Eagle Peak and Hat Mountain

Eagle Peak (9892′) and Hat Mountain (8745′), the highest points of Modoc and Lassen Counties, respectively, are in the far northeastern part of California, an area that most people haven’t seen. I took I-80 and US-395 to get to the Modoc National Forest and it’s quite striking how the last hour or so of the drive (north of Susanville) is almost completely empty of people. It’s 7-8 hours from Sunnyvale depending on traffic. Some notes:

  • I didn’t see anybody on either Eagle Peak or Hat Mountain. There was one entry in the Eagle register from earlier on Saturday (noting the visible smoke from Burning Man), but I have to assume that he took a different route up.
  • There were a good number of others present at the Mill Creek campground on Saturday night. It’s accessible via paved roads and has bathrooms and running water. Luxurious (from a car-camping perspective) if a bit less quiet than I might have liked. (Special shout-out to the campers that kept managing to direct a bright light into my driver’s-side windows.)
  • The short stretch of trail past Clear Lake is absolutely infested with spiders. Seriously I don’t know how you can get through that section without taking at least one strand of silk to the face.
  • Eagle really puts the day in dayhike. It took me a bit over ten hours round-trip from Mill Creek Falls (about 5700′), not counting about half an hour on the summit. There are other routes that start higher but have a bit more mileage.
  • After getting back and taking a bit of a breather I drove further into the forest towards Hat Mountain, this time on gravel roads. The biggest surprise of the drive was the calf on the road.
  • The stars are absolutely amazing in the Modoc National Forest. Seriously, if you haven’t ever seen the stars from a really rural location like the Modoc, you owe it to yourself to find a moonless night and fix that. There are just so many stars! (And I really need to remember to actually bring my binoculars on one of my overnight peakbagging trips.)
  • Just as I was getting ready to sleep on Sunday night, I was surprised to find somebody driving up Forest Road 38N18. We chatted briefly and he confirmed that the road was in good shape.
  • The standard route up Hat Mountain involves a 600-foot descent through brush to Lost Lake. I got partway through this two years ago and turned around in disgust. (The rainstorm the previous night didn’t help.) This year, Kimberly St. Clair tipped me off about an improved route that involves driving a few miles down 38N18 and taking mostly roads/trails from there. This route is a huge improvement. There’s minimal bushwacking and only a 200-foot elevation gain on the way back, much of which could have been further reduced if I had driven a bit further. The first three miles of 38N18 past its junction with 38N18A are a somewhat rocky road but nothing a Subaru Forester can’t handle.
  • Amusingly there are actually two registers atop Hat Mountain because it’s not entirely clear where the exact highest point it. I of course tagged them both. (The better view is probably slightly lower.)
  • I didn’t get much (okay, any) reading done this weekend because I didn’t get to either trailhead until after sunset. Part of this was because I extended my trip to the area a bit by stopping at a couple Half Price Books locations to take advantage of their 20% weekend sale. I picked up five books, the highlight being a first edition copy of Iain M. Banks’s Inversions.

So that’s California county highpoints 42 and 43 done. Next up, in all likelihood: Thanksgiving weekend for the San Diego and Imperial high points. Plus Orange if I can figure a legal route up Santiago Peak post-Holy Fire.

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