Island Lake, Grouse Ridge Area, Tahoe National Forest
7-8 June, 2013
I got to the Carr/Feeley Lake trailhead at 8AM after 87 miles of driving, the last 2.7 miles of which was a 'graded' dirt road which nearly bounced my arms out of my sockets.
I drove a Toyota Sequoia, with the 4WD on. I would have been OK in 2WD but the handling was better in 4.
The Forest Service (I assume) graded the road after the snowmelt, unearthing every single rock and leaving the top of the road covered with lots of rocks 1/2 the size of my fist and many more up to head sized. And the grading left intact all the holes from which the rocks had come.
Parked the car, donned my pack, and hit the Round Lake Trail.
I've done this stretch before, several years ago, as a day hike to Penner Lake. This time I went for an overnight to Island Lake, a shorter trip.
I'll confess, it is a very nice and short and easy hike, about a mile and a half one way. Island Lake is VERY popular, so that's why I left so darn early, to make sure I'd have plenty of time to grab a spot with two trees. Was it worth backpacking to? Yes, since this is a great distance for a shakedown trip for me.
The trail starts after a closed gate that leads to the Carr Lake campsites ($15 / night, walk in only), where there are a pair of conveniently located pit toilets a few hundred yards in. The trail then crosses the outflow of the Feeley Lake dam.
You can walk on the top of the dam, if you want, and I know some folks have bypassed the sometimes deep outflow by finding their way to the north end of the dam, then walking south to catch the official trail.
The trail follows the shore for a while, with Fall Creek Mountain making nice reflections in Feeley lake.
Then you eventually head up away from the lake and over a ridge to meander between some small lakes and marshes.
The trail is well signed at intersections, and the dozens of feet pounding the trail each day has beaten down the dirt section quite nicely.
After you reach the intersection with Crooked Lakes Trail, you can stay on Round Lake Trail and look for a way to get down to the southern shore of Island Lake. I had originally planned to hang there, but could not find a way to get close to the water without scrambling.
I do not scramble.
So I backtracked.
Going back to the Crooked Lakes Trail intersection, I turned north, seeking the western shore of Island Lake. I've gotten misplaced out here before. So I wandered aimlessly (not really true) on the narrow strip of land between a small pond and beautiful Island Lake, reciting landmarks to myself as I strolled along. Big rock, bent tree, streamlet-with-log, head due east, 'nother big rock, rock, rock, big rock. Bother.
There may be plenty of places that are not campsites to hang out by the lake, but I was not looking for those so I can't speak for the day trippers.
Sometime before the big peninsula that sticks out into the lake, I spied a fire ring just off the trail, at the sign of the twin tree.
Now, Tahoe Nat'l Forest has already put fire restrictions in place - so no campfire for me. But, an established fire ring meant it should be possible to get down to the shore fairly easily for water. And it was!
I like to carry water back to camp for filtering and use one of the collapsible lightweight buckets for that, Outdoor Research I think, a trick I learned from GraFFiX. If I have water right there, easy to filter, I'll drink the water that I should. If it is a hassle, I'll just keep putting it off. I use a First Need Filter (again, thanks, GraFFiX) because it produces really tasty water (even from yucky sources, which Island lake was not) pretty fast. I think I drank 5 Nalgenes on this trip, mostly on Friday. (Yes, I carry a Nalgene - get over it - plugs directly to filter, built in measuring, easy to glug from, and Boy Scout Proof) on Friday.
The lake access is nice enough that later that day I had part of a family (just a dad and a kid and a dog) launch a canoe there. It is only a portage of a mile and a half from the trailhead. It may be possible to use some of the other lakes on the way to cut the portage distance down. I don't know. The mom went on to the campsite via the trail with the other dog and the smaller kid.
I set my hammock up and proceeded to loaf the rest of the day. Although I put my OES tarp up during the day for shade, I packed it up when the sun was low enough the big tree to the west made some shade. I brought along my Traveler, even knowing that it was June in the Sierras and therefore Bug Central. The bugs did not disappoint. Neither did the hammock.
