Union Lake: Jun 29- Jul 2
Hikers: Maria, Steve, Nick, Sooney
This trip’s original destination had been ever-popular Caribou Lake, but given triple-digit temps in the valley, our intrepid, heat-tolerant band opted instead to explore a brand-new destination with shorter distance, more day hike options, and especially more drinking/cooling water along the way.
Day 1. Union Creek TH (@ 4600′, off Coffee Creek Rd) to Union Lake (@ 6200′): 6.2 mi. Steady uphill (not steep), mostly in trees, with several cool creek crossings. We decided that Union Lake should be renamed “Union Pond” due to its shrinking diameter and depth. There were two campsites, suitable for small parties (2-3 tents); we obtained water from a tiny creek closer to our campsite, though lake water lake would’ve been ok. Although other lakes (see days 2 & 3) were more stunning and better for swimming, Union L. was a convenient, pleasant site, nestled in a cirque & meadows, with many birds, an occasional deer, and we think an unseen bear. It was also close to several day hikes, so we decided to stay there 3 nights rather than move camp. Evening game: Farkle.
Some general notes: We did find lower temps at our higher elevations (6000+’) though it was hotter on later days, and on open rock. For future trips, we’d suggest a campsite closer to Union Creek & Foster Lake trail (see map in photos; trip then might be renamed “Union Creek”), even more centrally located for the Foster & Landers Lake dayhikes (i.e., eliminating each day’s 0:45 RT ‘commute’ from Union L.); day hike to Dorleska Mine would backtrack along main trail in either case. Surprising number and variety of wildflowers & birds [see Nick’s report]. We rehydrated at several small creeks along each hike before steep sections. Trail signage was generally good, though there were numerous (possibly confusing) intersections near Union Lake, and several grassy meadow passages were almost imperceptible due to infrequent traffic.
Day 2. Given that the already hot temps were forecast to increase each day, we tackled the most ambitious (steepest & sunniest) hike first, from Union Lake to Foster Lake (@ 7250′): 6.0 mi RT. Foster was a spectacular lake, and we all partook of its cool, deep, clear waters. Two small campsites. After lunch, we hiked another ~0.5 mi. up the trail to peer down at Lion and Conway Lakes. Note: continuing ~8 mi., one could reach Boulder Lake [reports: 2015, 2014].
Day 3. A longer, but less steep day hike to Landers Lake (@ 7060′): 8.2 mi. RT; we grumbled about a 200′ ‘dip’ in trail. Landers Lake, too, was spectacular, and swimmable; two campsites. Steve (aka ‘Mountain Goat’) scrambled up Red Rock Mountain (@ 7853′) for a 360-view; there were no discernable cairns or trail, but it was straightforward to ascend boulder & scree slopes (~1:30 RT). Note: continuing ~7 mi., from a trail junction at Union Creek Meadow, one could reach Lilypad Pass [2014 Thumb Rock/Lilypad Lake day hike]. Evening game: Cribbage.
Day 4. It took about 3-1/2 hrs to return to car, including several stops to douse clothing in creeks, and to chat with the only other human of the 4 days (a local day hiker w/ her dogs) — so, this hike ranks 10+ on Tysen’s Solitude scale. Lunch at Bob’s Ranch House in Etna, with an extensive menu of food — and beer, including some from Etna Brewing.
Nick’s write-up has more details and perspectives, including partial lists of the many wildflowers we saw, and Sooney’s bird sightings.
Photo credits: Nick, Maria, Steve