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TR: 6/11-15 Lakes north of Cherry Creek

Posted: Sun Jun 17, 2018 10:47 am
by Wandering Daisy
Although not at first enthused about this trip, in retrospect, it was a good choice, given what I have read by PCT’ers about mosquito and snow conditions up higher. The trip did not go as planned but I hit most of the area I wanted to see. I reversed the route and after reaching Red Can Lake the drop into the North Fork of Cherry Creek became less appealing so instead I dropped in via the creek from Big Lake and day-hiked upstream to Lord Meadow. Instead of returning via Rosaco Lake, uncertain of the creek crossing, I took the more certain route back to Buck Meadow Creek trail. A lot of route decisions were made on the spot as I reached points of choice.

Conditions were HOT! My 45-degree sleeping bag would have been perfect, but I had loaned it to a granddaughter so was stuck with my overdone 10-degree bag. In fact I could have done without a sleeping bag and slept in my clothes! Although annoying but not critical I forgot to pack my head net. Mosquitoes were spotty, generally worse in mornings but a nice breeze picked up every afternoon, only to suddenly stop about 6PM, just in time to eat a few mosquitoes for dinner. I only ran into a few small snow patches; but there was plenty of wading both across creeks and in the trail. Stream crossings were past peak but still a concern.
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Day 1: SLOGGING UP THE TRAIL 10.1 miles, 7.2 hours, 2525 gain/1190 loss, 100% trail.

I left town early and picked up my permit in Pinecrest at 9AM. I needed to mail a package, but had to wait for the PO to open at 9:30. I finally reached Crabtree TH at 10AM and immediately left. It was Monday and there were still several groups coming back from weekend trips. One poor fellow had left lost his car keys and was going back to find them. I asked about crossing West Fork of Cherry Creek but nobody had gone that far. The trail is part of a very popular route to Piute, Gem, Jewelry, Deer and Woods Lakes that seems to attract a lot of newbies, which nowadays means questions “how far is it to xxx”, to which I could not really say, except what does your map say? Map? What is that? “Do you mean we have to wade here?”
It was pretty and green to Piute Meadows, with two stream crossings. But the water quality in the “lakes” is poor and you pass plenty of stinky stagnant ponds; I have never liked this part of the trail but it does get you quickly to better locations and has some nice wildflowers.
8407_near Piute Lake.jpg
I decided to instead stay on the higher trail and reverse my intended route, partly because of off-trail travel if I dropped to Louse Canyon, uncertain crossing, more buggy terrain; but mostly, I was tired and cruising on the well maintained trail was so easy. The crossing of the West Fork of Cherry Creek above Piute Lake was above knee deep but very calm. Gem Lake did not appeal to me for camping so I continued to Jewelry Lake, which definitely is the most scenic of lakes. I planned on camping on the other side at the inlet, only to find the inlet was one HUGE swamp! Although disappointed and tired, I continued at a snail’s pace to Deer Lake, where I found a nice but not nearly as scenic a site. I saw a few people in the distance but spoke to nobody. It was a long, hot day and I was tired so only walked around enough to “cool down” and take a few photos.
8298_Deer Lake.jpg