I had three trees to choose from, A and B with a shrub between them (shrub brushed the bottom of the hammock) or B and C. B and C were rather farther apart then I usually hang (I was sure I took a pic but apparently did not so you get other pics, of the view from the hammock, my happy toes in the hammock, and some bugs. You should be pleased, really, since you can now IMAGINE whatever kind of hammock you want. Get crazy - consider a nice leopard print or something.)
I used one of Arrowhead's strap extenders to get my tree strap around the large tree (Tree C, if you are still following) and ended up needing to sheetbend my hank of utility line to my tarp's continuous ridgeline to make that piece of line long enough to accommodate the large tree and the distance between.
I tucked some twigs under the strap extension.
I watched a lot of what I like to call "TV" - with three channels, the Natural History channel, the Lake channel, and the Trail channel.
"Sweat bees" (Halictidae, as far as I know) made up most of the Natural History channel, swarming and investigating every scrap of my gear. I do wish they'd tune up a bit - when two or three were buzzing in place about 2 feet away from me, they sounded like tiny twin engine bombers. All day long. They were in love with my stuff, but rarely landed on me. Just drove me nuts with the buzzing.
The Lake channel mostly featured a family at the south end (wish I knew exactly how they'd got down there) swimming from island to rock to island and having a great time. The broadcast was occasionally interrupted as I tried (and failed) to get a picture of the trout in the shallows. The boys caught some fish, from what I heard.
The Trail channel was everybody who walked by my camp. Dozens of people - families, singletons, pairs, medium size groups. Did I say this is an extremely popular hike? I even had a fellow hammocker stop by to say hi. Cool! Hi, Magoober! and Magoober's dad!
Late in the afternoon a large group of people came by seeking a camping spot. They looked like a Meetup group or other semi-organized group of complete strangers hiking together. They had some BIG packs.
They ended up on top of the peninsula.
I wandered around my little campsite, glad that I had skipped the 5 mile group trip to Rock Lake (farther up on Crooked Lakes trail) since my recently recovered (I thought recovered HA!) Achilles's tendon had not yet fully recovered.
I also spent some time contemplating a really nice tiny pine tree with a pretty clump of flowers at the base, and watching a bold chipmunk.
Then my mind went, and I wondered what the pine would look like from the chipmunk's perspective.
I'm glad my pack weight (including food and 1 Nalgene of water) was just a shade over 20 pounds, as measured on my dad's old hanging fish scale, the official backpack weighing device from my youth.
I used my Molly Mac Pack with the MMP front pack.
The Shenandoah quilt and Crowsnest 3/4 underquilt (Hammock Gear old school) fit in one 13L dry bag (blue), and the Thermarest Prolite XS (essentially a 3/4 pad on me), my Traveler hammock, and a DIY pillow fit in the 8L bag (orange). My clothes and were in a third (green) dry bag of unknown size (largest of the Walmart specials), and I carried my food in an Ursack, which I tied up in a tree.
I attached one of the largest MMP pouches crossways on the pack, making it possible to get to the contents even when buried under other strapped down bags. That carried some odds and ends, but mostly my First Need water filter.
Water, snacks, camera, lipbalm, sunscreen, bug spray, and water bucket on the front pack, and I discovered my OES MacCat will fit in one of the medium MMP pouches. A tight fit but possible. The other medium pouch carried my windshirt, head net, tarp stakes, and ridgeline. Both of the medium pouches were on my hip belt. Compass, map, and folding knife in my pockets and ready to rock and roll.
Due to fire restrictions in the Tahoe National Forest, I took along my brand new SnowPeak Litemax stove and the smallest available canister of fuel. The stove and fuel, as well as matches, a lighter, windscreen, and campfire permit fit nicely in my Evernew stacking pot/mug combo (750ml/400ml if I'm not totally mental at this point).
