A Journey into the Five Lakes Basin

Five Lakes Basin in the Grouse Ridge Non-Motorized area north of I-80 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

I call this small gem in the Five Lakes Basin, Hidden Lake, because there are no trails to it. It’s my favorite of the five. Our grandson Ethan, had great fun leaping off the cliffs into the fairly deep water with encouragement from his grandmother. Mom looked on nervously.

 

The Five Lakes Basin called to me this summer. I’ve backpacked in numerous areas over the years— up and down the Sierras and other mountain ranges in California, Colorado, Maine, Alaska, Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana, North Carolina and the Canadian Rocky’s.  But my first trips in the late 60s and early 70s were into the Basin. Maybe these were like getting your first driver’s license, which is something you don’t forget. But it’s more; the Basin is special, it has a beauty of its own that can match any place I have ever been.

Eliminating four-wheel vehicles and motorbikes helped. It happened in the 70s. The jeep trail is still clear on Sand Ridge. If fact I rode over it in a jeep. Another time, a jeeper rescued me when I had a badly sprained ankle, and forever put me in debt to four-wheelers.  Once, however, I was camping next to a meadow below Sand Ridge and I heard the sound of a motorbike going around and around in circles. Out of curiosity, I walked out to the meadow and discovered a guy cutting brodies and tearing up the grass and flowers, leaving scars that would take years to heal. He saw me and took off, obviously aware of the damage he was doing, and not giving a damn. I went home and used my position as Executive Director of the Sacramento Ecology/Environmental Center to join with the Nevada City Chapter of the Sierra Club in its efforts to have the area declared non-motorized.

The trail Peggy, Tasha, Ethan Cody and I followed into the Five Lakes Basin over Sand Ridge. The motorbike guy was tearing up a meadow just below where the Glacier Lake Trail and the Sand Ridge Trail meet.

The old Jeep trail that I once rode over is still obvious on the top of Sand Ridge. The predominant plants are Mule Ears. Sand Ridge was created as the terminal moraine of one of the glaciers that carved through the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range during the last Ice Age.

The hike up Sand Ridge is a doozy. The first time I ever tried it, I thought I might die. I had zero concept of climbing up steep hills with a full pack on and I was in terrible shape. But that was long ago and many mountains in the past. I sailed up with relative ease this time, being in better shape at 74 than I was a 26, and ever so much more experienced. I have to say my companions hiked up it with relative ease. I’m sure it was my fine leadership. (Grin.)  Rudolph was waiting for us on top.

Cody, Tasha and Peggy climbing up Sand Ridge. The steepness and loose rock on the trail made it a challenge. The look on Cody’s face says it all. Interstate 80 can be seen on the upper right in the distance (the light color against the blue backdrop).

Ethan celebrates his climb up Grouse Ridge. Rudolph looks on.

Here’s how he really felt about the climb.

Peggy promptly named this wood sculpture at the top of the ridge with its prominent nose and antlers, Rudolph.

Of course the boys had to go for a ride. I later put a piece of white quartz that Peggy had found on Rudolph’s nose and the boys immediately broke out in a rendition of Rudolph the White Nosed Reindeer.

The Five Lakes Basin sits at the end of Sand Ridge. As the name suggests, you have to hike down to reach the lakes. There’s a trail, but I prefer hiking over the granite. My basset hound, Socrates, used to regard it as a freeway. And relatively speaking, it is. If you pick your way down the rocks, the going is easy up until the last 50 yards or so. My favorite lake sits right at the bottom. I call it Hidden Lake. It isn’t, but the fact that it is away from the main lakes, has no fish in it, and has no trail to it means that it gets less traffic. At least it did until the Boy Scouts discovered it. They’ve turned it into a mecca for building granite chairs and tables.

Looking down at Hidden Lake in the Five Lakes Basin nestled in the granite.

The granite chairs built by the Boy Scouts or someone else. They weren’t there when I first started backpacking into the area.

Tables have been added in more recent times. My bowl is there to provide perspective. It has to take several scouts to lift these granite boulders.

The unique way that granite splits naturally is what enables the chair and table building.

Some of the rocks must weigh several hundred pounds. Peggy, Tasha and the boys were quite impressed and took full advantage, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the scoutmaster might better serve the boys by teaching them minimal impact. Possibly it isn’t scouts. Maybe it’s a church group, or Druids. They were good with stones, right? I could see them sitting around on a full moon night chanting and doing whatever Druids do.

We had the lake to ourselves, however, as I did the week before on my solo journey. No Boy Scouts and no Druids. We were able to enjoy its beauty and the fact that it makes a very nice swimming hole.  This was the lake where I came up with the idea for the Sierra Trek in 1974, the hundred-mile and hundred-kilometer fundraising backpack treks that kept me happily out in the woods for close to 30 summers. It’s also where Socrates and I had the encounter with the underground demon. Go here for that rather funny story if you missed it the first time around.

The lake is always good for reflection shots.

Another example.

Some are a bit strange. I decided that this creature would fit right into 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

And this fellow, turned on edge made a great monster insect. The tree provides antennae. And check out the scary slitted eyes just above the snout! It looks like one mean dude, or dudette.

The Black Buttes rise up in the background. Our day hike would take us over to their base on the left. Glacier Lake, which I featured in my last post, is just below the Buttes on the right.

