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

PCT – CA Section P . . . as in Persistently Practicing Patience (Part 3)

Dates Hiked: May 26-29, 2015 (Part 3: Miles 1537.19-1597.2)
Direction: Northbound
Section P: Castella to Etna
-Miles: 98.5 (Halfmile 1498.7-1597.2)
-Elevation: Low Point 2,157′, High Point 7,769′, Gain 17,594′, Loss 13,770′The storms are over and I’m antsy to return to the trail. It’s time to complete Section P, PERSISTENCE will pay off!

Thanks to my friend Rebecca I’m back at the Parks Creek Road trailhead heading north once again, first to Cement Bluff (see 5/13/15 post), then onward towards Highway 3, Sawyers Bar Road and finally Etna to resupply.

Bull Lake with Mount Eddy in the background

I love these miles of long fairly level traverses (see the trail in the distance?)

Hard to complain about colorful sunsets

and colorful sunrises

I’m always curious how trails are made through rock fields such as these.

Why yes, it’s a black BLACK bear. In Section O I saw a cinnamon-colored BLACK bear and later in Section P I saw a light brown or possibly blond colored BLACK bear. Lucky me!

It was great to have the opportunity to meet and personally thank a Backcountry Horsemen crew out clearing trees. They are one of the unsung heroes! If you see them, take a moment to say thank you.

There was about a 5-mile section that was a huge mess of down trees and accompanying debris (mile 1571-1574).

As per usual, tree jungle gym goes hand-in-hand with early season travel.

I’ve backpacked more miles in the Trinity Alps than anywhere else, thus it holds a special place in my heart and in my memories.

The Tangle Blue and Marshy Lakes basin.

Still some lingering snow

Looks like someone was busy with a bit of splash painting, but alas thank you mother nature for providing us such color and texture.

East Boulder Lakes

I’d guess this is a hunter’s camp. In the meadow below was a bear roaming around.

Not a great photo, but you get the idea. I believe it was a blond black bear, or at least very light brown. Very unusual.

My heart hurt as I witnessed the devastation of the 2014 wildfires.

I have many fond memories of backpacking trips in the Russian Wilderness. The wildfires were especially bad through this area, how bad?

Impressive trail building

Reminiscent of Castle Crags type granite

Seeing burned areas in the distance is one thing, walking through it is quite another story.


Trail was in decent shape, all trees were removed through the burn area and only a few areas will need serious tread work.

Manzanita and poison oak are the first to come back.

As I exited the burn area, I was treated to a view of Mt Shasta and ? Lakes (can someone help me out)

First views looking down into Scott Valley (which includes Etna).

I was surprised by the amount of climbing approaching Sawyers Bar Road

Smith Lake, Scott Valley and Mount Shasta

Snow was hiding on these north-facing protected slopes.

I saw several of these frogs and found them challenging to photograph. Was pretty happy to catch this one in motion.

There were lots of butterflies, and caterpillars of course.

Bear Grass

Thankfully there were plenty of colorful wildflowers to offset the stark charcoal areas.

These were magenta colored to the naked eye. They are tiny growing on a 1-2″ stem and are a wild onion.

This is a Pitcher Plant bloom. Hard to find at this stage.

First time I’ve seen a wilderness morning glory.

Pine Cone Flower

I’m curious to know more about these shoots. Anyone know anything?

I love the shape and texture of the leaves of corn lilies.

Who walks there? Who rides there?

Mud, snow, sand all provide evidence of shared trail users.

I wondered about the many holes along the trail . . . watch out for those ants!

Poison oak became more abundant around water sources starting around mile 1573 (near Section Line Lake)

Meeting other hikers on the trail is always a highlight of my day. Hiking off-season makes this a rare treat, and what a coincidence when I found a gal sporting the exact same pattern on her Dirty Girl Gaiters! By the way, these do such a terrific job keeping crud out of your shoes. I’ve been wearing them for about 5 years now and as they say I never leave home without them.

