Monday, September 5, 2011

Boulder Creek Lakes - Trinity Alps Weekend

Because the next two weekends are going to be a bachelorparty and then a wedding, both with plenty of partying and drinking, Emily andI decided to use the long Labor Day weekend to get out of town and into theoutdoors. Because we had 3 full days wedecided to go a little further and venture into the Trinity Alps Wilderness of Northern California, a 7 hour drive away. Neither of us had been there and weren’t really sure what toexpect. I had chosen a side trail off the most popular Cascade Canyon Trail which would take us to a couple alpinelakes in the Boulder Creek Basin area. The trip turned out to be one of my favorite overnight backpacking trips, even better than our beloved Goat Rocks trip we did the last two years. Click the link to read more about our amazing weekend.

We were able to leave town on Friday at around 6pm, stopping at Quizno’s for some grub on the way. Itwas an easy drive down I-5 until we turned onto Route 3 just over the boarder which turned out to be a crazy twisty road through the mountains. We were listening to Dan Brown’s newest book “TheLost Symbol” the entire way but by the time we got close to Junction City and the trailhead road Emily was feeling a bit nauseous from all the twisty turns and the nearly 20 deer we had to occasionally swerve around. When we began driving up the road we saw a big sign that said wilderness permits were required so instead of driving all the way to the trailhead we pulled off into a gravel area next to the road nearthe Cascade Canyon River for the night. It was just past 12:30am so we quickly arranged our gear and laid out our Big Agnes bags and pads in the back of the Prius. Unfortunately, we found that our pads can’t hold air anymore and by the morning were completely deflated!

On Saturday morning we were up and out to the Park Service/Ranger/Fire Headquarters in Junction City to pick up our wilderness permits. Apparently they were self-issue and we could have done this at the trailhead as well. But, we were able to get a permit to have a stove in the wilderness as they had just instituted a no fire ban on the whole region due to the hot temps and extremely dry conditions. This didn’t take long and it possibly could save us a pricey fine if we didn’t have one. We even got to see some cute tree frogs huddled in the permit box from the night.

After a quick 20 minute drive and getting our gear ready we were able to leave the trailhead by 10:45am. Just out of the parking lot we met a park service girl working at a table with a bunch of maps and info on the area for the multitude ofbackpackers who were also starting down the trail. She asked where we were headed and when Isaid “Boulder Creek Lakes” her face lit up and said that was an awesome idea asthere would be less people and the lakes would be good to swim in. In my head I questioned how an alpine lake at 6,000ft would be pleasant to swim in and continued on down the trail. The trail started off pretty gradual which was good for my knee with my heavy pack on. Unfortunately, there were just enough mosquitoes still to warrant using some bug spray. They weren’t too bad and as we gained elevation along the 3,000ft/9mi ascent they became less bothersome. Soon the trail started switch-backing up the Canyon walls and we quickly came to Lower Canyon Creek Falls which had a beautiful and deep pool of water just below it. We climbed down the hill with the camera and tripod for some photos and after staring at the enticing water in the hot afternoon I decided I needed to take a dip. I jumped in several times and even attempted to swim through the crashing water of the falls. It was super refreshing and great to get out of my boots for a little while and give my knee a rest.

From Lower Canyon Creek Falls the trail flattened out a bit and became more overgrown with dense vegetation through the Canyon Creek Meadows area where we saw a lot of backpackers setting up their campsites in the multitude of great spots along the river. Just past the meadows we climbed up past Upper Canyon Creek Falls and crossed over the river (it was easy with the low water this time of year) just above the falls to get onto the Boulder Creek Canyon herdpath/use trail. We stopped for a while here to eat some lunch and run out on the massive slabs of granite for a better view above Upper Falls down the Canyon, up to Sawtooth Peak above us and toward our destination in the Boulder Creek Lakes Basin. The trail was much less maintained/used than themore popular Canyon Creek trail and it took us a while to struggle through the overgrowth and up the switchbacks. Mylegs were completely exhausted and wobbly at this point but when a couple passed us with some great beta on where to camp and told us we would be the only ones up there I found some renewed energy and made it up to the top with Emily. We were told to follow the Cairns around the left side of the main lake which saved us some trail time making itto camp. The temperatures had soared tothe 80’s in the afternoon so when we made it to camp by 5pm I was sweaty and ready for a swim no matter what the lake temperature was. After dropping our packs in what turned outto be the best spot on the whole lake I was pleasantly surprised at how warmthe lake was when I plunged into it to cool off. There was even long granite slab that ran into the lake which provided a platform for us to walk out into the lakeon.

