Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sand Ridge Lake, a quarter mile off the Hole-In-The-Ground (HITG) trail in the northern Sierra Nevada

Sand Ridge Lake is a small, shallow, serene lake hiding between granite humps and forest trees. In fact, some maps show a cluster of lakes: here and there you will read the plural form Sand Ridge Lakes. The main lake is a nice and refreshing natural pool for dipping, floating and swimming. With its shallow body of water, you probably will touch the ground as well as various underwater plants. Be prepared for the few deep spots or holes in the lake. The surrounding lakes—let's call them puddles and ponds—are integral parts of wet meadows. And some are hiding between conifers and boulders. 

To get to this little paradise of ponds northwest of Andesite Peak and Castle Peak, take Sand Ridge Lake Trail, which shares parts of its route with sections of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Hole-In-The-Ground (HITG) Trail. The most popular hiking option is the route from Donner Summit over Castle Pass to the Sierra Club's Peter Grubb Hut, a currently closed cabin in Round Valley. Just north of this hut, a trail through mixed forest, less than a mile long, connects the PCT with the HITG Trail by switchbacking downhill (see map avove). Once on the popular mountain biking trail, your trip continues for about one mile over seasonal streams and through forest groves to the junction with the 1/4 mile sign (shown above). This quarter-mile-long dead-end trail leads uphill. You may start wondering if it really heads towards a lake. But—using Mike White's phrasing [1]—“as you climb up the hillside through a diminishing cover of forest, to the top of a ridge peppered with granite slabs and boulders, the sparkling waters of Sand Ridge Lake spring into view as the grade eases.” 

Trailheads with Sand Ridge Lake access
Sand Ridge Lake is located roughly midway along the Hole-In-The-Ground (HITG) Trail. One HITG trailhead is located in Castle Valley, about one mile north of the short, paved Castle Valley Road next to the Interstate 80 PCT exit. At this HITG trailhead you are facing the choice of taking the HITG route over Andesite Peak or over Castle Pass via PCT and the Peter Grubb cabin—as described above. What about planning a semi-round trip to Sand Ridge Lake?

The other HITG trailhead coincidences with the trailhead for the Lola Montez Lakes next to the fire station north of the Soda Springs exit of Interstate 80. Near the Lower Lola Montez Lake a signed Y-junction marks the actual beginning of the HITG Trail.

Although the Donner Summit area is a popular summer outdoor destination among hikers and mountain bikers, the Sand Ridge Lake is said to be the least-visited spots in this area northwest of Truckee [2].

References and more to explore
[1] Mike White: Afoot & Afield. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, California, 2nd printing 2008; pp. 76-77.
[2] REI > California Hiking > Sand Ridge Lake Trail [].

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