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! 


  1. Mystery Lake is really beautiful and so is Swede Lake. and South lake... It is a beautiful area

    1. It's the Land of Lakes :-) Yes, it is a very beautiful area. I hope to go there again with the family too, the entire loop can be done in a day hike.