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Alpine, Smith, and Morris Lakes: August Warm-up For the Sierra

Posted: Fri Dec 20, 2019 4:41 pm
by Lumbergh21
Long report for a short weekend hike.

Day 1
I went out for a weekend hike in the Trinity Alps again. This time to Alpine, Smith, and Morris Lakes. I had originally planned to also visit Sapphire, Emerald, and Mirror Lakes, but plans change. A plan that didn’t change was my planned low calorie/high protein diet. For the 4-day, 3-night hike I was bringing 3 low cal protein shakes, 6 Rise protein bars, 1 lb of beef jerky, 3 Zipp Fizz electrolyte drink mixes, and 4 oz. of Chia seeds. This totaled 4,340 calories and 408 grams of protein. Since Day 4 would be a morning hike out, this amounted to 1,270 calories and 117g of protein per day for the 3 full days.

Life got in the way, but after I finished my errands, I drove up to the Stuart Fork, Bridge Camp Trailhead. Hitting the trail at 12:30, I knew that I would definitely not be heading straight to Smith and Morris Lakes to camp that night. I arrived at Oak Flat and the side trail up to Alpine, Smith, and Morris Lakes at 2:30. I decided this would be a good spot for a short break before fording the creek. The water was flowing fairly high, but not too high for me to make it across. Removing everything from my pockets and placing it in my backpack, I started across. As I went, the current got stronger and the water got deeper, eventually reaching my waist before I started to climb back up and out on the other side. Here was my first misadventure. The trail was obvious, and I followed it until I checked my GPS and saw that I was about 80 feet below the trail shown on the map and on top of a trail that followed the Stuart Fork for a short distance before ending. My brilliant decision was to take off up the hill, looking for the trail that I should have been on. The forest was fairly open and the off-trail travel fairly easy; however, after climbing about 160 feet up the hill side, I still hadn’t reached the trail. At this point I knew what had happened and started contouring around the hill knowing that I should eventually pick up the trail again as it headed up to Alpine Lake, and I did. The trail itself was steep and rocky in places with brush covering it completely for short distances, but eventually I reached the crossing of the Alpine Lake outlet and the final push to the lake itself. When I got there, both established campsites were taken by three guys who had beat me to the lake, and I was unable to find any flat open spots to set up camp. I eventually settled on a grassy area, which was completely unacceptable from Leave No Trace and general camping principles. I made the most of it with my camp beer.
Alpine Lake in the Morning.jpg
Day 2

The next morning I awoke to a damp tent surrounded by dew covered grass. After laying around for an hour or more, I finally roused myself and had a quick protein shake breakfast while packing up camp. I retraced my steps about ¼ mile to where I had seen a cairn that I thought indicated the route to Smith and Morris Lakes. I soon found additional cairns as I made my way through a ¼ mile or more of thick brush before eventually popping out onto large granite slabs. Thankfully, I was wearing some LaSportiva Bushido trail runners that really stuck to the granite and made the climb up the slabs relatively easy. Along the way, I noted a few places where I could have cowboy camped on flat granite ledges with a view looking over the Alpine Lake drainage down to the Stuart Fork and the mountains off in the distance. Over 3 hours after leaving camp, I finally made it to the off-trail pass on the ridge separating Alpine from Smith and Morris. Here I saw another explorer coming up from the other side. A few minutes later he had finished crossing the snow to the pass, and we had a nice little conversation. He was doing the Trinity High Route and told me that Mirror Lake was still shrouded in ice and snow, making the route to it more difficult that normal. It seemed that Mirror Lake would have to wait once again. (I found out later that someone had died trying to get from the Canyon Creek Lakes to Mirror Lake within a few days of my hike.)
Almost Through the Brush.jpg
Granite Slabs.jpg
The other side of the pass was more granite and talus with some snow thrown in for fun. The views looking down on Morris Meadow below and across to the Sawtooth Ridge were spectacular; the views of the glacier-carved granite slabs and the scooped-out mountain side that I was crossing maybe even more so. A short while later, a lake came into view, and I headed towards it. Then as I got closer, I could see that I was headed towards the higher Morris Lake, not Smith Lake. I decided to do some exploring, but the route down to the saddle point next to Morris Lake and above Smith Lake didn’t look to promising as the granite from that point to either lake looked too steep for my limited abilities. I poked around, making my way down towards the outlet of Smith Lake, eventually reaching a steep but doable 80-foot drop down to the lake. I started down this drop using hands and feet when it struck me that I had absolutely no reason to descend to the lake. I wasn’t going to camp there, and there was plenty water up on the granite slabs from all of the still melting snow. So, I turned around and headed back up and out, after a short lunch break in a nearby stand of trees, returning to the pass I had come over a couple of hours earlier. I took a different route back, continuing to explore the carved white granite, stained with streaks of black from the water trickling down and forming pools on ledges, never reaching the canyon floor 2,000 feet below.
Scooped, Sculpted Granite.jpg
Sawtooth Ridge.jpg
Granite Slabs and Sawtooth Mt.jpg
Smith Lake.jpg
Reaching the pass once again, I decided to make a concerted effort to follow the cairns this time and see if there was an easier way through the brush below. There wasn’t, I ended up taking an entirely wrong route, but I survived. However, I didn’t reach the trail until 6:00 PM, nearly out of water, dirty, and covered in dead needles, leaves, and sap. Due to the roughness of the trail, I wasn’t able to go much faster down than I had coming up the previous day, but I eventually reached a small stream where I had stopped for water the day before and replenished my water bottles and me while taking a 30 minute break. About 7:15 I met a group of five people headed up to Alpine Lake with plans to visit Smith and Morris Lake the next day as I had done. They were still an hour or more from Alpine Lake, and after a few minutes of talking I wished them well in their upcoming night hike, as the sun was already below the surrounding mountains and it had started to get dark. I finally arrived at the Stuart Fork at 8 PM and quickly secured everything in my pack before fording the river once again. I filled up my filter bag with 2 L of water and headed to an open tent site near a couple camped at the fire ring. After setting up the water to gravity filter into one of my water bottles (followed by the second water bottle later), I “enjoyed” a protein bar for dinner. Now in the dark, I set up my tent and arranged everything in it for a relaxing night of sleep.

Day 3

The next morning I decided to just hike out rather than revisit Emerald and Sapphire Lakes. I said good morning to the other couple camped at Oak Flat and started back down the trail to my car. I think I made a pretty good decision given the number of people that I saw headed in that morning (15) and the number of cars parked at the trail head once I was back. Most likely, all were headed to Emerald and Sapphire Lakes or at least Morris Meadow. I probably would have had a very difficult time finding anywhere to camp upstream from Oak Flat the next night, and doing a round trip hike from Oak Flat all the way to Sapphire Lake and back in one day would have been pushing it in my current condition.

All in all, it was a good but short weekend trip with lots of beautiful granite and a few alpine lake views. The protein diet worked great. I felt tired at times, but that is pretty normal for me. My mornings were quicker as were my evenings without any cooking to do, and my pack was lighter. This could be especially good for any trips with my ultralight set up where room and weight is at a premium. I think that I will follow this diet for all future trips of 4 days or less, and I may even try it for a week-long hike next summer.

Re: Alpine, Smith, and Morris Lakes: August Warm-up For the Sierra

Posted: Fri Dec 20, 2019 5:26 pm
by balzaccom
Nice report. We have to get up there more often...