Backpacking the Red Peak Stock Trail, Lake Schmidell and Rockbound Pass in Desolation Wilderness

I might be too tired to be writing. Lindsey and I just got home from a loop up in Desolation Wilderness.

We left on Friday after post-work barbeques and camped by the side of the road not too far from the trailhead.

In the morning, we chatted up some Forest Service staff who were out repairing the Barrett Jeep Trail. While they were intimately familiar with the area, they didn’t know where the Red Peak Stock Trailhead was. It’s that obscure and rarely traveled. Not totally confident that we’d find our trail, we hiked up the jeep trail to find it anyways. Anyone that’s a competent navigator should be able to find and follow the Red Peak Stock Trail. Sometimes faint, sometimes only cairned, we had little problem following it and I found it to be fun and beautiful. It’s really neat to be so high on the crest that dominates over the central valley.

Wildflowers were diverse and plentiful. Probably at their peek.

Wildflowers were diverse and plentiful. Probably at their peek.

Camp at Lake Schmidell was made somewhat early and I took advantage of it by napping the day away. Beyond drooling on my pad, we swam, ate and talked science. We’d planned on going for a larger loop, but neither of us really wanted to do all of that walking.

Today’s start was late and leisurely. A welcome cloud cover made hiking all the more enjoyable past Lake Lois and Doris. At lunch (tabouli again – delicious) it started to rain. Being a multi-year drought, that’s really damn nice.

Day hiking the Pacific Crest Trail south from Echo Summit

Yesterday, some coworkers, volunteers and friends hiked the PCT south from Echo Summit. It’s always nice to get on the trail and out of the office. We met a few thru-hikers and more than a few section hikers. It sure is early to have so many thru-hikers this far north.

Day hiking the PCT south from Echo Summit

Day hiking the PCT south from Echo Summit.

Backpacking the north rim traverse of Yosemite Valley

We took Friday off work and went backpacking along the north rim of Yosemite Valley. This was one of the trips that we’d planned back in January. While climbing up from the trailhead at Big Oak Flat Road, I realized that this summer marks 25 years backpacking. It’s a hobby that’s here to stay.

We did the drive Thursday night and had an extended dinner at Priest Station. Camp at Crane Flat is remembered because a thunderstorm had clearly unleashed a torrent not long before we arrived.

After permit pickup at the wilderness office in the valley, and the rigamarole of coffee, bathroom, parking, packing and shuttle, we hitch hiked very easily with a brother and sister. He was heading to work outdoor education in Marin.

We split our hike into three perfectly even days. Night one on El Capitan. Night two on North Dome. Backpacking the north rim is all about the iconic, epic, views of the cliffs of Yosemite.

The trip felt marked by Half Dome. We were always walking closer to it. I also felt a strong sense that Yosemite was a bit smaller than I’d thought it to be. I could see a good bit of the park. Places I’d been. And they didn’t look far away.

At both campsites, I felt encroached upon by foreign tourists. An Italian and a German choosing to camp forty feet away the first night. A troop of Chinese photographers that night hiked in and set up tripods the same distance from my sleep spot the second night. Sure, these are famous places. But there was plenty of space and they were needlessly close. American wilderness ethics, and LNT, are not widely engrained.

Hanging out at my sleep spot on the summit of El Capitan.

Hanging out at my sleep spot on the summit of El Capitan.

We saw a bear. A small, light colored yearling running away. We summited Eagle Peak and I detoured to Yosemite Falls. Between the famous locales, the trail was mostly quiet. For being the north rim traverse of Yosemite’s famous valley, it seemed like it was a hike that’s somewhat rarely done.

The stream before North Dome wasn’t running and since we were dry camping, I walked back twenty minutes to gather two gallons from the creek before it.

After the big descent down the rim along Snow Creek, we lunched at Curry Village and swam in the Merced. All in all, a wonderful trip.

Stand up paddle boarding at upper Lake Clementine near Auburn, CA

Lake Clementine felt more like a river without a current at the upper parking lot. It was beautifully crystal clear, calm and narrow. It is, after all, just a flooded portion of the American River. We paddled for a few hours. First up, then down stream to the boat-in camping area. No rush, just a nice casual day on the water together.

I especially enjoyed looking into the deep pools and seeing very large fish swimming below.

