Four Lakes Loop from Granite Lake – Trinity Alps, Sep 5th to Sep 9h

Being very busy has prevented me from posting this incredible 5 day backpacking loop in the Trinity Alps. But here it is, at last. This trip was a bit questionable from the planning stage. If you live in the Northwest, you know our summer was plagued by wildfires pretty much everywhere. It was hard to look at a map and find a spot that was not too close and/or affected by this over active fire season. The Trinity Alps was on our radar even though there was a fire in the southwest corner so we penciled the idea and started looking at the fire status websites daily for a good two weeks. Fortunately the fire was not moving towards the area we were looking for and wind was blowing south – southwest most of the time keeping smoke away. With all that in hand, and the required permits, we made a final call, packed our gear and took our chances.

Day 1: Swift Creek Trailhead to Granite Lake

We woke up to a cold morning at the trailhead and Val and I met Duncan and Kathryn who were joining us for this trip. We had a short day ahead of us but still we had our normal breakfast, grabbed our gear and were on the trail early in the morning. And right from there you start getting outstanding images and views. Just as you walk in to the forest, you find yourself surrounded by huge pines towering to the blue sky. On the side the swift creek grows deep as you go in and close to the trailhead there’s a turn where you can spot a spectacular waterfall in the canyon. It’s not spectacular for being tall though, it’s the color of the water and the surrounding canyon that make it pretty scenic. About a mile in, we got to the start of the bigger loop (this trip was a figure 8 loop plus an exploratory loop). At that point, we turned southwest towards Granite Lake, our first stop. The trail followed Granite Creek but not as close as the swift Creek. Overall the trail had minimal elevation gain as it traveled thru open meadows. As we continued, granite peaks started showing up on the left side while red rock mountains showed on the right. It was an interesting combination we would see a lot more of in the following days. Just when we started thinking about lunch, we reached Granite Lake. We had planned for this to be our first stop but we never thought it would go that quick so we dropped our packs on the first spot we found to set up camp. Later, after having lunch, we did some exploring around the lake were we discovered more secluded campsites around the shore. There’s no clear indication where or how to get to those but several user paths will eventually lead to them. The rest of the day was very relaxing as we saw the sun go down behind the ridge and the light dissipate into night.

Day 2: Granite Lake to Diamond Lake

Day two proved what Trinity Alps is all about, a lot of ups and downs. Even though the distance we traveled was a bit over 5 miles, it took us thru a couple of mountain passes and a very deep valley. We started hiking away from Granite Lake following still the Granite Creek for a little while. AS we gained elevation, we left the forest behind and the sun started beating on us. It got hot pretty quickly. As we hiked, we saw how the granite peaks on the left joined the red rock peaks on the right at a slot ahead of us. It was our first pass to it was pretty easy to see our route. Colors changed constantly as the sky also turned to a deeper blue with the elevation. We reached the pass in time for lunch so we made a short stop to eat and enjoy the views.
From this point there are several options to continue. On one side, you can connect with the Bear Basin trail which we used as our return option, or you can go down into the valley below. There’s the option for a side trip up to Seven Up Peak that we didn’t try. One very cool thing we saw from the pass was the trail we would be doing for the majority of the rest of the day plus some others we would do later. It’s pretty incredible when you get a view and can see the route you will travel or the route you came from. After soaking in the views, we continued down over multiple switchbacks towards Deer Creek. As we descended to the valley, the mountains around us got taller and taller. Seven Up Peak was on our backs, Siligo Peak ahead of us and Deer Creek Pass to the south. We were on the upper section of the Deer Creek Valley. We took the opportunity there to fill up water and freshen up before the second climb of the day. This point marked the start of what is known as the Four Lakes loop. So after getting water, we picked up our trail going west and up towards the first of the four lakes, Luella Lake. This lake came as a surprise. AS you hike up, you don’t see any of it until you are pretty much right in front. The lake itself sits in a shallow bench on the northern flank of Siligo Peak. We didn’t see campsites there but multiple flat spots looked promising. There’s not a lot of shade though. As we continued up, we could see the granite peaks behind us and it almost looked like a gigantic tooth coming out of the ground. You can almost imagine cataclysmic events leading to these peak rising from the ground to be where they stand today.

