Around 170 million years ago, in a period geologists call the Middle Jurassic, huge reptiles ruled the seas and skies: quarter-ton pterosaurs above, killer whale-size pliosaurs below. On land, shrew-like mammals were rapidly evolving as they dodged several new species of predatory dinosaurs. Meanwhile, some 20 miles below what we now think of as northeastern Humboldt County, heat generated from the grinding of the Pacific tectonic plate against the North American plate melted rocks into magma that would eventually become Salmon Mountain ridge.
Today, the highest point on that ridge — indeed the highest point in Humboldt County — is 6,960-foot Salmon Mountain itself. The peak lies on the border of Humboldt and Siskyou counties, with the triple-point Humboldt-Siskyou-Trinity node located about 400 yards to the southeast. Salmon Mountain and the surrounding terrain are made of the same stuff — granodiorite — as Plymouth Rock and Egypt's Rosetta Stone (now in the British Museum). It's this igneous rock, similar to granite, that originally formed as a pluton, or plug of volcanic magma, deep underground before being uplifted and eroded.
Deep within the Trinity Alps Wilderness section of Six Rivers National Forest, the peak is a remote and majestic spot. Modern descendants of the conifers that (plant-wise) ruled this part of Earth back when the Salmon Mountain was being uplifted dominate the rugged country that spreads out below in a 360-degree panorama. From here, you can appreciate the full width of Humboldt County: Thirty-five miles to the west, the Pacific Ocean melts into the sky. Looking east, Mount Shasta and black-and-white Marble Gap stand out conspiciously.
HIKING DIRECTIONS: Salmon Mountain is a pretty painless half-day excursion, because the access road takes care of most of the elevation. From the trailhead, you're left with just 1,600 feet to climb on a well-maintained 4-mile-long forested trail, plus a little bushwacking. To get to the trailhead, hang a right immediately after the Klamath bridge on State Route 96 just north of Orleans and drive east 19 miles, first on Red Cap Road, then on forestry road 10N01. Park and hike east, forking left about 3 miles in, where the right-hand fork is signed to Red Cap Lake. When the main trail peters out, cross-country up on faint tracks to the summit. The lake, lying in a glacial cirque (a reminder that the whole area was once glaciated) is 1,300 feet below and a mile south of the peak, making for a secondary goal.
By the way, in summer and early fall, there's no water on the trail. Jacob, Stella (the dog) and I hiked this in early July, on a day when the temperature in Orleans was 103 degrees. It didn't feel much cooler at elevation, and Stella drank all our water. You're warned.
Barry Evans (email@example.com) weighs one-tenth of a pound less on top of Salmon Mountain than in Eureka.