By the time we were back at the parking area, a dark cumulonimbus sent us scurrying to tie the boards on my car and get inside.

We’ll be back.

Hiking Maggie’s Peak, Azure Lake and looping down Cascade Creek in Desolation Wilderness

This turned out to be difficult.

The trail up toward Azure Lake from Bayview Campground is steep. The vast majority of people leave the trailhead going towards Cascade Falls. On Sunday we did the climb and spent a few minutes on the summit of Maggie’s Peak. There’s still a lot of snow at the higher elevations of Desolation Wilderness.

After returning to trail from the summit, we saw the side trail to Azure Lake and we wrongly decided that it wasn’t what we were looking for. By the time we reached the Eagle Lake trail, we’d gone too far. I really don’t recommend just cutting over from there to Azure Lake. But that’s what we did and it kicked off our afternoon of difficult cross country travel.

The view from Maggie's Peak towards the west. Snow Lake and Azure Lake, peaks of Desolation Wilderness and the route we took lay below. Lake Tahoe is behind my back.

The view from Maggie’s Peak towards the west. Snow Lake and Azure Lake, peaks of Desolation Wilderness and the route we took lay below. Lake Tahoe is behind my back.

My legs are scratched, abraded and they still sting. That’s what it was like. Very steep, thick brush. Steep granite and cliffs. Steep water courses. I doubt that we took the best route at all times but that’s just sort of how these things go. You push through. When trail appeared, it disappeared quickly and was of pretty scarce quality.

All in all it was a fantastic hike. And arduous.

Stand up paddle boarding D.L. Bliss State Park to Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe

Last weekend was wonderfully quiet at Lake Tahoe. For how nice the weather was, there just weren’t that many people around. Dani and I took our stand up paddle boards to D.L. Bliss State Park and paddled to Emerald Bay and back.

The cliffs that we like to jump off of are a no-go this year. The lake level is too low. We did pass by two guys that had SUP’ed to a crack and were climbing up it. Definitely a neat crag. The other notable feature on the paddle was a ~50 foot log sticking nearly straight up out of the lake.

We drank beer, swam and took our time. All in all, definitely a nice afternoon.

That evening we played bocce ball lakeside, saw a beaver and a gigantic trout and ate dinner at Sunnyside. Tahoe bliss.

Light winds and few boats made for a great day of stand up paddle boarding between D.L. Bliss State Park and Emerald Bay.

Light winds and few boats made for a great day of stand up paddle boarding between D.L. Bliss State Park and Emerald Bay.

Backpacking to Caribou Lake in the Trinity Alps

Storms were hitting the Sierra Nevada but farther north was dry so that’s where we headed for Memorial Day weekend.

I’ve taken to watching hashtags of place names for conditions reports. Before the weekend, two people had posted recent photos of the high country. After the weekend, dozens and dozens of photos went up. Summer has started.

As it tends to happen, we had a great time in the mountains. I’m more relaxed and all ready to go back. This felt like a good kick off to another hiking season.

The trailhead at Big Flat is a long way out. Nearly three hours from Redding. Once we left Highway 3, it was a solid hour down Coffee Creek Road, more than half of that on dirt.

The Caribou Lakes are popular. We shared the basin with probably 15 other groups. Lindsey and I made camp high up and away from most of them and had a great view. We stayed two nights. Sunday sent us exploring and finally up the pretty steep snow to Sawtooth Ridge. We’d considered dropping down and looping around to Big Flat but opted-out. The view down the Stuart Fork and across to the mountains all around was fantastic.

The view from Sawtooth Ridge in the Trinity Alps. Still plenty of snow in the high country.

The view from Sawtooth Ridge in the Trinity Alps. Still plenty of snow in the high country.

Other things? We read issues of the New Yorker. Ate dinner late. Nipped some bourbon. Talked about all of the campers below.

The Trinity Alps have a fantastic conditions report that’s stewarded by the Wilderness lead. You can see it on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest homepage. It talked about the severely limited trail maintenance dollars in the area. I did a bit to help the situation on my way out by clearing hundreds of sticks and stones, a few trees and fixing drainage issues. It made for a fun day. We also split off the main route and hiked the Caribou Gulch trail down. As expected, it needed even more repair but was still very passable and a nice way to go.