Wednesday, September 21, 2016


high point of my day

Seventy-five miles to the east, Mount Lassen rose in tiny blue splendor over the gray, smoggy haze of the North Valley.  By pivoting 180 degrees, I could make out a thin fogbank just off the California coast.  Lassen and the coast: two of my favorite and most inspirational places.  Standing atop Hull Mountain was sure to be the high point of my day.

Chatting with Jim, my new-to-me barber – I’m a relatively new resident of this town – he shared that growing up in Potter Valley, on hunting trips, a hike to the top of Hull Mountain made up for the fact that he rarely shot a buck.  “The view is 360 degrees of marvelous.”  He’d mentioned Lassen and the coast, but also talked about nearby Snow Mountain, highest point in the Coast Range and one of my dad’s favorite hikes; the Trinity Alps, due north; North and South Yolla Bolly Peaks, short of the Trinities and the place where, I imagine, Dad hikes toward eternity; and a number of other sites and promontories more or less meaningful to a kid who grew up in Chico. 

My bucket list had received yet another an addition.

Hull Mountain (6837’) is located near the Lake and Mendocino County line, twelve rocky miles north of the Lake Pillsbury airstrip at Gravelly Valley.  The closest pavement is at Lake Pillsbury, but getting to that tarmac involves twenty or so miles of graded gravel.  Don’t bring the Lexus.  No longer owning a dual-sport, and never quite competent enough on the one for my own comfort, Edward and I embarked on this journey in the trusty Nissan Frontier, although I’m sure this would be an adventuresome blast on a KLR or like motorbike.

As Mendocino Forest Road 1 ascends from the Pillsbury basin, we wind from oak woodlands trough a pine and fir belt.  Along the way, views unfold as the road zigzags in and out of creek drainages and across the spine of Coast Range.

Various campsites – I assume frequented by hunters – offer places to pause and take in the view.  As Pillsbury shrinks in the distance, the far rim of Clear Lake becomes visible on the horizon.

The canyons are deep and the ridges to the west seem infinite.  Distant trails and tracks make me wonder how you get to them and what you’d find if you took ‘em.  There is a nicely maintained, but strenuous trail from near the lake to the summit of Hull Mountain.  I used a knee-in-line-for-replacement excuse not to hike, thus I drove.

At one sweeping turn, a view to the immediate east-southeast affords a look at Snow Mountain.  Dad was about my age – maybe a little younger – when he and his hiking buddy first climbed it.  It became an annual trip for them and his knees were in far worse shape than mine.

Almost twelve miles to the tenth from the landing strip, a far more challenging road hangs a tight right and bumps, jostles and snakes to Hull’s summit.  The main road, M-1, would carry us to Windy Gap and the trailhead to the Yuki Wilderness and then, twenty miles on, to Mendocino Pass.

I parked at the base of the Jeep road and pretended I was Dad, even if it was only a few hundred yards to the top.

Several routes wind toward the summit.  Switch-backing from where I’d parked, I chose the most moderate route, one which circled around the east face of the mountain.  Those infinite canyons and ridges to the west?  They’re on the east side too.  Were one to draw a straight line across the Coast Range from the Sacramento Valley to the Pacific, this mountain would be almost mid way.

Near the top, the tangle of roads end.  A beaten and derelict steel stairway leads to foundational remains of what once was a fire lookout tower.  At the top of those stairs I am reminded that fire lookouts always have fabulous views.

Barber Jim was right.  There was Lassen.  Opposite, the coast with a rim of melting fog off shore. 

To the south: Lake Pillsbury and a bit more of Clear Lake – and Mount Konocti, sacred for centuries to the local Xa-Ben-Na-Po Band of Pomo Indians and one of the more impressive landmarks in Lake County.  North, indeed were the Yolla Bollys, but it was too hazy this day to make out the Trinities. 

Stumbling around up there, Edward and I found remnants of that old fire tower as well as myriad shell casings from those who likely collectively bagged more than a few nice sized bucks.  Unfortunately, the USGS benchmark for Hull Mountain had been purloined as a souvenir for somebody’s bookshelf.  Damn them.

Enjoying the clear freshness of the late September alpine air, we came across an area denizen sunning peacefully in a crevasse.   

I reined Edward close knowing that the nearest veterinarian would be three-and-a-half torturous hours away.  We hiked back down to the truck extra alert for any of this critter’s cousins.


Notes:  Here’s a link to an interesting blog highlighting special places in Northern California.  In this post, the author has taken that trail from down below to the summit of Hull Mountain, encountering some snow along the way.  Great commentary and a cool narrative video which proves to be much better than the photos I was able to grab.

“Arturo’s been bad.”  There is limited (read: no) cell phone coverage in many reaches of the Coast Range.  Back down the road toward Potter Valley, I checked my messages, finding one.  A frustrated young voice reported:  “Hello Mr. (garbled).  I will be calling you on your other line to discuss with you Arturo’s bad behavior today in school. (click)  I don’t have an Arturo, but as a former school principal I’ve known several “Arturos.”  I thought about returning the young vice principal’s call to say, “Before you lower the boom on his dad, think of something positive about Arturo that you can share.  It’ll make things go easier for you.”  But I didn’t.


Today’s Route:  Lake Pillsbury may be accessed by following the signs from Upper Lake on CA 20 or through Potter Valley turning right at the store.  From Lake Pillsbury, travel north and then west through Gravelly Valley and the airstrip on forest road M-6.  About four miles east, turn left at the junction of M-1 continuing for about eight miles.  Return:  Retrace, or continue north on M-1 past the Yuki Wilderness Area Trailhead, Monkey Rock and Bald Mountain to the junction of FR 7 at Mendocino Pass.  From there, east will take you to Elk Creek and Willows (allow three hours); or west to Covelo, then south on CA 162 to US 101 north of Willits.

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Church of the Open Road Press

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