Monday, April 30, 2012

Canoeing McCloud Reservoir, Shasta County, CA

Lake McCloud Reservoir Launch
Things have been pretty hectic of late. Work has been particularly onerous, and there have been a number of sources of stress that combined to create a nearly overwhelming need to disconnect. To go somewhere away from an appointment calendar, Outlook inbox and most of all, a cell phone. Kathy was to be out of town on business for a conference so I jumped at the chance to get away for a few days. The challenge in finding a location was to select a suitably remote location that was accessible this early in the year. Most everything above 3000' in the Sierra range is still inaccessible due to snow or subject to seasonal closure.  

After no small amount of wide-eyed staring at Google Earth I settled on McCloud Reservoir at the Southern end of the Cascade Range in Shasta County.

McCloud reservoir was created when PG&E erected an earthen dam over the McCloud river in 1965.  The lake sits at 3000' elevation about 15mi SE of Mt. Shasta. There are 10 miles of shoreline and the lake is about 520 surface acres. The lake is within the Shasta/Trinity National Forest, but most of the land around the lake itself is privately owned by the Hearst Corporation. In fact, William Randolph Hearst built a rather substantial getaway at the Northernmost end of the lake. Called "Wyntoon", it's the other Hearst Castle. Hearst lived here for most of the early part of WWII as he feared the Japanese would target his San Simeon home if they attacked the Western US. The structure was designed by famed San Francisco Architect Julia Morgan who also designed the more widely known Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

The McCloud river which feeds the lake offers excellent whitewater kayaking in the class III-IV range. The "lower" McCloud river (below the dam) is one of the most legendary trout fisheries in California. The lake itself is home to Rainbow and Brown Trout often taken well in excess of 18". Though my efforts didn't yield  anything in the trophy range, I was able to catch 5 nice sized wild Rainbow trout without really having any idea how to properly fish a lake such as this.

I set out from Mountain View early (4am) on a Friday Morning and headed north. I reached the town of McCloud in about 5-3/4 hrs and made the short trip south from town to the lake and I was loaded up and on the water by  11:30am. The view looking north from McCloud Valley.

Dude! That's a friggin Volcano!
I paddled around a bit looking for places to camp that I had spied on Google Earth but eventually settled at the end of the Star City Creek arm of the lake. There is a USFS primitive camping area there (no established sites, no permanent fire rings, no water, no toilets). Use of the shoreline below the high water mark is permitted and I did find other places one could camp around the lake but the breeze was beginning to kick up and frankly, I was tired so that was the place. I got a bit of bad info from the Ranger office that indicated that the campsite was inside a gate belonging to Hearst. It turns out that it is just outside and I could in fact have driven to the site....oh well. It's still pretty darned remote and I only saw 4 other folks all weekend and most of them were just fishing and left after a few hrs. My campsite had a fantastic view of the Star City Creek arm of the lake and the creek outlet for which it is named.

Star City Creek entering Lake McCloud

The lake level rose quite a bit during my stay. The gravel bar shown above on Friday was all but gone on Sunday morning when I left. The lake level came up roughly 2.5' in just 2.5 days!

The remote nature of the area combined with the vast expanse of private property means that hunting pressure is minimal. The local deer apparently are aware of this and felt no fear at all of walking though the campground. Being quiet and very still allowed me to take a few photos of the girls as they passed within 10' of me and my tent.

I saw quite a fair bit of other wildlife as well including Osprey, Bald Eagles, Canadian Geese, more Common Merganser than I could possibly count and judging by the prints in the moist ground beneath the tree where I hung my least one very large Black Bear. Thanks to a deftly applied PCT style Bear Hang, he/she didn't get my grub and never came near my tent.

I did a bit of walking around on the second afternoon when the wind came up again and found some interesting things to shoot. The photo below supports the assertion that there is little, if anything that mankind can do that the power of nature cannot overcome.

An interesting blossom. I've no idea what it is. If you know, please leave a comment.

A few photos from the lake taken while fishing. I didn't take any photos of the fish because I didn't want to get trout slime on my camera.

I had to cut my trip short by a day because my brand new MSR water filter/pump broke and I didn't bring enough fuel to boil water and still have enough to cook. I'll be making a trip to REI to exchange that soon.

On my last night, I sat and sipped from a flask of scotch and watched the fire die down. I then began to miss Kathy quite a bit and as I reflected on the trip I realized that my stress meter had been well and truly reset.

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  1. Beautiful scenery. Sounds like a great trip!

    That flower is from a Pacific Dogwood tree. The pedals turn from green to a brilliant shade of white when they are in full bloom (you probably were a week early on that I'd guess). One of my favorite subjects to photograph in the Spring.

  2. Great story - especially for city/town dwellers...Thanks for taking the time to share. Beautiful area, but don't think I would want to be there by myself.....

  3. McCloud is in Siskiyou County, Ca. Not Shasta County.