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Backpacker Magazine – September 2010

Rip & Go: Stuart Fork to Alpine Lake -Trinity Alps, CA

Discover the inner sanctum of California's second largest wilderness.

by: Devon Taylor, Mapped by Leon Nelson

Stuart Fork gurgles over a granite streambed (Ed Callaert)
Stuart Fork gurgles over a granite streambed (Ed Callaert)
Pale granite batholith peaks in the White Trinities (Thomas Hallstein)
Pale granite batholith peaks in the White Trinities (Thomas Hallstein)

Download a printable version of this entire trip right here.
Key Skill: Basic Scrambling
Whether hiking the boulder-strewn shores of Alpine Lake or blazing off-trail to Smith Lake (see Locals Know, below), you’ll need to put down your poles and use your hands to climb over blocks of granite and slabby slopes. Here’s how to do it safely and efficiently.

A. Balance Maintain three points of contact on the rock, and move only one limb at a time.

B. Hands With your weight squarely over your feet, scan for handholds shoulder height and higher. Reach a stretch of flatter terrain? Hold your arms out for balance.

C. Rock Test hand- and footholds with a fraction of your weight before committing your entire mass.

D. Pack Arrange your load so heavy items are on bottom and close to your back—to lower your center of gravity and keep the pack from pulling you backward.

E. Focus On the steepest pitches, keep your attention on the rock—and your stable hand and foot placements. Gripped? Stand or sit in a secure spot and take three deep breaths.

See This
Seabed to mountain top
The Trinity Alps Wilderness can be divided into three regions: Green, Red, and White. The White Trinities, in which this trail is located, are known for pale granite batholith peaks. These spires originated from ancient offshore sediments uplifted on a head of magma, and folded in with the indigenous and granite bedrock deep underground. Red alps, in the southeast, contain iron-rich rock, and the Greens are the lower, forested peaks in the western reaches.

Locals Know
Want to really get away from it all? Smith Lake, with no trail access, affords a high and quiet haven in a range already known for solitude. Between the slow and tricky cross-country travel, and the time you’ll want to spend exploring Smith, allow all day for this 3.8-mile (round-trip) detour. Go north at the rock cairn on the Alpine Lake Trail, northeast of the lake, and bushwhack up the gully. Follow cairns north through the boulder field and emerge onto a granite slab at .5 mile. Aim for the saddle, cross a small, near-perennial snowfield, and begin a 1,000-foot descent to Smith Lake.

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