The day got long and heavy and hot when we got to a meadow that seemed to guide us to another pass or peak. Only ridge lines were visible ahead but looking at the map, we knew our destination for the day was close ahead. Not too long after that, we reached the tree and Diamond Lake. I think this lake, along with Lake Ana, are the two most scenic lakes in the area. IT’s set on shelf that drops off to the very deep Salt Creek valley. Towering peaks line up the horizon on the other side making this lake look like the end of the world. The tree I mentioned is a lone gigantic pine with two campsites right below it. There are other flat spots where a tent can be set. We were lucky to find a small group that were leaving so we got both of the sites for the night. After setting up camp, we spent the rest of the afternoon playing ion the water, walking around the lake, climbing a small mound and enjoying the views. That evening we got a very faint smoke smell and we could see a bit of haze in the distance, but that gave us also a pretty amazing sunset. The sun went down over the ridge on the other side of the canyon so I walked to the opposite side of the lake to get the entire scenery. It was one of the most peaceful scenes I’ve seen in a long time. The calm lake was reflecting the deep blue sky while oranges and red painted the sky in the horizon. There was no wind or even mosquitoes to alter the tranquility of the sunset.

Later that night, at around 2 in the morning, I got out to take some night shots of the incredible starry night above us.

Day 3: Granite Lake to Deer Lake plus exploratory loop

At this point, we had a couple of options to consider. The original plan was to either stay for a second night at Diamond Lake or move to Summit Lake before doing an exploratory loop. In the end, we opted for moving even further, to Deer Lake and then do the exploratory loop. I was a bit hesitant about this option as I didn’t know how the campsite situation at Deer Lake was. Besides that, almost everyone we saw on the trail the day before had said they were staying or coming from Der Lake which led us to believe is was the most used stop in the loop. Having taken the choice, we packed and head up the hill towards our first shallow pass. At the turn of it, the scenery changed as we were now facing the other side of the ridge. The trail itself navigated thru red rocks and in the distance we could see Summit Lake. We passed the spur trail to Summit Lake as we had a long day ahead of us so the trail went up again to get out of that basin again to the other side of another small pass with more amazing views. We had reached Deer Pass. From here we could see not only the trail towards Deer Lake but also the trail we came down from Seven Up Pass. We were on the other side of Siligo Peak. The trail continued bordering the ridge and descending gradually around the Deer Lake basin below us. A short couple of switchbacks took us down to Deer Lake were we found some open spaces on the southern end of the lake where we set up our tents. We left most of our gear there and grabbed only what we needed for the day and head out for an exploratory loop going first up again towards Deer Pass. From the pass we took a trail descending down to Siligo Meadows at the base of some impressive granite peaks to the east. We did notice this are to be more arid and desolated than the other side. I fact, over the entire exploratory loop, we didn’t see a soul. The meadow was expansive with dry grasses all over, a small creek running and hiding and almost no shade. We passes a small creek where we got water and took a short break before gaining some more elevation. Eventually we got to a small dry pond. I though originally that it was Billy Be-Damn Lake but I’m not sure if it is. The interesting, and sad thing, was to see the pond completely dry.
The bottom was a grey, cracked surface like you see in western movies. The only thing missing was a skeleton. That was the point that signaled us we were going off trail. We crossed the small pond and traversed a small hump on the southern side. On the other side we got to one of the lakes we would see in this adventure. Echo Lake doesn’t seem to have a good access trail but there’s no doubt people camp there. It was so inviting that both Kathryn and Duncan took a break to dive in the lake. While they dried up, I explored around trying to find the way out to continue our route to the next lake and noticed that going around on the west side would lead us to the drain creek which didn’t look easy to cross. We hiked in the other direction to small meadow on the southwest side and big peaks surrounding it. I compared the scenery with my map and finally made up the pass we needed to go thru to get to the other side. From our point of view, it was a straight up line to a narrow pass between rocks. We didn’t know how it was going to go so after talking about for a bit, we took the chance and went up. It was not easy by any means. Some loose rocks, step steps and some challenging cracks finally led us to the top.
The pass was right next to a spire rock that, from the bottom looked smaller. Up there, close and personal it was a towering peak. All the views around us were magnificent, except straight down. On the other side of the pass, the climb down was as steep as the way we came in. Down below we could see a rocky valley and the next lake, probably Billy Be-Danm Lake. Slowly and carefully we climbed down a chute that finally took us down to safety. Being on the other side of the ridge meant also we had less light, in fact, the sun was on the other side of the ridge so we were already in the shadows. We followed a direct path to the lake and noticed that his lake was also very low in water. The California drought was clearly noticeable here. The lake itself was beautiful. We didn’t see potential campsites but we didn’t look hard enough. The lake does have kind of an arm on the southern end that we didn’t explore. It certainly looked like a very inviting lake for a swim even though the water was freezing cold. From there ewe saw what looked like an animal path going over a small ridge. We followed that path and found ourselves looking into the Lake Anna basin. Our path took us around but we didn’t climb down to the lake. As the hours were passing by, we didn’t think we would have enough light so we stayed on our paths around the lake to the next ridge. At some point, looking down on the lake, I saw the rocks forming the end wall before the mountain just drops out of sight down to Bowerman Meadows. It’s a steep drop gauging from the view we got. With the sun low on our backs illuminating the rocks yellow and the lake reflecting the deep blue sky, it was an image difficult to forget. Definitely a lake I would like to visit and explore again sometime.

