Saturday, August 12, 2017

Triangle Lake Trail

Triangle Lake, Desolation Wilderness, California
The Triangle Lake is a small, shallow lake surrounded by trees and rocks. In contrast to many lakes of the Desolation Wilderness that can be overviewed from stretches of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), Triangle Lake is hidden away in the forest between Echo Peak and Keiths Dome—north of the PCT.

The hiking distance from the Echo Lakes Chalet to Triangle Lake is 4.2 miles (6.8 km). The Triangle Lake Trail has been rated as moderate: requiring some skill and challenge to travel [1]. The challenge comes with the final dead-end descend to the lake, where the trail is not marked (except by occasional stacks of stones) and where you want to make sure to know your return path through the rockscape.

Triangle Lake trailhead
To get to the “Triangle Lake trailhead,” follow the westbound PCT from the Chalet or its water-taxi-serviced access points to the Desolation Wilderness boundary—see The Echo Lakes trailheads for details. Just after passing the boundary sign, a post (shown in left-side picture) indicates where the Triangle Lake Trail forks off the PCT—uphill and northbound. Proceed this single-track trail through dense forest with occasional meadow openings until you reach the flat saddle after less than one mile. On the saddle the Triangle Lake Trail intersects with Lily Lake Trail (here coincidenting with Echo Peak Trail). Triangle Lake Trail continues northwest-bound. Jeffrey Schaffer instructs [2]:
Ascending Triangle Lake Trail

Take this trail northward, first through a meadow [shown in the picture below] then across ducked quartz-monozonite bed rock above the lake, and have an excellent view of Mt. Tallac and its southern slopes. The trail then makes a steep, 40-yard [36.6 m] descent east.

An alpine meadow north of the Triangle Lake Trail/Lily Pond Trail intersection
Schaffer mentions that—from this point—one could “side-track” toward Lost Lake, but says that most hikers opt for the more appealing Triangle Lake by continuing downhill:

From the bottom of the short [40-yard], steep descent, you reach a creeklet and follow a duff trail  down to the shallow, grassy south end of Triangle Lake. From the lake's northwest shore one can look down into the water and see brook trout swimming lazily in this [relatively] deep arm of the slightly cloudy lake. Small, fair campsites can be found in nooks among the ice-fractured rocks above the lake.

There is a good chance you or your party will be alone at Triangle Lake—especially on week days. Or you may meet backpackers and anglers around the lake. A few anglers are said to come up via the strenuous path from the Fallen Leaf Lake/Lily Pond area for fishing.

I couldn't figure out whether Triangle Lake is named for its shape (which deviates from school-book triangle geometry) or for its approximate location in the center of the triangle defined by the west tip of Upper Echo Lake, the east tip of Lake Aloha and the south tip of Fallen Leaf Lake—or for some other feature? Anyway, it is a beautiful, tiny lake worth a visit.

Map at PCT trailhead showing only the dead-end section of the Triangle Lake Trail, but not the section between the PCT at the wilderness boundary and the Triangle Lake Trail/Lily Lake Trail intersection

Reference and more to explore

[1] USDA Forest Service: Desolation Wilderness: Echo Lakes Trailhead. Internet: page.
[2] Jeffrey Schaffer: Desolation Wilderness. Wilderness Press, May 10, 2010. Internet: book page

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Lake of the Woods in California's Desolation Wilderness

Lake of the Woods
The Lake of the Woods—sometime simply called Lake Woods—lies northwest of the Echo Lakes. The one-way hiking distance from the Echo Lake Chalet is 5.3 miles. You can shave off a few hiking miles by starting at one of the Echo Lakes trailheads that are accessible via water taxi service. From any of the Echo Lakes trailheads follow the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) into the backcountry toward Lake Aloha.

