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Crystal Lake

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First off: I didn’t know how many Crystal Lakes there were in the PNW until I tried to Google our destination just south of Cataldo, ID. If you instead search for Crystal Lake Wilderness Study Area you’ll get a better idea of where you’re going.

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This was the first backpacking trip Aaron & I took in Idaho, as well as our first solo backpacking trip (usually we go with family) so to say we were excited would be an understatement. Having been cautioned about the bears in north country we decided to venture southeast for our excursion and were not disappointed by the location. You can reach the Sheep Springs trailhead from either Cataldo or St. Maries, but our house is a short jaunt on the I-90 from Cataldo, so making the drive from the north side was easier for us. From the highway you’ll travel south for a few miles before the pavement turns to winding dirt access roads. It’s not a terrible drive so I wouldn’t say that a 4WD vehicle is required. It was mostly flat, graveled and well-maintained with no downfall blocking the road in early August.

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With temperatures in the 80’s during the day, the hike was warm but not unbearable (especially considering our history of summer backpacking in Northern California, the land of ungodly temperatures). The terrain varied quite a bit, so the short hike was very interesting. Nearly the entire trail switches back and forth along a prominent ridge, which makes for lovely scenery, and the landscape ranged from dense forest to shale quarry. About a quarter mile into the hike we realized we had forgotten our dinner in the ice chest in the truck, so Aaron dropped his pack, hiked back to get it and ended up running into a large bull moose! Thankfully he made it back with our dinner intact and we continued on our trek.

Upon our arrival to the modest 5-acre lake we were immediately disappointed to see other campers before we even laid eyes on the crystal clear water. We are typically the type of people who backpack to get away from civilization, so a crowded camp is always a slight nuisance to us, personally. Regardless it ended up being a fun trip, even with the dozens of day hikers and other campers trailing the edge of the lake like human ants.

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Anyhow, the first couple of hours were really pleasant – we pitched camp and settled in to cook one of the best backpacking dinners we’ve had to date – two wonderfully rare steaks cooked over the campfire paired with mashed potatoes, coffee and tea.

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After this lovely meal we attempted to wash our dishes with a package of Coleman camp soap sheets we purchased, and this was one of the things that nearly ruined our trip. They don’t work AT ALL. Not on dishes, hair, body, or clothes. I wouldn’t even wash my dog with that stuff, so FYI: don’t buy it.

On the second day we took a trip to Reed’s Baldy, a short uphill hike from the lake to a great overlook and a surprise patriotic monument. There was no marker of any kind but it made for a memorable day! The feeling of accomplishment after finishing the hike was compounded with pride upon seeing a pretty sizable American flag blowing atop the peak in quiet solitude. ‘Merica!

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Aaron got to do some fishing and through some (highly amusing) experimentation discovered that dragonflies make the best bait for the elusive trout that inhabit alpine lakes.

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After a lot of hard work gathering up grasshoppers, crickets and even a cicada, he gave up on these unsuccessful baits, wielded his fishing pole in what struck me as a ninja-like fashion and proceeded to swat the dragonflies right out of the air! It paid off, because he hooked a nice 12″ trout which he immediately released.

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What ended up being the big kicker for this trip was that even in August, the hottest month of the year in our part of the state, it was so cold at night that even with freezing-weather rated bags we got next to no restful sleep. The first night wasn’t so awful that my extremities were cold. But the second night I literally chattered my teeth till morning and even then didn’t emerge from my hammock until I’d had enough sun to warm my fingers and toes fully. Aaron had gotten up in the middle of the night, built a fire and fallen asleep propped up on a rock in front of the fire pit.

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Needless to say it was quite an adventure but not a place we’ll be revisiting anytime soon.

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Triangle Lake

Although crowded during the 4th of July weekend, Triangle Lake is a family favorite in my neck of the woods. An easy hike with lots of campsites makes a great weekend getaway for you, the kids and the dogs!

Located in the Caribou Wilderness within Lassen National Forest, Triangle Lake is just 2 hours east of Redding, CA. The trailhead is well-marked and the path is usually well-maintained, and being just shy of 3 miles long, makes it great for kids or first-time backpackers. As a teenager with severe asthma this trip was not only attainable as a novice packer but incredibly rewarding. Ten years later this was mine and my husband’s first backpacking trip together with family as well as Cookie’s first extended camping trip, and needless to say great fun was had by all!

While there are fish in this lake, they are shy and sly, so after spending the first day fishing with no reward he decided to spend a more productive day building a log raft (from downfall, of course) and a stone jetty at which to dock it. The maiden voyage was one of success and much joy. I wonder who has been able to enjoy it since we’ve left!

 

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Tangle Blue Lake

Possibly my favorite backpacking destination so far, Tangle Blue is a secret treasure hidden in the Trinity Alps Wilderness of Northern California. But this breathtaking mountain lake can’t be taken freely – it has to be earned with blood, sweat, and possibly tears.

First of all, I’d like to mention that the dirt road to the trailhead is BARELY MARKED! If we hadn’t had the exact GPS location of the road pinned on my phone, I doubt we would have found it given the lack of cell service in the area. The only indication that the service road leads to anything is a laminated 8.5×11″ piece of paper with the trail name faintly printed on it and stuck to a tree. It’s on the outside (left) side of a right-hand curve. I hope this helps anyone reading this prior to venturing to the lake!

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Anyhow – the “moderate” hike (as rated by AllTrails, my go-to trail app) is a strenuous one with a full pack on a hot summer day. It begins on a dry, rocky dirt road that crosses over a trestle bridge and continues for the first few miles before any good treecover or running water are reached (read: bring water, sunblock and a hat!). From there it’s beautiful forest and flowered pastures with excruciating steep trail legs in between. The latter come in short bursts but they are leg-killers!

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Once you finally reach Tangle Blue you have your pick of campsites around the shore. Our pick was a site on the far side from the trail, backing up to the east edge of the granite bowl that the lake is situated in. Once you have successfully refueled, tanked up on water, and set up camp (impromptu hammock nap optional) you’re ready for one of the most relaxing, tranquil stays of your backpacking career.

The lake itself is gorgeous, crystal clear, and delightfully refreshing. To my husband’s delight, it boasts its fair share of trout – perfect for roasting over the campfire when Mountain House starts to get old. We spent most of our trip swimming, sunning ourselves on the massive boulders littered along the shoreline, and reading from the comfort of our hammocks.

For those of you who want to venture away from the serenity of the lake there are multiple other day hikes to be taken in the surrounding area. Our jaunt of choice, although there was not a trail leading to our destination, was to the top of Scotty’s Peak on the very edge of the aforementioned granite bowl. The hike was essentially an extended scramble up the granite mountainside but the bird’s-eye view was absolutely worth the 3,000ft hand-over-foot elevation gain.

As far as wildlife goes we saw next to none. Aside from the fish my hubby caught we had a very large toad venture into our camp, and that was it! I think there’s enough foot traffic to keep large mammals away during the summer months. Although it was memorial day weekend we only saw two other groups of people, and they were pretty respectful of other campers.

So if you’re ever in the Trinity Lake neck of the woods and you’re looking for a healthy hike with great reward, Tangle Blue will always be my #1 recommendation!