July 3-5: Union Creek-Sunrise Basin Loop

Keeping with my theme of backpacking in every month of the year, I spent 4th of July weekend backpacking in the Trinity Alps with my husband and my parents. We hiked a pretty loop of approximately 25 miles, beginning and ending at Union Creek trailhead. I selected this route partly because I wanted to see Union Creek and partly because this is a less-traveled area of the Trinities, and thus an appealing destination for a holiday weekend.

Day 1: Union Creek trailhead to Dorleska Mine. We started hiking early to beat the heat but we were soon overwhelmed by the sky-high humidity. The Union Creek trail begins with a climb through manzanita. The trail soon ducks under the cover of large conifers, but there is a near-constant uphill grade for the first few miles, after which there is a mild descent to a crossing of Union Creek.

We kept a good pace and stopped a few times to rest, eat lunch, and refill our water supplies. The trail crossed three streams where water was plentiful. We received a few sprinkles throughout the day, which did nothing to ease the humidity, but at least the cloud cover helped to ease the heat.

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Meadow near the Union Creek-Bullard Basin trail intersection.

There were three cars at the trailhead when we arrived, but we didn’t see another person on the trail until we reached the fork to Bullard’s Basin, approximately 5 miles in. Here we encountered a couple on a day hike from Big Flat to Union Creek. They were surprised to see us, having so far seen no one on the trail except a large bear near Yellow Rose Mine.

We left the Union Creek trail and began the climb to Bullard’s Basin. The trail climbed steeply at times, but we managed to reach the basin in good time. My itinerary for the trip included spending the first night here by the creek, but we weren’t excited about the small campsite and decided to press on. After refilling our water supplies we began the steep ascent to Dorleska Mine.

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Rusty ruins at Dorleska Mine.

There is a pond just above the old mine, and we set up camp there in an established campsite in the cluster of pines on the far side of the pond. Despite the steep climb and the long hike I felt good that night, and was excited to see what the next day would bring.

Day 2: Dorleska Mine to Lander’s Lake intersection. The next morning we were up and hiking by 8:30 – an early start for this group. The hike began with a very steep climb to the top of the pass by Preacher’s Peak. From the top of the ridge we could see serrated Sawtooth Ridge, Caribou Mountain, Josephine Lake, and the tip of Sawtooth Mountain peaking over the ridge. After resting, snacking, and enjoying the view we followed the trail down to its junction with the Yellow Rose Trail. At the fork we swung left and continued on the Yellow Rose Trail, eventually climbing to the headwaters of Gullick Creek, where we stopped for lunch.

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View from Yellow Rose Trail.

On a topo map the Yellow Rose Trail appears to follow a contour line. Unfortunately, this is not an accurate depiction of the elevation gain on this section of trail. The trail climbed almost continuously, often very steeply, and was not the easy stroll that the map would have you believe.

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Climbing on the Yellow Rose Trail.

When we arrived at the headwaters of Gullick Creek, however, we were quickly refreshed by the view. We ate lunch and refilled our water supplies, then made the steep climb to the top of the pass. We initially lost the trail, but soon picked it up again with the help of a few small ducks. We climbed past gorgeous wildflower patches and paused frequently for photos and to catch our breath.

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Looking back down Gullick Creek basin, Caribou Mountain in background.
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Yellow lupine near the pass.

At last we reached the pass and began to descend into Sunrise Basin. We lost the trail immediately and did not recover it for some time. Luckily the route was obvious: just head downhill! With assistance from a GPS app on my phone and a few ducks scattered here and there we were able to roughly follow the trail’s route, which made the hiking slightly easier than going cross country would have been.

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Looking down into Sunrise Basin.

When we hit the Sunrise Basin-Lander’s Lake trail junction my parents decided to take advantage of a creek-side campsite, while my husband and I elected to continue on to Lander’s Lake. We planned a rendezvous for the next morning and struck out. Shortly after resuming the hike we could hear thunder in the distance and could see dark thunderheads building in exactly the direction we were heading. The thunder continued as we hiked up to Lander’s Lake.

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Small meadow on the way to Lander’s Lake. Three deer were grazing here when we arrived. We later back-tracked and camped on the far edge of this meadow.

I had visited Lander’s Lake once before, two years ago on a day hike from Mumford Meadow. I was aware of three campsites at the lake; when we arrived we found all of them full. My husband volunteered to scout around for a place where we could set up camp, while I sat down to rest.

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Thunderheads continued to build while my husband scouted for a campsite.

The thunder continued, growing louder and more frequent, and soon it was coming from directly overhead, which made me nervous. My husband returned without having found a suitable site, so after a quick discussion we agreed to hike back down to the meadow at the fork in the Lander’s Lake trail and camp there. We both preferred to camp away from other people, and we also wanted to get to lower elevation and a less exposed area.

