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