Bay Tree Village, Ishi Wilderness,

Foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Northern California

June 24-29th, 2010


It was quite a trip.

The day started early on Tuesday, June 24th, when I left for the airport about 5:30 A.M. to make sure I’d get there in plenty of time.  I worry about getting stuck in traffic since I have to traverse the entire Twin Cities to get to where I park.  And with construction, better safe than sorry.  I arrived at the “park and ride”, and was shuttled to the airport and got my bag checked.  Then I headed for security, and a long, long line.  It went slowly, but I knew I had plenty of time, and soon I was settled at my gate, waiting for the time to start loading.

The plane was on time, but fully loaded, not an empty seat, so it took quite a while since everyone was carrying close to the maximum size they could.  Eventually we got loaded, the plane took off, and it was a pleasant flight of about four hours to Sacramento.  I had an aisle seat, so I could stretch out a bit, and I read most of the way.

I was toward the back so it took a while to get off, but my friend Mike was there patiently waiting for me.  This was the second year I was doing something with Mike.  Last year, we went to Glass Mountain and to visit Virginia Pope Evans, who passed away last December before reaching her 103rd birthday.  Bless her heart, she was a very nice lady who was very kind to let me visit her four times over the years.

I was hungry so Mike took me to a Mexican restaurant, and I had a great chicken fajita.  From there, we headed to REI to buy some food for the trip.

We went to Mike’s house from there, and I got a little settled in their spare room.  When Mike’s wife, Lauri, got home, we went out to eat at a very nice Italian restaurant, and had a nice visit.  Mike and I had to leave for Redding pretty early in the morning, so that evening, I sorted out what to bring along for the three day trip, and what to leave.  I, of course, wasn’t thinking about stopping at my friend Bob’s house on the way back, so I didn’t bring the things along that I had planned to give him, they stayed forgotten at Mike's house.

In the morning, we headed off toward Redding, about 1 ½ hours north of Sacramento, and we met Richard at a restaurant for breakfast.  We talked over our plans, what gear we would need and what we could share, and just how much we could pack onto the little helicopter.

We decided we had a lot of gear, well over the approximately 30 pounds each we were aiming at, but we needed food, cooking utensils, water containers, tents, sleeping bags, clothes, cameras, Richard needed walking sticks, Mike wanted his metal detector, and then just all the miscellaneous cameras, etc.

Soon we headed into Redding toward the airport, and I started wondering what the heck I’d gotten myself into. I’d be heading off to a remote and desolate part of the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, dropped off for three days, and have no way of talking to anyone but my traveling buddies.

The pilot and owner of the helicopter’s name was Dave, and he had an interest in the Ishi Wilderness also, which was nice. He didn’t mind flying around a little more to try to see a couple places of interest. Flying in a helicopter, by the way, is not cheap.

Dave looked at our gear in the back of Mike’s truck and thought it looked like it was worth a try to get it all in, so we hauled it to the helicopter. The helicopter, by the way, is a Robinson, which is considerably smaller than most.  It’s the one that has the big bubble for viewing.  Four pretty good sized guys and gear was cozy, but he’d taken the doors off to give us a bit more room, and we were able to pack most away, hold some on our laps or at our feet.

With seatbelts and headsets on we were ready, and that, “Oh, my God, what have I gotten myself into??” hit me hard.  Here was this guy who had just had his 65th birthday a few days earlier heading off to an isolated site far from civilization with his nitro glycerin pills in his pocket acting like he was a young kid off exploring with his Boy Scout troop.  But it was exciting, and a challenge, probably one of the bigger self imposed challenges I had ever had.

So off we went in the desert heat, headed from Redding to an old Indian site called, “Bay Tree Village” next to Mill Creek, isolated deep in the heart of the Ishi Wilderness.

Without the doors on the little helicopter, it was loud and windy.  We flew at about 100 knots and had about 25 or 30 miles to go over brown grasses, deep ravines, and rocky fields.  Soon, the terrain started to become more rugged with deeper valleys, higher stone canyons, and less rolling hills.

Mill Creek and Deer Creek nearby were in the homeland of the Yahi Indians, Ishi’s tribe, and both Richard and Mike were familiar with the area, and were able to pick out landmarks on the way.  The pilot, Dave, suggested he land at our campsite, unload all the gear, and then take off again, since we would be considerably lighter.  The helicopter was extremely maneuverable, and with a few sharp turns, we landed on our little meadow near Mill Creek.

