Tag Archives: Big Blue Lake

Backpacking out to Big Blue Lake with Mike

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Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  10, 11 & 12-July-2020

 

My Birthday weekend!

 

Friday

I… in all transparency, kind of forgot that fact right until the last minute. It’s a bit weird, since this is the first year that’s really happened as far as I can remember. But it makes sense, doesn’t it? COVID, life changes, moving to a new town, a new apartment? The world is spinning, especially quickly this year. What’s one more birthday in light of that?

Well, it’s my birthday, for one. And thankfully, I have excellent friends and family who didn’t let me forget it, even if I almost did myself 🙂

Mike and I met up in Yreka again, this time going a bit further inland than we’d gone last time. I’d hiked this trail before, but it was back in… ohh, 2015, I think? It was a long time ago, and I’d wanted to re-try the loop again.

So we met up, got some food, and drove in to the trailhead – a surprisingly long ride versus what I remembered, but the Mustang is a glorious champion, undaunted by the roughest roads or dustiest trails. Up we ground, throwing billowing clouds of dust behind us from the high California dirt.

It was beautiful. Seriously beautiful. Easily worth the drive.

We got to the trailhead later than we’d planned, but thankfully we weren’t particularly surprised or concerned – we had a fair number of possible plans in our head, and so we set up camp in the daylight, and got the chance to rest and relax by Taylor Lake – chatting and enjoying our dinner of Subway sandwiches. Maybe not the most standard backpacking meal, but you know what? There’s not much that beats a double sub – 6” meatball, 6” steak and cheese, with hot peppers across the board. After that, I was ready for the hike the next day.

Ohh! I saw a mushroom car on the drive down! It was cool. Check out the pictures.

 

Saturday

Saturday dawned beautifully. I seriously spent way too long taking pictures of the flowers by our tents, with the sun rising above them… I’m tempted to post every single picture, since they all came out so gloriously well.

It was a good morning.

We ate some breakfast, had some coffee, packed up our gear and headed out. No rush, no stress, but also no lazyness and a lot of positive energy. It was a good start to the day, and we were really good about keeping that energy going as we kept hiking along the ridgeline. We cruised onward really well, making our way to Hogan Lake a bit earlier than we’d expected.

After looking at the approach to Big Blue, we made the executive decision. Even though we’d made really good time, the approach was pretty clearly a heck of an ascent. We weren’t quite feeling up for carrying the full packs up that talus field, so we dropped our actual camping gear, cinched down the packs, and headed upward.

(Ed Note: “Talus” is a term for large rocks. Not quite boulders, but not gravel either. “Scree” is similar to the gravel used on roads, whereas “Talus” is more like 2′ diameter rocks… give or take)

It was not easy going.

At all.

We’d made good time earlier – averaging maybe 2mph. Not speedy, by any means, but for two guys just getting back into backpacking? Pretty good, thank you.

On the talus? We made maybe 0.5mph. Remember too – this is not a marked trail. After Hogan Lake, we were on our own. There were a few Cairns, yes, but they were far between, and often not quite where one would expect to find them.

It seriously took us nearly two hours to get up to Big Blue. And let me tell you, we were not energetic when we made that summit. We were pretty toasted – but thankfully we had a glorious Alpine Lake to greet us – cold water, open areas, a nice breeze… it was exactly what we needed.

We dropped packs, relaxed, and even made a quick lunch for ourselves. We didn’t rush, and just simply rested and enjoyed the views.

After a rousing rock-skipping challenge, we put on our brave faces and headed back down. Again, not super quick going… but we did make slightly better time than we did on the way up. Turns out – gravity does help.

We were debating heading all the way back to Taylor, but as we got closer to Hogan Lake, and it came time to bushwack the last quarter mile, that plan went by the wayside. That quarter mile was not quick, and finding the unmarked trail was harder than we’d expected. By the time we were back at our gear, we were ready for dinner and sleeping bags.

One quick fun story – we couldn’t actually find the trail back, and ended up having to slog through a pretty rough marsh to get to what we could see as the trail. After wishy-washing a while though, we finally had a revelation! We didn’t have to slog through the marsh. We’re humans. We have tools!

There was, fortuitously, a fallen tree right near where we were. Not too big, but just the right side to make an impromptu bridge. So we hefted the log, maneuvered it, and hucked it into the marsh where it was needed. Great success!

But okay, back at camp. It was good. We ate dinner, had gatorade, and… immediately hid in our tents because the mosquitoes were infinite, bloodthirsty, and cared not for the bug spray defense we attempted. We slept early, and slept well.

Another quick fun story!

Mike thought he saw something outside the tent, at one point, and asked me to come with him to brush his teeth. No shame at all – in the woods, taking extra risks to be brave isn’t smart. So I got up and joined him…

And saw something outside his tent.