Re: TR: 6/11-15 Lakes north of Cherry Creek

Posted: Sun Jun 17, 2018 11:00 am
by Wandering Daisy
Day 2: OFF-TRAIL FRUSTRATIONS 9.2 miles, 7.9 hours, 760 gain/1470 loss, 70% off trail.
Buck Lake_merge 1_use.jpg
I was up early. From my previous evening stroll, I knew there would be a lot of wading, so I just put on my Crocks and sloshed through little streams and flooded trail until I reached the trail junction to Woods Lake. I continued up to the little “pass” that drops to Buck Lakes. Here there were a few snow patches, the only of the entire trip. By 9AM I was between Upper and Lower Buck Lakes, where, thankfully, the crossing was a calf-deep piece of cake. Both lakes are beautiful so I took many photos slowly ambling on the somewhat hard to find trail. At one point I saw huge brook trout; I had decided not to fish this trip, unfortunately. At the trail junction I turned north towards Woods Lake and then shortly left the trail headed to Red Can Lake. What is shown on Google Earth is very deceptive as it turned out to be very tricky with cliffs and dead ends.
First frustration; deep in the forest, I really did not know exactly where I was. At first I thought I had mistakenly reached Karls Lake. Traversing the southeast shore turned out to be cliffy, up and down, dead-ended in brush, and finally realized I was indeed at Red Can Lake! While on top of buttresses, my intended route down to Cherry Creek via Five Acre Lake looked terrible. If it were anything like what I had gone through, I wanted nothing of it! So I “bailed out” up to Leighton Lake which I had previously traversed on the north side. The south side was similarly complex and slow. Unfortunately the wind died down and mosquitoes emerged, which meant no lunch break! This long lake is quite pretty but photographs do not do it justice.
8326_Red Can Lake_cropped.jpg
8331_Leighton Lake west end.jpg
Second frustration; I missed my intended route to Big Lake. On a previous trip I had found a nice easy route via Kole Lake and then hugging a cliff to drop to Big Lake. First I went too far south and soon was overlooking a steep drop to a canyon. Then I over-corrected and went too far north, dropping instead into Coyote Lake. This actually turned out fine since it was new country with pretty little cliffs to the northwest and the cross-country travel was quite easy. That is, until I dropped into the basin east of Pingree Lake (which I intended to see on the way out, not now). I now had to cross this basin to reach the slabs that drop to Big Lake. Looking nice and flat on the map, this half-mile is instead a joint pattern of intermixed small cliffs and brush surrounded narrow pools and dead ends. I would go one way and get stuck, go back, repeat. Not fair to hit this at the end of the day!
8333_Coyote Lake.jpg
8343_Big Lake camp_use.jpg
I finally broke out onto the slabs. a descending sidewalk to Big Lake. I stopped near the inlet, jumped into the lake, washed clothes and ate a late lunch. A nice breeze off the lake kept the mosquitoes away. I wanted to camp on the other shore to view the slabs and be closer to Gillett Mountain. I found a nice established campsite north of the outlet, but still had to hike to the outlet to see if I could find a better site. I wanted shade, a good breeze, and easy access to water, preferably not an established site. The established site was the best, so stayed put.
8349_Rock Pimples.jpg
Oddly, the rock at the site had pimples! I cooked dinner, and set up the tent. Mosquitoes were no problem but I had to eject a few large ants homesteading inside my tent in addition to a daddy-long-leg spider climbing up one of my stray gray hair strands. Once I got all the wildlife out of my tent, I soaked in the view, listened to music and watched the stars. At least my frustrating day ended well.
8340_Big Lake outlet.jpg

Re: TR: 6/11-15 Lakes north of Cherry Creek

Posted: Sun Jun 17, 2018 11:14 am
by Wandering Daisy
Day 3: WHAT I WAS REALLY HERE FOR 7.3 miles, 8.6 hours, 835 gain/1415 loss, 100% off trail.
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8382_Cherry Cr_edited-1.jpg
This day belonged to Cherry Creek. The plan was to camp near Lord Meadow and then day-hike upstream. A few years back I had hiked downstream from Lord Meadow on the south side, stopped by difficult terrain about a mile down, frustrated that on the north side there were miles of easy slabs to walk. I took my pack, with the intention of camping at the confluence of the creek from Yellowhammer Creek. I found a marginal spot, parked my pack in a clump of trees and headed upstream. It got gnarly quickly. The thickly vegetated areas near the creek are flood features, deadfall dropped all over, and covered with ferns and prickly bushes. I got as far as River Mile 26 and turned around.
8354_Down to Oasis.jpg
I repacked and headed back to the confluence of the creek from Big Lake. I used my sun umbrella walking on the slabs and sure needed it! Shaded campsites were scarce. Where there was shade, there was no flat or smooth ground; where there were smooth campsites, there were no trees or shade in sight. A few marginal sites were impractically far from water. I walked downstream a quarter mile and came back. It was 3PM. I lay in a pool of overflow from the roaring Cherry Creek, washed all my clothes, lay naked on smooth water polished granite, in a stiff breeze (thankfully nobody in a kayak floated by- Cherry Creek is a well-known class V kayak). When I got hot, I sank into my icy pool again. In an hour everything was clean and dry.
8374_View upstream.jpg
8373_Cherry Cr.jpg
8384_Conf_CherryCr_Big Creek.jpg
I packed up and went back to “The Oasis” where I found a wonderful shady campsite, a bit nervous about a footprint of a small bear in the sand nearby. There were abundant birds. I carried up a liter of wonderful cold fresh water from Cherry Creek. Then I gathered some less ideal water from the small stream and dropped a two chlorine tablets in. It was breezy so mosquitoes were scarce. All in all it was a fairly lazy day. At night, I had to get up to pee and somehow four mosquitoes rode in on me. I had to put in ear plugs due to the croaking frogs!
8386_The Oasis_best.jpg