After 4.8 miles from the Chalet you will arrive at the trail junction with the trail post shown on the left. There are other options to get to Lake of the Woods farther ahead on the PCT. Various loops, including a hike alongside the eastern shores of Lake Aloha, are possible. But to head straight toward the featured target lake, you want to leave the PCT and take the westbound lateral. This gently ascending single-track trail—much less traveled than the popular PCT—leads over a ridge, intersecting Ralston Peak Trail on its crest. From the intersection, a few switchbacks descend to the posted campsite overview and to the northeast corner of Lake of the Woods.
Map with trails and campsites around Lake of the Woods
Trail and campsite overview

At an elevation of somewhat above 8,000 feet (2,450 m), Lake of the Woods is a glacial lake in the subalpine zone close to the treeline. The northeast-facing slopes of the Crystal Range with Pyramid Peak northwest of the lake look almost barren; with only a few trees sustaining themselves on the glacier-polished granite surface.
Crystal Range with Pyramid Peak seen from the northeast shore of Lake of the Woods
Lake of the Woods with the Crystal Range including Pyramid Peak in the far background

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Echo Lakes trailheads

Riding a water taxi toward the Upper Echo Lake pier and PCT trailhead
The Echo Lakes feature three starting points for hikers and backpackers heading from the east toward the Desolation Wilderness. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) traverses the northside granite slopes above the Lower Echo Lake and Upper Echo Lake. The single-track PCT is accessible from those lake-level, pier-side trailheads.

The main trailhead is located next to the Echo Lake Chalet at the eastern tip of the lower lake, from where the southbound PCT leads via Echo Summit to the Meiss Meadows and Carson Pass and the northbound PCT connects the Chalet with lakes in the Desolation Wilderness, including Tamarack Lake (3.8 miles), Lake of the Woods (5.3 miles) and Lake Aloha (6.1 miles). For other lake destinations and distances, see the USDA Echo Lakes Trailhead table.

An on-demand water taxi service is offered by the Chalet (current one-way fees: $14.00 per person, $5.00 per dog and free for non-walking infants); shaving 2.5 miles (one-way) off your trip into the Desolation Wilderness. The water taxi takes you to a pier in the northwest corner of Upper Echo Lake, connected with the PCT via a short lateral. 

The Echo Lakes channel requires navigation skills

The offered boat rides across the Lower and the Upper Echo Lake are speedy and fun. My favorite part of the ride, however, is the slow, scenic passage at five miles per hour through the shallow and narrow channel connecting the two lakes—connecting them until the water level falls too low. When this happens, typically at the end of summer, the boats land at an alternative pier in the northwest corner of Lower Echo Lake. There as well, a lateral connects the pier with the PCT, about two miles northwest from the Chalet trailhead.

Our captain safely maneuvered the boat through the channel
Inside our boat, which we took on a July 2017 hiking trip, I noticed a small plaque saying “Our Captain is always right. Misinformed perhaps, sloppy, crude, bullheaded, fickle, even stupid, but, never wrong.” Never mind. We had a great experience: Our captain was nice, smart and informative, making the taxi ride a perfect start out into the lake-rich wilderness

An Echo Lakes channel scene: wild hair, rustic cabins

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Church's Pond Trail

Church's Pond Trail as shown on a panel map of Galena Creek Park

Church's Pond Trail—southwest of Reno in Nevada—is a 0.7-mile-long hiking trail in the Mount Rose Wilderness connecting the Jones Whites Loop Trail with Church's Pond (also written Church Pond). The water level of this tiny sub-alpine lake fluctuates seasonally and over the years. The following two pictures compare the nearly dried-out lake at the end of the precipitation-deficient period from 2011 to 2016 and the regrown lake in July 2017—after being refilled with meltwater of the 2016/2017 snowpack.
Church's Pond with a high water level (2017); Mount Rose with snow patches very far back
Church's Pond with a low water level (2016)
Church's Pond Trail is a single-track trail through mostly open forest with views of Little Washoe Lake and Slide Mountain. The short trail traverses a narrow open slope covered by red-brown rocks, then climbs over a ridge and passes through a stand of young aspen before descending to the “beach” of Church's Pond with views of Mount Rose in the background.
Partially snow-covered Church's Pond Trail traversing a rock-covered slope
Visitors come to see and fall in love with Lake Tahoe. Renoites love Church's Pond (and Lake Tahoe as well).