The stove worked great. I set it up in the fire ring and it boiled the small amount of water I needed for lunch and then for dinner right quick. Yeah, it is noisy, but FAST. I am pleased.
In addition to the pesky ankle, I was quite unusually congested on this trip - my allergies usually are in abeyance above 5000 feet, and I found that sleeping in a hammock and mouth-breathing don't go together. My mouth kept closing and I would wake up trying (and mostly failing) to nose-breathe. So I practiced mouth-breathing while watching the Big Dipper (about all I can see with my glasses off) slowly rotate through the sky until the sky lightened up again.
My Traveler hammock is comfortable, but I don't think it is quite a comfy as my Blackbird - but I'll need more than two nights in the Traveler to decided for sure.
I don't think I really needed the thermarest pad, since it ended up migrating in the night to a position nowhere near my feet, and I was too warm (but mosquito free) under the Shendoah for the first part of the night. I wore my head net to bed - worked great. The headnet I made of the kind of mesh you'd use on a tent door - kind of stiff - which is nice since it stood away from my face even without the hat. And, by puffing air at it with enthusiasm, I could not only blow the occasional mosquito right off, but also adjust the position of the net. Fun for all the boys and girls! Find fun where you can, that's my motto.
I found that by shoving the underquilt to the side, my backside was a bit cold, but that was offset by my overly toasty topside. Eventually, most of the bugs quit for the night, and I cooled down enough to put the underquilt back in place. The low was predicted to be 60 or so, and I believe it. My quilts were a bit damp but not too bad. They dried very quickly in the 100 degree backyard at home.
I packed up camp, staggering around half blind in the pre-dawn light, further dimmed by my bug head net, then hiked back, still in the bug net, retracing my path of just the day before.
The landmark recitation paid off and I was not even slightly puzzled. Well, OK. Once. But I got over it.
Because of an excessively enthusiastic round of noseblowing in the night, I had a right-hand nostril nosebleed on the hike out (that is very rare - it is almost always the left - but nose-bleeds-due-to-sneezing-or-blowing are not uncommon with me) and I spend some time frantically wondering where my bandanna had gotten to (one of the medium pouches on my hipbelt).
The bandanna was quite grimy at this point, so I found a rock, laid the bandana out, rinsed it off with my water bottle - all one handed, and walked along, one hand stuffed under my head net, holding the damp cloth to my nose, glad it was an easy trail and I didn't need my sticks. The nosebleed soon stopped and I stuffed the newly grimy and now soggy bandanna in my pocket and carried on.
My Thru-hiker windshirt over my sleeping shirt (merino wool lightweight) was comfortable enough and quite bug-proof. I had hiked in in a kilt, but hiked out in long pants due to the morning mosquitoes.
The parking lot was very full at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, with some people parked on the side of the access road.
Driving home, I had a great deal of trouble getting the central differential to unlock after shutting off the 4WD. So I went back and forth in a parking lot off of Bowman Lake Road, then got on I-80 anyway and drove like an old lady. After 5 miles at slow freeway speeds, it unlocked. Time for a trip to the auto shop.
So, this was a trip of firsts for me: first solo overnight, first night with the top down (no tarp), probably the first trip drinking enough water, and first hiking nosebleed ever! Wow, I'm the lucky one!
I could have probably stood to hike in wearing my REI long pants (lightweight nylon/spandex - "Venturi" although the pants listed on REI's site now are poly spandex blend) and left the kilt at home, but it was nice and cool in the kilt so I didn't mind carrying the extra piece of clothing. Repel bug spray (the picaridin type) worked well enough to keep the bugs off my legs on the way in and while in camp, but I'm not sure it would have been enough on the hike out.
I also did not eat all the food I brought (and I didn't bring much). I had planned to hike around some after setting up camp but decided to rest my ankle instead. I ate some homemade couscous/polenta stuff for dinner, and a rather bland Mary Jane's farm black bean hummus and tortillas for lunch.