Monday, February 7, 2011

Hull Mountain - Mendocino National Forest



        Hull Mountain is located on the boarder of Mendocino and Lake Counties in the Mendocino National Forest. Hull Mountain stands tall at 6,873', but despite it's stature it is not the tallest peak in either county, but it's close (Snow Mtn 7,056', Lake County and Anthony Peak 6,954 feet, Mendocino County). There are many recreational activities located in the immediate vicinity of Hull Mountain. Lake Pillsbury is an artificial lake located at the base of Hull. The lake was created in 1906 as part of a hydro-electric project that is now operated by PG&E. Activities and amenities around the lake include 4X4 OHV trails, camping, RV spots (not sure about size or hookups) cabins, hiking, fishing boat launches, docks, and a small store. On the south west below the dam is the start of the Eel River popular for kayaking. On the north end is a dirt runway used by small planed and hang gliders. I will do a full post on Lake Pillsbury another time.

        I have traveled to Hull on a few occasions to offroad or take the kids to the snow. I have tried to drive to the top on twice and been stopped by late season lingering snow as the road winds around to a north east aspect. Now, day-to-day I can see Hull off in the distance mocking me, laughing at me for my inability to stand upon its summit. I know Hull is not that tall of a mountain, its no Whitney or Shasta but it is the tallest I can see from my town and so far it has gotten the better of me. Although there is a road to Hull's summit it is not as simple as driving up Mt. Tamalpais or Diablo. Driving to Hull's summit takes about an hour and a half or more from highway 20 with most of it on dirt.

        The two most direct ways to reach Hull are both off of highway 20 using either Elk Mountain Road from Upper Lake or Potter Valley Road near Ukiah. My route takes me through Potter Valley it starts out the same as the route to Trout Creek Campground. Check out the map below for both routes, but first a quick disclaimer; always use caution and take a map when traveling in the back country. Make no mistake, despite the description above, this is a isolated area with limited to no cell phone service. 

        So today is February 1st, a time when making this trip would usually require parking at about 4,000' and continuing the climb on foot in the snow. Here is the the thing, although January and February are usually the wettest months in Northern California, it still California where some years we have we enjoy weeks of sunny 70 degree days. This is one of those years. So with this weather I've been keeping an eye on Hull and as far as I can see there is very little snow up there. Today will be the day I concur this mountain.

        I call up a friend and we head out in the Xterra. We travel through Potter Valley, along the Eel River, past Lake Pillsbury and start up Hull. The drive looks promising and I am encouraged as we climb past 4,000' with no snow in site. A few turns up and traces of the white stuff can be seen hiding in the shade. The road transitions from a south west aspect to a north east and there is patches of snow across the road. We are now at 5,600' and the snow is getting deep, at times requiring multiple runs to plow though it. Finally we find ourselves having to use the shovel to bust through a snow bank. We continue on for about 100 more yards only to make a turn and find 2-3' of snow covering the road from here to the top. Although it was unpredicted that the snow would be so low we came prepared, like I said today is the day I will stand upon the summit. We park at 5,700' and continue on foot for the next 2 miles with 1,200' of elevation gain. It's a tee shirt day with the sun beating down on us. As we approach the spur road to the summit the snow depth is over 5' but it is weathered and packed so we sink very little. The road becomes difficult to follow but the GPS keeps us on track. The winds rip around the back side of the summit (Wind Gap) and cause us to put our coats on. A short steep climb and we find a set of stairs leading to the foundation of an old fire lookout AKA the summit.

        The View from the summit is incredible. To the south I can see just a sliver of Clear Lake and can clearly make out Mt. St. Helena. As I turn to the south west I can see the city of Ukiah. Further to the south west and west I can see fog on the coast obscuring the view of the Pacific Ocean. About due west stands the peaks of Sanhedrin Mountain. Looking north west I can see some peaks around Round Valley/Covelo. Anthony Peak stands about due north. To the north east Mt. Lassen is easily identifiable. East I can see the hills around Chico and Paradise. As I turn to the south east I can see snow on mountains in the High Sierra toward Tahoe. Finally as I turn back toward the south I can see Mt. St. John and Snow Mountain. Needless to say the view is amazing.

        The view makes this is a really rewarding day trip. There is a hiking route to the summit that starts near the airstrip. If you plan on hiking or driving Hull be prepared for back county travel and have some kind of communications or contact plan. There are a few more resources below to help you plan and enjoy your trip.

PG&E Recreation Site Click on area #3 

Mendocino National Forest


View Hull Mountain in a larger map
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