After throwing out the gear, we again took off to go a little way to a site to land near a cave on the creek.  Again, the helicopter landed in a small open space on a bit of an incline, and we headed toward the creek.  After a bit of a walk and climb down, we did reach the cave 




Soon, we departed and Dave dropped us back at our campsite, and he flew off, leaving us alone next to the roaring Mill Creek, an ancient Indian Village, and the summer’s insufferable heat.

I did have a lot of gear just to meet minimum comfort levels.  A small tent, a sleeping bag, a backpack with foods, water purifier, medicines, cameras, walkie-talkies, etc. and a small bag for minimal clothing. I had packed a long sleeved shirt and light coat, but never wore either of them, that’s about the only “over packing” I did.

Mike and I hadn’t brought pads for under the sleeping bag figuring we just wouldn’t have room, but Richard had brought a pad with no tent, only tarps and mosquito netting, so it pretty well evened out for weight and bulk.

We needed to find a place in the shade to camp because the sun from the heat of the day was intolerable, so we headed toward a grove of oaks not far away.  About 10 yards towards it, I looked down and saw a large pile of relatively fresh bear scat!  Ah, wilderness!

The campsite was cooler because of the shade, there was very little vegetation except for some poison oak in various places, and it was relatively level.  There were rocks, large and small all around, so we each searched for a place to set up our own little sites.  Unfortunately, you can’t get away from all the rocks, some deeply imbedded in the ground, so we all did the best we could, and settled in.

Our next quest was to get water.  We were a couple hundred yards from access to Mill Creek. Up by us, it was a very steep embankment down to the creek pretty much impassable. But the walk to the creek via Bay Tree Village was not difficult at all except for the stickers in the meadow that clung to our clothing and socks. Foxtails and Queen Anne’s Lace were the worst.

The creek was very high, and still rising slightly.  The water is runoff from Mount Lassen (pronounced LASS-in, not LOSS-in as I want to do), and it was quite milky in color after picking up a lot of sediment on the way down the mountain.  Both Richard and I had bought water filters along while Mike preferred to take his chances with drinking right from the stream.  The trouble was that the filter clogged quite frequently due to all of the sediment.

We found a place to have a nice small fire both for cooking and for light at night, and got settled in. It was early afternoon, but really a bit too hot to do much exploring.  We did climb a hill to get our bearings on where both a couple of caves were located, a couple of our intended destinations.  We headed back to Bay Tree Village and looked over the site.  Mike found a few indentations that looked to him like a small hut would have been there, and there were the rock ruins of a small foundation from a man name Blunkall who homesteaded the area for a few years.

That evening, we started the camp stove, heated some water, and cooked our dehydrated food packets we'd gotten at REI.  They really are amazingly tasty considering all you have to do is to add hot water, stir, and wait about 10 minutes.  We had our water, and we had brought in some wine in a box, so we cooled the plastic bag in the creek, and had a nice after dinner drink.

We talked that evening about heading to one of the caves in morning.  This cave had been excavated in the 1970's, and had been inhabited for thousands of years.


Soon, the sun went down, and it cooled off a bit.  We talked more, then, as the moon was rising, we turned in for the night.


Click here for a tour of our campsite.



It was difficult to get comfortable.  First, the ground was rock hard.  Second, the sleeping bag was warm.  You could either be covered up and hot, or uncovered and cool.  I chose the latter for the majority of the fitful night.  I just couldn't get comfortable.  I woke early and figured I might as well get up. It was just before 5 A.M., so I got up, quietly put some water on to boil, and eventually had a nice cup of instant coffee while Richard and Mike slept.

We ate a very light breakfast, just a couple of Breakfast Bars with a cup of coffee.

Soon, we got organized and headed off to our first big hike. Unfortunately, since we were in the bottom of the valley, most of the way was up.

Have I mentioned poison oak?  It was literally everywhere.   It's a plant that likes sun, shade, high altitude, low altitude, whatever.  It's a very aggressive plant that can grow almost everywhere, and it can be taller than you, or just right on the ground.  I had purchased some "Poison Oak Protectant", a lotion to put on prior to exposure, so both Richard and I used this.  Unfortunately, it didn't help Richard, and he got it on his arms anyway.  Some of the poison oak was turning a pretty autumn red  color.

 The terrain was not terribly difficult, but deep ravines periodically, and large patches of brush and poison oak often detoured us from going on a straighter route.  Mike, being the younger and fitter of the trio, often went ahead to check out the best route. We continued to climb, sometimes zigzagging our way to make it easier to climb, and the creek below got littler and littler.  Even early in the morning, though, we could feel the heat.

