East Boulder Lake: Jul 12-14
Hikers: Mary E., Cory R., Greg C., Kathy U., Denise F.
Outside of Callahan, CA
2 miles to lake; 930’ elevation gain
3.2 miles to pass and PCT; 1350’ elevation gain
Dayhikes: 1. E Boulder to Middle Boulder 2. E Boulder to PCT to Marshy Lake. 3. Loop trail
Loop trail: E Boulder to PCT, approximately ½ mile. Walk PCT 2.2 miles to sign for Middle Boulder. To Middle Boulder and back to E Boulder, approximately 2 miles.
Directions: Drive Hwy 3 out of Yreka to Callahan, CA. In Callahan, turn right onto South Fork Road, which is between the grocery store and the bridge. After .8 mile, turn left at the sign for McKeen Divide. The way is well signed from there. Parts of the graveled road are good, some parts are a little bouldery, but overall it’s slow but not bad. At 8 miles, park on the left 100 feet before the trailhead marker.
We were more than surprised at the stunning scenery encountered on this trip. East Boulder Lake is contained in an open bowl, surrounded by a red rock cirque. The vegetation is high desert, not typical for this country but probably due to cattle grazing who have eaten sage seed in the Scott Valley. Sage and white pine abound.
We were alone at the lake in the best campsite, which is about midway down the trail on the east side of the lake, before the inlet stream. There was enough room for our four tents. There is another campsite on the southeast end of the lake, but it did not look very level. Before our stay was done, there were two sets of campers camping very close (too close) to the shore on opposite ends of the lake. When we first came in, there was lots of wind, which was blowing straight into the camp on the north shore.
After setting up camp, we dayhiked the trail to Middle Boulder Lake. The trail starts from the east shore, back towards the lake outlet from the campsite. There you need to bushwhack through a meadow a hundred feet or so to get to where you see a trail that climbs to a low ridge out of the lake bowl.
The trail to Middle Boulder was pleasant, and the lake itself was nice to look at from above. The trail peters out after passing the lake at a boggy area filled with wildflowers. Hopping over some rocks, we found a sign pointing to the PCT. The books say that getting to the PCT from Middle Boulder is unmarked and requires trail finding skills. It proved to be much easier than we were led to believe, which we learned the next day.
On our second day, we walked from E Boulder to the PCT. From the lake, there is no trail – one needs to do an easy, although upward cross country walk for a short distance. Cross the inlet creek and continue in an easterly direction, up towards three absolutely stunning ponds. The trail becomes very clear at the ponds. There is at least one campsite by the ponds, which looked very nice, though smaller than ours.
The trail from the ponds to the pass ascends 280 feet in a short distance, but without a backpack, it is definitely not very difficult. It felt like we were at the pass in no time.
The scenery from the pass and the PCT was jaw-dropping beautiful. We walked southwest on the PCT through lots of red rock boulders, with views of Shasta and Mt Eddy, sawtooth ridges and eventually the alps of the Trinity Alps Wilderness. The path offered a constant stream of wildflower gardens. We stopped often for pictures and flower ID-ing.
After 2.2 miles, we came to the turn-off for Middle Boulder, with a sign that couldn’t be missed. Cory and Greg decided to complete the loop, by taking this turn and found the trail well-traveled and easy. They followed the trail down into the valley where there is a small rock cairn and a wooden sign tacked to the back (east) side of a tree indicating the PCT, from which they had just descended, and East Boulder Lake. This was the sign we had seen on our first afternoon, just beyond the boggy stream where we had turned around. They then continued on the trail, past Middle Boulder Lake, to E Boulder Lake.
Denise, Kathy, and Mary decided to return on the PCT. When they got to the junction with the trail to E Boulder (going west) and Marshy Lake (going east), Denise and Kathy took the 1.5 mile trail to Marshy Lake, while Mary continued back to E Boulder Lake. Denise and Kathy returned later to E Boulder, not having found Marshy Lake.