Our goal today was to hike into the Castle Crags in the eastern Klamath Mountains before driving home. But before that, we made an impromptu visit to Dunsmuir where, based on nothing more than a provocative sentence in my California guidebook, we went looking for Mossbrae Falls. We found them after a mile-long walk along train tracks, at the bottom of a hill hidden by trees—you could walk right by the falls without knowing they existed. But Mossbrae Falls were spectacular—only 50 feet tall, but 150 feet wide—and I was glad we made the trek.
Back on the road, we drove to the base of the crags. It was noon. That left us plenty of time for the 5.5-mile round trip hike into Castle Crags.
We started in a dense secondary forest of Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine, incense-cedar, and black oak. We couldn’t see the crags at all through the unbroken canopy. Nevertheless, a stiff wind blew through the trees and I was cold enough to put on all of my layers: a fleece jacket, a windbreaker, wool gloves, and a baseball cap. The forest’s understory, now at the beginning of the wet season, was bare, covered only with pine needles, pine cones, and oak leaves.
We climbed steadily up the trail, through forests that gradually became sunny and open. Greenleaf manzanita and Labrador tea showed up. Oaks that I couldn’t identify grew on spindly trunks with fissured bark. The wind had stopped and the air had gotten warmer. I took off my jackets.
We finally saw the crags. The mountain ahead of us, instead of being covered with green pines like the others, bristled with spectacular silver spires. Lone pine trees, large in their own right but dwarfed by the crags, grew in the cracks between them. Castle Crags seemed two-dimensional from our distance—some waterfalls and mist and they would have looked like an old Chinese landscape painting.
We climbed, passing a Forest Service sign announcing our entrance to the Castle Crags Wilderness. The trail became rockier. The forest diminished into scrubland. Greenleaf manzanita was still with us from lower elevations, but it was joined by pinemat manzanita and ceanothus. A few pines grew out of the scrub.
The trail became faint, splitting and merging—a manzanita maze. Would we have trouble finding the correct trail on our way down?
Higher up, even the scrub faded, leaving us on bare granite. This was familiar terrain from our hikes in the Sierra. We scrambled up to a saddle near Castle Dome, using our hands for balance when the granite got steeper.
The crags, which had looked flat from far away, became three-dimensional once we were inside them. Crags next to the trail were some 50 feet tall; others were the size of skyscrapers.
We scrambled up to the saddle below Castle Dome to look down its other side. It was so narrow we could only stand on it one at a time. A great chasm opened up in front of us, dropping thousands of feet into a dark forest. On the opposite side of the chasm, a set of cliffs just like ours screamed down. In the distance, the fresh snow of Mount Shasta was so bright that it hurt to look at.
We stopped at a flat area to eat and drink. I was still so full from my Black Bear breakfast that I only ate a granola bar and some fruit leather. The mountains in the distance were a contrast to the crags: a gentle green landscape that reached to the horizon.
Elizabeth and I made it back to the car by 4, some 40 minutes before sunset. Pretty good timing, I think. We made the long drive back to the Bay Area, stopping at Los Mariachis in Red Bluff for huge portions of good Mexican food.