We kept climbing higher and higher trying to find a way across a deep ravine to get to the area where there was access to Dead Man's Cave.  Again, Mike went ahead to look for way, and while he was gone, I noticed Richard was really getting tired, and I was a little tired myself.  Richard said he wasn't sure how much further we should go before we turned back toward camp. 

I had brought three small Motorola Walkie Talkies, and we each had one.  Mike called us and said he had found a way across the ravine.  Richard and I quickly discussed how much further we wanted to go, and decided that Mike, with the Walkie Talkie would be better off going by himself.  Mike is a very independent guy, and fully capable, so we really didn't worry much about leaving him.  We told him to go ahead, and we'd head back, and we could keep in touch via the radios.

Mike headed to the cave, we started back toward camp.  We had gone a ways, and were just coming out of a small ravine to a flatter area when I noticed the grass moving ahead of me, and the movement coming toward me.  I immediately thought "Rattlesnake" just as I heard the rattles starting.  I would judge that it was about four feet long, and it was perhaps 8-10 feet in front of me on the path.  I was thinking that I needed to get my walking stick in front of me, but just then the snake veered off the path to my right, rattling the entire time.  It was as good an encounter with a rattlesnake as one could have.  Richard was behind me, so he didn't see it, only heard it. 

Click here for VIDEO of Dead Man's Cave from the helicopter.

My walking stick had an interesting story in itself.  While Richard was looking around Bay Tree Village, he went a bit further the opposite direction of our camp, and ran across a lot of camping gear.  There were shoes, walking poles, ropes, a few miscellaneous things, and they looked to Mike to be about 10 years old based on their style.  I had read accounts of people totally abandoning their gear when they got so spooked by the isolation of where they were that they just left everything so they could get out of there quickly.  Another possibility was that they dropped everything extra they could to reduce the weight they were carrying.  Or maybe they set it down thinking they could easily come back for it, and couldn't find it again.  We will never know.  Regardless, the two aluminum poles were quite useful; Mike used one and I used the other, while Richard had two of his own.

We slowly worked our way back toward camp as the day got even warmer. By the time we got to camp, it was probably in the 90's.  Amazingly the little radios worked great, and Mike called us when he got into the cave, and we could have no trouble hearing him nor he us.  He told us it was good thing we had turned back, because it was quite rough with lots of steep climbing, and he had to use his rope to get down to the cave.  That made us feel better that we had made the right decision.  


So Richard and I arrived back at camp, tired and sweaty, and Richard decided to go down to the creek and sit with his feet in the cold stream while I put on shorts and my coolest shirt and just lay on the sleeping bag outside the tent.  The heat was similar to that coming out an oven door, wafting over me but not providing any relief.  I drank and drank the water, pretty much unable to quench my thirst.  Mike called in periodically from the cave, and soon said he was heading directly back, that he was pretty tired.  Richard soon came back to camp and lay on his sleeping bag, pretty well exhausted from the day's activities.  Amazingly, it was not yet noon.  

I decided to make a couple of the dehydrated meals for lunch so I boiled some water, and mixed up a couple packets.  I figured we'd want to let it cool a while anyway, since none of us would want to eat a very hot meal in this stifling heat.

Soon Mike came into camp looking pretty exhausted too, and lay down to just relax and get his boots off.  We talked about the cave, and how old it was, how the people using it would have reached it, and so on.  Both Richard's and Mike's knowledge of this area is amazing.

We didn't do much most of the afternoon.  Mike decided to try a little fishing in the murky rapidly running creek, and I went to filter more water.  It wasn't easy, since the filter kept plugging with the sediment.

For the evening meal, we had a few glasses of wine cooled in the stream, and more dehydrated meals.  We started a small fire, and went over to the Bay Tree Village site to see if there were any signs of any projectile points or other habitation.  The stickers were everywhere, and loved my shoestrings, socks, and the bottoms of my jeans.

Richard found a large rock that had kind of an arrow point shape, so we kidded around a bit with it.  Mike is trying to be a mega-flintknapper.

Soon it was dark.  We talked around the fire, hoping it would start to cool off.  It really didn't.

The night was again uncomfortable.  There's just no good way to get comfortable with a bed of hard soil and rock and a warm, warm night.  Be that as it may, we all slept some, and both Mike and Richard said they slept much better than the previous night.