Monday, July 17, 2017

Sierra Buttes Lookout Trail

Rugged Sierra Buttes cliffs with lookout far back on top
Sierra Buttes Lookout Trail connects the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) with the lookout perched on the ridge of Sierra Buttes (8,587 feet; 2,617 m), northeast of Sierra City in Sierra County, California [1,2]. This trail may also be addressed as Sierra Buttes Trail, depending on which map, trail guide or hiking post you consult.

The 2.5 mile-long climb to the fire lookout starts at the Sierra Buttes Trailhead steel gate shown below. As you can see, the PCT here coincidences with the Sierra Buttes Trail. After about one mile you will arrive at the Y-junction, where the left-side trail, winding up from the Tamarack Lakes, meets the Sierra Buttes Trail and PCT. At the next Y-junction the Sierra Buttes Trail and the PCT split apart. Ascend the left-side trail that follows the forested ridge. At various trail points you will experience grand views of the Tamarack Lakes and, higher up, of the Sardine Lakes and Young America Lake.

Young America Lake seen from Sierra Buttes Lookout Trail

As you are getting closer to the top of the Buttes, a set of switchbacks are leading uphill until the trail merges with the jeep road, which usually is closed for motorized traffic. A few more switchbacks on the road and you will find yourself between cliffs and pinnacles. A series of sturdy stairs with handrails connect the trail-end with the lofty lookout.  A plaque honors the five Tahoe National Forest employees who made it possible for visitors to easily and safely climb up to the lookout by constructing the metal stairs and platforms in the summer of 1964. It has been noticed that parts of the stairs hang over empty space [3]—and that the stairway is not for hikers with vertigo! But safe they are.

A wooden board at the bottom of the stairs provides a basic background of the geology and history of Sierra Buttes and its fire lookout:

The majestic Sierra Buttes tower nearly 5000 feet [1524 m] above Sierra City and is the gateway to the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. The Sierra Buttes are composed of metamorphosed rock called quartz porphry [porphyry] which was exploded from undersea volcanoes about 350 million years ago. These volcanic deposits are highly resistant to erosion. Gold was first discovered here in 1849. And by the late 1800's eleven mines were operating on or near the Buttes. In 1869 a 106 pound nugget was uncovered at the monumental mine near the Buttes. A forest service fire lookout tower is perched on the Buttes. During periods of high fire danger the lookout keeps a constant watch for wildfires.

Sierra Buttes fire lookout
When I was at the lookout with a friend on July 14, 2017, we didn't notice any fire-lookout personal. But the fire danger was high. The same day, the Cold Springs Fire between Bordertown and Stead (near Reno, about 50 miles east of the Buttes) developed enough smoke such that Highway 395 was shut in both directions.

Getting to the Sierra Buttes Trailhead

From Bassetts Station at Highway 49, drive uphill on Gold Lake Highway to its junction with Packer Lake Road. Turn left on Packer Lake Road and proceed past the Packsaddle Campground to the Tamarack Lakes Trailhead, 0.2 mile past the turnoff for Packer Lake Lodge. Consider the Tamarack Lakes Trailhead as an option to hike—past the Tamarack Lakes—uphill to access the PCT and Sierra Buttes Lookout Trail. To start your hike from the Sierra Buttes Trailhead, continue on the steep and narrow road toward Packer Saddle (a PCT access point).  Past the saddle, drive south on the paved. After 0.4 mile, veer left onto the dirt road to arrive at the Sierra Buttes Trailhead after 0.1 mile. Begin your hike on the old jeep road beyond a closed steel gate, shown in the following picture. 

Sierra Buttes Trailhead


References and more to explore

[1] JoshMc: Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout Hike. California Through My Lens. June 28, 2016 [].
[2] Tom Sienstra: Sierra Buttes lookout climb takes an act of faith. SFGATE, August 14, 2011 [].
[3] Stepping Back in Time. Sierra Foothill Magazine [].