Re: TR: 6/11-15 Lakes north of Cherry Creek

Posted: Sun Jun 17, 2018 11:29 am
by Wandering Daisy
Day 4: HARD DAY WITH ANXIETY ABOUT GETTING OUT 11.2 miles, 9.0 hours, 2236 gain/2080 loss, 85% on trails (of sorts).
8387_The Oasis_B&W.jpg
When I awoke next morning two mosquitoes were full of my blood and two not. I squished them all against the tent netting, which was now splotched with dead bugs. I awoke early, packed up and ate breakfast before the bugs got bad. I zig-zagged up ever steepening slabs northeast of a slot gully that leads to a group of ponds east of Hyatt Lake. It took two tries to descend properly to the inlet beach, which I never could reach due to thick brush the last hundred yards. Had I more time I would have bashed through, but instead I took a few photos from benches.
8396_Hyatt Lake.jpg
8401_Hayett Lk.jpg

Then I headed uphill to traverse the prominent ridge to the east, following sparse cairns. The plan was to walk in the valley containing Lake 7727, but I found a wonderful parallel ledge about one contour line above the swampy brush choked valley. All went well until I had to crawl through a few short sections of brush or go up or down. Nearing the top of the valley I had to drop and cross the valley to get onto slabs northwest of the drainage and found obscure little paths through joint fractured granite at the top. A short drop and I intersected an old faint trail that passes a small pond shortly before a trail junction on the map that does not exist on the ground!
At this point I could stay on my initial route and turn left to Rosaco Lake where I would pick up a good trail that drops to Louse Canyon. The down side of this route is crossing the West Fork of Cherry Creek below the confluence with Buck Meadow Creek. If I could not cross it safely it was a long backtrack. Or I could continue up “Pingree” Valley following the old stock trail marked on the map, but with only far apart cairns on the ground, to a small “pass” and drop to the trail to Woods Lake.

I chose the latter. To give me a bit of contingency I dropped a side-trip to Pingree Lake. If I could not cross Buck Meadow Creek I would have to go back to Buck Lakes and reverse my route on Days 1-2. The trail became more distinct as I headed up. It was well marked and quite evidently an old stock trail near the top. It also was full of stagnant ponds and bogs and had the worst mosquitoes of the entire trip. As it drops to Buck Meadow Creek it becomes a huge regular trail. It was noon and the crossing was marginally safe. The current was swift enough that I kept on my hiking shoes and slowly crossed, planting my trekking poles for support as water reached mid-thigh. There was about a five foot section that I thought I would lose it. Whew! That was done and I was home free! Given this crossing, I was glad I did not try to cross in Louse Canyon. I walked up to the trail junction to Gem Lake, wrung out my socks and ate lunch.

More choices! I missed photographing Jewelry Lake on Day1 and would love to camp there. It would make a long last day so I turned left and dropped to Piute Meadow. The crossing of West Cherry Creek above Piute Lake was the same and as easy as when I came in. Piute Meadow has very nice campsites in shade, but it was early, and mosquitoes were hovering with the wind muffled by trees. Continuing, the next possible camping was the long unnamed lake a mile west of Piute Meadow. My sun umbrella helped to beat the scorching sunlight. When I reached the lakes, upon closer inspection of the water I really did not want to drink that stuff even if I treated it. It was mostly downhill to the next creek that flows from Bear Lake where there was good water. But I was hurting; I crept down the hill, my feet aching.

