Trinity Alps Wilderness Backpacking and Hiking Trails Update, July 2010

by John Soares on July 1, 2010

Note: Get the weekly updates on Trinity Alps trail conditions from the Forest Service.

Like much of the rest of northern California, the Trinity Alps received an overabundance of snow this winter and spring. There’s still a lot of snow at the highest elevations, and in some places the heavy storms knocked trees across the trail.

The U.S. Forest Service has issued an excellent 13-page Trinity Alps Wilderness Trail Condition Report; if you are planning to hike or backpack Trinity Alps trails this summer, you must read it. It looks like it’s updated frequently, so check it often.

There are six Trinity Alps hikes from my guidebook 100 Classic Hikes in Northern California:

  • Hike 56: Big Bear Lake
  • Hike 57: Caribou, Emerald, and Sapphire Lakes
  • Hike 58: Horseshoe and Ward Lakes
  • Hike 59: Granite Lake and Seven Up Gap
  • Hike 60: Four Lakes Loop
  • Hike 61: Canyon Creek Lakes and Boulder Creek Lakes

Here is the latest update from the July 1 Trinity Alps Wilderness Trail Condition Report for each hike I covered. (Keep in the mind the report covers dozens of other trails and destinations.)

Hike 56: Big Bear Lake

Bear Lake Trail #7W03 – The access road to the trailhead is clear of snow and debris. The trail is now clear of downed trees. As of 06/25/2010 Katie of the Wilderness Patrol reports: “On Friday we day-hiked to Big Bear Lake. Most of the lake is surrounded by snow, and is still about 90 percent frozen/covered in snow. There was one campsite melted off at the lake, but there was about 5 feet of snow around the lake.”

***When the snow does finally melt, overnight hikers please note that the campsites on the north side of the lake are rapidly becoming devoid of firewood. If you must have a campfire, make it only a small social fire at night in a pre-existing fire ring. The last Wilderness Patrol visit in 2008 entailed removing six new fire rings on the white granite just to east of the lake’s outlet.

Hike 57: Caribou, Emerald, and Sapphire Lakes

Caribou Lake #9W180 – The Coffee Creek Road is now open to Big Flat. The campsites at the Big Flat Campground are now melted off and usable. Trail snow conditions in 2010 are not known, but the South Fork of the Salmon is undoubtedly unsafe to cross at this time. No matter what the season though, due to the basin’s rapidly disappearing organic matter, responsible hikers should refrain from having a campfire. Please keep in mind that most of the lakeside organic matter needed for plant growth (90% of the nitrogen needed) has already gone up in campfire smoke…

Note from John Soares: Hiking over the ridge from Caribou Lake to the Stuart Fork Trail is not advisable until late summer when all the snow is gone. That said, here’s data for Emerald and Sapphire Lakes and the Stuart Fork Trail:

Stuart Fork Trail #9W20 – The three-mile access road to the trailhead is free of rocks and debris. It has quite a few potholes however, so drive with caution. As of 06/24/2010 the trail is free of snow to Emerald Lake. However, there is a lot of water on the trail (for 1/2 mile or so) around the Caribou Lakes trail junction All of the campsites in Morris Meadows are usable as are all of the campsites at Emerald Lake. Sapphire Lake is still socked in with snow. The trail is now open for stock access to Morris Meadows. However there are 17 trees down between Morris Meadows and Emerald Lake. Several are stock stoppers, but only one is much of an inconvenience for backpackers. Salt Creek (one mile before Morris Meadow) is running high but there is a log downstream that hikers are using. On 06/24/2010 one stock party made it across Salt Creek to Morris Meadows, but with increasing temperatures this weekend stock passage is questionable.

And backpackers please remember, it is NEVER a good idea to wade across a creek barefoot when wearing a heavy backpack. If you do so the chances are you will end up in the creek with all the unpleasant possibilities that can entail… It is also a good idea to use a staff in your downstream hand to assist your sense of balance. You can almost always find a suitable branch to act as a staff. Then just leave it on the other side of the creek for the next returning passer by. Always unbuckle your waist and sternum straps before crossing –just in case you fall— so that you don’t end up bouncing along on the bottom of the creek struggling with your pack-straps.

On the May 24th Eric saw three different bears foraging in Morris Meadow over the course of just one day, so be SURE to hang your food in an appropriate manner. (See our Leave No Trace page under the ‘Useful Recreation Links’ heading on the Website’s Home Page for instructions on how to do so).

