Place: Dinkey Lakes Wilderness, Prather, California
Coordinates: 37.166173, -119.068209
Length: 9 miles
Level: moderate (last 1.5 miles strenuous)
Despite the perfect conditions my third night of the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness backpacking trip was restless, ridden with dreams of rangers coming to shoo me away from my campsite. Just before going to sleep last night I found a broken 'No Camping Here' sign nailed to a tree near my tent, a sign that wasn't visible from the direction I came from. Although I knew in my mind that no one will come in the middle of the night to the wilderness to get me out of there, my subconsciousness was active enough to disturb my sleep. It was very early and still fairly dark when I stopped fighting with myself and got out of my tent.
I walked down to the lake to collect some water and to enjoy the quiet pre down hour.
|First Dinkey Lake|
|Ferguson Fire soot on First Dinkey Lake|
|Sunrise at First Dinkey Lake|
|My campsite at First Dinkey Lake|
A followed the trail through the woods and soon the lake was behind me and I was alone in the wilderness once again.
The trail I took was narrow and somewhat hard to follow - not because it wasn't clear but because there were many other little trails merging and splitting off what I thought was the main trail. When I stepped into a forest clearing there were also dry creek beds that had clear foot prints in them, as if they were trail. It wasn't easy to figure out where to go and I hd to do some pathfinding navigation to catch up with the primary trail I wanted to hike on.
One of my pathfinding challenges was walking off trail without trampling the beautiful wildflowers that covered the forest clearing. And they were plentiful.
Among the meadow wildflowers I saw another flower I've met on previous Sierra Nevada hikes but not yet on this one: the Sierra Gentian. Naturally, I was very pleased to see it and took some more time trying to get a decent photo of it.
|Sierra Gentian, Gentianopsis holopetala|
Not ready to decide on the spot I sat down for a short break and admired the lupine shrubs that covered large areas if the forest floor.
|Brewer's Lupine, Lupinus breweri|
Then there was a clearing and a meadow. Probably used to be a lake once. I stepped off the trail to take a closer look.
Little tree frogs hopped beneath my feet. I managed to take a few quick shots before the frogs disappeared in the vegetation. Then I run away from that meadow because by then the mosquitoes had found me and were gorging themselves with my blood.
The familiar colors were there all over the place.
|Fireweed, Chamerion angustifolium|
|Few powered Larkspur, Delphinium depauperatum|
|Whiteheads, Sphenosciadium capitellatum, hosting a party|
Evidence of recent surface moisture were present all around, including large mushrooms that sprouted at the base of small pine trees.
I stopped for brief water and snack breaks every now and then. As the trail seemed to go on and on without any significant change I also checked my map and navigator more frequently, verifying that I was on the right track.
And mosquitoes. That day was the only day on this trip in which I felt compelled to lather myself in feet more than once.
|Fleabane, Erigeron sp.|
|Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea|
|The cycle of life, insect version|
|Gooseberry, Ribes sp.|
|Cinquefoil, Potentilla sp.|
Hoards of grasshoppers jumped before me, like heralds before the Queen. I filmed a short clips of that, but in reality it was much more impressive.
Another small, dry meadow welcomed me. This time I could make a thin foot trail running across and I followed it. At that time I was hoping to come across a running creek because I was running low on drinking water.
I tried quickening my pace but was compelled to stop every now and then to look at the resisting last wildflowers of the season.
|Meadow Beardtongue, Penstemon rydbergii var. oreocharis|
It was mid day and the hot sun was bearing down on me. I was tired, sweaty, and thirsty, and I needed to eat, hungry or not. Once again the trail had evaded me, but this time I didn't bother looking for it. Seeing a large tree ahead I made my way toward it and sat down. Then, looking back, I realized that I had crossed a large area of Helm's Meadow without noticing. From there I could also see the Black Peak (the little dark bump to the right of Dogtooth Peak) that was concealed from my eyes by the forest trees.
