My first backpacking trip
For the past two years my birthday has ended up in a long weekend in May popularly known as Memorial Day in US. Last year we went to Florida (a post on that later), this year we decided it was time for my first backpacking trip since I had gotten comfortable with camping for a while now.
It has been a year of a severe drought in California, that ought to have meant hardly any snow in the mountains. All popular spots for backpacking should have been open for backpacking. Instead it turns out, there was a system of storms covering most of the Sierras that practically ruled out some pretty hikes in Eastern Sierras like this and this. My husband perused the weather reports of many regions of California to figure out this pretty lake loop in trinity alps wilderness known as Four Lakes loop to be the likely storm-free backpacking destination.
We were planning to camp for two days so we had to carry food for 6 meals aside from all the camping gear including a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, camping stove with fuel and headlamps. Apart from usual energy bars and trail mix etc, the food stuff we carried was couscous, Trader Joes wheat-naans and their ready to eat Indian curries. Out of these things cous couse proved to be very useful, extremely easy to cook and compact to carry. Other items included hand sanitizers, 'the always handy' sunscreen, water purification tablets (neutralizer is very useful for iodine water purification tablets). Although it is not strictly required for backpackers to carry bear-canister in Trinity Alps Wilderness, however for newbies like us who aren't very skilled at hanging their food from a tree branch, it sounded like a idea to carry a bear proof canister to store the food.
Two popular trails leading to four lakes loop, Stoney ridge trail and long canyon trail, start from CA 3 and go up into Shasta-Trinity mountains. The drive from the bay area to either of the two trailheads is about 5 and 1/2 hours. We decided to drive to Redding and stay there for a night and then proceed to the Long Canyon trailhead. We started our Saturday with a leisurely and filling breakfast which was supposed to be the last hot and good meal for the next two days. After the breakfast we were off to Long Canyon trailhead. Even before we could admire the beauty of trinity alps, our eyes were treated with the true sapphire colored lake called Whiskey Town lake. The drive through the whiskeytown is serene and is just a preview of what lies ahead.
After filling the forms for the self issued wilderness permits at the Redding National Forest Ranger station, we reached the long canyon trailhead at around 1 pm. Our plan was to reach the trailhead of the lake loop by evening, camp for the night somewhere close-by and start the hike the next day.
We were expecting not many people at this trailhead since we thought it was fairly remote but to our surprise, it was hard to find a clear parking spot. Turns out due to snow in Sierras, all the backpackers had turned to this option. Nevertheless, with backpacks on our backs, we started the climb up. It took a little while for me understand the mechanics of carrying a backpack. Only one rule, the strap that fits on your stomach should be tight and should be at or above your belly button, that is how you avoid weight on your shoulders.
The hike had varied landscape, rocks, roots, twigs and creeks which reminds me of the Gore-tex shoes that I was wearing. At one time I almost plunged my feet into a stream but thankfully i was carrying two pairs of socks and my shoes were waterproof.
We encountered several beautiful wild flowers on our way. These were good company along with lara bars and lots of water in our camelbak packs.
The rocky trail gave way to beautiful meadows
We were still looking for a place to camp which was relatively flat and near a stream. The last stretch of the climb was covered with ice. Finally one of our team mates hurried up to scout for a camping place. It was 15 mins more of a climb. We rallied behind for the last mile push.
And when a campsite looks like this, who remembers the tired feet?
After setting up the tents, we gorged on some makhani daal, couscous, naans and a chocolate muffin which my husband had pre-arranged to celebrate my birthday :-)
I remember the first night was difficult to sleep in the tent, kept waking up and imagined a lot of bears passing by.
One of the best things about camping in the wild is that you tend to wake up quite early. I peeped outside the tent at 6AM to see beautiful sunny day. As it turned out, we weren’t near a running water source so we had to melt ice for a lot of stuff. The day started with struggling to brush without running water and using the waste bag :-S.
After enjoying a brekfast of hot oatmeal, we began our four lakes hike. We filled our hydration packs with a fresh water stream and treated it with some iodine tablets. Treated water can be hard to drink and adding a neutralizer or electrolyte capsules can help.
The real adventure began now. The hike started with a narrow trail entirely covered with ice which made it slippery. With wobbly steps I started to follow other people with the constant fear of slipping down the snow covered slope. Luckily, there was another group right behind me and after seeing me struggling in the ice, one of them handed me their hiking pole. And whoa, it made all the difference. Lesson One - Carry a hiking pole or grab a thick tree branch on icy trails.
And soon we were at the very first lake. The pristine sapphire colored Deer Lake.
The men in our group went to climb the siligo peak and the girls proceeded towards the summit lake where I got the opportunity to click this masterpiece ;)
Our next stop was diamond lake.
The last lake was luella lake where took a break for lunch. All of us were craving for some salty snack like chips due to overload of sweet bars.
It was time to complete the loop at deer lake where we soaked our feet in water.
We had some indigenous visitors to keep us company!
By this time the toes of my feet had started hurting badly while descending down the slopes.We ended our hike by 7pm and got back to our tents for a hot dinner consisting of maggi, palak paneer and couscous. Everyone slept peacefully after a day long hike.
Next morning we started our descent back to the car. Within minutes of walking, my toes started hurting again and that's when I realized I should have bought a size bigger for the hiking shoes. Seeing me under so much of pain, my husband offered to exchange his shoes with mine. I was ready to walk barefoot but he insisted on exchanging the shoes. Once we did that, we continued non stop and did the hike back in 3 hours.
We drove back to Bay Area the same evening stopping for lunch at the best little sandwich shop in Redding. This deserves a special mention because this is one of the few places which serves yummy hot toasted sandwiches with a lot of vegan options.
I was exhausted by the end of the trip, even had a black toe nail due to continuous stress on the feet. It was a grueling first backpacking experience but nonetheless now when I recall back those two days, I am reminded of this
"In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks" - John Muir