Friday, August 29, 2014

From Alpine Meadows Road to the Five Lakes basin: Five Lakes Trail

South-facing slope of the KT-22 mountain between Squaw Valley and Bear Creek valley
KT-22 slope and rock sculptures above Five Lakes Trail

Young black bear
American black bear cub
Five Lakes Trail is a scenic trail connecting the valley of Bear Creek, northwest of Tahoe City in California, with the Five Lakes basin as well as with hiking trails and campsites above and beyond the Five Lakes (5Lks). This cluster of  subalpine wilderness lakes are nestled in a granite basin, interrupting the cliff-structured Pacific Crest. The lakes are found amid shade-throwing pine and fir forest, making them a popular short-hike destination in the North Tahoe area.

The 2.5-mile-long climb to the small lakes begins at the Deer Park Drive/Alpine Meadows Road trailhead. It leads through light forest and continues across the open south-facing slope of the KT-22 mountain, famous for its ski runs. The upper chairlift station of Squaw Valley's KT-22 can be seen from parts of the Five Lakes basin. While hiking across the shrub-covered KT-22 slope, you will notice gray- and beige-colored boulder-composed rock columns reaching the the sky [top picture]. Looking southwest, you won't miss the forest-free ridgecrest with communications antenna-littered Ward Peak above Alpine Meadows Ski area.

One of the Five Lakes
Your climbing effort will be rewarded by an easy walk when you get passed the slope with its switchbacks. You will enter the Granite Chief Wilderness with a forest of red firs. The first lake is not very far away, just on the left side of the trail. Various unmarked trails along lake shores, between granite boulders and through the forest connect the lakes with each other. On a warm and sunny day, you will never be alone here. Visitors like to relax near the water and browse the surroundings—and American black bears also love this place.

If you continue along the main path, Five Lakes Trail will take you to a connector trail with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) or to the upper lake of the Five Lakes, from where the trail also continues to the PCT with options to hike into Whiskey Creek Valley (detailed description follows below) or uphill to the Sierra Crest, Ward Peak, and Twin Peaks farther south.

Getting to the Five Lakes Trailhead and 5LKS Trail
sign directing to the Five Lakes
Get to the Alpine Meadow Road/Highway 89 junction between Truckee and Tahoe City. This junction is about one mile south of the Squaw Valley Road/Highway 89 junction. Cross the Truckee River on Alpine Meadow Road and follow it for about two miles. The marked Five Lakes Trailhead is next to the Deer Park Drive/Alpine Meadows Road junction. You will find a board with a trail map at this trailhead. The Five Lakes Trail signpost indicates that the 5LKS  trail continues on into the Granite Chief Wilderness, to the Pacific Crest Trail and towards Whiskey Creek. You will also get informed that the 5LKS Trail “is located on private property” and asked to respect property owners rights by staying on the trail. Further, you will be warned to not touch unexploded military shell and explosives used for snow avalanche control. When finding such a device, its location should immediately be reported to Alpine Meadows Ski-Patrol (530-5834232).

Trail map with Five Lakes basin, Whiskey Creek and Ward Peak
Hiking map with Five Lakes basin, Whiskey Creek and Ward Peak

Camping next to Five Lakes Creek or at Whisk(e)y Creek Camp
Camping and campfires have been banned near the Five Lakes. But there are forest campsites west of the lake basin along Five Lakes Creek and around historic Whiskey Creek Camp. Mike White, in his Afoot & Afield Reno-Tahoe hiking guide (Wilderness Press, Berkeley, 2008), explained how to get there:
Backpackers in search of a campsite must proceed westbound on the main path from the largest lake [Upper lake of the Five Lakes], to a crossing of Five Lakes Creek and then a three-way junction. Turn left (southwest), and traverse a patchily forested hillside for a quarter mile, to a T-junction with the PCT. By turning left on the southbound PCT, you can quickly reach a passable campsite near the crossing of Five Lakes Creek. A right turn on the northbound PCT leads out of the forest and across shrub-covered slopes, down the canyon of Five Lakes Creek until the trail returns to forest cover and arcs around the lower slopes of Squaw Peak to a well-signed junction. Following directions for Whisky Creek Camp [more commonly spelled Whiskey Creek Trail] turn left and follow switchbacking trail to a crossing of Whisky Creek [Whiskey Creek]. Just up from the crossing is the forested flat of Whisky Creek Camp, where three historic structures occupy the south side. Camping is not allowed within 250 feet of the structures, so look for shady campsites at the north end.

The PCT Whiskey Creek Trail post at the well-signed junctions, in fact, gives directions for both Whiskey Creek Camp and Diamond Crossing. The historic structures remain from the Basque sheepherder's days. They include a bunkhouse, storage shed and a roofed stove—still in good shape, but not available for use anymore!

Related Posts
[1] Five Lakes basin: more than just lakes.
[2] 5 Lakes Trail is both spectacular and accessible.
[3] Hike the Spectacular Five Lakes Trail Near Alpine Meadows.
[4] My Favorite - The Five Lakes Hike.
[5] Five Lakes Hike, Lake Tahoe.

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