From there, getting back on a trail proved to be a bit of a challenge. Out of Lake Anna we saw a small saddle and what looked like a potential route down. Following that would have taken us to the trail but way far down. The problem was that, on paper it looked more doable than in person. We bushwhacked our way around some fallen trees and limbs trying to skirt around the canyon. It was slow going until we the forested area opened up and we saw a potential path without the need to climb down. We took that path around a small peak navigating thru rocks and grasses. At some point I lost my footing and landed on my knee which wasn’t a lot of fun. One the throbbing stopped, we continued and later, finally we reached the Long Canyon trail. From there it was a climb up to Bee tree Gap that again gave us a new perspective of Siligo Meadows below us. It was hard at this point to identify the trail moving forward but as we hiked along it, we saw it was skirting the granite peaks we had seen earlier in the day. After a long huffing a puffing we finally got back to Deer pass and couldn’t wait to get to camp that we almost ran down. That night I took some time to soak my knees in cold water before having dinner and going to bed for a well-deserved rest.

Day 4: Deer Lake to Sandy Gulch

The long day. This was actually planned that way because, even though there was a lot of distance to cover, the elevation change was not as big as the previous couple of days. The interesting thing was today we were going to cross a trail we had done on the second day and close the Lakes loop. Leaving Deer Lake was somewhat of a relief as we were not going up. Deer Lake is where Deer Creek starts from so we followed a trail down that path. The first section goes over a handful of switchbacks where you can spot the creek and small waterfalls. Then the trail flattens out and you enter a meadow that again is surrounded by towering peaks. We knew this view from Day 2. IN the distance we saw a small round lake that happened to be Round Lake. It’s in the loop but not part of the four lakes. Passing it let us to the junction where two days before we had stopped to get water. From that point on we navigate across meadows and open fields as far as the eye can see. WE crossed the creek and then some more climbing. Since we were heading back towards the trailhead, we needed to go over the pass where Seven Up Peak is. There are multiple spur trails in the area and a longs Cabin site that we’re not sure we saw. At a point it got confusing and we did a couple of weird turns but finally we were able to figure our route out and found the trail again. The switchbacks didn’t offer views, only forested areas and big boulders here and there. At some point we got to or near the pass, we were not sure, but we needed to stop and eat so as soon as we found shade we did. After passing the Bear Pass, we took the trail down to Bear Basin. It was a sallow and steady climb down over meadows and forests. All the towering peaks were now behind us. The hike got long and heavy. The sun was beating on us which didn’t make it any easier. Towards the end of the trail we finally saw Bear Creek appear on our right. We knew it wasn’t long before a bridge and finding the Swift Creek trail that would take us the next day back to our cars. At that point we knew we had to start looking for a campsite, being tired from the day, we actually started looking sooner rather than later. One landmark we were looking for was the bridge over swift creek. After that it was a hunt to a spot to drop the packs. Just after getting back on the Swift Creek we passed a bend where the Sandy Gulch dumps its waters along with Bear Creek into Swift Creek. There were some concrete pylons for a bridge, but no bridge. A side path guided us across and right after a notice a flat area below the trail almost hidden from it. I found a small trail going over a big tree that lead to our final campsite on a shelf with easy access to water and plenty of space for several tents. We still have time to kill in the afternoon so Kathryn and Val went to the creek to take a bath while I prepared the hang for food and took some pictures.
Later that evening, while were sitting around the fire ring for dinner, we noticed a couple of large ears pop over the bushes. It was a dear checking us out. It seems it was not very afraid as it continued eating leaves and walking around our campsite and even waling up to Kathryn’s tent to smell it before taking off and disappearing. Later that night I went out again to take some pictures of the stars

