Photo: Gregory McDonald
Via West County Explorers Club: I first spotted the California Backcountry Discovery Trail a couple of years ago as a yellow highlighted route on my Mendocino National Forest map. The map gave a bit of its history but offered no clues as to the 17 numbered "Discovery Points" along its length.
Here's the history: in the 1960s 4-wheel-drive enthusiasts had the dream of creating a jeep trail that would traverse the length of the state from Mexico to Oregon. By the mid-90s the government approved it and established the California Backcountry Discovery Trail system. Today over 600 miles of trails are designated as part of that system.
Look online though and information about the CBDT is spotty. I called the Ranger's Station in Upper Lake and they faxed me some mid-90s-era brochures. The "Discovery Points" were mostly things like campsites and trail heads but, interestingly, a hang glider port was also listed.
We planned a week-long trip along CBDT through the Mendocino National Forest and the Six Rivers National Forest, a 235-mile route past Ruth Lake and ending on a 35-mile-long, 5,000-ft.-high ridge called Southfork Mountain. This was some of the least visited wilderness in the state, an area more known for its bigfoot sightings than anything else.
This past September Natalie, Greg, and I set off for a week to follow the trail.
Natalie outside the Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake. Photo: Nik Schulz
The trail starts in Upper Lake, just north of Clear Lake, a town that still has its share of mid-century buildings from the mid 19th century, that is. If you're ever there, the Blue Wing Saloon is a good place to have lunch. The place looks like its been mildly updated but still retains its original charm.
The Blue Wing Saloon and Cafe. Photo: Nik Schulz
We didn't have time for lunch though. Time was getting on and we wanted to be at camp before dark.
Greg and me in front of the town clock. Photo: Natalie Menacho
Stopping to air down the tires on Elk Mountain Road (Forest Road M1). Photo: Natalie Menacho
After about 30 miles we turned along the grass-strip runway at Lake Pilsbury in Potter Valley. (Yes, you could actually land a plane there.) The water level at the lake was way down but we drove to the end of the road and spotted a herd of rutting elk along the shore.
We pulled out the camp chairs to watch the elk for a while and contemplated where to pitch our tents when a forest ranger drove up. After some friendly chit-chat he asked if we knew that we weren't allowed to camp where we were.
The campgrounds were all crowded and full so we decided to keep following the trail into the hills up Boardman Ridge.
Out came the map to find a new spot. Photo: Natalie Menacho
We found a nice spot just off the M1, pitched the tents, and Natalie made a delicious dinner of risotto, home-grown tomatoes, and smoked trout. She opened the cans of trout, tossed them into the risotto, and was about to pour the fishy oil on the ground when Greg and I jumped to the edge of our seats, "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! We'll take that."
With two cans of fish oil on the ground outside of our tents, I'm sure we would have had every animal on the mountain coming into our camp linking their chops and looking for leftovers. For all we knew they were hanging out half a mile away, where we ended up emptying the cans.
After a while we went to bed. It was the opening of deer season the next day. Still we were surprised to hear traffic was rumbling up the M1 until well after midnight.
Our camp on Boardman Ridge. Photo: Gregory McDonald
Upper Lake to Boardman Ridge: 35 miles
Travel time: 2 hours, 11 minutes
Trail difficulty: 2 of 10
CBDT, Part 1: Lake Pillsbury
CBDT, Part 2: Dead Deer, Live Deer, Eel River Work Station
CBDT, Part 3: What’s up Watts Lake?
CBDT, Part 4: Ruth Lake, Jewel of the Middle of Nowhere
CBDT, Part 5: Bear Den, Coyote Tracks, Camp Site
CBDT, Part 6: Best Campsite Ever
CBDT, Part 7: Obviously Not Bigfoot