The Castle Crags are located so far north in California that it's not uncommon to see Oregon license plates on cars along the freeway. I arrived at the campground late in the day and found that the ranger had already gone home. I also found that the campgrounds were nearly deserted.
The first site I selected was near a creek, and the mosquitoes made it clear that I was in their territory, so I chose a different, more neutral spot. Once my tent was set up it began to rain, and continued throughout the night, with my shelter acting as the perfect echo chamber.
It was one of the best night's sleep I'd had all year.
I slept on and off until about noon the next morning when I asked the ranger at the a Visitor Center how to get the best view of the Castle Crags. She told me the Castle Dome Trail and then brought up a satellite image on her computer showing pockets of rain all over the screen.
"But you might want to wait until tomorrow," she said. "There's a lot going on with the weather right now."
"I don't see any lightening"
"No, I don't think there's any lightening," she answered, looking at me a bit askance, but her message was plain. Don't do anything stupid where I'd get incapacitated and need to be rescued. I pondered the satellite image for a moment and decided to go into Dunsmuir for a hamburger instead.
The next morning a cloud sat atop the Castle Crags as I started along the Castle Dome Trail. The trail was 2.6 miles long with a 2200 foot ascent, and was easily the most ambitious hike I'd tried while carrying my 4X5 camera and tripod on my shoulder. Early on I ran into some fellow hikers who were resting, and I feared they would dog me along the hike, but as I saw them struggling I began to root for them to catch up. Sadly, I soon lost sight of them and our paths didn't cross again.
The first part of the trail leads through forest, and up, up, up, and then there's a moment that leads out into an opening and you see the Crags, the texture of the granite, the trees growing out of them, and for a moment you just breathe in, as if you've come around a corner and run into someone unexpectedly. It's that sort of surprise. Just, "husss." However, the view is partially obstructed by trees, so you have to move to see the different pieces of the Crags.
The trail soon moves from forest into granite, and this was my first hint that I was approaching where I wanted to take photographs. It was also where the trail gets more difficult.
While the trail through the forest could be steep, it wasn't rugged, but now I had to choose my steps carefully, stepping onto rocks as if stepping onto a ladder, which was no easy task with the camera on my shoulder. The pace slowed down, but soon I arrived at a view of the Castle Dome, but it again was partially obstructed by trees. As I searched I realized that the trail continued above me (I thought that i was at the end), and as I moved above, I found the view I wanted, set up my 4X5, and took a photograph of the Dome.
From there I continued upward to the end of the trail, but I was disappointed to realize that the clouds had cleared before I'd arrived.
That night the clouds returned and it rained, and the rain brought thunder and lightening. And I slept well.