Day 5: Sandy Gulch to Swift Creek trailhead

Last day was a short day by design. The idea of the long day and then the short one was to get back to the trailhead in good time for the long drive home. We didn’t want to get back home in the dark. With that in mind, we packed early and left camp for a short hike out. The forest was fresh and the hike meandered thru forested areas which was a nice change. At some point we stopped to shift layers and I noticed we had a couple of followers. Not too far behind us a deer with her two fawns were staring at us. I took my camera and took a couple of pictures as they walked around us and got on the trail ahead of us. We grabbed our gear and continued which didn’t scare or made the deer go away. Instead, the lead the way for quite a while turning eventually to check us out. There was a moment when the other actually turned around and came towards us. Don’t know if she was being protective or just checking us out as the fawns where just doing their thing around the mother.

Eventually she got tired of us and veered right and disappeared into the forest. After that we came back the view point with the incredible waterfall in the canyon which also signaled us we were almost out. WE made the trailhead early enough that it left us time to stop on the way home for lunch and relax before going back to work. In a word epic.

You can check the pictures here

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Zigzag Canyon overlook, Aug 15th

I guess I took the name of this hike literally and overlooked it since I’ve been here. Perhaps it was because, if you search for it, you’ll find only the most common approach that starts from Timberline Lodge and gently descends to the overlook. From there it’s a short hike. But then I saw some pictures and realized I needed to check this place out as the views are just breathtaking. So I looked at a map and found an alternate route combining a couple of trails and two nearby trailheads to create a good, long 16 mile loop. Weather forecast was looking promising when I planned it but as things go, everything change and we got to the trailhead with a foggy and misty day. That didn’t stop us so we parked at the exit point to get the road walk out of the way first. We then took the Paradise Park trail that switched back and forth several times in the forest before it reaches a ridge. At that point there’s a nice view point that must offer some pretty good views of the canyon, yet we didn’t see anything as the fog was covering everything. Not dissuaded by this, we continued marching on and found another viewpoint closer to the timberline trail. The clouds had lifted just a bit to give us a glimpse of a huge sandy canyon. Once on the Timberline trail we traveled south around a couple of bends before the trail made us descend abruptly towards Zigzag canyon to cross the snow melt creek. We found a nice spot for lunch at the crossing with a nice waterfall further up. From our position, Mt Hood is probably towering over you but we still couldn’t see it. The hike up the canyon on the other side went fast and soon we reached the ridge on the other side and things got much better. Even though the clouds were still pretty low, the canyon looked amazing below us. As we continued on the ridge, we could see the magnitude of this crack going up to the mountain were it disappeared in the clouds. Finally we go to the view point, something we easily identified by people that hadn’t sweat enough to get there. Even with the limited vertical views it was an incredible sight and one of those views that you have to be there to not only see it, but also to believe it’s there. After a couple of pictures, we continued on until we reached the Hidden Lake trail which we took to get back. As we were hiking down, after one turn I did notice something blue over my shoulder. Between the trees I was able to make the top of Mt Hood. So eventually the clouds lifted but it happened when we were on our way out and going back was not an option. It was just a taste of the treat…

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Upper Salmonberry River, Aug 9th

Another hike from the to-do list marked as done. On my quest to find new trails I started looking for old books that might have now deconditioned trails. A couple of years ago I stumble across a book from the late 70’s published by the Sierra Club with over 40 trails in the Tillamook Forest. Among those, I found three trails I’d heard about but didn’t have much information. These trails or routes actually are three different portions along the Port of Tillamook Railroad tracks. Back then, when the book was published, these tracks were actually in use so you had to take care when walking on trestles or in tunnels that there was no train coming. I imagine back then how exciting – and dangerous – of a hike that would be. But then, in 2007 a winter storm cause severe damage to the tracks to the point that they were decommissioned. Today, part of those tracks are disappearing under layers of dirt and plants. Some sections, where you can still see the tracks, the might be hanging in the air. This particular section seems to be the most interesting as it has the most trestles and tunnels in a relatively short distance. It starts from a road near the Cochran Pond and travels west towards Belding. Overall the trail is pretty flat although you have to walk, for the most part, on the track itself which in certain conditions can be tricky and slippery. For us, it was a sunny and warm day so that was not a problem. We did notice a pungent smell of oil as the tie started sweating under the sun. The hike is interesting nonetheless. As you walk thru the vegetation and observe the storm destruction, you can imagine the old days with trains traveling along this route carrying timber. As we did, you may also hear gunshots in the distance which makes it even more earie. There are multiple relics to explore and tunnels to pass along the way. Best of all, you can make this hike as long or as short as you like. I still have to do the second section to Belding as I’ve heard there’s a ghost town there. Spooky.

