Wright Lakes

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Big Meadow trail up to Upper Wright Lake (2.65 miles, 1200 ft elevation gain) with a little extra added to hike to the road

Date: 8/12-8/13/17

Hike Difficulty: steep at times — difficult, especially with a full pack
Total Distance Hiked: 8.95 mi (not the real trail length)
Total Elevation Gain: 3233 ft
Total Time Hiking: 5 hrs 25 mins

This weekend my roommate took me to Marble Mountain Wilderness to visit Wright Lakes. I had never been to either of them, but she had gone there years ago with a friend and they’d used a less-common route of getting there. It involved turning off of Quartz Valley Rd, going through a maze of logging roads, and ending up at Big Meadow trailhead. From there, it was a rather steep climb through some meadows before popping over a ridge and down to the campsites at Upper Wright Lake.

According to various sources, there were many roads that you can take to get there. So, using a map with good detail, we picked the roads that were supposed to be better maintained. However, that ended up leading us down some very poorly maintained logging roads. After turning around and rerouting we ended up at a closed gate .3 miles from the turnoff for the trailhead. Since we had no way to get the car through, we had to walk up the road to the trailhead, adding an extra mile and a half, plus a lot of climb.

The trail itself was pretty, but hot and climby. Most of the time, we were pushing our way through some thick meadow overgrowth as we tried not to fall backwards down the mountain. There was a lot of flowers, and water, and mud. At the junction with the trail for Calf Lake, we lost the trail and had to find some cairns to get back on track. Eventually, we reached the crest and it was all downhill to Upper Wright Lake. I followed one of our maps to a really cool campsite higher up off by itself. There was only one other person when we got there. He came to tell me he was going home and that there had been four bears coming every night to eat off a carcass close to his campsite. We never had any problems, but it was good info to know!

All in all, this was a pretty awesome backpacking trip. Upper Wright Lake is gorgeous, though not very popular. And I didn’t get eaten by bears. It was a great place to recharge and get ready for the week.

Horseshoe and Ward Lakes

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From Swift Creek Trailhead to Horseshoe Lake — 8.9 mi and 3593 ft elevation gain

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Elevation profile for that leg — I almost died on those stone steps at 7.70 mi

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Horseshoe Lake to Ward Lake — 1.15 mi and 1217 ft elevation gain

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The rocky journey between Horseshoe and Ward

Date: 8/4-8/6/17

Hike Difficulty: very difficult with a loaded pack — take breaks, drink water, eat a snack
Total Distance Hiked: 18.65 mi
Total Elevation Gain: 6653 ft
Total Time Hiking: 9 hrs 30 mins

I’ve been backpacking pretty much every weekend and I’ve gotten fit enough to take it, so I figured I’d throw myself a challenge this week. I love any hike in the Trinity Alps Wilderness, but I’ve been shying away from some of the super-long ones. On paper, the hike to Horseshoe Lake looked intimidating. The reality of it was that it was even harder; both sources I read from had underestimated the amount of elevation gain and I found myself climbing way more than I wanted to with a heavy pack (600 ft more!!).

Swift Creek Trailhead is a new one for me, but is incredibly popular in the area as an access point to many of the Trinity Alps trails. Usually people use this trailhead to go to Granite Lake, one that is on my list still, but I wanted to get away from people so I went the other way at the fork. The trails are pretty well-marked, so I just followed the signs for Foster Cabin (about 5 miles out), which led me to signs for Horseshoe Lake.

The trail is long and follows Swift Creek through granite canyons and open meadows spotted with boulders. There are LOTS of meadows to cross, all of which have tall plants and are pretty sopping wet so I had to boulder hop whenever I could. There was one meadow in which it was somewhat confusing which way to go because the signs had been destroyed, but luckily someone put a shard that said “oe Lake” on the right-hand trail, so I didn’t end up on the wrong trail.

As I said before, there was a lot more climb than I thought there was going to be. By the time I climbed those evil stone steps and made my way to Horseshoe Lake, I was starving and about to collapse. I stayed and recuperated for a little while. There was this really cool osprey that came in sounding like a jet plane, but then a group of about 8 teenage girls arrived and started to be incredibly loud. Instead of screaming at them about how this place isn’t their private water park, I packed up and made the transition to Ward Lake, which was a bit prettier and 100% mine for two days.

BTW, is 34 pictures too many? I don’t think so… 🙂

Blue Lake

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From the North Fork Sprague Trailhead to Blue Lake

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The elevation profile for that leg

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My attempt to follow an overgrown trail — looks like a sperm!

Date: 7/28-7/30/17

Hike Difficulty: easy
Hike Length: 3.14 mi (one-way from North Fork Sprague Trailhead to Blue Lake)
Elevation Gain: 1106 ft
Time: 1 hr 20 mins

The post about this weekend’s backpacking trip comes with a brief history lesson, so get ready. Yes, teachers still teach even in the summer, and I’m not even a history teacher.

