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Hiking: Mendocino

Peak Experience of the Coast Range

June 09, 1996|JOHN McKINNEY

Mendocino National Forest, a million acres of mountains in the Coast Range of northwestern California, offers some splendidly remote places to hike. Mendocino is the only one of California's 18 national forests not crossed by a paved road. Most of Mendocino National Forest is made up of an eastern spur of the Coast Range, a 65-mile-long, convoluted chunk of land that would take a very long time to get to know.

Snow Mountain, which stands head and shoulders above most other Coast Range peaks, is an ideal introduction to hiking in the national forest. Its summit offers far-reaching views of the Yolla Bolly Wilderness, Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen.

The mountain, cloaked in Jeffrey pine and white fir, and crowned with colorful rocks, lords over hotter, drier brushier terrain.

Snow Mountain Wilderness protects 37,679 acres of the mountain and adjacent high country.

The most popular route to the top of Snow Mountain begins at the Summit Springs trail head on the southern boundary of the wilderness.

From the twin summits of Snow Mountain West (7,038 feet) and Snow Mountain East (7,056 feet), behold the Coast Range below; to the south and west, the Sacramento Valley, the Cascades and the High Sierra; to the north, Mt. Shasta and the Klamath Mountains.

Inquire about the latest road and trail conditions at the Mendocino National Forest ranger station in Stonyford.

Directions to trail head: From Interstate 5 in Maxwell, exit on Maxwell Road and drive 32 miles west to the hamlet of Stonyford. Bear left onto Road M-10 (Spring Road), following the signs for Snow Mountain and Summit Springs, 24 miles. Turn right and proceed up a rough, steep road 1.5 miles to road's end at Summit Springs trail head.

The hike: A hiker's register greets travelers as they begin an ascent through a forest of Jeffrey pine, sugar pine and white fir. Just a quarter-mile out, the path offers a ridge-top view of East Reservoir south of Stonyford and across the tumbled terrain of Mendocino National Forest to the northern Sacramento Valley.

After another half-mile, the trail bends northwest, then switchbacks up to the ridge again 1.5 miles from the trail head. Amid Jeffrey pine, red fir and white fir, you climb to Cedar Camp, an inviting place to pitch a tent, even though no cedars grow in the vicinity.

You'll angle right with the signed path leading to Snow Mountain. After an ascent through the forest, the trail emerges in more open country, climbing to a saddle and trail junction. The left fork ascends to Snow Mountain West; the right fork to Snow Mountain East. Enjoy the panoramas from either peak, then retrace your steps back to the trail head.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Snow Mountain Trail

WHERE: Snow Mountain Wilderness

DISTANCE: 8 miles round trip with 2,000-foot elevation gain.

TERRAIN: Forested slopes of Snow Mountain.

HIGHLIGHTS: Grand views from top of Coast Range.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Moderate.

PRECAUTIONS: Dirt roads sometimes closed by wet weather.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Mendocino National Forest, Stonyford

Ranger District. P.O. Box 160, Stonyford, CA 95979; tel. (916) 963-3128

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