I filled up my water bottles, ate lunch, and rested well. I wanted to take a nap but lying down was a bit challenging - the ground was strewn with sharp little pine cones and I was too lazy to pull out and inflate my mattress. So I simply sat reclined on my backpack and let my eyelids droop.
I think I sat there for nearly an hour. Finally the magic of the place was working on me. Now that I knew there was fresh water available I thought that it would be a lovely camping spot if I ever made it back there with my family.
It was a huge plus not to feel any mosquitoes in that place, although other insects were plentiful.
Helm's Meadow was one of the places I considered for staying the night at. It would have been lovely, I think, but it was very early when I arrived at helm's Meadow, and even after my long restful break the sun was still high in the sky. I figured I could stay for the last night near the Courtright Reservoir.
|Swamp Onion, Allium validum near Helm's Creek|
|Lemmon's paintbrush, Castilleja lemmonii near Helm's Creek|
It was slow progress, but a very pretty one. I figured that even if it took me the entire day to cross the Helm's Meadow area, I would still be good on my plan because it would be a nice place to spend the night at.
|Trout at Helm's Creek|
|Helm's Meadow Trail|
The terrain was changing again. Once again the trail was descending although much milder than the segment north of Helm's Meadow. it would drop a bit, then level off for some good distance. And there was no more problem of losing the path.
|Helm's Meadow Trail|
|Towny Horkelia, Horkelia fusca var. parviflora|
The trail was descending again, and neared Helm's Creek once more. It wasn't close enough to see, but I could definitely hear it - the sound of cascading water. Tired from the monotonous walk through what seemed to me a monotonous forest I decided to check out the creek. I stepped off the trail and approached the sound of rushing water. Suddenly I was upon it - the most magical spot of my trip - right there at Helm's Creek, hidden from sight from the hiking trail.
I dropped my pack, and sat down, gazing at the water, imbibing my soul.
Then it was time to wash. The water was cool but not cold. The pool was too shallow to submerge and the smooth rocks were very slippery. I enjoyed a good bath then stretched myself on the rocks. I might have dosed off too for a few blessed minutes.
|Helm's Creek Crossing|
The trail followed the northwest 'arm' of the reservoir at a good elevation for nice views of the blue lake. I admit it looked very inviting and every now and then I had some thoughts of stopping and camping there, but something pulled me onward.
I was impressed by the field of huge pebble-like rocks that were strewn on the large granite slabs. It looked like a frozen moment of a march of some kind. Of course the moment wasn't frozen, but going on still at a geological time for which my passage was nothing but a nanosecond or less.
|On the Eternal March|
Then I heard voices. People's voices. It startled me. It was the first time that day since I left the First Dinkey Lake that I became aware of the presence of other human beings nearby. They were walking on the Cliff Lake Trail, I knew. I was still some distance from that trail, however. By the time I reached it, I didn't see any other people. i didn't hear them anymore either.
|Bigelow's Sneezeweed, Helenium bigelovii|
All chewed I started uphill. Somehow I had forgotten the grade of that trail segment. On my first day I was going downhill and the mile and a half just evaporated under my feet. Now I was struggling uphill. At the end of the day, on the tail of a long hike, carrying my heavy backpack, that final stretch was grueling. Before long nothing was left from my cleansed, uplifted feeling I carried from Helm's Creek. I was sweaty and hot, and it didn't take long before I had to pull out my mosquito repellant to protect my precious blood.
|Up and Out|
The Dinkey Lakes Wilderness is a fairly small area. The distances between lakes and other attractions are relatively short, compared to the vastness of other wilderness areas I backpacked previously. And the altitude differences aren't very challenging. Although I didn't walk fast, it felt as if I run through this trip, finishing my planned route with extras two days earlier than I had planned to. I could have checked more corners of that wilderness, but once again, it was being aloe that got me out of there sooner than I could have. And I missed my family.
I want to go back to Dinkey Lakes. It is a perfect place for a family backpacking - Next time I would bring Pappa Quail and the chikas along. And I'd schedule it for early July. And Probably begin ascending at the Helm's Meadow Trail. We shall see.
Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!