I wasn’t sure, so I didn’t mention anything at first. Once I saw the eyes clearly burning in the treeline though, I called Mike over and pointed him in the right direction.

We froze for a bit, waiting for the eyes to move. They were clearly eyes, about two feet from the ground. Far enough away that we didn’t know if they were a cougar, a bear, or sometime as boring as a cow. We kept the headlamps aimed, Mike grabbed his bear spray, and I hefted my camping knife. It felt smaller than I remembered the knife feeling.

Then, the eyes moved. With a second set near them.

It was a herd of deer! Coming through the clearing we’d set camp in! We didn’t see a whole lot of them, maybe 6 or so, but once they got close enough we could clearly see them, and clearly see that they weren’t actually monsters coming to eat our intestines.

A big relief, that last bit.

Sunday

Sunday was a quick day, but absolutely no less amazing than Saturday had been.

We got up, made coffee and breakfast, and got what water we needed from the stream. Thankfully the mosquitoes didn’t come out this morning, or had gotten their fill of the deer the night before, and we weren’t bothered too badly as we packed up and hefted our bags onto our backs.

We made pretty good time on the way out – nothing much interesting to report from that section, aside from the usual glorious views. We chatted and enjoyed, taking breaks as we felt fit. We just kept to the theme – no hassle, no stress, just roll with the flow and keep the best pace that we could.

We took a break at Taylor to cool our feet, but before we knew it the trail had dropped us back at the parking lot, where our intrepid steeds awaited us. We packed up, rested a moment, and then headed into town to find ourselves the most interesting looking restaurant we could find.

Backpacking over Labor Day, in Northern California: Sunday and Monday

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Backpacking over Labor Day, in Northern California: Sunday and Monday

It’s been a while since I’ve actually packed up my pack and gone on a solid backpacking trip. I think the last time was back in 2013, maybe? And even then, it was a solo excursion – no group shenanigans for me. Just a man in the wild, alone with nothing but his wits and a ton of random gear to keep him safe.

So going backpacking with a group of five was definitely a new experience for me, especially since we’d be exploring the mountains of the West Coast…

Sunday, 06-September-2015

before heading to bed the night before, there’d been a debate between everyone about what time to get up in the morning.  The final decision, amazingly, had been, “Meh… whenever.  Let’s not set alarms”

So we slept in!  We slept all the way ’till like 9:30 or something!  it was super decadent, completely amazing.

And then when we opened up the tent flaps and looked out?  When we surveyed the domain of our campsite?  A perfect vista… literally the best view of mountains that I’ve ever seen, this amazing view over a beautiful alpine lake.

Breakfast was relaxed, but thankfully a certain Sarah brought along a really nice Aeropress, so we had some coffee along with the oatmeal.  And then… we just relaxed.  Didn’t really do anything for most of the morning; just threw some stones into the lake, played a quick game that could sort of resemble curling, if you didn’t know what curling was (basically we threw a big stone, and then tried to get close?  So sort of Bocce ball?).

Then we threw some more stones into the lake, and then had lunch.

After lunch, boredom ensued, so a quick mention of “That far peak looks like a cool place… let’s go hike up to it!” leads to scrambling, route-finding, and finally attaining a perfect ridgeline. More lunch is had, and then Sharia and Josh head down while Sarah, Dave and I press onward toward the mini-summit.

Which is beautiful! A ridgeline traverse leads to a steep section, and some nice semi-technical climbing (by the way I go, at least). Then we chill at the top to enjoy the views.

Heading down is a bit more technical; Sarah & Dave’s route-finding skills come in quite handy a few times, since there’s no real obvious trail, and there’re a ton of small cliffs that kept blocking our path.

But once we got back down to came we went right back to relaxing some more, then drank some more beer and ate some dinner.  Sarah even showed us all up by taking a swim in the lake… which was impressive, and made me a little concerned for her sanity if we’re being honest.

Two notes:

  • Yes, I said drank beer.  On a backpacking trip.  See… Dave had bought this system that comes with concentrated beer, which you re-hydrate and carbonate, and then can drink as if it were normal beer.  I tried to mix it up twice, and… well, I’m not allowed to mix the beer anymore :/
  • Dinner was mountain house meals.  If you haven’t had them… a quote that came up was that Mountain Houses are designed for “when you need some dynamite to blow up the brick shit house you’ve built in your colon”.  They’re tasty, but… yeah.  Definitely camping food in the best of times.
    Mine?  Well, it looked different, so everyone asked about it.  It’s a “pro pack” that I got in college, and had left over since then.  They asked when it expired.  I said never.  They asked me to check.  I found out that it had expired in 2013.
    I still ate it.
    I only slightly regretted that decision later.

