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TR: Bear Lakes, Trinity Alps

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TR: Bear Lakes, Trinity Alps

Postby Lumbergh21 » Sat Aug 05, 2017 8:56 pm

Big, Little, and Wee Bear Lakes

A way too long trip report for a way too short trip.

Day 1

As a last warm-up or attempt at maintaining my sanity, I took a very short overnight hike in the Trinity Alps to Big Bear, Little Bear, and Wee Bear Lakes. The lakes lie in a pair of granite bowls at the north end of the alps approximately 45 miles north of Weaverville by road. I was able to take a few hours vacation and leave work early on Friday for the drive to the trailhead and the hike to Big Bear Lake. Unfortunately, road work and poor trail head directions that included a road washed out years ago delayed me, and I didn’t actually start hiking until 5:15.

The trail was in good condition and steep. While it is only approximately 4.7 miles from the current trailhead to Big Bear Lake, the trail climbs 2,817 feet over those miles, making them feel much longer. As I climbed the trail, the sun sank in the west. It became obvious that I wasn’t making it to Big Bear Lake before dark. The creek had dropped well below the trail after the bridge crossing, and I knew that whatever the lighting, I would need to keep going at least until the trail and creek met again. Before it got truly dark I came to a large campsite along the creek where I decided to stop for the night.

I set up my tent, tossed my stuff inside, and went looking for the right tree branch to hang my food bag. I found a good one and then the fun began. I found a rock to tie my line to. It was a little too big, but workable. I gave it a heave, and it went sailing over, yellow cord trailing behind, … the branch just below the one that I was aiming for. This was a decent branch as well, but not the one I wanted. The one that I wanted, that I had to have, was two feet higher. So, I pulled the cord over and back down and gave it another shot. Not even close. Third time it went over the correct branch, but the rock became unattached leaving the cord dangling about 16 feet above me. Fourth attempt, nope. Fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, nope, nope, nope, nope. That’s it! I’m done with this stupid bear hang! (Why didn’t I just go with the first toss? Why, why, why?). After dinner, I decided to give it one more try. Good toss, rock still attached, bingo! Now I could hang my food bag rather than keep it in my tent and defend it against all assailants.

While walking over for the final bear bag hang attempt, I did get a close up view of a doe and her fawn. The doe didn’t seem to notice me while the fawn was frozen still, staring at me, until it finally took off, bounding towards its mother. The tall timber surrounding the campsite only allowed me the smallest view of the night sky, but the little fawn nearly made up for that.

Day 2

I awoke from a good night’s sleep around 6 AM with the sky lighting up, but no sun penetrated the thick forest canopy above me. I took my time getting ready and packing up and didn’t get back on the trail until after 8. The trail continued to climb, eventually breaking out of the forest and onto the granite that held the lakes. I kept to the trail that led up to Big Bear Lake, taking note of the off-trail route to Little Bear and Wee Bear Lakes that I would hit on the way back down.

I arrived at Big Bear Lake around 9:30. The lake itself is beautiful, granite rising above it on three sides, clear snowmelt water filling the basin. There are at least two camp sites near the lake outlet, though only one should be. The unoccupied one that I walked through on my way to the shore is too close to the shore, and lies in a depression that would make any night spent there a wet one, I imagine. I didn’t examine the other one, as there were people camped there, but I suspect it was much the same, though probably not in a depression. I took a few pictures, picked up a couple of food wrappers someone had left behind, and headed to my true destination, Little Bear Lake.
Big Bear Lake.jpg

I headed back down trail losing some elevation, crossing back over the creek below the lake until I came back out on the clear granite with an unobstructed view of the ridge that separated me from Little Bear Lake.
The Way To Wee Bear Lake.jpg

I headed out across the granite crossing over Bear Creek once again and began climbing up towards the ridge. I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to cross the ridge, and ended up crossing way too high, about 200 feet below the peak. On the positive side this allowed me to remove a red plastic streamer someone had tied to a small pine tree growing out of a crack in the rock. I dropped down a bit and began traversing sideways around the peak at around 6,200 feet, always finding myself above the occasional cairn, but enjoying my own route, a route that brought me to Wee Bear Lake, or more accurately about 60 feet above Wee Bear Lake. I backtracked a bit, dropping down into a drainage leading from the lake, which I took back up to the lake.
Wee Bear Lake from Inlet.jpg

