Sunday, September 30, 2018

Hiking Around the Dinkey Lakes Loop

Date: August 1, 2018
Place: Dinkey Lakes Wilderness, Prather, California
Coordinates: 37.154401, -119.057428
Length: 4.5 miles
Level: strenuous

It was already afternoon when I arrived at the First Dinkey Lake and found a suitable campsite, but way to early to call it a day. So after pitching my tent and taking out all excess weight from my backpack I was ready to hike the Dinkey Loop Trail.
My hike from the Second Dinkey Lake to the First Dinkey Lake, and the Dinkey Lakes Loop as captured by my GPS. 
I chose to hike counterclockwise. At first I was going westward, still along the north shore of the First Dinkey Lake.

The trail was level and clear, meandering through the forest. Every now and then I caught sight of the lake but mostly heard the people standing by its shore, many holding fishing rods. Here and there I saw narrow side trails leading toward the lake. I turned on one of them to take a look. Out of the trees the ground was covered in green grasses and wildflowers.
Lemmon's Paintbrush, Castilleja lemmonii
It was a challenge to get a photo of the lake without any other human in it. Sill, I think I managed to capture the beauty of this mountain lake.
First Dinkey Lake
Past the lake now, I was walking along the Dinkey Creek. At first the trail was level and the creek slow and muddy, with wider areas where the water was almost as still as the lake itself.
Dinkey Creek
Colorful patches of riparian bloom decorated the creekside. Most plants I have seen many times already on this trip but still enjoyed seeing them again and again.
Monkeyflower, Mimulus sp. 
The forest was open and it was easy to tell which areas were sunnier than others by the brilliant fireweed bloom that seemed to be concentrated in them.
Fireweed, Chamerion angustifolium
The trail diverged from the creek and I could feel a small downhill grade under my feet. The shadows were getting long and although not worried about the time I did quicken my pace.

I run into a number of people going uphill, many carrying small day packs. The Dinkey Lakes Loop is a good day hike for vigorous hikers coming up from the Willow Meadow trailhead. All the hikers I've come across that day were hiking the loop clockwise, going up the milder slope. I was going the opposite direction.
Pretty granite formation 
Then the trail dropped. from walking fast on a mild downhill grade I changed to near-gliding down a much steeper slope. I didn't stop at all, just paused briefly here and there to photograph the rock formation or a nice parch of wildflowers, or to exchange a brief hello with other hikers and backpackers that were on their way up to the First Dinkey Lake.
Bigelow's Sneezeweed, Helenium bigelovii
Before I knew it I was at the loop's lower intersection: going straight ahead would have taken me to the Willow Creek trailhead and out of the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness. After a brief water break I turned left, crossed the Dinkey Creek, and almost immediately started climbing the very steep slope following the trail leading to Mystery Lake.
A dry cascade
It was a hard climb. The trail wasn't switchbacking much so most of the ascend was directly up. The trail was very eroded in parts, dusty, and slippery. I was glad not to have been carrying the full load of my camping gear on this slope. Even without it I found it challenging to keep stable.
Near the top I run into a couple of day hikers that I have seen near the First Dinky Lake just as I begun the Loop hike. I was astonished at how quickly they had gone around the loop. They were surprised that I chose to hike the loop counterclockwise - it was much harder that direction, they said. They probably were right, but come to think of it, my knees would probably prefer to do the steep and slippery slope uphill rather than downhill. Anyway, at the point were I had seen them first they were nearly done with their uphill walk, so no wonder they did the rest so quickly.
After a short chat we each moved our own way. A short walk after completing the ascend I came upon Mystery Lake.
Mystery Lake
It was a fairly large lake, beautiful and clear. It was also very quiet - there were no other people by Mystery Lake. I guess it was mysterious enough :-)
I wandered along the lake shore thinking that it might have been a nicer camping spot than the crowded First Dinkey Lake.
Mystery Lake
The lake wasn't full to the brim. The newly exposed areas were still very muddy, dotted with new sprouts and the footprints of animals.
Deer Hoofprint
I wished I could stay longer by the lovely Mystery Lake. If not to camp, then at least to explore. But the day was getting short and I still had some ways to go and two more lakes to visit. I continued on, crossing a large flat that looked like t was part of the lake at some point, though not very recently. The  soil there was dry and it was covered with well established greenery. Slightly elevated "Islands" protruded from the flat, all of them growing small pine trees.