As a hiker, my feet have been growing. Sure hope they never get this big! I think Bigfoot set these prints across Highway 3.

Seasonal creeks were plentiful and always a nice place to do a little laundry (tip: diaper pins work better than safety pins, and hang socks by toes so they are more apt to be dry). In this photo, you can see my solar panel charging my external battery, my umbrella ready for the sun or precip, my Sawyer Squeeze being used inline, and my Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack. I’ll be providing a gear list in another post.

This was not the best campsite selection for a possible stormy night, but sometimes you have to take what’s available when it’s time to stop for the day. Instead of a storm, I had a perfect viewing platform for a great sunset and sunrise.

Another “room with a view” night.

This was to be my first hitching experience, needless to say I was extremely nervous. Instead I met a guy as he merged onto the PCT from a side trail about a mile before Sawyers Bar Road. He was headed to Etna and I was able to secure a ride. From there I was swept away by my new friend Catherine for a night of yummy food, chores and great conversation. Thank you Catherine and Bruce for being such great trail angels and hosts!

Related Posts:

Jan’s Tips:

  • Permits are not required to backpack within Section P (exceptions: Castle Crags State Park, Castle Crags Wilderness, Trinity Alps Wilderness, Russian Wilderness).
  • Bear canisters are not required. It is recommended that you hang your food. I use an Ursack and Opsak.
  • Cell signal and internet service are limited.
  • Spring trips mean unreliable weather forecasts and unpredictable weather.
  • PCT resources
  • Sections of Section P (reference Day Hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail by George & Patricia Semb)
    • I5/Soda Springs to Dog Trail (7.9 miles)
    • Dog Trail to Gumboot Trailhead (18.2 miles)
    • Gumboot Trailhead to Parks Creek Road Trailhead (14.3 miles)
    • Parks Creek Road Trailhead to Fen Trailhead (12 miles)
    • Fen Trailhead to Highway 3 (10.9 miles)
    • Highway 3 to Carter Summit Trailhead (19.9 miles)
    • Carter Summit Trailhead to Etna Summit (20.2 miles)

Russian Wilderness – Falling into Winter (11/24/14-11/26/14)

As the days grow shorter, I find many of my preferred hiking locations off limits for day hiking and inhospitable for this fair-weather backpacker. My new traveling hotel (aka vehicle) has provided a solution to this dilemma. With this new-found freedom and a Thanksgiving feast in my future, I couldn’t resist a little adventure en route.

Last minute decisions can create excitement and a bit of healthy stress, which is exactly what happened and why I didn’t arrive at the Duck/Eaton Trailhead (elevation 4,800′) until about 4pm. With no snow on the ground, I was determined to hike in a few miles and set up camp. On my way up the switchbacks, I quickly reached snowline. At the top I found a snow-free campsite and awoke to this glorious sight.

With such a beautiful white canvas, it’s always hard to be the first to mar it, but oh how I love being the first to step on virgin snow.

Who or what else shares our trails?

Hiking in early winter, can mean less than ideal trail conditions.

The trail not only becomes creeks and ponds, but at time becomes invisible adding to the challenge of navigation. I found Little Duck Lake at 6,700′ without much problem. Finding Big Duck Lake proved a little more difficult and would have to await my next visit. As with many things in life, I had a much grander agenda for this day, having visited both Duck Lakes previously, I wanted to explore at least one new lake in the area, Lipstick or Horseshoe or Eaton, but alas it was a good reminder that winter travel takes more time.

Little Duck Lake, veiled in a thin layer of ice.

The Icy Canvas

Scott Valley was engulfed in fog. It was mesmerizing.

The Paynes Lake Trailhead (4,400′) is just up the road from the Duck Lake Trailhead. Prior to reaching Paynes Lake is a crossing of the PCT (mile marker 1600) and beyond are the Albert Lakes.

Paynes Lake at 6,450′

Lower Albert Lake at 6,900′

Another highlight of this trip was the sunrises. I’d never get any hiking done if this show lasted all day.

Jan’s Tips: