Ted's Hiking World Smith Lake
Desolation Wilderness

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 non-stop ascent.

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Trail junction

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This bee's legs are loaded with Meadow Sweet

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A Silvery Blue, I believe

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Azure Penstemon

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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.

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Grouse Lake, and Peak 9318 on the right

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Heather patch

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No-longer-white Heather

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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.

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A blanket of flora

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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 boulder-hopping ensues.

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A pleasant cascade from Smith Lake

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Sierra Stonecrop

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Nature's way

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Fireweed

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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.

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Smith Lake at the dam

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Peak 9250

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 quarter-mile, down as far as the steep hillside overlooking Grouse Lake.  From here can be seen all the residual forest-fire smoke that still pervades the air.

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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!

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Moss is everywhere

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These Great Purple Monkeyflowers are new to me

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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.

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In the Garden of Eden

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Crimson Columbines

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Ranger's Buttons

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Alpine Lilies

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Sticky Starwort — ΒΌ" wide

At the bottom of the hill the tiny stream wends its way into Grouse Lake.  On this side, the flora are mostly different:

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The north-side meadow

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Little Elephant Heads

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Groundsel

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Paintbrush

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.

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Checkerspots are partial to Monardella

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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 9-rating!

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