There was some more uphill to go at the end of which I saw Swede Lake. There I had to stop for a longer break - I needed to filter more drinking water. I found a side trail leading to the water. The feeling of solitude disappeared when I heard people by the shore across the lake. They weren't being particularly noisy but they were not trying to keep quiet either, and the acoustics of the granite basin in which the lake was situated worked was very efficient in carrying their voices to my ears.
Swede Lake

I filled up my bottles and snacked briefly. The lake was pretty but I was sitting in deep shade. It was time to move on.
Bigelow's Sneezeweed, Helenium bigelovii
I didn't take as many photos as I normally would because time was pressing. I did, however, admire the lovely trees I saw all around me. I particularly liked the trees that seemed to have more character.
Pine trees by Swede Lake
Some distance from Swede Lake there was a large rock. Next to the rock camped three men that looked like they have already been outdoors for some time. They waved me as I passed. I waved back and we started chatting. I was right - they have been out for a few days already, taking their time moving slowly from one lake to another. They told me that they came down from South Lake where they had camped the night before. "It's a short distance ahead," they told me. "15 minutes, maybe".

15 minutes, when coming downhill, maybe. It took me more than twice that time to get to South Lake. The main reason was that I was going uphill yet.

And then, there were wildflowers to stop by and appreciate.
Naked Buckwheat, Eriogonum nudum
I guess I also just walk slower. But the slow pace allowed me to see more, and enjoy more.

I arrived at South Lake and found it very similar to Swede Lake, and also to Rock Lake which I had seen earlier on the trip.
South Lake
I didn't linger by South Lake. I didn't even stop for a break. I stood by the lakeshore for a couple of minutes, taking in the view, then continued on.
Ragwort, Senecio sp.
At least there was no more uphill. From South Lake the trail was almost level for some distance. Then, just before starting downhill again, I caught a glimpse of the First Dinkey Lake down below.
View of First Dinkey Lake
It was shaded in the forest, long rays of late afternoon sun dancing in small patches between the trees. Small, green-belted creeks cut through the mild slope. Most of these little creeks were dry, but some still had a tiny trickle dripping through.

Then the trail steepened and I was out of the shade and in the same pygmy forest of stunted pines that I had hiked through earlier that day on my way to First Dinkey Lakes. Somehow I had lost my trail but kept walking in the right direction and reconnected anyway with the trail connecting the Second and First Dinkey Lakes.

It was the second time that day that I had hiked this trail segment, which I had already described in the previous post. But even in the same place there can be new sights.
Gray swamp Whiteheads, Sphenosciadium capitellatum
I reached First Dinkey Lake again. This time I was seeing it in the late afternoon light which made the grass glow red.
First Dinkey Lake
A movement through the vegetation caught my attention: it was a family of mallards going down for a swim. I was amazed to see such a large family - usually when I see juvenile mallards at this age there are only few left of the original brood. This mama duck must have been very good at keeping her ducklings safe. 
Once in the water the ducks disappeared from my eyes. The last tw to get in the water waved their tail feathers at me.

I arrived back at my campsite just in time - the sun was already sinking. I prepared dinner and ate it quietly as I listened to the evening noises of the other campers along the lake shores. 

First Dinkey Lake
After finishing my dinner I took my camera and went down to the water to look around. There were other people there, some with fishing rods. I moved in the other direction, and found a lovely cove that was still lit by the late sun. 
First Dinkey Lake
The cove was grown with a water plant I wasn't familiar with. Later I learned that this plant was bogbean and I was sorry not to have seen it in bloom. I hope next time to get there early enough in summer to see that because according to the photos online this plant has a very pretty bloom. 
Bogbean, Meneyanthes trifoliata

The sun finally set. I walked back along the shore to the spot where I came down to the water. the anglers that I saw there earlier were gone now. I stood by the water and looked out. All around the lake other campers did exactly the same: quite a few people were standing by the water, gazing at the serene mountain view in the fading light. Suddenly someone sneezed loudly on the eastern shore of the lake. The sound carried far and echoed from the granite domes. On the west shore someone else shouted, "Bless you!" in response. 
then thinks quieted down. One by one the people vanished back into the forest and their voices muffled and died down. The quacks of a lovely mallard flying across the lake were the only sounds echoing through the air. 