I was the first to arise in the morning again, and I was quiet around the campsite until it started to get brighter.  Then I started making some noise to awake the others so we could get an early start on our next venture, a trip to "Storm Cave", which had been named by Mike and another fellow, Andy, from a trip to the area last October.  They had not had a lot of time to look around because a storm was moving in, hence the name. (STORM CAVE IS LOCATED JUST AT THE BASE OF THE LARGE ROCK FORMATION TO THE LEFT OF THE PICTURE WHERE RICHARD IS HOLDING HIS HAT.)

Storm Cave was again quite a climb via the brambles and thickets and deep ravines.  We tried to avoid the poison oak as much as we could but in some places, we just had to go through it and try to touch it as little as possible.  

After much climbing, we reached the summit where the cave was, and with Mike leading, hacking a path through the brush, we finally got to the entrance of the cave.  Using the word "cave" probably is a bit misleading because it really does not go back very far, it's more of a large overhang with a very large entrance.  When you are in the back of it, though, you are protected from the elements, and it does make a wonderful shelter.  There were many signs of human habitation in the cave, and we stayed perhaps an hour, looking around and resting from the heat and exertion.  Soon, Richard and I decided to head on back to camp while Mike wanted to explore more possible caves in that same large rock formation.  We headed down and looked for the best terrain to avoid and steep drop offs or dead ends.  

This country is amazing.  The volcanic activities over the eons has really created some interesting landscapes.

After about an hour or hour and a half, Richard and I were back at camp.  Mike had done some exploring without us, but caught up to us, so we all got back to camp at the same time.  Then it was exhaustion time.  Everyone laid down, and Mike and Richard took naps.  

I rested, and then figured I'd might as well starting packing up my stuff for the ride back to Redding.  I prepared our last dehydrated meals, and we soon started packing for our trip out. We were being picked up by a different pilot than dropped us off, and were scheduled for 2:00 P.M. or a little after.


2:00 came and went, but at about 2:25, we heard a helicopter and walked out of the shade to our gear in the Bay Tree Village meadow.  However, the helicopter kept going.  We waited.  And waited.  After about 10 minutes, Mike decided to run up a large hill so he could see more of the terrain.  I gave him a radio, and off he went without any gear.  After about 10 minutes, Mike called on the radio to say that he could see the helicopter and it had landed on a clearing about a 1/4 mile from us.  He got the pilot's attention, and headed down to the helicopter to tell the pilot where to fly to pick us up.  

When we got all our gear stowed in the helicopter, I asked the pilot how warm it was.  He said the thermometer said 112 degrees, but it was probably closer to 109.  

We had three of the four doors on for the trip back, so it was a little more crowded and a little less windy.  It as also very warm.


We flew down the Mill Creek a few miles before turning around to head to Redding, and we could spot some of the more obvious landmarks.  About 30 minutes later, we landed at Redding, settled our account, and were ready to hit the road back toward Sacramento.  It was about 4:00 on a hot Sunday afternoon.

Richard drove separately, since he was heading south to his brother's house later in the day, so Mike and I headed to Bob and Sara's house in Bob's house for a late dinner.  We got there about 7:00 and Richard arrived about 15 minutes later.

Sara had prepared a wonderful meal of steak, sweet potato fries, fresh asparagus, and much more, and it tasted wonderful!  Not only that, it was fun to see Bob and Sara and the three kids who had grown so much in the year since I was there last.  Mike headed home after the meal, since he had to work the next day. 

Most of my "nicer" clothes and grooming stuff were still at Mike's house, but I had managed to keep one clean shirt and pants so at least I was clean after my shower which felt so refreshing!

The next morning, we headed off toward nearby Placerville and toured the Gold Bug Mine.  Hence the helmets in the picture.  It was nice and cool and damp in the mine, and the kids seemed to enjoy themselves.  From there, we headed to an orchard area on "Apple Hill" and had lunch, and I bought a few nuts and dried fruits to bring home.


Later in the afternoon, Richard and I headed toward Mike's house, maybe 40 minutes away, and had a great home cooked meal.  We talked about the trip, and everyone seemed satisfied with what they had accomplished.  I was still looking mighty scruffy, but I decided to leave the beard until I got home to scare Joan.  She's afraid I won't shave it off one of these times!

The next morning, Mike dropped me at the Sacramento Airport, and soon I was in the air heading back to Minnesota. 

I reflected a little on the way back about what had been accomplished personally on the trip. 

Indeed, it was quite a trip.