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Herman Creek, Jul 25th

A.K.A the overnight that was not. For several weeks, Val and I were itching to go out and spend a night in the forest. Since our schedules this summer has been pretty tight, we were having a hard arranging some free time so in an almost desperate moment, we picked up a weekend and place to go spend one night. We needed the exercise and the relaxing outdoor activity. With that, we fixed our aim in Herman Creek. It’s close to town, you can go as far as you want as there’s multiple campsites everywhere and there’s plenty of water sources. It was a no brainer for us. They only thing we were not counting on was rain. Since the summer had been pretty dry and warm we almost didn’t look at the weather forecast up to the very last minute, and even then, the chance of rain didn’t dissuade us. So we got up, drove to the trailhead, got our packs on and started hiking up aiming to get to Cedar Swamp and spend the night there to then come back the same way or do a slightly larger and harder loop by coming down via Nick Eaton Ridge. We noticed that, on our drive there, we passed a rain front that was quite short so we thought we would get that for a bit and it would clear after that (which btw was the same thing noted on the forecast). As we were marching up, the rain started. It wasn’t hard but a constant drizzle. Enough to get you wet but not enough to make you turn around and change your plans. With that, I covered my camera (hence no pictures) and pushed towards our destination. Given we had our packs on our backs and hadn’t done any training hikes, we did pretty well as we got to Cedar swamp early in the afternoon. We saw a good campsite that was already taken by a big group with a tarp so it wasn’t very inviting for us at that point. Just for kicks, we decided to continue going up and check if there was other campsites further up. As we did, we noticed the rain coming and going but not stopping. It was not looking very promising. We started to doubt whether we would find a good campsite and neither wanted to deal with setting up and cooking in the rain. Furthermore, the forecast for Sunday did look less promising. Then we walked out of the forest into a meadow that is right north of Mud Lake and leads to it. At that same time, the rain started much harder and went from a drizzle to actual rain. We stopped, looked at each other, tuned around and started hiking back. Since we were already wet and didn’t want to deal with setting up in the cold, we just marched our way down, non-stop all the way back to the car, went home, took a hot shower and had a nice dinner… So the backpack ended up being a 17 mile hike with 3900’ elevation gain with fully loaded packs. Not bad for the lack of training.

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Horseshoe Ridge, Jul 18th

If my memory serves me well, the first time I did the Horseshoe ridge was on the way back from Cast Lake. I remember that back then, this trail impressed me with the views of the mountain and the open scenery to the different valleys around. In past hikes, I’ve combined this trail with the Cast Creek and the Lost Creek trails to create a semi-loop with a car shuttle. Since I didn’t want to deal with that and also wanted a somewhat shorter hike, we decided to just do the Horseshoe Ridge as an out and back. To that end, I planned on starting from the actual trailhead that is located on the road to Riley Camp, not the older access that you could reach on FR832. That actually was a good choice as the road, past the Cast Creek Trailhead, has been decommissioned and destroyed. Trying to hike that road would be an exercise in bushwhacking for no real reason. The day was already warm when we started. With the little rain we’ve had this season, we found the trail incredibly dry. Being a very sandy trail it made the first part very dusty as we stumped or way in. Then the trail makes a quick turn entering the forest as it approaches the bridge over Lost Creek. From that point on, you start slowly gaining elevation until you reach the actual ridge line where the trail turns left and starts going up. As you gain elevation, the sky above starts opening up showing some rock formations at first. Then you come out of the forest and you’re welcomed with expansive views towards north-west. This changes continue for a while until one particular turn where the trees are left behind and bear grass grows everywhere. In the distance Mt Hood starts showing and then just appears in front of you. In the spring this area is just magical with all the wildflowers with the mountain as a background. By then, you’re mostly traversing the ridge line which is covered in parts and opens up in others. The views to the valleys below are obscured do it’s difficult to impossible to spot Dumbbell Lake or Cast Lake from the ridge. Near the end of the trail, where it joins the Zigzag mountain trail though, the trail passes on the right side of a knob. You can’t see the top from the trail but there are several foot paths the lead to it. Taking any of those paths, takes you to the rocky viewpoint that marks the end of this route. This is an excellent spot for lunch and views after which, we returned to the cars the same way we came.

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