A sole mallard flying across the lake

I walked back to my campsite, organized my stuff and walked a few steps away to brush my teeth. Then I noticed a broken sign nailed to the tree near my tent. With a foreboding feeling I approached it and my hear sank when I found that I had pitched my tent right under a 'No camping here' sign. The sign was broken and invisible from the direction I approached, and as far as I could tell it was a well used campsite and at a legal distance from the water, but there was the sign.
Sunset by First Dinkey Lake
It was dark already and I wasn't about to go looking for another location and move everything. But despite the perfect location and weather I had a restless night, ridden with dreams of rangers coming to shoo me away. I resolved to wake up especially early and clear out of there by sunrise. 

Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants! 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

When Time Is Not an Issue: A Side Hike to Little Lake, and a Bit More.

Date: August 1, 2018
Place: Dinkey Lakes Wilderness, Prather, California
Coordinates: 37.154401, -119.057428
Length: down and up Little Lake and down to First Dinkey Lake: about 2.5 miles
Level: strenuous

My second night at the Dinkey Lake Wilderness was peaceful and restful. I woke up in time to see the sun rising through the trees. The air was silent and the lake was calm.
Second Dinkey Lake
I took my time making and eating breakfast. Birds were chirping all around but I didn't get to see them. I did see the squirrels and little chipmunks running around. They didn't make it easy for me to photograph (a good sign that they weren't habituated on human food).
I tidied up the campsite and put everything away inside the tent or behind the bushes. Taking only water and some snacks I headed out to Rock Lake.
My Campsite at the Second Dinkey Lake
The day before when I walked from Rock Lake to the Second Dinkey Lake I passed a turn to a narrow, almost invisible trail and a sign directing to Little Lake. At the time I was set on going to the Second Dinkey Lake and building my camp before the inevitable thunderstorm so I passed that intersection without a second thought. On the morning of my third day at the wilderness I had the time and energy to go and explore that lake. Moreover - I could do so without carrying everything. It would be a quick and easy hike.
My morning hike to Little Lake

I headed down the trail with high energy and zeal. I walked about a third of a mile downhill when I realized that I had passed the trail intersection to Rock Lake and was walking the direction of the First Dinkey Lake, where I had planned to go later that day.

So I backtracked my steps, found the correct trail and started toward Rock Lake once again. The sun shone bright and strong but the groups of noisy youth who partied last night were sound asleep in their tents. All of them were sleeping, except for a couple of guys in a rubber boat in the middle of the lake. They noticed me and waved. I waved back and continued on. Just as I got to the trail turn to Little Lake I hear them hoot loudly - they had caught a fish.
Rock Lake
The trail to Little Lake isn't used much. It is very narrow and most of the way it was hard to see and stay on it. Most often I found myself walking in the general direction of where I thought the trail aught to be only to find it some feet away to the left or to the right. Either way, I was heading in the correct direction - downhill. 
Wetland area on the way to Little Lake
It was a steep downhill. I couldn't help thinking about going up again that barely visible trail. I was glad not to be carrying all my gear on my back.
Down below I knew I was by the lake even before seeing the water - a wide belt of wetland greenery surrounded Little Lake. There were many interesting plants there, and I was glad to see again the now familiar Alpine Gentian.
Alpine Gentian, Gentiana newberryi
Even before seeing the lake I could hear them - another loud group of campers. I saw them, and veered off to the side.
It wasn't easy to reach the shore. The water was low and a wide belt of slimy mud surrounded it. Carefully I managed to get near and take a good look around.
Little Lake
The mosquitoes swarmed around me, ignoring the thick layer of bug repellant on my skin. I found a place to sit neat the water, but couldn't stay there long because of the tiny insects that kept reaching for my precious blood.

After enough swatting I got up and started pushing my way through the vegetation back to the forest where I had left the trail.

Finding the trail again wasn't easy. I hiked uphill in the general direction I came down from earlier, looking for the small cairns that marked the way. I did managed to find the path here and there and eventually I did make it up to the main trail leading back to Rock Lake.

