Russian Lake via the PCT (Russian Wilderness) 07-Jun-2018

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California

In 2016, we did a short hike to beautiful Bingham Lake in the Russian Wilderness, along with a scramble to the highest point – Russian Peak – in that wilderness.  But where was the wilderness’s namesake lake? Well, southwest across the valley formed by South Russian Creek (a tributary of the Klamath River). Our plan to hike to this lake in 2017 along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) was thwarted when wildfires blew-up all over Northern California, closing roads and trails and filling the air with choking smoke. So I (The LovedOne’s knee wasn’t up for this one) took advantage of the early trail openings afforded by our minimally snowy winter to do this hike before any wildfires (of which we sincerely hope there are none this season) had a chance to enter the picture.

The PCT crosses the Cecilville Road (Forest Highway 903) at Carter Meadows Summit, west of Etna, California. You can start the hike from the trailhead here but I went a little ways west of the summit to Forest Road 39N48, drove up to the third sharp turn, and parked there, in sight of the PCT. From here, the PCT rolls up and down along the Salmon Mountains,

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
The PCT heading north along the Salmon Mountains

passing through patches of forest and open meadows with big views to the west.

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
Looking west from the PCT along the Salmon Mountains

There was no snow at all and the trail itself was in great condition. After going up and down, up and down along the mountains for 4.5 miles, I came to an unsigned (actually the sign was broken and partially buried) junction with an old road. To the right (east) the obvious road enters private property around Jackson Lake. The left, it deteriorates into the now decommissioned Trail Creek Trail (formerly USFS #5521) – a route more than a trail. The PCT continues north on the other side of the old road and, in two-tenths of a mile, reaches a signed junction with yet another old road. Going right here will take you back to the first old road you crossed.  To the left is the east end of the Deacon Lee Trail (USFS #5436), which remains an old road going west until it turns the ridge southwest of Siphon (on the map) or Syphon (on the signage) Lake.

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
The Deacon Lee Trail heads toward Russian Lake

After a bit of forest, the Deacon Lee breaks out into an open meadow,

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
Along the Deacon Lee

with a view of Thompson Peak in the Trinty Alps Wilderness to the south.

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
Thompson Peak (T) in the snowy Trinity Alps Wilderness

About 0.7 miles after leaving the PCT, I came to charming little Siphon Lake.

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
Siphon Lake
Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
Siphon Lake

This lake seemingly owes its existence (and name) to the Foster Mine below it in the Trail Creek drainage. The mine blocked the lake’s outlet and installed a pipe (still visible today) to convey water down to the workings.

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
The old pipe still rests in crystal-clear Siphon Lake

The Deacon Lee Trails continues as a road up to the top of the ridge southwest of the lake, where it changes abruptly into a single-track trail.

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
The Deacon Lee Trail past Siphon Lake

This single-track contours for about a half-mile to the north ridge of Point 7731,

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
Contouring along the Deacon Lee, Point 7886 in the distance

where I found some cairns and a faint use trail leading from the Deacon Lee directly to the west end of Russian Lake.

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
Russian Lake with Russian Peak on the horizon
Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
The west end of Russian Lake
Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
Russian Lake

Russian Lake comes in two parts: the large main lake and a smaller, almost wading pool sized, lake at its west end. There’s a decent campsite here – nestled amongst a jumble of granite boulders – and I used it for a snack break.

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
The small wading pool lake above the west end of Russian Lake

And then it was time to head back. Across open slopes along the Deacon Lee,

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
Returning along the Deacon Lee

up and down along the Salmon Mountains,

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
Heading south along the PCT

while keeping an eye on possible thunderstorms building to the east (nothing happened with these),

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
Clouds trying to build to the east

until spikey Point 7166 came into view and, soon thereafter, my truck.

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
Point 7166 from the PCT

An excellent, moderate (12.8 miles round-trip; 2,400 feet of elevation gain) dayhike all on good trail or old road, with no navigation issues, and no unpaved driving (unless you wish) to reach the trailhead.  Big views right from the start and along the way and two crystal-clear lakes as dynamite destinations. It’s a shorter hike to reach Russian Lake from the Deacon Lee Trailhead (Hike #90 in Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon & Northern California (4th Edition)), but driving the unpaved roads to it can be painful. Stienstra & Brown’s 2016 Moon California Hiking guide describes (Hike #37) the shortest way to reach the lake via the old Trail Creek Trail route – but expect a steep climb, with some navigating and cross-country travel.

Russian Lake Russian Wilderness Northern California
My track to and from Russian Lake along the PCT

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