Then, it got really cold really quick.  So we spent some more time stargazing, and headed to sleep sleep early again.

Monday, 07-September-2015

Up EARLY. Like… we’re walking by 7:15, and at the bottom of the boulder field a little after 8:00. The boulder field isn’t easy, by the way, and takes some more mad route-finding skillz, yo.  Dawg.

(Ed note: they weren’t Ben’s route finding skills.  Sarah and Dave led the way again, to great success)

As we walked out, I got hit by how tired and unused to backpacking I actually was.  I mean… I’m in good shape, but I was getting pretty worn out really quickly.  We pressed on and made it to the cars without any incident, of course, but still.  It was something of note, that I decided to keep working on during the week.

One possible reason that came up though, was the elevation that we were at.

  • The trailhead was at 6,400 ft above sea.
  • The campsite at Big Blue Lake was at 6,900 ft
  • The final peak that we hit was at ~7,500 ft

Those elevations don’t really exist in New England… so I’m taking solace in the fact that I was getting tired too quickly because of the elevation.  Not because I hadn’t been backpacking a year or so.  Totally not that.

Anyways.

We got back to the car, right?  Then we drove!  We grabbed some burgers in Yreka, explored town for a bit, and kept moving along.

Ashland was a “take a break from driving” stop; we grabbed some of the fancy sulfery water and ate ice cream! Took a walk through the park (played on a small climbing wall, listened to a guy rocking it on the Cello), then hit an amazing coffee shop, which is above a book store, and has an amazing back garden… basically an oasis of amazingness in the bone-dry Western Oregon.

The rest of the drive back up to Portland was pretty standard…

Backpacking over Labor Day, in Northern California: Friday and Saturday

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Backpacking over Labor Day, in Northern California: Friday and Saturday

It’s been a while since I’ve actually packed up my pack and gone on a solid backpacking trip. I think the last time was back in 2013, maybe? And even then, it was a solo excursion – no group shenanigans for me. Just a man in the wild, alone with nothing but his wits and a ton of random gear to keep him safe.

So going backpacking with a group of five was definitely a new experience for me, especially since we’d be exploring the mountains of the West Coast…

 

Friday, 04-September-2015

Friday was a simple day – Sarah and I had most of our gear packed independently, so we just took a bit of the evening to review what we’d packed, make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything, and distribute the group gear between ourselves. That’s something I’ll have to get used to – not having to carry an entire tent for just myself, and not having to have a complete cook set for just myself. Getting to split the weight is really a nice bonus, though figuring out food for multiple people is definitely a new challenge for me.

 

 

Saturday, 05-September-2015

Saturday… well, it started early.

We met up with Dave at his house at 6:30, so that we could get the long drive done before the afternoon really got going. But that meant that we had to get going painfully early… which is clearly always cured via delicious breakfasts.

We hit Carl Jr’s instead. It wasn’t bad. But please believe me when I say it wasn’t ideal either. Greasy delicious fast food is amazing in the moment, but fast forward a few hours when you’re still in the car… well, it was the best we had, and I’m not complaining. The burger was definitely tasty, and the coffee woke us up. So that’s what matters.

Our goal was Yreka, a town that Mike & Liz & I had camped in back during my roadtrip. Kinda crazy thing – I actually remembered a lot about the town, and was able to safely and successfully navigate the group to find the ranger station. See, we needed to get a fire permit (even for campstoves) due to the obscene fire danger in California. We didn’t find one there, of course, but it was a solid starting point.

We found a place to get the permit, realized that everyone was at lunch right around the time that we realized that we were wandering into the back office of a fire station, and got ourselves a permit.

We linked up with Sharia and Josh, Sarah’s friends who were joining us. We drove up the trail, parked, put our packs on our backs, and started into the trail.

Thing about backpacking – it’s a lot of walking. The overarching trip makes for a good story… but the meat comes from campsites and summits. Not really the walk itself…

That being said, it was beautiful, and I had lots of excellent photo opportunities.

There was hiking.

There was, in fact, more hiking.

We found a lake! It was very pretty!

We found a boulder field. It was very steep!

I got tired. I kept climbing up the boulder field for, by my estimate, forever. I stayed tired.

Then, we hit the ridgeline. My brain exploded a little. You know those pictures of mountains that you see in Patagonia ads? Yeah. I think this was literally one of those places. This was the kind of scenery that I’d been waiting for my whole life. When I started backpacking, these views were what I wanted.

Hang out, take in the sights, split up the campsites and relax. We all heated up a bit of dinner dinner, stargazed for a bit, and headed to bed with the best views ever right outside our tents.