Along the trail I saw many clamps of narrow, cylindrical leaf rosettes. Some were reddish, most were green, some had dry inflorescences sticking out. The didn't look like anything familiar. I photographed a few of them for personal reference.
Quill-leaf Lewisia, Lewisia leeana
But then I came upon one that was blooming. A single blooming individual in the whole wide forest. A lonely flower with no one to pollinate. whether is was an early or a late one (probably the former) I do not know for sure, but I was happy to see that blooming one.
Quill-leaf Lewisia, Lewisia leeana
I passed rock lake on my way back to the campsite. The group that was camping there was all awake and busy now. They took no notice of me and I walked on, descending quietly onto the Second Dinkey Lake.
Second Dinkey Lake
I had a quick snack, then folded my tent and packed up everything, hoisted my backpack, said goodbye to the nice and quiet Second Dinky, and started down the trail to First Dinkey Lake.
Trail to First Dinkey Lake
For about half a mile I descended through a thin pine forest. The trees were small and dark green. It was around mid day, beautiful and warm. A few clouds floated in the sky, but nothing threatening.
Down in the valley my trail connected with the Dinkey Lakes loop trail. I continued on it counterclockwise, heading toward the First Dinkey Lake.
Trail to First Dinkey Lake
The trail leveled off and out of the forest shade there were many more wildflowers blooming. Although the soil was fairly dry I could tell it wasn't dry for long. Water-loving plants like my friend the Alpine Gentian were blooming there, still looking healthy. Beside them - more dry-tolerant plants like the pussypaws, the Indian paintbrush, and wild parsley.
Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja sp.
I didn't see it until I was right upon it - the Dinkey Creek, cutting through the little valley with a lovely and lively flow.
Dinkey Creek
I crossed the creek on a few stones set there purposefully. In the water - small trout fish were hovering over the algae-covers pebbles, blending perfectly in the brown background, visible only when moving.
Fish at Dinkey Creek

There were more flowers on the other side. Many more flowers, including some I had not seen before in bloom. 
Towny Horkelia, Horkelia fusca var. parviflora 
Knowing I would be walking this trail segment again today I did't stop all too frequently, but took quick shots while moving along. I was already starting to look for a place to pitch my tent.

Already past their prime but still looking gorgeous - line bushes decorated the trail sides all the way up to the lake.
Lupinus sp. 
As I turned around the curve the lake came into view. East of the First Dinkey Lake was a wide, green meadow dotted with flowers. There was no trail there, and no access. I admired the pretty meadow from afar and consoled myself by imagining swarms of mosquitoes over the green grass (a very realistic image, that one).
Dinkey Meadow
Finally I was walking along the lakeshore. The trail wasn't very close to the water but here and there a narrow path was clear through the vegetation. Here and there a tent was visible between the trees to my right. At any place there I could camp, but I wanted easy access to the water and it seemed that all the good spots were already taken. So I continued along the lake.
First Dinkey Lake
A little bit further I decided to have a short break forest and snack. I sat down on a rock and looked about me. Long the numerous insects that buzzed around my head were pretty damselflies. I like their delicate bodies and the iridescent color of the male damselflies.
There was much more bloom near the lake. Many yellow composite blossoms, most of them I could not identify on a glance, and only a few I could identify after a long study off the photos at the comfort of my home while writing this post.
Bigelow's Sneezeweed, Helenium bigelovii 
Easier to identify - the cinquefoil. Not too many look alike in that area.
Elmer's Cinquefoil, Potentilla gracilis var. elmeri 
Many butterflies fluttered through the air. Most of them didn't stop even for a second. Two of them, however, decided to engage in an activity different than foraging. I didn't get to see this lovely couple consummating because something disturbed the female (not me!) and she flew away. The male flew shortly after, although not in the same direction. Perhaps it was never meant to be.

I came upon the intersection of trails where I had planned to turn away from the valley on the morrow. The area looked perfect for camping except for the signs posted everywhere that camping wan't allowed in that spot. I had to increase the radius of my search. Eventually I saw the perfect place: near the lake but not too close, a flat area for the tent, and a ring of stones with ashes inside - it was clearly a well used site. And it was not occupied.
I pitched my tent, placed the bear canister in a safe place, and looked at the time. It was afternoon now, and I had about six hours before nightfall. Plenty of time for hiking the Dinkey Lakes loop. I hoisted my backpack again - now much lighter after leaving behind my sleeping gear and the bear canister, and took of down the trail, continuing on the loop in the counterclockwise direction. About the Dinkey Lakes Loop I'll write in the next post.

Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!