TR: Trinity Alps Shuttle trip including Four Lakes Loop

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kpeter
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TR: Trinity Alps Shuttle trip including Four Lakes Loop

Post by kpeter » Sun Jul 26, 2020 6:12 pm

Introduction, Day One, Day Two

Trinity Alps Shuttle Trip
Swift Creek to Long Canyon, including the “4 lakes loop”
July 19-July 24


Overview:

The Trinity Alps are the most famous and possibly the most scenic California wilderness outside of the Sierra Nevada range. This particular trip I had done 31 years ago with my father, and repeated it this year with my brother. No quotas are in effect and no reservations are required—which is a BIG problem. Instead, you can obtain a permit simply by pulling up in front of the Weaverville Forest Service station and filling out a cardboard form. Given the number of people we encountered, this laissez-faire approach to wilderness management is a grave mistake in the Trinity Alps.

This trip was very crowded, with multiple parties at every single lake, including cross-country lakes such as Lake Anna. From what I gathered on the trail, numerous people who were discouraged with the Sierra reservations system during Covid opted for the Trinity Alps instead, resulting in a crush of users. As for Covid precautions, there were a number of people who put on masks before meeting on the trail, and others who stepped aside and made room off trail as others passed. But there were also those who did not wear masks and stood obliviously in the trail as we tried to get around them with appropriate social distance. A mixed bag, to be sure.

All that said, the area is beautiful and unique. It has some of the greatest diversity in flora in the American west, and is fascinating geologically, with red rock and white rock meeting and mixing in intriguing ways. It was also the best wildflower trip I have ever undertaken. The last Trinity Alps trip I did was also avery good flower trip. For anyone who loves hillsides filled with wildflowers, with craggy red and white backdrops, the Trinity Alps furnishes an impressive experience.

Day One

My brother and I were coming from opposite directions, states apart from each other. We met at the Long Canyon trailhead, left one of our two cars, and drove to the Swift Creek trailhead with the other car. Long Canyon is more popular since it provides the shortest route to the famous “4 lakes loop,” although it requires a 3900 foot elevation rise in 6 miles. Swift Creek is chiefly popular for access to Granite Lake, although after Granite Lake the trail can be followed over 7-Up pass for access the 4 lakes loop from a different vantage point.

We got to Swift Creek late in the day after our long drives and packed a couple of miles up the trail to the bridge that crosses Swift Creek. The bridge is very impressive and seems almost excessive, but it makes short work of the crossing.
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There is camping at the crossing and that is where we rested, ready to start the trip in seriousness the next day.

Day Two

This was an easy day in which we simply moved up Granite Creek to Granite Lake, and then explored Granite Lake. A heatwave struck and we tried to get most of our exertion done earlier in the day, moving steadily uphill through Gibson Meadows to Granite Lake.
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Granite Lake is at 6000 feet and has a substantial amount of alder growing along its shore, and some manzanita on rocky slopes around it. Most of the camps are on the north side nearer the inlet, overlooking the lake, but there are a plethora of campsites on the east side near the outlet. Only two camps are actually on the lake and they are not the first you come to, nor necessarily the best camps.

Among the attractions of Granite Lake is a small grove of huge cedar trees. It is also possible to spot Mt. Shasta if you follow the outlet to where it drops away to the east. I was surprised to find how many more tent pads and campsites existed at the lake than when I last visited in 1989.
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Last edited by kpeter on Sun Jul 26, 2020 10:44 pm, edited 12 times in total.