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Lander’s Lake – eerie under thunderheads.

Rain began to fall as we started to make our way back down the trail. Huge drops pelted us, and we stopped to pull on our rain jackets. We were soaked by the time we made it back to the meadow. I was tired and hungry and getting cold, and the combination made me grumpy as we struggled to set up the tent in heavy rain. We managed to get the tent up without getting the inside soaked, and we quickly put our things inside.

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Shelter from the storm.

I’m still taking massive quantities of antibiotics and supplements for treatment of Lyme disease, and as a result I’m obligated to eat on a schedule so that I can take my medications on time and in the proper order (some on a full stomach, some on an empty stomach, some two hours after others, etc). To facilitate this complicated schedule I keep each serving of medication separated in labelled plastic bags, and I keep my food and medication for each day organized in larger ziplock bags. That evening I was behind schedule due to our unexpected detour back down the trail, so it was important that I eat and take my “dinner pills” as soon as possible.

After the chores were finished we set up our beds and soon fell asleep. I woke after a brief nap. It was still light, and by now the rain had stopped. Two hours after dinner I took my “empty stomach pills,” and then laid down for the night.

Day 3: Lander’s Lake intersection to Union Creek trailhead. We woke well before sun-up to flashes of lightening and the rumbling of distant thunder. I counted 13 seconds between the flash and the rumble, and this count soon increased to 25 seconds. The storm was moving away from us. I took my “first thing in the morning on an empty stomach pill” and soon fell back asleep. My husband, on the other hand, got up and began making his morning coffee and his breakfast.

I emerged from the tent sometime later and ate breakfast and swallowed more medication, and then we disassembled the tent and hung the fly and the footprint to dry. The sun was still muffled behind dark clouds, but a strong breeze helped dry out our gear. We packed everything up and walked to the appointed meeting spot (the other side of the meadow), arriving just a few minutes after my parents.

We resumed our loop and quickly hiked to the pass between the Lander’s and Union Creek watersheds. The view into Union Creek Basin was beautiful, and it got better and better as we descended to the valley floor. The valley was sparkling with wildflowers of all colors. I took photo after photo as we hiked down the valley.

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Upper Union Creek basin.

When I planned this trip I budgeted four days to complete the loop. I didn’t know how I would handle the longer distance or the challenge of ascending three passes. Sunday was supposed to be a short day – we were scheduled to camp at the site where we ate lunch: a nice little campsite where the trail to Lion Lake crosses Union Creek. But after lunch we all wanted to keep hiking, so we pressed on and soon found our way back to the Bullard’s Basin fork, where we had split from the Union Creek trail two days before.

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Hiking down Union Creek basin.

On our hike up Union Creek we had noted several potential campsites where we could stay on the hike out if we were too tired to continue all the way to the trailhead. We stopped and appraised a few of these sites, but ultimately decided to keep going and finish the hike one day early. I felt sad about leaving the wilderness early, but I also felt like our trip was finished – and I didn’t feel ready to stop hiking for the day! I was immensely impressed with myself for completing the hike ahead of schedule, for doing so well, and for feeling so strong.

It was a long hike back to the car but we made it, and though I was tired I never felt sick. Is this it? I wondered. Am I finally healed? Except for the persistent sore throat, I have not experienced any lingering symptoms since starting the medication for Bartonella at the end of April. In that time I’ve completed three challenging multi-day hikes. I remind myself that chronically ill people cannot do this kind of hiking. Am I healed?

I’m getting stronger and stronger, and feeling better and better. I’m planning an epic Trinity Alps trek for Labor Day weekend, and I’m confident that I can complete it!

Birds observed:

  1. Green-tailed Towhee
  2. Dark-eyed Junco
  3. Pileated Woodpecker
  4. Hermit Thrush
  5. Brown Creeper
  6. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  7. Steller’s Jay
  8. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  9. Mountain Chickadee
  10. Townsend’s Solitaire
  11. White-headed Woodpecker
  12. Western Wood-pewee
  13. Lazuli Bunting
  14. Osprey
  15. Yellow Warbler
  16. American Robin
  17. Northern Flicker
  18. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  19. Western Tanager
  20. Rufous Hummingbird
  21. Fox Sparrow
  22. Vaux’s Swift
  23. Olive-sided Flycatcher
  24. Purple Finch
  25. Cassin’s Vireo
  26. MacGillivray’s Warbler
  27. Clark’s Nutcracker
  28. Brewer’s Blackbird
  29. American Dipper
  30. Lincoln’s Sparrow

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