Lightweight Backpacking After 60 in the Rogue Valley

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Boulder Lake: Aug 17-18, 2014

Hikers: Maria G., Steve W.

Note: there are several “Boulder” Lakes in the Trinity Alps. Upper and East Boulder Lakes are closer to Callahan — those and other trails (including section of PCT) were closed due to the recent Coffee Fire. However, our Boulder Lake (aka “Big Boulder” Lake, past Little Boulder Lake) was about 5 miles south of Coffee Creek Road (the southern edge of the 90%-contained wildfire), and fortunately smoke-free due to prevailing winds.

As originally planned, this was to be a grand, 7-day counterclockwise loop from Boulder Lake TH, to Foster Lake, to Landers Lake, and back via Poison Canyon to Boulder Lake TH. Due to elevation gains, less available time and fewer companions, we decided this was overly ambitious, and opted for a shorter trip: basecamping at Boulder Lake, with two day hikes.

According to our guidebook: “Depending on your point of view, Boulder Lake is either one of the best or one of the worst destinations in the Trinity Alps. If you like maximum scenery for minimum effort, this is your spot. If, on the other hand, you cherish solitude, keep on walking.”

Boulder Lake is 1.9 mi. (!) from the trailhead. We had originally planned to skip it entirely to avoid crowds; a full parking lot at the Trailhead on Sunday morning seemed to confirm those concerns. However, when we arrived at the lake, the only party there was heading out, so we ended up having the entire lake to ourselves — a somewhat eerie experience. Perhaps other backpackers had fire concerns; most likely the parked cars/trucks belonged to those at a CCC (Calif. Conservation Corps) camp further down the trail.

After setting up camp on Sunday, we hiked cross-country along and over a ridge to view Tapie, Lost and Found Lakes. Total: ~2 mi. RT; ~1000′ elev. gain; ~3 hrs. The iPad’s built-in GPS and compass were handy for navigating beyond the 3-4 initial cairns.

On Monday, we explored part of our originally planned route:

  • from Boulder Lake along Tracy Trail
  • up to the junction with Poison Canyon/Thumb Rock Trails (“though it’s just one ridge away from Boulder Lake one of the most popular day hiking destinations in the Trinity Alps, Poison Canyon exists in its own quiet solitude; …hidden backcountry corner”)
  • around Thumb Rock, up to a junction with Union Creek Trail (to Parker Creek and Landers Lake)
  • another trail junction (to Shimmy Lake, Deer Flat)
  • along Lilypad Lake Trail under Ycatapom Peak, down past several small ponds and then Lilypad Lake (“the trail leads down across hanging terraces of emerald green grass, sparkling snowmelt tarns, and view upon vista upon overlook. Amazingly, you could probably spend a week here in the middle of summer and not see a soul.”)
  • before rejoining the Poison Canyon Trail and back up to Tracy Trail and Boulder Lake.

Total: ~8.6 miles; ~2300′ elevation gain in ~7 hours. Although there were trail signs at the major junctions, these were easy to miss; a few of the trails were infrequently traveled and faint, with few cairns. Wildflowers were past their peak, but we did see a few less common ones: pitcher plants and gentians.

While we were fortunate to have two, beautiful, smoke-free days, when we got back to Boulder Lake, smoke was noticeable. Since it was only 3:30pm, we had done both hikes we’d planned on, and we were less than an hour from the trailhead, we decided to head home early. We enjoyed dinner at a different Etna dining spot: Bob’s Ranch House (for some variety, plus Etna Brewing was closed on Mon).

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Deep Lake; Jun 25-27 & Jul 23-25, 2014

Jun 25-27 [photos]: Terry D., Chiyemi D., George H., Denise F., Kathy U.
Jul 23-25 [trip report]: Tysen M., Maria G., Steve W.

Since not everyone could go on the June trip, we added a later trip. Due to greater than anticipated distance & elevation, neither group camped at Deep Lake — the originally advertised destination — but instead, backpacked only as far as Little Elk Lake, and then day-hiked to Deep Lake. See June photos and July trip report for more details.