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Re: TR: Trinity Alps Shuttle trip including Four Lakes Loop

Post by kpeter » Sun Jul 26, 2020 6:13 pm

Day Three

This was our most tiring day. We got up early and headed for the pass that would take us from Granite Lake to the Four Lakes Loop—near Seven Up Peak so I call it Seven Up Pass. The trail is definitely less traveled beyond Granite and much less engineered on the east side of the pass. On the west side though it seemed almost like it was overengineered, with many switchbacks of questionable use. Working our way up to the pass was like a walk in a manicured garden. We passed a patch of pitcher plants growing in a spring to the side of the trail, and then soon were walking though hillsides of Angelica with massive white blooms above our heads.
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Coming down into the Deer Creek drainage, we saw a large, verdant meadow which also was an intersection area for the trail coming up from Stewart Fork and the Four Lakes loop.
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After a very long descent, we started to climb again toward Deer Lake. As always, it is a bit demoralizing when you have to recapture altitude you just lost—with all the switchbacks in plain view—but as we climbed up to the Deer Lake cirque we got better and better views, and some puffs of breeze began to relieve the heat.
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Deer lake has only one large tree but has a turquoise hue to the water. Camping is limited here—there are two sites near the tree on the north outlet end, and in recent years people have (unfortunately) created new sites in a grassy area in the southwest. It is the first lake that people coming up the Long Canyon entrance come to, and so it is a popular destination for those who want to dayhike the 4 lakes loop. Instead, I would highly recommend such groups camp on the other side of Deer Creek Pass in Siligo Meadows, which is pretty, has shade, and has many more camping opportunities—but is still in easy reach of dayhiking the loop.

From Deer Lake we headed toward the pass.
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A bit below the pass the trail branches off on a very long traverse though talus to Summit Lake. As the trail goes over the pass to Summit at 7800, a very good and very obvious use trail takes off to head up to the top of Siligo Peak, which we hiked the next day. A few gentle switchbacks down the hill bring you to Summit lake.

Summit Lake is one of the most unusual lakes I have been to. It is poised in the cirque of a red rock mountain, with no obvious inlet or outlet streams. The rock breaks down into clay—this is not granite—and the clay seems to act as an excellent liner to the lake bottom. The north end has shady parkland and several camps—which my father and I had to ourselves in 1989. In addition, tent pads have been cleared in the rock all along the western (moraine) side. Sadly, the overuse of the Trinity Alps—made possible by a system with no quotas—assured that every single site was taken by the end of the day.
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Re: TR: Trinity Alps Shuttle trip including Four Lakes Loop

Post by kpeter » Sun Jul 26, 2020 6:14 pm

Day Four

This was to be a day for dayhiking from Summit Lake. Most people do a full “four lakes loop” from here, which includes the trail that goes from Deer Lake to Diamond Lake to Luella to Round Lake back to Deer Lake, with three passes between the lakes. Summit is not technically on the four lakes loop, since it has a short access trail that leads about a quarter mile downhill from the main trail, but it has the most campsites in easy proximity to the loop. As I mentioned before, I would prefer to camp in Siligo Meadows on the other side of Deer Creek Pass, given the crowds and limited camping anywhere on the loop.

We, however, decided not to do the loop with the crowds. In coming from Granite Lake we had already done about 1/3 of the loop and had no desire to repeat that uphill experience. Instead, we settled on two things. First, early in the morning before it got hot, we took the use trail to the top of Siligo Peak. It is a magnificent 360 vista and a relatively easy hike, not even class 2 if using the use trail. The trail up does not go to the technical summit—which is three feet higher and involves a bit of climbing, but the walk-up is good enough for a spectacular 360 degree view.
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Next, we took the loop trail down to Diamond Lake and up to the pass overlooking Luella Lake. Approaching the pass we encountered beautiful park like terrain, with trees interspersed widely apart amidst an understory of grasses and flowers. Magnificent.
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From the Luella pass we could look down on Luella and across at Seven Up peak and pass.
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From here we climbed north to point 2394 meters (7864 feet) for another great vista, especially looking south at the somewhat taller Siligo Peak that we had been on earlier that morning.
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The flowers were magnificent and the weather began to cool.

