Trail Notes Story for Juniper Ridge "Barebones in the Backcountry"
Words and Photos: Amanda Leigh Smith
I made it just in time for sunset while on my first trip to the Trinity National Forest, catching glimpses of sparkling lakes and pink mountaintops as I made my way through the switchbacks on highway 3. When I arrived in Hayfork it was long after dark, and I had trouble finding my friend’s cabin with no cell service off the winding, dirt roads. Luckily, in a small town like Hayfork, friendly neighbors helped point me in the right direction.
One of my best friends moved from Portland to Trinity County about a year ago, and Jessica’s settled quite beautifully with her partner, Cody, in a cozy studio and workshop tucked in the mountains under oak and eucalyptus trees. She makes jewelry and her partner works falling trees at Jefferson Snow Basin, a future sight of a back country skiing operation.
On their days off they frequently adventure in the nearby mountain wonderland. Before they moved into the cabin, Jessica and Cody we living and working on a nearby horse ranch, so we popped over to say hello the animals they used to care for.
Jessica showed me some of her favorite places to explore around her new home. We went to Helena to explore the ghost town, remnants of a gold miner’s past now overgrown by blackberries.
Then we hiked a ways along the North Fork Trinity River to visit one of her favorite summer swim spots. The deciduous trees were on the cusp of turning for fall, but the sun was still warm, and the emerald green water was crisp for a quick dip.
After we explored the river, we headed towards Hyampom to catch the last bit of golden light on the top of the ridge. We laid in the golden grass admiring the incredible blue gradient of the mountains as the sun went down.
The next night we met Cody up at his work basecamp. At over 6,000 feet, there are 360 degree views of Trinity County, and on a clear day you can see Mount Shasta, Castle Crags, Bully Choop and the Trinity Alps to name a few.
The Jefferson Snow Basin basecamp is pretty barebones; a yellow shipping container partially buried in the side of the granite mountain top, powered by solar panels, and warmed by a wood-burning stove. There’s a bunkbed with a mountain of blankets, a propane stove for cooking and a bucket to wash your dishes. We sourced our water from a nearby spring that you hike into off the side of the road; however, there is no trail leading you to it, so the only way to find it is with a local. Down the hill beyond the spring lies an old backcountry cabin overlooking a golden meadow. It’s definitely very rustic, but you can tell someone occasionally puts it to use.
That night we cooked steaks over the fire pit as we watched the moonrise over the rocky mountain tops. The wind howled us to sleep and I read aloud some poems from my new favorite book “Earth Feelings” by B.G. Schelle I picked while visiting White Horse, Yukon territory earlier this year.
Have you ever been on a sacred stream
Where a whisper sounded loud,
And the sky was streaked with rays of heat
As it dropped its evening shroud,
Which gave the marsh an eerie gloom
Till even the frogs were low,
Then a great Blue Heron rose from the reeds
On wings as silent as snow?
And there were you in your frail canoe
In that hushed and holy place,
Feeling a chill and feeling alone,
Like the last of the human race.
WELL THEN MY FRIEND, YOU KNOW ABOUT EARTH FEELINGS.