The hike to East Boulder Lake in Northern California’s Trinity Alps Wilderness is a pretty popular one, since it offers easy access on a good trail to a big lake (ignoring the cows, of course). We did it in 2015 as a loop, with a return via the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the tie trail from Middle Boulder Lake. Further map-gazing suggested another loop – up the Middle Boulder Trail and the Telephone Lake Trail to the PCT, then west for a return down the Fox Creek Ridge Trail (and a short walk on Forest Road 40N17). With cooler weather and an easing of the smoke from the horrible wildfires that have plagued us for most of the summer, today was as good time as any to try this loop.
The drive to the Middle Boulder Trailhead seemed to take forever and we didn’t start up the Middle Boulder Trail (USFS #5577) until almost 10AM.
A compromise on the way to establishing this wilderness was the continued allowance of cattle grazing, so this trail, and the lower part of the Telephone Lake Trail (USFS #5576 & 8W25), stop just short of being stock driveways and are much wider than you’d expect. What we didn’t notice were any signs indicating that we’d entered the wilderness, which we did within a half-mile of the trailhead.
The Telephone Lake Trail passes a huge meadow about a mile south of its junction with the Middle Boulder Trail. All the cows left the trail here for that meadow – creating a prominent trail in the process, one that we almost mistook for the hiking trail. However, once the cows left to munch, the Telephone Lake Trail returned to a narrow single-track as it continued its climb out of the canyon.
Telephone Lake is a small, but pretty, lake nestled below the rugged prominence of Point 7577. This late in an already dry year, it’s become divided into two smaller water bodies. The LovedOne noticed some campers on the far side of the lake – later we would learn that hunting season was opening the next day and these were hunters camped-out in anticipation of that event.
We continued climbing past the lake,
through a large meadow that had gone golden with the advent of Fall.
The trail climbs steadily, but almost continuously, to this meadow, then makes a short, steep run for the crest of the ridge.
In some places in the Scott Mountains, the PCT is waiting for you on the crest. Here we had to drop down through some forest and meadows to reach it (now that we were on the Shasta-Trinity side of the crest, the trail number changed to 8W25). The PCT between this trail junction and the one with the Fox Creek Ridge Trail (USFS #5581) is essentially level as it contours around Eagle Peak and then around Points 7511, 7706, and 7434. We’re always amazed how good a trail the PCT is compared to some of its feeder trails (or other trails in general).
We were surprised to find, despite the dry year, some of the springs along the PCT running well enough to wet the trail and create small pools of water.
There was one spot that was apparently wet enough, continuously enough, to host small clumps of carnivorous Darlingtonia (California pitcher plant, cobra lily, or cobra plant) – one of our favorites.
We also passed some old mining prospects – and old mining equipment – along the trail. There were no roads up here back then (or now) so someone had to wander up here, find what looked like a rich vein (it wasn’t), go back down, and then pack all the mining equipment up on horses. A huge, and ultimately futile, effort.
After about 3 miles on the PCT, we came to its junction with the Fox Creek Ridge Trail and started down. It was immediately apparent that this trail, unlike some of the other ridge-reaching trails we’ve been on in this area, doesn’t get much use – at least up here. There was no problem with following it, provided we were mindful of the rocky tread, loose dirt, and large fallen trees. Kinda skimpy on views too.
However, once we passed the junction with the trails to Mavis and Fox Creek Lakes, the trail started to improve a lot. It never got anywhere near the creek or offered any views, but it was pretty easy walking. Our guess is that it’s used mainly to access the lakes and not the PCT.
We couldn’t gather any late-in-the-day enthusiasm for the short side trip to Mavis Lake, which was just as well since (as we’d learn later) there were anticipatory hunters camped-out at Mavis and Fox Creek Lakes too. No need to disturb them. So, after a trudge that seemed longer that it probably was, the trailhead came into view,
and then the road, which we followed for a mile back to the truck. A moderately tough hike (11.8 mile loop; 3,000 feet of elevation gain) that was very nice to Telephone Lake and along the PCT, but less so down Fox Creek Ridge. Telephone Lake and the large meadow south of it are definitely worth a visit – whether as an out-and-back from the East Boulder Trailhead or by setting-up a shuttle between the Middle Boulder and East Boulder Trailheads. But probably best not to go the first day of hunting season.