The swimming is great at Hidden Lake. Cody, however, was a bit worried about its mud bottom. “It’s not like a swimming pool,” he groused.

Sunset in the Five Lakes Basin of the Grouse Ridge Non-Motorized Area.

Sunset from our camp on Hidden Lake.

I planned a layover day so Tasha and the boys could explore the rest of the Basin. I had Ethan, who is also a Boy Scout, use his compass and path finding skills to lead. He was quite good. I was really impressed with his ability to lead us back using his trail memory. The following photos provide an overview of our journey.

This map shows our route into Hidden Lake and then our day hike through the Basin to Upper Lake at the base of the Buttes..

Jeffrey Pine in Five Lakes Basin of Grouse Ridge Non-Motorized area.

I explained to Ethan the importance of memorizing prominent landmarks, such as this impressive Jeffrey Pine, to remember his route.

This Juniper wasn’t large like the Jeffrey Pine but it was still distinctive and provided another landmark.

Once your expertise in route finding improves, even something like this small but unique Manzanita sculpture can remind you that you are on the trail.

Gary Snyder’s ‘biggest little lake’ in the Five Lakes Basin from the poem, Old Pond, that I included in my last post.

This is the middle lake above and to the right of Snyder’s lake on the map.

And this is the upper lake that nestles up against the Black Buttes. An old stream bed (the curved line) is in the middle of the lake. Trout hang out in the bed during the warmer summer months. This is the first lake I camped on when I came into the Basin.

My second camp was just above the waterfalls in this stream that feeds the lake.

Tasha reaches out to fill her bottle with the cold water that comes from a snow bank above.

The snowbank. It is unusual for snow to be in left in the Basin during August. it speaks to the very heavy snowfall the Sierras had this last winter. Naturally, such snow led to a snowball fight.

And Ethan sliding down with Peggy waiting to catch him.

Tasha and Ethan hiding out behind the snowbank.

Peggy and Cody found a niche to hang out in the granite rocks above the snowbank.

I like this photo I took next to the upper lake because it shows the contrast between the white granite of the Five Lakes Basin and the dark basalt of the Black Buttes.

The late snow also left an abundance of August flowers including this Sierra Tiger Lily…

Corn lilies galore…

With their white flowers…

Asters…

And many other flowers.

A final family photo with Peggy, Cody, Tasha and Ethan at the waterfall before heading back to Hidden Lake.

Next Post: We conclude out trip into the Grouse Ridge Non-Motorized Area with a stop over at Peggy’s Lake.

 

 

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33 comments on “A Journey into the Five Lakes Basin

  1. Lovely photos and a great story. I wish we had greater slopes to explore. The 500-foot bluff sides offer an exhilarating and challenging hike, though they are often far too short.

    • Thanks, Tobias. It’s a beautiful area. Wisconsin, of course, has its own beauty, not to mention great canoeing. I haven’t canoed there but I have in Minnesota, including a trip into Voyageurs National Park, which came with its own thrills. –Curt

    • I am always glad to share such experiences, as I know you are, Alison. The miracle of modern technology. And thank you WordPress. As for the insect, be sure to check out the water monster going up in my next post on Saturday. 🙂 –Curt

  2. If you think Sand Ridge is a doozy, I’m not even going to think about it!! I’ll stay right here and enjoy your photos. Thanks for the hike, Curt!

    • Ha, lucky for all of us we didn’t go in a month earlier, Tasha, we might have spent most of our time hiking over the snow! But I suspect that the boys would have enjoyed that as well. And I must say, both Ethan and Cody make wicked snowballs! 🙂 –Curt

  3. Curt, what a wonderful time for you all! Your grandsons seem to be in their element and taking after you with their hiking skills! The Hidden Lake looks divine and the water so cool and refreshing. I quite liked the stone tables and chairs and would definitely avail myself of them, although I appreciate maybe it isn’t the done thing. The photos are stunning, so vibrant, crystal clear and it’s as if I can taste the air! A magical place to visit.😀😀

    • It was great fun, Annika, and I hope the boys do take after their grandfather when it comes to wandering the wilderness! We started their mom off in her 20s, and then she took a break while she had her children and raised them up to backpacking age. 🙂 I hope we can do more trips with them.
      The area is stunning, which makes it a delight for photography. Thanks. –Curt

  4. Thank you for this wonderful trip you let us experience through your words and photos. It just looks so beautiful everywhere and everyone shines with happiness.
    I got quite fond of the Juniper tree and the tree sculptures.
    There is no doubt in my mind that you all came back with rich and unforgettable memories.
    Miriam

    • I think that there can be places for off-road vehicles, Sue, but tearing up sensitive environmental areas or trashing a place should never be allowed.
      The chance to be out there with Ethan, Cody, Tasha and Peggy was special. –Curt

  5. Oh this is just splendid. The rocks, the flowers, the snow, the kids’ huge smiles and the grandfather’s pride to show them this beauty. It’s so important to keep non motorized areas in the wilderness. There is so little space left to solitude and natural beauty. Our kids deserve them. Good for your to have worked toward this goal.
    And what a cool table to have for breakfast.

    • A good time was had by all, Evelyne. Tasha says the boys are still talking about the experience, and the snow!
      Wilderness is critical, both to our kids and great, great grandkids, and so on.
      Breakfast: Instant oat meal. 🙂 –Curt

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