On the way back from this dayhike clouds moved in and thunder began. We made it up to the pass above Diamond without a drop of rain, and then back to our camp on the shore of Summit. But soon thereafter a hailstorm the likes of which I have never experienced began. The hail did not simply “fall,” it was propelled in a downburst, and we worried that our tents could not stand up to it. They did, but the noise was so deafening that we could not hear each other in our separate tents even though the tents were no more than ten feet apart. We had gotten the last two tent pads anywhere around the lake, and they were far from ideal in a storm. After the hail turned to rain the tents were floating in puddles of red muddy water, and when the rain stopped we used our cups to bail water and melting hail.
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Ultimately we kept dry and warm, and the evening glow was amazing after the storm. We had good equipment and know-how, and the storm merely provided another adventure. On the other hand, we passed folks on the trail who joked that they had left their rain fly at home. I can only imagine their misery.
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Re: TR: Trinity Alps Shuttle trip including Four Lakes Loop

Post by kpeter » Sun Jul 26, 2020 6:57 pm

Day Five

This was a day out, but unlike other boring “day out” trips, this covered new and very interesting terrain. We did hike back to Deer Creek Pass, most of which was old ground, but from that point on it was a feast for the eyes.

The terrain from Deer Creek Pass to Bee Tree Gap was quite interesting, with the verdant green Siligo Meadows contrasting with the craggy red rock in the south and impressive Gibson Peak in the north.
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From Bee Tree Gap it is all downhill—3900 feet of it—to the Long Canyon trailhead. Before getting there the trail snakes into a magical Sedona-like red rock ledge which forms the launching point for cross country routes to Lake Anna.
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Surprisingly we met half a dozen people who were headed up to Lake Anna.

Then the trail descends a series of narrow switchbacks in a slot to cross the stream, and it stays on the north side of the stream the rest of the way. Higher up the trail cuts through meadows and flowers, and lower down through forests. The best water is in two places—where the trail crosses the upper reaches of the creek at 6632, and fifty yards from the intersection of the Bowerman Meadows trail at 4801. There were other rivulets crossing the trail, but those two water sources are most apt to be reliable later in the season.
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Finally, about a mile from the trailhead, having come down almost all the way, my knee rebelled. The wear and tear of the downhill just enflamed it. I took my trusty cure-all ibuprofen and hobbled with my hiking sticks acting as crutches the last mile.

Conclusion

This trip was a trip down memory lane for me, as I relived the trip with my father from 31 years ago, and reconnected with my brother. The sights were splendid and I found the terrain to be interesting and quite different from the Sierra. The clash of green vegetation with mountains of red and mountains of white give the Trinity Alps their deserved reputation as being tri colored. The flowers were spectacular, the trails were generally good, and the cross country opportunities present. A good trip all-in-all. The knee is already recovered.
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Re: TR: Trinity Alps Shuttle trip including Four Lakes Loop

Post by grampy » Mon Jul 27, 2020 8:27 pm

@kpeter -
I enjoyed your report! Nicely covered in pretty much all dimensions (wrt flora, over-use issues, etc). That is a truly impressive cedar. Your report would make me want to go there, if not for the (for me) 600+ mile drive it would involve (swings into the “better take my wife somewhere instead) regime :lol:
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Re: TR: Trinity Alps Shuttle trip including Four Lakes Loop

Post by kpeter » Wed Jul 29, 2020 8:46 am

grampy wrote:
Mon Jul 27, 2020 8:27 pm
@kpeter -
I enjoyed your report! Nicely covered in pretty much all dimensions (wrt flora, over-use issues, etc). That is a truly impressive cedar. Your report would make me want to go there, if not for the (for me) 600+ mile drive it would involve (swings into the “better take my wide somewhere instead) regime :lol:
For me, it is about the same distance as the eastern Sierra, but my brother had to drive 9 hours to get there from Washington State. I would have thought its remoteness would decrease the crowds, but no such luck.