Canyon Creek: June 10-13, 2014

Hikers: Maria G., Steve W., Lois P., Mary K., George H., Linden C., Gretchen K., Harley K., Addie K.
Photo Credits: Mary, Linden, Steve

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TUE: We left Ashland around 7:15am and arrived at 11am at Canyon Creek trailhead @~3000′. (In earlier years, we’ve had a later start [2013], or car-camped the previous night [2011] at nearby Ripstein Campground). We had clear blue skies — no clouds or smoke; the south-facing canyon was snow-free and definitely hot by end of day. Sections of trail at lower elevations had some poison oak. Many wildflowers. Midweek, we saw few other hikers.

Our destination was the Boulder Creek Lakes trail junction, ~6.5 mi. from the trailhead @~5000′. Most of us camped at a spacious, flat, forested site off the trail between that junction and the Canyon Creek ford, while Mary and George opted for a more spectacular setting a few minutes uphill atop granite slabs. Addie, our newest member, a 11-year-old (77-year human equivalent) yellow lab-mix skipped clothing, a sleeping bag, and our various water filtration systems and cooking systems, thus keeping her base pack weight low; “kibble” might be the next new trend for backpacking food, greatly simplifying menu planning. Some mosquitos were around at dinner and breakfast times, though none on our final colder morning.

WED: After an immediate ford of Canyon Creek (this involved ‘croc-ing up’ then ‘re-booting’), we all ascended ~1.5 mi. to Boulder Creek Lakes (@5848′). Most opted to relax near the lakes; Maria and Lois trekked most of the way toward Forbidden Lakes (@6455′). Mary, George and Steve ascended steep slopes to Mt. Hilton (@8964′), which is the 3rd highest peak in the Trinity Alps; Mt. Caesar is only 2′ higher; Thompson Peak is highest (@9002′). An online route description had waxed rhapsodic: “you find yourself standing on the granite edge of time. The world falls away from beneath your feet in all directions on an inassimilable scale, deep, silent, distant, and timeless. Looking back down the route, you’ll see the irregular blue eyes of the CC Boulder Lakes lying on their back gazing quietly at the sky. The sky is a great blue cup inverted overhead, its apex directly over Mt. Hilton, its rim just touching the distant, miniscule horizon. A faint breeze born out of infinity bears the distant sound of falling water…It is a solid immensity, a feeling of penetrating openness. Infinitesimal perspective.” Wow, who could resist?

The Mt. Hilton description also stated “fairly easy” climb, but with few, vague details: “head for the skyline rocks that look like a castle wall to the east of the summit”. It’s true that route-finding to avoid cliffs and brush was not overly difficult (at least on the way up); the final gully they chose opened to some breathtaking views, but ended exposed, a few hundred feet short of the summit. Rather than continue with some risky 3rd/4th class moves, or backtrack to a different gully (which one?), they sagely decided to descend to Boulder Creek Lakes while aged legs still had energy. An exciting adventure, and as beautiful as claimed, but not “easy”: perhaps the author had suffered from hypoxia or mind-altering substances?

THU: We all hiked ~2 mi. further up the main canyon to Lower Canyon Lake (@5782′), then to Upper Canyon Lake (@5812′). We decided not to trek cross-country to L Lake (done by some in 2011); there had been a proposal to climb to a saddle to view Thompson and Caesar Peaks, and Mirror and Sapphire Lakes, but this was abandoned due to lack of time, tiny climbing quorum and sore legs. Instead, much “lizarding”, i.e., finding of flat surfaces on which to bask, at a beach at Upper Canyon, then later back at Lower Canyon Lake. After dinner, a dice game of Farkle kept us awake awhile longer.

FRI: We decamped before 9am, stopped a few times to admire waterfalls and scout future campsites, saw many hikers coming in, departed the parking lot ~12:30, and ate lunch in Weaverville at the La Grange Cafe. Overall, we all agreed that it was a great trip.

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