As noted in a previous post (Red Butte), we’re hiking/scrambling the highpoints in seven of Northern California’s wilderness areas as further protection from the ravages of sloth. To that end, we decided on a short hike and scramble at the southern end of the Russian Wilderness (details). This small (12,521 acre) wilderness is wedged between the much larger Marble Mountain Wilderness (225,114 acres) to the north and the Trinity Alps Wilderness (537,360 acres) to the south. It sits astride a major ridge dividing the Scott River and Salmon River drainages with steep slopes and broad, U-shaped glacial valleys surrounded by granite peaks. It has 22 named lakes, most of them set like jewels in cirques high in the valleys and drained by streams. We opted to approach its highest point, Russian Peak (8,190 feet), via a short trail to one of those named lakes – Bingham Lake, a true emerald jewel of a lake.
To find the Bingham Lake trailhead, we exited Interstate 5 at Yreka, California and took California Highway 3 west through Fort Jones and Etna toward the town of Callahan. Just before Callahan, we turned west (right) on the paved road to Cecilville and followed it for 8.2 miles to gravel Forest Road (FR) 41N16. We turned north (right) on to FR 41N16 and followed it for 6.3 bumpy miles to road FR 40N82, access to which requires a sharp uphill turn to the left. We followed FR 40N82 for 1.9 miles to the trailhead. What we discovered is that the last bit of road to the trailhead (40N82) is not shown on USGS or USFS topo maps (even with MapBuilder updates) but 40N83 is, but not labeled as such. So, about 0.4 miles before the true trailhead, you’ll come to an unexpected junction with 40N83 – just bear right and uphill on 40N82.
The true trailhead is an open area marked with a small “Bingham Lake” sign. There is additional parking available just below the trailhead at an old log yard – there’s shade here too. This is the trailhead for entering the Russian Wilderness and accessing Bingham Lake and Russian Peak. Although the gravel roads are bumpy in places, all 2WD vehicles should be able to reach this trailhead. The elevation here is about 7,200 feet.
The first 0.75 miles of the hike are on the now abandoned continuation of FR 40N82;
easy going, with a view of Jackson Lake below.
The old road peters out into a pretty obvious use trail that carried us up to a saddle at around 7,400 feet,
where we got our first view of Russian Peak across the valley and Bingham Lake down in the valley, 400 feet below.
The use trail continues down to the lake – there’s an occasional attempt at a switchback – but mostly it’s a rocky plunge. Parts of it were obscured higher up – just below the saddle – by lingering patches of snow.
The lake itself is amazing – crisp, clean, emerald green, with transparent blue. Pacific salamanders and rainbow trout could be seen lazily cruising its waters. It features beaches suitable for wading and readily accessible deeper spots for a cool swim.
It was at this point that The LovedOne became so enamored of the lake that she decided to pass on the scramble to the high point to spend some time wandering the lake shore. I too was sorely tempted by the lake but tore myself away to scramble up Russian’s southern flanks to the summit. On the way up, I let myself drift toward its southern ridge where I had to work my way through some brush and climb awkwardly over large boulders. Not much fun. Eventually, I reached the top of the ridge and crossed one lingering patch of snow to reach the summit.
The summit is a collection of large lichen-blackened boulders, with a witness mark set in a boulder down within them. There’s also supposed to be a summit register, but I was unable to find it.
The view was – as expected and even allowing for heat haze – a full 360. The still snow covered Trinity Alps stood out to the south,
Mount Shasta to the east,
the saddle we’d descended to reach the lake to the south,
and, to the west, the white line of the Pacific Crest Trail below and Preston Peak – highest point in the Siskiyou Wilderness – on the far horizon behind an obscuring heat haze.
I descended by swinging out to the west and staying within the forest. There was no brush or large boulders along this path and I was back at the lake in almost no time. Had I not been distracted by the ridge, this would have been the best way to ascend the peak too. I came across some nice, large campsites on the north side of the lake and then swung around its eastern shore to reconnect with The LovedOne at the base of the use trail. We ground up the 400 feet to the saddle and then had an easy time of it descending the use trail and ambling along the old road back to the trailhead.
A short hike (5 miles round trip, 1,800 feet of elevation gain) but well worth it for the chance to visit a wonderful lake (and the summit). Even with a short hike and a cooling lake, we were feeling worn out by the heat, which was approaching 80ºF even where we were above 6,000 feet. We were glad to stop at the store in Callahan for a cool drink! Then it was on to Mount Shasta City in preparation for our next day’s hike in the Castle Crags Wilderness.