July 29, 2008
Several outstanding trails emanate from Wrights Lake. I haven't explored this particular one in over twenty years. Three nice lakes are on today's route.
The first quarter-mile is shady and green; numerous flowers abound, but many
of them are already dried up. The next mile up to the wilderness border
is hot, dry, and unexciting. After climbing 500 feet, a right turn at the
trail junction begets another mile and another 500 feet of
This bee's legs are loaded with Meadow Sweet
A Silvery Blue, I believe
The route is steep and relatively rough
Somewhere in here I lose track of the trail, because after some scrambling I end up on the southwestern side of Grouse Lake, while my map shows the trail as skirting the northern shore. Oh well, it hardly matters, for this place is beautiful! The area is virtually overrun by mountain heather. The red ones, unfortunately, are almost entirely withered away; but the little white guys are holding their own as they gradually change color and finally turn up their faces proudly.
Grouse Lake, and Peak 9318 on the right
There is lots of activity in the Labrador Tea
Instead of heading over to find the trail, I opt to continue eastward straight up beside the creek. In the next meadow it is impossible to take a step without trampling flowers; there simply is no unoccupied ground.
A blanket of flora
Mountain Laurel in the making
Presently I encounter the little cascade that feeds this garden
paradise. The paltry stream flow seems sufficient to maintain
a lush environment close to the creek. From here, another 600
vertical feet of enjoyable
A pleasant cascade from Smith Lake
Steep but safe scrambling
To the uninitiated, it might seem a bit unnerving to see a rock dam
hovering well above, only to realize that one has been climbing around
virtually underneath a
good-sized body of water; but Sierra regulars
are accustomed to such phenomena. The final ascent leads directly
up the middle of the creek to the dam itself.
Smith Lake at the dam
This is quite a spectacular setting, with cliffs on two sides and a mountain on another. After a stop to rest my overworked feet and munch some gorp, I locate the return trail toward Hemlock Lake. True to form, however, I promptly lose track of this path, veering well to the left. Often I am too absorbed in the hunt for photogenic flowers to keep track of the established route.
The going is gentle and pleasant forest stroll for a
down as far as the steep hillside overlooking Grouse Lake. From here
can be seen all the residual forest-fire smoke that still pervades
Westward view toward Sacramento Valley
As my knees are beginning to feel a bit of strain, it would be helpful to utilize a real trail at this point. So I turn north and find one shortly, alongside another trickling creek. And it's a good thing, too, for this is the most verdant place on the entire hike!
Moss is everywhere
These Great Purple Monkeyflowers are new to me
Hemlock Lake drainage
At the next little waterfall, I establish a personal hiking record of being able to count no fewer than fifteen flower varieties from where I am standing.
In the Garden of Eden
Sticky Starwort — ¼" wide
At the bottom of the hill the tiny stream wends its way into Grouse Lake. On this side, the flora are mostly different:
The north-side meadow
Little Elephant Heads
For nearly two hours I have not seen another soul, which has been great. There are quite a few noisy kids around Grouse Lake, however; so I won't tarry here. After a farewell shot of the lake, I steel myself for the somewhat grueling trip back to the trailhead. But there always is time to commune with the butterflies.
Checkerspots are partial to Monardella
Nearing trail's end
§: Although I have unexpectedly managed to bypass Hemlock Lake completely, I consider this outing an unqualified success. Next year I'll return a month earlier with some friends, when there is more water and the red heather are in their glory. If all goes according to plan, that hike could earn a