, it might have been a bit tight to do both Feather Falls and Stony Creek Falls on the same day, but that would have saved us time on this trip. Not only that, but had I known better, we could have stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Willows instead of Red Bluff to at least save this morning an additional hour of driving.
Well, it was what it was so after reaching Willows, we then took the 162 west towards Elk Creek, which seemed to be a rather sleepy town catering to the ranches and farms in this part of the region. Shortly after Elk Creek, we then took the paved Road 308, which was a little bumpy in that potholes were filled in, but it was still smooth going.
Eventually, the road became unpaved, and that was when we really had to pay attention to Ann Marie’s directions. At first we were tempted to stay on the 308 Road, but we then realized that perhaps we should follow Ann Marie’s directions better and take the forest road NF20N01, which was a surprisingly graded and smooth dirt road.
We took this road for around 5 miles as it climbed and provided us partial views way down towards the brown pastures of the Central Valley. We were also surprisingly getting good reception of some sports talk radio from the Bay Area (KNBR). So that kept things a bit entertaining for the long drive in the wilderness.
This part of the drive already started to feel long as we weren’t that accustomed to driving this extensively on dirt roads, and so it wasn’t surprising either to see deer dashing across the road as I’m sure wildlife sightings were more the norm rather than the exception in a place this seemingly seldomly visited. We even saw some fairly big jack rabbits with long ears, which seemed much bigger than the smaller rabbits we had been used to seeing in the suburbs or in the more visited forests.
Next, we encountered a junction where we hung a left at a fork (rebelling against our GPS), which was signposted for Saddle Ridge or something like that. This road then connected with the M3 Road at a very large intersection that kind of reminded me of some of the arena-like intersections you’d more typically see in a third world country. Anyways, we hung a left to go onto the M3 road, then we followed this road for the next 16 miles or so.
Luckily for us, this road remained in good shape until we went past some bulldozer (which we suspected was the main reason why the graded roads were surprisingly smooth for a wilderness road). Beyond the bulldozer, there were some rocks on the road as well as some minor water gullies, but we had seen way worse roads than this.
Eventually at 8:35am, we finally arrived at the West Crockett Trailhead. There was a toilet facility here as well as some chopped wood. After putting on our boots and getting our supplies at the ready, we found the trailhead register, signed in, and then promptly started our anticipated five-mile hike.
At first, the trail was pretty flat as it meandered through a fairly cool forest that felt like it was starting to heat up. When Mom went back to the car to get the guide book just in case, apparently she tripped and fell and got a little puncture wound on her wrist so that resulted in a little bit of a delay we tended to that wound (and learned that the bandages that she brought were a bit on the aged side and they wouldn’t hold together).
Anyways, we used Salonpas for her wound and some other adhesives for the time being. Next, we resumed the hike, which then took us through a burn area before the trail then gently descended. We knew we’d have to get back this elevation on the way out so that was something we mentally noted that we’d have to ration water and energy for.
But it turned out that that wasn’t anything yet. Soon after a small crossing of a little creek, the trail then descended some more as it ultimately dropped down to cross the Middle Fork of Stony Creek. This crossing was a little bit long in that we had to get our boots a little wet, but we managed to get through with some rock hopping (my parents had hiking sticks to help stay dry and balanced).
Then, beyond the creek crossing, the trail steeply ascended over several switchbacks. It was as if all that elevation gain we had just lost to get down to the creek was now regained in a shorter distance. So this part of the hike was slow going.
Once we got up to the apex of this climb, we encountered a signed junction. Ann Marie Brown’s book said this junction was unsigned, but apparently, someone must have put a sign there later (perhaps in response to her writeup?) and so we followed the branch that said something about Crooked Tree Trail to the right. We didn’t go left, which was for Milk Ranch.
Then, we followed this trail for a bit as we were hoping to find the described hairpin right turn leading down to the desired waterfall. However, we would eventually get to a point on the trail where it was a bit overgrown and apparently we had lost the trail. That was kind of the red flag that got me to realize that perhaps we had missed the part of the trail we needed to take.