I crossed the creek and found a nice established campsite up out of the buggy bottom on a little buttress with a nice breeze. I then went back down to take a bucket bath, wash clothes and gather water. What I did not realize was that the trail switch-backs directly above my campsite, until a large group of goofy collage kids came bounding down the trail, half their gear dangling off their packs. It was 6PM and they had no intention of stopping, following each other along, oblivious that there were few good campsites for the next three miles. I fixed my dinner nearly emptying my gas canister. I hoped I had enough for a cup of coffee in the morning. I listened to music and croaking frogs. 3AM I was abruptly awakened by loud clanging bells and pounding of horse hoofs. Although visible from the trail, I was far enough away not to be in any danger, or spook the horses. But then I had trouble getting back to sleep.

Day 5: SHORT WALK OUT 2.8 miles, 1.5 hours, 405 gain/630 loss, 100% on trails.
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I gave up on sleeping at 5AM. Breakfast finished the last drop of fuel; an attempt at a second cup of coffee failed. As I passed Camp Lake food bags were counter balanced on a limb overhanging the trail. The pull lines were on the ground; what good did that do? Perhaps that poor packer ran into the bags. At the other end of Camp Lake there was a fellow, cowboy camping literally five feet off the trail. I am amazed he did not get stepped on by the horses. When I reached the parking lot, there were numerous horse trailers, campers, and even four llamas. Everyone was getting ready for the busy weekend. I was glad I was getting out of Dodge!

Here are a few more photos
8346_Big Lake rock.jpg
8361_grass in Oasis.jpg
8366_down to Cherry Cr.jpg

Re: TR: 6/11-15 Lakes north of Cherry Creek

Posted: Sun Jun 17, 2018 11:49 am
by Wandering Daisy
To elaborate a bit more about getting from Big Lake to "The Oasis":

On the map, this green oasis in a sea of granite slabs, is the green spot east of Hyatt Lake and west of Big Lake. The route drops down a gully north of the outlet of Big Lake; or you can traverse about .2 mile staying on the upper parts of the slabs and then drop down before reaching the slippery wet slabs where the creek from Pinegree Valley descends. This latter route is what I had done on a previous trip. On my current trip I dropped down directly to a smaller green spot on the map between The Oasis and Big Lake. This was a bit of a mistake, since a cliff blocks easy walking along the north edge, so you have to go to the south side and do a bit of bushwhacking and talus scrambling. This upper green patch is also pretty. Continuing down to The Oasis is quite easy. About half way along the Oasis, you get blocked by brush, so cross the creek to the northwest side, which is easier. The best camping is at the far south end, before slabs drop to Cherry Creek.

The patches of green shown on the map along the north bank of Cherry Creek all have minimal campsites, but the big problem is little shade where the ground is suitable to camp on. Much of the flat ground is very rocky or full of flood debris. Although lacking shade, there are plenty of flat slabs to camp on. The North Fork of Cherry Creek is still something I eventually want to do, but would be more suitable late season when you could walk in the streambed if needed. It looks pretty gnarly on Google Earth. The Emigrant Wilderness guidebook says the late season hike down Cherry Creek from Lord Meadow to just above Cherry Lake is the classic best hike in the entire Wilderness area. Again, difficult to impossible to do at high water. That too is on my future bucket list.

Re: TR: 6/11-15 Lakes north of Cherry Creek

Posted: Sun Jun 17, 2018 2:34 pm
by kpeter
Wow! I recognized your exact tent site at Big Lake and the rock with pimples!

Yes we did cross Buck Meadow Creek, twice, on our dayhike that followed that old stock trail down "Pingree Valley" to get to Pingree and the granite above Big Lake, then returned. Along the way I noticed footprints from someone who had recently come up that trail from the south. I commented to my friend that I was surprised that anyone had been over that trail so early since until recently Buck Meadow Creek was impassable. They must have been yours since you did this the day before we did, and in that direction!