Just this last week the Wilderness Patrolmen Tony saw six different rattlesnakes between Morris Meadows and Emerald Lake. Most of them were near creek crossings, so be mindful of snakes in this area.

Remember, the current Forest Order for Stuart Fork specifies that there are NO CAMPFIRES ALLOWED AT ANY OF STUART FORK’S LAKES. It is a $375 fine (absolutely no exceptions) for anyone caught in violation of this Forest Order.

Hike 58: Horseshoe and Ward Lakes

Mumford Basin – (This is an unmaintained trail.) – No Information

Parker Creek Trail #9W19 – Snow conditions in 2010 are not known at this time.

Hike 59: Granite Lake and Seven Up Gap

Granite Lake Trail #8W14 – There are 45 trees down from the Swift Creek Bridge to the lake. They are scheduled for removal on July 1st. As of 06/27/2010 the snow started in earnest at Gibson Meadow and there are three (of eleven) campsites that melted off and useable. Hikers reported on the 27th that the only realistic (safe) way to get over the pass and into the Deer Creek basin was with crampons. They estimated that it would be considerably safer for the average hiker within 1.5 weeks.

Additionally, in 2009 the Wilderness Patrol reported that: “The trail above Granite Lake towards 7-Up Peak is very brushy, there is a spot that lasts for about 100 yards where the brush completely covers the trail up to and over head height.”

Hike 60: Four Lakes Loop: Summit Lake, Diamond Lake, Luella Lake, Deer Lake — plus Echo Lake

Stoney Ridge Trail #9W21 – The road to the trailhead is passable. There are a few large rocks within the roadway and several branches encroaching along the roadsides however, so proceed with caution. As of 05/13/10 the snow started in earnest one mile from the trailhead. There are two tress down within this section (a 10” and a 12”) but both are easy to get around for stock users and hikers.

Four Lakes Loop Trail #9W13 – Snow conditions in 2010 are not known at this time.

Hike 61: Canyon Creek Lakes and Boulder Creek Lakes

Canyon Creek Trail #10W08 – The road to the trailhead is now completely clear of snow and debris. Just before the Lower Meadows there is a ¼ mile section of trail that is virtually underwater however. It requires either the use of sandals or high top waterproof boots if you want to have dry feet after this watery traverse. As of 06/27/10 the trail is clear of snow and debris all the way to Lower Canyon Creek Lake. The Lower Lake is now snow free and all of the campsites are usable. The creek crossing (1/3 mile from the Lower Lake) is difficult but manageable to cross. There is a log at the crossing that folks are using, but it requires skipping some rocks on the far side –or wading a short section with appropriate footgear. The trail to the Upper Lake has only a few remaining snow patches that are easy to traverse. Only two of the established campsites around the lake are still covered in snow, and they should be melted off by the 4th of July weekend. It is virtually impossible to cross the outlet creek from Upper Canyon Creek Lakes -where the trail crosses this outlet creek- to continue on to ‘L’ Lake (high water flows with rocky cascades below). However, I talked with several hikers that claimed they were easily able to cross the outlet creek closer down to where it enters Lower Canyon Creek Lakes.

Boulder Creek Lakes Trail #10W02 – As of 06/27/2010 the trail to Boulder Creek Lakes was free of snow and debris. The lake was still about 1/4 covered with icebergs, but they should be long gone by July 4th. Only two campsites were out from under the snow, but the remaining campsites should be thawed off by the 4th weekend also. The creek crossing just before the lake was high, by very manageable. Be sure to pay strict attention to the cairned route across the bare granite just before lake. If you simply follow your intuitions you will probably end up at the base of the cliff below the lake. The cairns lead you higher and more to the north than you would expect, but they also lead you to the only spot that makes it possible to access the lake without the use of ropes and pitons!

Remember, the current Forest Order for Canyon Creek specifies that there are NO CAMPFIRES ALLOWED AT ANY OF CANYON CREEK’S LAKES! It is a $375 fine (absolutely no exceptions) for anyone caught in violation of this Forest Order.

Upper Canyon Creek Lake and Sawtooth Mountain in the Trinity Alps. (Photo by Jeff Lang, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Upper Canyon Creek Lake and Sawtooth Mountain in the Trinity Alps. (Photo by Jeff Lang, via Flickr Creative Commons)

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