One of my friends from college sent me a link to a podcast that talks about a fascinating event connected to Oregon. I won’t ruin all the details for you, but I’ll give you the gist then leave the link to the podcast at the end of this post.

At the end of WWII, the Japanese were secretly planning some innovative attacks using incendiary devices meant to start rampant forest fires in the US. The plan never took and the war was generally fought off American soil. However, in Bly, Oregon, there were a handful of Americans who lost their lives in an enemy attack.

I drove by the monument last time I was in Gearhart Wilderness, but I didn’t take the time to stop and figure out who it was for. After listening to the story, I felt an incredible pull to return to this place and experience it for myself. Coincidentally, before listening to the podcast, I was already planning a return trip to Gearhart, so it only solidified my reasons for going back.

Now, onto the hike itself. Last time I was in Gearhart Wilderness, I went to Lookout Rock Trail and stayed the night by the Dome. This time, I took a different entry route and instead came in from the north. The North Fork Sprague trailhead is the quickest way to get to Blue Lake in the northcentral area of the wilderness. In contrast to my last visit, the snow had melted off the road and the trailhead was easily accessible.

The hike to Blue Lake was pretty short and fairly easy to hike up with a backpack full of gear. I noticed pretty quickly how buggy the area is. However, there were less mosquitoes and more mosquito predators, so I had no complaints. The dragonflies and damselflies were literally everywhere, munching on any insect they could get a hold of. In an area with dragonflies swarming around me, I didn’t have to worry about mosquitoes. A dragonfly even landed on my shoulder at one point and gave me a close-up of his lunch — he must’ve eaten too fast, because he regurgitated half of it on my arm and took off.

In my two days at Blue Lake, I got to explore the area a little bit, but the trail was covered in deadfall that made travel slow and laborious. The north side of the lake is much better maintained than the south side. Plus, around 1.1 miles from my campsite at Blue Lake, the trail to Gearhart Mountain got so overgrown I had to abandon my summit journey and turn around. I ended up seeing an adolescent bald eagle fishing, though, so that was worth it.

In the heat of the day, the game was keep-in-the-tent-to-stay-away-from-bugs-until-the-sun-moves-and-you-have-to-move-your-tent. It was impossible to find a site that was shady enough all day long to avoid the suns rays. And the biting flies were relentless, even with my buddies the dragonflies as backup.

This was an amazing place to spend a two-day camping trip. I will definitely come back to explore the wilderness via the other trailhead and maybe even make it to the top of Gearhart Mountain.

BTW, here’s the link to that podcast on RadioLab. The first 30 minutes deal with the story I mentioned. It’s worth a download and a listen!

Bull Lake

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Date: 7/21-7/22/17

Hike Difficulty: moderate
Hike Length: 4.22 mi (one-way from Kangaroo Lake Campground to Bull Lake)
Elevation Gain: 1834 ft
Time: 2 hrs 20 mins

The mountains were definitely calling for me this weekend. I have been wanting to try out this section of the PCT for some time now, and it seemed like an appropriate level of challenge for an overnight, so I brought Grace to check it out.

Kangaroo and Bull Lakes are in the Scott Mountain range, which is a tiny range that is wedged in with all sorts of other fun ones like the Trinity Alps. Since it’s a pretty popular campground, the road to get to Kangaroo Lake is pretty well-maintained. I parked at the day-use area lot (for free!), but I think that you could park across from the trailhead, which is a few hundred yards back from the parking lot.

To get to Bull Lake, first you have to take the Kangaroo Fen trail up to the PCT. The area has a lot of interesting stuff going on biologically and geologically, and there are even some interpretive signs that explain key facts. Once on the PCT, the trail bends past Robbers Meadow and a few unknown lakes as it climbs over a few passes. Each time you reach a pass, you gain a different perspective on the surrounding mountains. Eventually, you reach the second main pass and Bull Lake is visible below.

Bull Lake has an amazing view of Mount Eddy and Mount Shasta, as well as a meadow filled with wildflowers that leads down to an enormous tree-filled valley. I thought I would have the lake to myself, but around dinner time, three Germans came and set up camp on the opposite side. I didn’t talk to them much, but I think they were hiking the PCT together.

In the morning, I attempted to reach Cory Peak, which is all off-trail. I forgot to take a screenshot of the instructions that I’d found, so I ended up winging it and climbing a lot of steep slopes for nothing. Looking at my map now, I was REALLY close to this tiny (supposedly beautiful) pond near the summit, but that’ll have to be the goal for another day.

Black Butte

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Looks kinda like a raven’s head

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This is the KEY to getting through the maze of rough, overgrown roads that lead to Black Butte. Start at the square, the turn-off from Everitt Mem. Hwy. at the Black Butte sign. Don’t trust Google Maps when it says to use any other roads. This is, in my experience, the only way to get to the trailhead and avoid potentially damaging your car. Take a picture 🙂

Date: 7/16/17

Hike Difficulty: difficult
Hike Length: 5.21 mi
Elevation Gain: 2175 ft
Time: 2:31

I’ve attempted Black Butte at least three times (like this one). It’s a terrible blow to my ego every time I fail to summit. Each time I’ve gone, it’s been at the extreme end of the transition seasons, so I usually have to deal with some snowdrifts. Last time I went, I went as far as I could, but had to turn back because I feared that I’d slide down to the bottom of hidden valley.