As for the crossing, we did it in both directions that day but we only had lightweight packs for our dayhike, which may have helped us. It was a little above our knees and swift but neither of us felt in any danger. The hardest thing was moving my poles in the swift water to maintain a three point stance. It took a couple of tries usually to place them just right. If the water had been colder we would have been in trouble, since it was time consuming and I would have cramped, but for some reason the water was not that cold. We also had thought about completing our loop via Rosaco but decided against it for the exact reason you gave--we did not want to get stranded at the crossing of W Fork below the confluence and then have a long backtrack. So we calculated exactly as you did.

On my last trip a couple of weeks ago I looked over from Mercur ridge and could see the granite over which the outlet of Big Lake was flowing--I was observing it from near your old campsite on Mercur ridge. When you were at the Big Lake outlet this trip, was it still flowing? Two years ago at this time nothing was escaping the outlet--near your camp--when I circled to that end of the lake.

I found Red Can to be one of the prettiest lakes in the area, but it was difficult to get to for all the reasons you indicated. I came up its outlet from Five Acre Lake and had to climb a crack in a 10 foot cliff above a marsh just before the lake to get there. And yes, finding my way around the lake was difficult with the broken terrain. Then on the way out I found the east/west route directly between Leighton and Red Can and that was easy--clearly the preferred route to Red Can.

I wasn't as impressed with Leighton as you were--when Leighton built the check dam it killed quite a few trees that are still standing in the water. The islands and shoreline was quite interesting, though. Leighton himself must have liked that lake best of all since it is named after him. Did you visit his old camp near Yellowhammer?

I liked Karl's lake better, which I thought was among the more picturesque of the large woodsy lakes in the region. But finding my way between Leighton and Karl's was an adventure! I took Leighton's north shore, not the south, and I don't think it was difficult except threading my way on that narrow spit between the lakes.

If I was there one day earlier or you one day later we would have met in Pingree Valley! I wear my HST patch on my hat so you wouldn't have missed me :) Thanks for sharing another of your adventures, it was great fun to compare notes!

Re: TR: 6/11-15 Lakes north of Cherry Creek

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2018 11:57 am
by Wandering Daisy
Not sure you saw my footprints. I also noticed another person's footprints (much larger feet than me).

The outlet from Big Lake was trickling a bit. Down at the first clump of trees above the Oasis, it was flowing pretty good, as well as it flowed to the Oasis. By the way, I just made up the names for the Oasis, as well as Pingree Valley.

Creek crossings are always difficult for me because of my size. Even with a pack on I only weigh 135 and my knee height is more like guy's mid-calf. I am OK with deep as long as it is not flowing fast. Fast flow over my knees is really hard. Crossing Cherry Creek above Piute Lake is easy because there is little if any flow.

I too was surprised about how warm the water was. If it is this warm now just think about how warm it will be by fall. I hope the fish survive.

Re: TR: 6/11-15 Lakes north of Cherry Creek

Posted: Tue Jun 19, 2018 1:57 pm
by paula53
Those pictures were spectacular. Reading the trip report made me feel that I was with you hiking! I last visited that area, many years ago, about 1979 or so. It was full of backpackers that I have avoided the area. Now I want to go back. Thank You.

Re: TR: 6/11-15 Lakes north of Cherry Creek

Posted: Tue Jun 19, 2018 5:08 pm
by Wandering Daisy
The off-trail portions are NEVER full of backpackers. The trail loop, upper to Woods Lake and back lower trail, IS full of backpackers. Once you get off that particular loop, it really clears out. Most do not go all the way to Buck Lakes even though you can get there all the way on a trail. Although not a lot of big topographic relief, the terrain is quite complex. There tends to be lots of cliffs that do not show up on the topographic map. And the underbrush can get downright nasty.

I would never go in that area mid-summer or later- the water sources would be a problem and it would be too hot. The creeks really go down by mid summer and are not that pretty.

Re: TR: 6/11-15 Lakes north of Cherry Creek

Posted: Tue Jun 19, 2018 11:10 pm
by paula53
Good points to keep in mind.