Monday, August 15, 2011

Sierra Buttes (July 2011)

A few years back The Chronicle ran an article on hiking getaways in Northern California. One of them looked fun: The Sierra Buttes. I'd also seen it in my hiking books and had made a note of it. NJ saw the article and hung the paper up in his office and proclaimed he would do it someday. I think he was waiting for his son to be old enough to hike with him.

Early in the week, probably Tuesday, NJ said he was going to finally do the Sierra Buttes hike and did I want to go. Why not! We set an approximate location on the GPS and hit the road a bit later than planned. The canyon drive along highway 49 was a joy and we passed several old west mining towns. When we reached Sierra City, the GPS directed us to turn and start heading up the mountain. Within a mile the road turned into a 4WD dirt road going straight up the mountain. The Honda minivan wasn't up to the task. After asking a local we found the real route to the trailhead. Car GPS units really should have a mode that avoids off-road "roads." For anyone who wants to try out this area, and I do recommend it, drive on through Sierra City for another 5 miles or so and turn on Gold Lake Highway, then go up CR 621 / Packer Lake Rd.

First view of the Sierra Buttes from Gold Lake Hwy.

A closer view.

The trail is quite is easy. It starts a gradual ascent along a ridge line, then about the halfway point it turns left and starts heading up to the Summit. As you approach the Summit, the trail joins a fire road with several switchbacks. Within half a mile of starting the hike we started hitting snow, and spent most of the hike trekking through snow. It was our first time on this mountain, so finding the trail under the snow tended to be quite the challenge. When possible we followed in the footsteps from previous hikers, but it was really easy to lose the path and find yourself in the wrong place. Luckily, if you just head uphill, you'll get to the top or eventually come across a trail.

View from the ridge line near the start of the hike.

Near the top of the ridge. The Summit is the optically lower peak on the right.

One of several lakes you'll see on the way up. This one still had winter ice in it.

Once on the fire road, it was a straight shot to the Summit. Seeing the forestry hut in view at the top gave me an extra shot of energy and I made quick time to the top. To get to the very top of the hut, you need to climb a series of ladders. They're not difficult, but you quickly become aware of how high above the surrounding landscape you are. The wind also becomes quite strong. I love hiking to mountain Summits, then sitting for an hour and enjoying the views. Up here the winds and sudden biting cold diminished the excitement and I needed to get down quick.

First good view of the hut and the stairs,

The view from about halfway up the stairs.

Looking down the first set of stairs.

View from the top!
Me near the top. (Photo by NJ)

The hike back down was pretty quick and we did miss the turn back to the ridge line and we had to back track a bit to find our way. I had my portable GPS and I found some shortcuts to get back on trail. Once back in the car, we stopped at the Sierra City hotel where we were served family style a plate of ribs, chicken, corn, beans, & slaw. A great end to a fun day.

Complete set of photos on Smugmug.

The GPS track for this is at Everytrail.

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