For nearly two full hours we were the only ones in the entire Boulder Creek Lakes Basin. We setup our tent to establish that we had that particular spot and then laid out on the rocks and occasionally took dips in the crystal clear lake. The sun set over the ridge at around 6pm dropping the air temperature a bit so we decided to cook our dinner of penne pasta, sauce and shredded parm which was delicious. As we were eating dinner we saw a couple more small groups of people climb up to the lake and set up sites on the opposite side. It was nice being alone up therein our skivvies but we kind of expected we would eventually see others. Emily and I then spent the night with hot chocolate laying under the stars and listening to the Dan Brown Audiobook frommy iPhone. We were greeted several times by deer walking extremely close to us past our tent site to the edge of thelake. They didn’t seem to be phased bythe audiobook, our voices, or our headlamps on them and it was apparent that wewere blocking their normal path to the water. After Emily fell asleep and returned to the tent I spent another couple hours watching the sky get even darker and practicing some star photography with different settings on our DSLR. Eventually, just after midnight I was overcome with exhaustion from thelong hike in and climbed into the tent myself.

We had a wonderful, very relaxing day on Sunday chillin’ outat the lake. I had actually packed in myday camelback expecting to go on a 7-8 mile hike up the Cascade Canyon to someother lakes but I decided it would be best for my knee to just relax for a day before the pounding it would take on the way out with a heavy backpack onMonday. We debated hiking up a mile or so to another Lake called Forbidden Lake but decided instead to just relax at camp. We spent much of the day just lounging on the rocks and reading books, Emily for her book club and a photography book for me. When it got hot we would jump in the water for a swim or simply sit, half submerged on the granite slab just underneath the surface with book in hand. It looked like we were sitting on the waterfrom a distance. 

In the middle of the lake was what looked like a rock with grass on it so I swam out to it. It turned out to be a large tree that was half sunk. When I stood on it the massive log would sink and then spring back to the surface when I stepped offmaking it a very entertaining underwater spring board for backflipping off ofwhen it rose to the surface. I alsospent some time floating on my Big Agnes Pad, but since it leaked I couldn’t stay out long without slowly sinking! Wedid take a walk around the lake in the early afternoon to check out some rock jumping areas and to venture to the massive 200’ foot cliffs at the edge of the glacial cirque for some unbelievable views of Sawtooth Peak across Cascade Canyon which we had hiked up.

Throughout the afternoon a few more younger groups of campers came up to the area and established spots along our side of the lake but we remained with the best spot for sure. For dinner we cooked up some easy Mountain House meals and I struggled with my SteriPen to purify some drinking water for the hike out. We repeated the evening before under the stars on our mattresses listening to the audiobook and once again I practiced some night photography, getting the hang of it a bit more this night. Instead of a doe like the night before we were visited by a large buck which I ventured a little too near as it put itshead down and pawed the ground a little bit before I wisely backed off. The shots I got over Sawtooth Peak and Mt.Hilton of the Milky Way really turned out great.

On Monday we took our time getting up and leaving the campsite. We had stuffed ourselves with most of the food and packed a little less water in our camelbaks for the descent to save weight. After are freshing last swim in the lake with some biodegradable soap to rinse out someof our hair grease we left camp around 10am. On the way out we stopped at the bottom of Upper Falls for some photos as well as Lower Falls so I could dip my shirt in to stay cool. We only stopped a couple times to give myknee a rest and I popped a packet of Gu down to keep my energy up. We were out of the woods by just after 2:30pmin the afternoon and honestly, besides the rocky and steep descent from BoulderCreeks Lake the descent wasn’t that bad for me.

Instead of taking the winding Rte. 3 back we drove 299through Whiskeytown back to Redding and I-5. It turned out to be pretty twisty too but not as bad as Rte. 3. It took us about 7 hours to get home and wejust about finished the Dan Brown book on the way. We had missed the first Beaver Game (a crazy disappointing loss to a crappy team we haven’t lost to in nearly 15 years) as well as the Squirrels camp out and BBQ but we were super stoked that we had chosen to go camping instead as it turned out to be one of our favorite experiences in the Northwest. We had managed to find one of the few lakes in the area that didn’t directly have snowfields draining into it making it a bit warmer than the others and we had perfect weather and clear skies. Can’t wait to go back to the Trinity Alps to check out another area!

1 comment:

Cynthia Wilcox said...

what absolutely JOY you two give me by sharing this experience. Blog is heart-warming and photography is outstanding!

May I share this with friends?