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Native Bay Area plant garden at Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center

Blue oak leaf life: What is accompanying the lady bug?
The Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center has displays about various aspects of  the natural history of Mount Diablo and beyond. By the visitor center is a well-maintained, interpretive botanical garden of native Bay Area plants. Mamma Quail has written—augmented by beautiful nature photography—about her pleasure to wander in this garden before and after hiking in the Mount Diablo foothills [1].

A California State Parks panel in the interpretive botanical garden says:
The diversity of California's native plant life, about 6,000 species, is unequaled by any other state. This results from the state's varied climate, soils, and geology. Nearly one-quarter of these plants live naturally only in California.

In addition to the insect-populated blue oak (Quercus douglasii) leaves shown in the top picture, here are some more snapshots of flowering plants, which I saw in the garden during my visit in May of this year.

Bush Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus), lopseed family.

Narrowleaf Goldenbush (Ericameria linearifolia), sunflower family.

Blue Elderberry (Sambucus nigra), muskroot family.

Black Sage (Salvia mellifera), mint family.

Wavy-Leaf Silk Tassel (Garrya elliptica), Garryaceae.


Getting to the visitor center and botanical garden

The address of the Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center in Contra Costa County is: 96 Mitchell Canyon Road, Clayton, CA 94517 (phone: 925 - 837-2525).

From the intersection of Ygnacio Valley Road and Clayton Road, go southeast on Clayton Road for a little less than a mile and turn right on Mitchell Canyon Road.  The interpretive center is located at the south end of that road. There is limited parking on the right side of the road before passing the gate and more parking space in the park's fee area.

More to explore

[1] Mamma Quail: Mitchell Canyon, Revisited. December 7, 2015 [].
[2] Mount Diablo Interpretive Association: Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center [].

Friday, June 16, 2017

Madrone Canyon Trail

Thick, peeling madrone branches next to Madrone Canyon Trail at Lower Rock City

The one-mile-long Madrone Canyon Trail in Mount Diablo State Park lives up to its name. Alongside this trail you will find old-grown madrones on the steep canyon sides reaching for the sky . Unless you start climbing the granite walls of the Boy Scout Rocks at Lower Rock City, you will find yourself in the shade of evergreens all the way through Madrone Canyon. At one point a bridge crosses the creek at the canyon bottom.

Bending trunk of a Pacific Madrone
Madrone Canyon Trail

Madrone Canyon Trail connects the Rock City Area with Devil's Slide Trail. In Lower Rock City, you will find a picnic table next to an old madrone tree with one heavy branch supported by a post (top and bottom picture). As you continue downhill through Madrone Canyon, you will immerse in a jungle of peeling bark and waxy green leaves.

In the canyon, the Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) trees rarely grow a straight trunk. The tall trees display bending, often slightly winding trunks and branches. Many of them survived on slopes with slowly sliding ground, depending on rain fall and water flow. Over time, the trees that slowly moved along with the soil—or shifted downhill during an avalanche—and so got out of balance, may have adjusted their growth from tilted to upright in trying to maximize their capture of sun light. If this is the case, each tree has conserved its own canyon history in the trunk curvature. Whatever the reason, standing or walking in a madrone forest with curved and sometimes entangling trees, which feature peeling red-brown bark and expose the inner, pinkish green wood with a satin sheen, is a unique, almost haunting experience.

Climber exploring a Boy Scout Rock on the west side of Madrone Canyon Trail


Getting to the Madrone Canyon Trail

Drive South Gate Road uphill to Rock City. Find parking at Lower Rock City in the Rock City Live Oak area. Walk downhill to the Trail Through Time or to the picnic table with the post-supported madrone branch, from where a single-track trail continues downhill into and through Madrone Canyon.
Little Rock City picnic table with supported madrone branch

Keywords: hiking; madrone grove; Arbutus; Ericaceae.

More to explore

The Outbound Collective: Hike in Mount Diablo's Madrone Canyon [].