Dad was a bit stubborn in that he wanted to scramble all the way to the creek and explore there for the falls, but the shape of the traces on my handheld GPS suggested that we had overshot the part of the trail we should have taken. And so after a little bit of talking Dad out of scrambling, we eventually backtracked on the trail.
Sure enough, I first encountered the signposted junction leading down to the falls, and it got me wondering how all three of us missed this sign. Anyways, we would eventually take this trail which dropped back down to the creek level, then we had to get across some fairly dicey parts of the hike that had some severe slope and was a bit on the slippery side.
Eventually at about 11:30am, we finally arrived at Stony Creek Falls, which was a little on the smaller than side than we had hoped for. Still, the seclusion here allowed us to savor this minor victory as we had ourselves a picnic lunch while basking in the scenery. There was an emerald plunge pool at the base of the falls that looked real inviting for a swim, but we didn’t have a change of clothes for that.
So after about a half-hour of chillaxing at the 50ft falls or so, we then hiked back up to the main trail. Then, we descended back down to the creek, where we crossed it once again (though I somehow managed to miss a step and get my right foot in a bit of water). Then, we made the long uphill climb back up towards the burn area before eventually returning to the West Crockett Trailhead at 1:30pm.
I guess without stopping, the hike didn’t take as long on the way out, but I’d bet that mistaken detour we took probably had cost us at least a half-hour or so.
Now with this waterfall bagged, it was now time to drive back along the same dirt roads we took to get here, then head back up the I-5 towards Mt Shasta for an anticipated lunch. We left at 1:40pm, and it wouldn’t be until about 4:30pm when we filled up for some cheap gas in Redding. Along the way, there was a fire on the outskirts of town though it wasn’t a forest fire, but it seemed like more of an industrial fire that set some trees alight.
Anyways, it was over 100 degrees F in Redding. Next, Dad took over the driving and we went through the familiar curvaceous part of the I-5 taking us past Shasta Lake, then Castle Crags, and ultimately with views of Mt Shasta before we would finally arrive in the town of Mt Shasta at 5:40pm, where we ate at the familiar Bistro 107.
It wasn’t that busy when we showed up but the service was extraordinarily slow because Mom wanted hot wings for an appetizer. And like last time, the appetizers were what took forever (coconut shrimp took forever last time). And so we ultimately found ourselves sitting there for over an hour before we even started to eat our mains.
Still, my Billy’s Best burger was reliable, but Mom’s salmon sandwich special was very good. Dad got some fish and chips. Anyways, when all was said and done, we were finally back in the car at 7pm, and now it was time to continue the drive north on the I-5 towards Medford.
During the drive north, Mom and I were busy taking road shots of Mt Shasta as it would show different faces of itself as we passed Weed, then got more views of both Shasta and Shastina the further north we went. The drive at first was uneventful until we found ourselves stuck in a traffic jam at around 8:15pm.
The traffic was pretty much at a standstill with some brief moments of inching along. Big rigs were occupying both lanes and the progress was excruciatingly slow. Well, it turned out that it wouldn’t be until about 9:10pm when we finally were driving single-file and were moving along slowly. Five minutes later, we saw the root cause of the problem, which was a trailer that managed to catch on fire and was pretty much a charred mess.
Dad suspected that the trailer might have been a runaway one given that we were stuck for nearly an hour on a downhill stretch of the I-5. Anyways, this drive took a lot longer than expected, and it wouldn’t be until about 9:55pm when we finally arrived at the Candlewood Suites, where we’d be spending the next three nights.
It turned out that Medford was indeed a pretty big city though the Candlewood Suites was kind of in the boonies of the city as it was closer to the airport. In any case, this was to serve as our base for Crater Lake and our other Oregon waterfalling excursions, and so we’d spend the remainder of the evening getting set up, cleaned up, and finally rested up for another early start tomorrow…