CA – Russian Wilderness – A Lake a Day Keeps the Doctor Away (06/16)

Following a stressful week, I was prescribed one part endorphin-high hiking mixed with one part relaxing-high swimming and napping at secluded alpine lakes.

Does Difficult = Endorphin High?

All the lakes I planned to visit had trail ratings of difficult in the Forest Service handout. All except one were shown as black (secondary) trails on my map, which frequently means unmaintained. In the flier, the USFS defined difficult as “a trail requiring a high degree of skill and challenge to travel.”

Eaton Lake

In my resource guide, the trail junction is  listed as “well marked,” but goes on to say “the route is faint in places” and “the path borders on monstrous.” Note: the book was published in 1996, gulp 20 years ago! This large boulder is the trail junction. Don’t go straight! Instead you go left in front of rock through the bushes and a creek. “Well marked” . . . probably not by most hikers standards.

After a little route finding and a lot of climbing, I successfully found Eaton Lake (11 acres, 27′ deep)!

I climbed up a nearby ridge to get a glimpse of Mt Shasta and Scott Valley. 

I’d never seen such large ladybugs, nor ones of this burnt orange color.

While the lake appeared devoid of fish, the frogs seemed happy. 

My room with a view. 

I’m always happy to be an early bird so I can enjoy sunrise alpenglow.

As the light changes, I also enjoy the lake reflections. 

The next morning I took a jaunt around the lake, so I could find the upper lake . . . or more like pond. 

Little Duck Lake

I’m always curious about the naming of areas, aren’t you? I’m guessing Eaton Lake and Eaton Peak are named after a person. There was a Judge Eaton in the Redding area, so I bet there was a big family in far Northern California and maybe they even owned this property before it became a designated wilderness area. I’ve never seen any ducks at Little nor Big Duck Lakes, maybe cairns aka ducks were in use then? Once again, inquiring minds want to know!

Now, I’d call this a well-marked trail.

Sunrise with alpenglow at this time of year was around 5:45am.

Room with a view 

Morning reflection magic 

The colors were especially spectacular. 

I hiked around the lake catching views of Eaton Peak, the second highest peak in the wilderness at 7600′.

Big Duck Lake

This is the largest lake in the wilderness at 25.8 acres. There are plentiful campsites nearby and on this day there was a group of about 20 boyscouts and their leaders who were on hump day of a 5-day stent. I stopped by for lunch and a swim, with no intention of spending the night, thank goodness!

Horseshoe Lake

Although the trail/route is considered secondary, there was a civilized sign.

Alpenglow at 5:55am 

Room with a view 

Camp furniture is a luxury, but came in handy as I blended new technology (solar charger) with old fashioned paper navigation systems (MAPS, oh how I love MAPS!). I had big decisions to make today. Shall I head to a tiny lake (1.25 acres) with a very questionable trail or move on to another trailhead. Tip: I use clear removable tape to make notes on my maps.

Morning reflections. 

It’s easy to hate on horses when you come upon fresh piles of fly-covered poo on the trail, but much like when Hemlock and I discovered the benefits of cows on the Arizona Trail, I’ve come to appreciate the equestrian traffic. They not only help maintain the trails and build nice campsites but most importantly they USE the TRAILS. They help keep trails open to hikers!

Newts provide tons of entertainment. 

Lipstick Lake

Many of the trails in this area are old logging or 4×4 roads. Sign/trail? Maybe once upon a time? 

The trail was littered with these giant cones. 

Following some crazy hiking . . . combo of plodding through a mud bog, fighting through underbrush, and ascending a really steep hill littered with deadfall, I was somewhat surprised to find such a nice sign. This gave me much optimism for the remaining section of trail.

I was excited to find the lake. 

Finding a campsite and water access was another story, but persistence paid off on both fronts. I saw no evidence of any previous campsites.

Alpenglow at 5:49am. There was a large burn in the Marble Mountain and Russian Wilderness areas in 2014, with a bit making it over the ridge.

The highlight of my visit to this lake was having this buck and doe stroll down toward the lake. 

Before realizing . . . OMG there was a foreigner in their meadow. The buck was inquisitive.

He tried talking his girlfriend into staying, but alas he left me to protect his woman. There are two old roads which connect to the main Duck Lake Trail and which provide a lollipop loop to Lipstick Lake. On the way in I hiked the upper road; I exited via the lower road (straight at sign). The left arrow indicates the main trail to Big Duck Lake. The mark that sort of looks like an up arrow is really not.

It was by far the worst trail I’ve hiked. I spent much time fighting my way through bushes and trees, sometimes squatting so I could swim through the undergrowth, other times I used my hiking poles to try to open a path. All I can say is “JUST SAY NO” unless you are a glutton for punishment. My upper body was sore for days. My pack was full of debris and I was happy not to have lost any gear. 

I uploaded my track (from Trimble Outdoors Navigator) to CalTopo. Using the MapBuilder Topo option, I was surprised to see the old roads/trails labeled “unuseable delete?” Looks like a resource I’ll be using in the future.

Flora of the Russian Wilderness

The Russian wilderness is of national botanical significance because of it’s diversity of trees and other plants, including 19 varieties of conifer trees. I believe this is a Brewer Spruce.

Dates Hiked:  6/27/16-7/1/16

Jan’s Tips:

  • Related blog postings can be found on my California Jaunts page under Russian Wilderness
  • You may be able to obtain updated trail conditions reports from the Ranger Station in Ft Jones
  • To access these lakes I recommend map, compass, and optionally a GPS. Also knowledge and experience with route finding and challenging terrain will be helpful.




Wilderness Permits are NOT required for overnight trips

Campfire permits are needed for the operation of a backpacking or camp stove. Online Permit Link

Bear canisters are NOT required

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