sapphire2The Trinity Alps Wilderness area, originally set aside as the Salmon-Trinity Alps primitive area in 1932, is one of the most unique protected wilderness areas in the country.

Part of the singularity of the Trinity Alps is its location just 60 miles from the ocean, an extremely unusual circumstance for an alpine area with elevations as high 9,000 ft.  The Alps geographic location, high elevations and diverse geology, including serpentine soils, which it shares with much of the larger Klamath Mountains area, all contribute to the Alps significant level of biodiversity.  One of the most evident examples of this is the level of conifer diversity, the second greatest in the world. The Alps also still have at least two actual glaciers, a fascinating anomaly for their latitude.

Spanning Trinity and Siskiyou counties and the Shasta-Trinity, Six Rivers and Klamath National Forests, and including the Trinity, Klamath and Sacramento (through the diversion to the Central Valley Project) Rivers, the Trinity Alps play a central role in the ecological health of Northern California.

Humans have visited the Trinities for thousands of years. The Alps were first traditional hunting grounds for the Wintun and other native peoples and, after the arrival of Europeans, were utilized for cattle grazing, hard rock gold mining and, more significantly water. Emerald and Sapphire Lakes up the Stuart’s Fork drainage were tapped in the early part of the 20th century with a significant pipe and siphon system that delivered water to the La Grange mine, at that time the largest hydraulic mine in the world.

Thankfully, after the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Bill, members of our regional community started to organize an official Wilderness Designation for the Trinity Alps and other areas around the region, including the Siskiyou and Yolla Bolly Wilderness areas (see Kin to the Earth feature for additional background).

The Trinity Alps have long provided recreational opportunities that continue to be discovered by hikers, equestrians, scientists and explorers of all ages.  With over 55 lakes and more than 800 miles of hiking trails to pristine meadows, streams and mountaintops there are times when one can hike a trail and not see another soul for days at a time.
Even for those who have never ventured into these beautiful high alpine meadows and lakes, the photos, stories and snowcapped mountains hold a special kind of feeling that borders on the mythological.

In 2008 The New York Times dubbed the Trinities as “An Overlooked Wilderness Jewel in Northern California”.  For those who seek solitude in these magnificent alpine peaks, being overlooked is working just fine.

– This article was originally published in the June/July 2014 issue of EcoNews