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Re: TR: Trinity Alps Shuttle trip including Four Lakes Loop

Post by giantbrookie » Fri Aug 07, 2020 3:40 pm

Wow, beautiful report. The flora-landscape combos are really amazing and alone make me want to revisit the Klamath Mtns wildernesses again. I did quite a few hikes up in that part of California from 1976 to 1993 but haven't been up there since. Your report really brings out the specific charms of this region and reminds me of what I've been missing.
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Re: TR: Trinity Alps Shuttle trip including Four Lakes Loop

Post by windknot » Fri Aug 07, 2020 5:20 pm

Thanks for the great report and photos! This really is a beautiful area, and I can see why it's popular -- it contains some of the best elements of both Sierra scenery and Cascades scenery all combined.

The overuse of wilderness areas seems to be a running theme this summer. It makes sense -- many folks who in a typical year would have flown to other travel destinations are instead digging tents and sleeping bags out of their garages and opting for driving to camping/backpacking trips instead. I don't begrudge people the right to get out of the house and utilize public resources, and I'm glad that they're doing this instead of flying to Florida and Hawaii for summer vacation on a crowded beach, but it does change the wilderness experience a bit.

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Re: crowded wilderness areas

Post by giantbrookie » Sun Aug 09, 2020 12:53 pm

windknot wrote:
Fri Aug 07, 2020 5:20 pm
The overuse of wilderness areas seems to be a running theme this summer. It makes sense -- many folks who in a typical year would have flown to other travel destinations are instead digging tents and sleeping bags out of their garages and opting for driving to camping/backpacking trips instead.
I think what we're seeing, though, illustrates the value of wilderness permits and associated quotas. The two quota'd destinations (Pine Creek JMW, TW Desolation) had relatively light crowds (in the trailed areas with usual zero to few in off trail) with numbers doubtlessly limited by the entry point (or in the case of Desolation, destination zone). My first backpack trip to the region N of Carson Pass, which is non-wilderness between Desolation W to the north and Mokelumne W to the south, encountered throngs of folks that exceeded what I've seen in eastern SF Bay Area parks (when applying equivalent distances from car).

I think what we're seeing is more folks are probably heading out, but they are daunted by the wilderness permit process, in some cases because they are first-timers, and in other cases because they are old-school and see the (what I think are minor) 2020 'adjustments' to the permitting process as being a pain. So I think in non-wilderness areas or wilderness areas without quotas we're probably seeing an increase in visitation whereas in the quota'd wilderness areas it looks like any other year up there.

I have seen various articles written that may also be coaxing more folks out there, including several by the longtime Chronicle outdoor writer Stienstra who recently extolled the virtues of the Trinity Divide and other lesser known areas. His point was that one needed to hike a bit more or drive a bit more to find solitude. I don't think the drive more is needed at all (ie it works to get to a place like the Warner Mtns. but it is not necessary to seek solitude). Hike more has always been a yes (in terms of fewer folks) but the wilderness permit process alone can steer those that don't otherwise know about little used areas to said areas. For the tiny fraction that is savvy to where the crowds aren't (easiest way to get complete solitude is to go off trail anywhere except along a "named" off trail route (commercially and officially, rather than with nicknames such as I give them) such as the SHR. In fact I can think of several locations on the west flank that are not in even wilderness areas and reachable by really short off trail hikes (ie <3 miles) where one is unlikely to encounter another hiker.

But getting back to the big picture of backcountry visitation I think what we're seeing in 2020 illustrates that the wilderness permit quota system works. I think we can all think of fine-tuning we'd like to do the system, such as designating more actual little-used entry points (Morgan Creek, Hoffman Mtn. for example), and maybe even moving more toward a Desolation-type (destination-based) system everywhere (entry point concept was designed to aid on-trip flexibility but far fewer folks audible off their game plans now than they did in the 70s when this system was first devised), but as a whole I think the system works.
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Re: TR: Trinity Alps Shuttle trip including Four Lakes Loop

Post by Midnight Sun » Mon Aug 10, 2020 9:57 pm

Great report. It's too bad there is no quota system. I might visit in mid-late September. I've found in recent years that late September trips in the eastern Sierra have yielded more solitude. I wonder if the same would be true in this location.

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