I took on Black Butte again today after I just did Little Castle and Heart Lakes. I sat in my car with the dog after lunch for about 10 minutes thinking to myself, “Do I do it or do I go home?” My biggest concern was the heat; I had enough water for me and the dog to get by, but I knew it’d be a scorcher of a hike with lots of exposure and climbing. Eventually, I decided that I would take Black Butte on again — this time, to finally reach the summit, regardless of the challenges.

I made sure to keep tabs on my dog’s condition at every moment. We traveled from shadow to shadow, getting hydration at each stop. Some of the stretches between shadows were pretty long, but the higher I got, the more the breeze cooled us. My watch says 92 degrees was the hottest we experienced.

The whole hike, especially the last half mile, was geologically interesting. I was fascinated by the blocky prominences surrounding the main part of the mountain. The different “peaks” created all sorts of mossy valleys that were fun to photograph.

The summit turned me into a nervous wreck because I wanted to get to the highest part, which appeared to be the foundation for an old fire lookout, but to do so, I had to cross a precarious rock bridge. In retrospect, it was probably less dangerous than it felt in the moment. However, Grace felt the anxiety of the moment and had some difficulty making it over the rock gap. And with the sun beating down on us, we didn’t stay long. Still, it was nice to finally conquer this mountain.

Little Castle and Heart Lakes

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Doggie fallopian tubes! (the ‘y’ shape)

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Date: 7/16/17

Hike Difficulty: pretty easy when you stick to the trail
Hike Length: 3.31 mi
Elevation Gain: 1086 ft
Time: 2:18

I attempted to hike the trail around Castle Lake a little too late in the season last year and the snow prevented me from really exploring this area. Now the snow is definitely gone and I wanted to hike up to Little Castle Lake and Heart Lake.

Going into this, I thought it would be a pretty simple trail to navigate. I came armed with my maps and descriptions of key landmarks from my guidebook. The trail starts at the outlet of Castle Lake where I had to cross by stepping on some cement and logs. After about .7 miles or so of climbing, the trail really started to braid and it went in many different directions. I saw a couple of people coming from where I thought Heart Lake was, and when I confirmed that they’d just been there, I headed in that direction. Later I came to find out that I took the hard way up the steep, bouldery meadow instead of using the somewhat less steep trail. Either way you get there, Heart Lake is a must-visit. There are rock outcroppings you can climb on that have amazing views of Castle Lake, Black Butte, and Mount Shasta.

After Heart Lake, I headed back for the junction and went in the other direction to get to Little Castle Lake. There was a beautiful meadow that I crossed before trouncing through some manzanita to get to the lake’s shore. It was a pretty lake, but the climb back out made me think twice about visiting again in the future. Maybe to camp in solitude?

Boulder Lakes

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All that craziness at the bottom was really me…but that walking through the lake was a glitch with my watch 😀

Date: 7/14/17

Hike Difficulty: difficult
Hike Length: 7.92 mi hiking all over the place, mostly trying to find my way (from the trailhead to either Boulder Lake = 1.81 mi)
Elevation Gain: 2733 ft
Time: 4:32

This summer has been less about reaching summits and more about reaching mountain lakes, which isn’t a bad thing. Summits are probably better reserved for late summer and fall when it’s not so dangerously hot. This trip I wanted to do five lakes and possibly a summit, but it didn’t quite turn out that way.

Boulder Lake is a rather popular destination in the Trinity Alps Wilderness; I got confirmation on that when I pulled into the trailhead parking to find 8 other vehicles. Nevertheless, there are so many different destinations within this area that you don’t really cross paths with many other hikers. This trail system doesn’t just lead to the two Boulder Lakes — there is a sort of “loop” you can do that goes up to three other lakes and it connects to the Poison Canyon trail, as well, which goes on to Lilypad Lake (not the same Lilypad Lake as in Red Buttes Wilderness).

I chose to go to Little Boulder Lake first, which had some pretty cool little camping spots that weren’t taken. If I was a fisherman, I’d have been in heaven because the water was so clear that you could see every fish swimming around.

After that, I backtracked to the fork and made my way to Boulder Lake. I didn’t refer to the map that I’d downloaded from, so I just started walking clockwise around the shore, taking pictures. By the time I looked at the map, it looked like I just needed to climb up about 700 ft, then bushwhack over to Lost, Found, and Tapie Lakes. I had a really difficult time finding the right place to make my way across the boulders, plus I had the dogs and an expensive camera around my neck, so I ended up giving up on the other three lakes.

In retrospect, if I’d gone counterclockwise, I’d probably have had a lot more luck, so I’ll do that next time I visit Boulder Lake.