Trip Report - Snow Mountain Wilderness

Lush (Jody Pritchard) More photos below.

By Jody Pritchard

Venturing to the Snow Mountain Wilderness is an adventure in itself. It's one of those places in Northern California where you pause and say, "Wait, seriously, we're still in California?"

It was a sunny spring day as we headed up I-5 north towards Williams. The fields were green, the sky was blue, and we had the windows down. Only a small section on the 360-degree horizon looked like a dark grey shadow Dr. Evil might call home - and that's where we were looking to spend our weekend backpacking.

As we grew closer it became clear that Snow Mountain would indeed live up to its name. Swirling grey clouds and white slopes stood out in the distance. "So, uh… we're planning to summit that today eh?"


In the meantime we made the turnoff past Williams and were headed down some seriously fun backroads. Our little Subaru got to enjoy the glory of SUV commercials zipping around corners, over huge bumps, next to steep cliffs, and past meadows of purple wildflowers. The only traffic was the random cow that stood on our side of the fence and a few white farm pickups. Two hours of this and we're beginning to think, "How do people get groceries around here? With an icechest?"

As we closed in on Snow Mountain we were introduced to one of the favorite pastimes in this area - dirt biking. The crowd seemed a close relative to the more familiar snowmobiling variety often seen in the habitats of Tahoe. On our way to the trailhead we passed hoards of pickups with trailers and kids that couldn't be older than five racing in head to toe protective gear sans training wheels. When driving in this area just be aware that there are more bikes than cars and they don't always stop at crossings. I myself had a close call with a full grown male around a hairpin turn.

You may be thinking right now, she sure is spending a lot of time on the 'getting there' portion of the adventure, but when the Falcon Hiking Guide spends over one full type written page on the "Finding the trailhead" section you're bound to spend some quality time in the car trying to remember if you restarted your trip tic at the last turn in an attempt to match the written instructions.

Then we hit the snow. It started with a few inches and some slushy spots. Eventually it was eight inches deep and getting worse. The road hadn't been plowed and the trusty Subaru was getting pissed. After a stop in a broad section of road, Matt and I considered our equipment: No snow camping gear, no snowshoes, and no shovel. We made the responsible decision to turn around and identify Plan B. There would be no summit today, and Matt's next book had one more chapter.

Plan B introduced itself as a descriptive paragraph on the back of a map Dad ordered for us from the local Ranger Station: Deafy Glade and the Bath House Trail. It was only 20 minutes back and a good distance below the snowline. We packed up our things and headed down the two rugged miles of lush forest and flat trail to our campsite.

Maybe it was the tough work week, or maybe it was the rain, but we slept about 14 hours that night and woke up feeling like champs.

Then it started to rain. This was actually a welcome event because in our two years of backpacking together, including a full 2003 season of snow camping, we had never experienced poor weather. That's if you don't count the jet engine winds of our second night snow camping where we were sure our poor tent would end up down the valley with us high tailing it for the car. But just like we stuck that night out, we pulled out our rain gear and settled in for a long afternoon's nap.

Maybe it was the tough work week, or maybe it was the rain, but we slept about 14 hours that night and woke up feeling like champs. The silence of the vacant forest, and sound of the rain gave us a chance to relax together and enjoy one of my favorite things about backpacking… doing nothing.

We did take a few walks around - down the South Fork and back - took some pictures, splashed through some puddles, and picked up trash. We picked up a lot of trash that weekend. Apparently the regular visitors to this place hadn't heard the phrase "zero impact" and discarded all kinds of items including diapers, shot gun shells, beer cans, and toilet paper. I hate seeing other peoples' toilet paper shoved into the nooks and crannies of the backcountry. Pack it out folks - that's what ziplock bags are for! All told, Matt and I collected the better half of a dozen cans, 3 shot gun shells, a few plastic caps, and several pieces of knotted wire. The diaper is still there and will be in 50+ years if someone doesn't climb down the hill to get it.

We may have been too early to summit Snow Mountain, but it was a great trip to relax and enjoy the weekend. On the way back we were treated to spectacular views of this rugged country as we drove down to spring in the Central Valley. And no trip through Williams around noon would be complete without sandwiches at Granzellas, a family tradition I was happy to introduce Matt to for about the 4th time. He grinned at me as I saved the second half of my sandwich for lunch the next day. I would have driven here for the sandwich alone.

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