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Mendocino National Forest

February 11th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

On 2010-02-08, Jason and I headed out from San Francisco to the Mendocino National Forest with a idea of a few starting points for hikes derived from Google Maps. We arrived at the ranger station in Upper Lake early in the day and picked up a 3 different maps of the area with one of the maps containing an overview and a detail view of Lake Pillsbury. In Carnonymous, we climbed to nearly the top of route 301 through the forest and began our journey along what we thought was trail 85411 just South of Penny Pines.


We trekked across the landscape and had many delicious views as we trekked along the ridge-top. The area was littered with fallen tree tops from a storm a week ago and all of the local height maxima were covered with snow. I would estimate about 30-45% of all of the trees along the trail were missing the top 20% of the tree which meant that the trail required us to go off-trail to continue much of the time. One of those times we climbed to the snow covered top of the highest ridge in the area which offered a beautiful view of Snow Mountain (which currently has no trails!) and other unidentified ridges.

We rejoined the trail on the other side of the hill and walked along the path to a larger fire trail. As we were looking at a map to figure out where we were, some rangers showed up, warned us of the coming storm and offered a ride off the ridge. We declined and continued walking along the ridge. Within 15 minutes, the weather turned to snow and we decided to walk back toward Carnonymous. After a few miles walking along the fire trail and road we reached our conveyance and decided to go the apparently short distance to Lake Pillsbury.


We find a resort on Lake Pillsbury, park, and explore the resort. We head back to the main lodge after exploring and the curator greets us. He tells us the resort is closed and we cannot stay the night. We ask about the two routes out from Lake Pillsbury and he suggests heading West toward Potter Valley. He asks pointedly, “Do you have front wheel drive?”, which we do, and he warns that some of the trail has some muddy parts with a few deep pits.

We depart from the resort a little before dusk and head West for Potter Valley first crossing an open gate after the bridge near the resort onto an unpaved road. After a few minutes of travel we encounter our first obstacle, a  dip about 20 feet in length and 3 feet in height in the trail. We crossed the dip at appropriate rate and continued on our journey. The next obstacle was a short patch of mud in the trail. With the front wheel drive, we powered through the mud trap and continued on the trail. As we pressed forward, the dips became deeper, the mud traps became longer, and the mud started appearing in the dips.

At this point, I realized we were in a console game.


Each trap was harder than the last all accompanied by a sudden death gully drop of a few hundred feet on the right hand side of the paath. Each dip was deeper and more likely to trap Carnonymous than the last. In the middle of our journey, we encountered two things of note — a ‘road is close in one mile’ sign and a very long mud trap. The sign was foreboding and marked the midpoint of our journey at around 5 or 6 miles. Our first boss-fight, the mud trap, was treacherous and long. We got out of Carnonymous and examined the path. After we determined the optimal path, Jason attempted to navigate the path and lost control at the mid-point. Letting go of the wheel, we slid up and back and the wheels and steering column righted quickly and we passed our first boss fight. One mile later, we passed some concrete roadblocks on the left side of the road and were relieved that the road was not in fact closed. Why was the closed sign still up?

As we proceeded, the dips and mud traps continued to gradually become more difficult. We grew adept at scanning the territory on foot and determining the optimal path through each trap until we came upon our final boss fight — a 300 foot all-mud path buttressed on the close side by a large rock and the far side by a boulder.


We exited Carnonymous, moved the first rock out of the way, and planned our path. We laid branches and shrubs in the deepest parts of the mud and pushed forward. After twenty minutes of planning and preparation, we pushed through the final boss fight, went past and open gate, and found our rejoined paved road after twelve miles to discover our path was called ‘Closed Road.’

We decided the Mendocino National Forest was not for us and secured lodging close to Fort Bragg.

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