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A Little Piece of the (Trinity) Alps

Posted: Tue May 12, 2020 1:00 pm
by Lumbergh21
I left bright and not at all early by hiking standards for the Trinity Alps on Friday, May 8, for my first overnight trip of the year. I arrived at the trailhead parking to the unwelcome sight of 16 cars. This wasn’t a terrible surprise given the popularity of this trail, a well-deserved popularity in my opinion. The trail starts climbing from the parking lot at 3,100 feet, and the dogwoods were in bloom. The trail stays well above the creek at this point but follows it up the canyon for 5.7 miles to the Boulder Creek Trail Junction. The trail does cross multiple side streams and dips down next to Canyon Creek several times before the trail junction with several camping opportunities.
Framed View of Middle Falls.jpg
I continued heading up canyon on the east side of the creek until just south of the Lower Canyon Creek Lake. Here you cross to the other side of the creek and follow the still obvious trail up to the lower lake.
Lower Lake.jpg
Once again there are several flat spots for camping but few trees by this point. Normally, there would be snow here in May, but not this year. I continued on along the west side of the lower lake then climbing up above the lake to the isthmus that separates the upper and lower lakes. There are several exposed camp sites here as well.
Lower Lake From upper Lake.jpg
Simply follow the best route to the east until you get to the outlet. Once you are close, there is an obvious trail that will take you down to the ford of the outlet. Once again, the water level was fairly low this year. I was here a few years ago at the end of May and it was up to my groin; this year, barely above my knees.
Upper Lake 2.jpg
Up to this point everything had gone fairly well, but that was about to change. The description I had for getting to El Lake was to walk around the east side of Upper Canyon Creek Lake after crossing the outlet, then follow a use trail up along the El Lake outlet stream. Well, there was this rock wall that made it impossible to walk along the lake shore unless you can walk on water, and that’s when my adventure began. I decided to head up through some sparse brush and slabs then cross over above the rock wall. I could see there was some thick brush and boulders between me and the top of the rock wall, but I figured I could force my way through. About 45 minutes later, I realized how wrong I was and turned around beaten and bruised literally and figuratively. I have since found out that you are supposed to go to the lone campsite on that side of the lake (in use when I was there) and follow a crack up the rock wall from that camp site. I guess I’ll be going back, maybe later this year.
I beat a retreat to Lower Canyon Creek Lake and continued my walk of shame back to the creek crossing below. After crossing back over Canyon Creek, I turned upstream for about 100 yards to a campsite that I had spied on the way up. It was only 5:30, but I was ready for camp. The views were great, but the people were plentiful and the brush had done me in. It was during dinner that I realized I should have checked my fuel cannister before leaving. I lit my stove and got about 5 seconds of burn before the fuel was spent. Dinner was a cold mushroom miso soup with some bars and beef jerky. I ended up dozing off around 6:30 while listening to a podcast and waking up just before dark to put away a few things and settle in for the night. Cowboy camping is pretty simple and quick.
I woke up in the middle of the night to a bright light shining in my face. Turns out it was a full moon, and the forest was lit by the soft bright light of an unfiltered moon. I turned over and fell back asleep with only the brightest stars visible.
The next morning started earlier when nature’s alarm clock started chirping around 5:30 AM, too early for me, especially on a day that was planned to be a short 10 miles or so. I was finally up and dressed and all packed for the trail at 9 AM.
Down Canyon, Day 2.jpg
After a short walk back down to the trail junction, I waded Canyon Creek and started the climb up to Boulder Creek Lakes.
Boulder Creek Lakes Outlet 2.jpg
I decided to head up to Forbidden Lakes first, and it was fairly easy with just a few small patches of snow that resulted in some minor re-routing. The lakes are situated in a steep canyon and were still surrounded by snow. From a previous hike, I knew the boulders that lie beneath the snow and had no desire to go any further.
It was a quick descent back down to Boulder Creek Lakes and a long lunch break following a quick rinse of me and the clothes that I was wearing in the ice cold water.
Beautiful Boulder Lake Cirque.jpg
More Boulder Lake.jpg
I ended up packing up and leaving a little before 1 PM, having decided to probably hike out a day early. I stopped at a nice camp site a little after 3 for a snack break and foot washing, but decided to continue the remaining 3.5 miles to my car, arriving back to a full trailhead parking lot at 5:30 PM.
I met several people during my hike, all but one of them friendly, and saw lots of beautiful granite, forest flowers, and rushing white water. It was even better than I remember from 2016. Now my appetite is whetted, and I plan to head back to the Alps for another lake that has previously eluded me, Little South Fork Lake. This hike ended up being about 21 miles with 5,100 feet of elevation gain and loss. It’s very doable as a 2 day, overnight hike, or as a more relaxed 3 day hike for a long weekend with lots of time for relaxing and exploring.

Re: A Little Piece of the (Trinity) Alps

Posted: Tue May 12, 2020 5:55 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Very nice trip report! I am shocked at the lack of snow. It looks more like typical 4th July holidays.

Did you have to get a permit or is it still self-register?

Re: A Little Piece of the (Trinity) Alps

Posted: Wed May 13, 2020 10:38 am
by gary c.
Beautiful pictures, thanks for sharing with us.

Re: A Little Piece of the (Trinity) Alps

Posted: Sun May 17, 2020 8:42 am
by Lumbergh21
Wandering Daisy wrote:
Tue May 12, 2020 5:55 pm
Very nice trip report! I am shocked at the lack of snow. It looks more like typical 4th July holidays.

Did you have to get a permit or is it still self-register?
Thank you. It is still self-register, and yes the snow levels were surprisingly light. I had previously hiked up there in 2016, the droughtiest of drought years, at the end of May, and the snow was about the same but with much higher creek flows. The snow was only slightly less than what I saw in August 2017 when I went back to check out Forbidden Lakes. The storms that started the day after I hiked out should have added to the snow pack at least.

Re: A Little Piece of the (Trinity) Alps

Posted: Fri May 22, 2020 1:19 am
by CarlRaillard
Lumbergh21 wrote:
Tue May 12, 2020 1:00 pm
Now my appetite is whetted, and I plan to head back to the Alps for another lake that has previously eluded me, Little South Fork Lake.
Hello! Thank you for posting those beautiful photographs. I don't carry a camera, so I love it when other people share their snaps.

I've been to Little South Fork Lake. It's very remote, and lightly used. 'Found a small black "Classic" Swiss Army knife at the campsite there, which I pocketed; I subsequently gave it to my dad. For years he had that little knife dangling from his car keys. I still miss him (he passed away in 2006).

Anyway, if you're going in summer, the satellite tarn to the north is worth a visit. Bring a towel. It's deep enough for swimming, and yet the lake's volume is small, and so the sun can actually warm it up properly.

One of my first backpack trips was up Canyon Creek. Your report makes me feel nostalgic. Thanks again.

Carl Raillard

Re: A Little Piece of the (Trinity) Alps

Posted: Fri May 22, 2020 4:29 pm
by Lumbergh21
Thanks for the story. I hope to get up there in 2 weeks. I had thought about this weekend, but I imagine the latest storms probably dumped a bunch of snow up there, after seeing someone else's photos of Caribou Lake from last weekend.