After exploring the Wee Bear Lake area and taking in the views from just below its northern shore, I followed the creek up from Wee Bear to Little Bear. Little Bear was a gorgeous miniature version of Big Bear. I hiked by a couple of campsites on a use trail to the lakeshore where I finally broke out my spinning rod and tied a small spoon onto the line with a couple of small split shot to help it sink. There was little or no surface action, but I had seen a small trout cruising around the lake outlet and several minnows in the creek between the two lakes. I spent the next half hour practicing my casts with only a single small fish following the spoon back to shore on one of the retrievals. It was noon and time for lunch. I was fine with not catching any fish, that wasn’t what I was there for anyway.
Little Bear Lake.jpg

After a nice relaxing lunch break, I packed up and picked up some more trash before heading back out. I filtered some water at the outlet of Wee Bear Lake, planning to fill my bottles once I made it back to Bear Creek.
Traversing Around Peak to Wee Bear Lake.jpg

Mt Shasta From Ridge.jpg

Looking North Across Bear Creek Canyon.jpg

I took a different route on the way back finding myself way above where I needed to be when Big Bear Lake came into view well below me. At least I had a nice view down onto Big Bear Lake. The rest of the hike back to my car was uneventful. I did see three people headed in as I was headed out but not much more.

The highlights of the trip were the cute fawn, the big granite spires, Little Bear Lake, the off trail scrambling around on the granite, and just relaxing. If you plan on going, know that you will need to take Hwy 3 to the Sunflower cabins and head south on Bear Creek Loop Road to the trailhead. The southern end of the loop is no more, washed away by the Trinity River. The road is not maintained, and I would not recommend taking a 2wd passenger car on it like I did. There were four washes where a higher clearance vehicle would have been nice, though I did make it in and back out fine. Second, if you plan to go to Wee Bear and Little Bear Lake, do not follow the advice that I found on line of heading towards the ridge after crossing the stream just below Big Bear Lake. You can start heading out across the granite as soon as you feel comfortable. Crossing Bear Creek where it is streaming down the exposed granite is simple and saves time, at least if you have no intention of going to Big Bear Lake. Head for a notch low on the ridge just above where it drops of precipitously into the canyon below. Then just pick your way up and over to the Wee Bear Lake outlet. You can then follow the inlet up to Little Bear Lake. Finally, if you want a camp site with a view but no water, there were a few sandy benches in the granite between Bear Creek and Wee Bear Lake that offered spectacular views looking southeast down the canyon that holds Bear Creek.
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Lumbergh21
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Re: TR: Bear Lakes, Trinity Alps

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Aug 06, 2017 6:57 pm

Very nice. Good to see that smoke was not an issue. What were the mosquitoes like? I have a trip planned for the Marble Mountains and am waiting until mosquitoes are less of a problem. What little I can glean from the PCT journals, skeets are out in the Marbles.
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Re: TR: Bear Lakes, Trinity Alps

Postby giantbrookie » Sun Aug 06, 2017 10:51 pm

Beautiful photos that bring back great memories. These lakes are not as well publicized as other spots in the Trinity Alps but they are as pretty as any of the better known spots. I visited them in early June 1984. Little Bear was mostly frozen over and I camped at the side of Big Bear opposite the outlet (had to traverse some pretty steep snow to get there). The fishing was rapid fire for innumerable brookies running to 12". I ran into this backpacker (camped out Big Bear outlet) packing a large handgun who was super scared of bears--he was from NY and I think the name of the lakes scared him. In fact there was a ton of bear sign around but I never saw one.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: TR: Bear Lakes, Trinity Alps

Postby Lumbergh21 » Sun Aug 06, 2017 11:16 pm

To Wandering Daisy: There was basically no bug activity at all when I was there. I also did a day hike the Saturday before in the Seven Lakes Basin area of the Trinity Alps and there were no bugs there to speak of. Finally, going back two more weeks, there were no noticeable bugs on my overnight hike to the Boulder Creek Lakes and Forbidden Lakes off the Canyon Creek trail. However, I have thoroughly doused my tent and clothes in Permethrin in anticipation of the Sierra starting next week.
Giant Brookie: I can imagine that the hike to the opposite end of Bear Lake could be a bit difficult. I did see signs that someone had caught five fish recently judging by the fins and guts thrown in the lake near that empty camp site where I also picked up a couple of food wrappers. I didn't see any bear sign while I was up there. Surprisingly, I haven't seen any bear sign this year at any of the places I hike or ride my bike. I used to see bear scat everywhere up by Keswick Lake when riding my bike, but none this year. None at Whiskeytown (though there was a warning about an orphaned bear cub). And, none on any of the three Trinity hikes I've done so far this year. Quite unusual.
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