Yep. Hiking season had arrived and it was time for the first trek into the wilderness and like always, I chose Stoney Ridge Trail. The goal was the Lunch Tree in Red Mountain Meadow. We had all day and we had lunch. It was going to be great! My hiking buddy Mike and I are dedicated social-distancers so we drove separate cars to the trailhead and were delighted at the lack of crowd. One truck with two backpackers pulled in just as we took off up the trail.
The first mile of trail is through an old clear cut with a relentless overabundance of both sun and steep. Of course, I knew to expect this, being a frequent Stoney Ridge hiker. But whoa. Holy cow. How did I get so out of shape? That first mile seemed like 10 and I questioned whether I would make it to the wilderness boundary. The flowers kept me going. This uber-sunny section is always wild with flowers, making every grueling minute enjoyable. Currently there’s an incredible display of Shooting Stars, yellow Lupine, Iris, Larkspur, Pussy Ears, and more Warrior Plume than I’ve ever seen on this trail before. The flowers change throughout the summer; one of the reasons I keep going back.
Already exhausted, I needed to plop down. Plop. And as luck would have it, I plopped down in a patch of one of my favorite Fritillaries; the stealth, almost impossible to spot, Spotted Mountain Bells. I’m a big fan of the Fritillaria family and this little beauty blends in with the dirt, having flowers that are dirt-colored. I never would have seen them if I hadn’t plopped. It’s like I planned the plopping. Yep. That’s what I’m going to tell people.
Specifically, that’s what I was going to tell the backpackers who were gaining on us, in an effort to explain why we were lolling on the ground after a mere half-mile. I sat up straight and grabbed my notebook and pen and tried to look singularly focused on the Fritillaries. Mike remained in his trail-side death-sprawl and as they passed he moaned in a call-the-undertaker voice, “We are so old.” Thanks Mike. Thanks. We sat there a while longer and watched an eagle circle, and admired the ring around the sun, and finally dragged our “so-old” selves back on our feet and headed up the trail.
When you cross the wilderness boundary on Stoney Ridge Trail, it’s like night and day. The difference is stark. In one single step you go from sun-baked to shady-bliss, from parched-earth to seeping-springs, from stunted-trees to big-trees. Really big trees. The transition is more abrupt than on any other trail I know. And in that transition zone from hot to cool, the aroma of the trees is fabulous. It’s an excuse to sit down and smell awhile.
Once you’re in the wilderness, it’s not long before the switchbacks start. The switchbacks provide really wonderful views of Monument Peak alternating with views of Red Mountain, Granite Peak and Trinity Lake. All along the way there are flowers.
At the beginning of the hike, it seems like Monument Peak is towering, then after an hour of switchbacks, it seems more at eye-level. And finally you round a corner and for the first time Middle Peak comes into view. Only a mile to go from here. Switch. Back. Switch. Back. As the trail gets higher there are several places to access Stoney Creek which rages in spring and barely trickles in summer. Right now it is raging. The creek bank offers another opportunity to sit for a while if you are inclined.
After four steep miles, the trail passes through Red Mountain Meadow which is the home of the Lunch Tree and our final destination. Although there had not been any snow on the trail, there were still patches of snow in the meadow. But there was no snow under the Lunch Tree which seemed to me to be an invitation to sit again.