Finding Solitude in the Trinity Alps

David Stillman is the winning guest contributor for June and proud new owner of an ACT Trail 24. A fully fledged geek and adventurer in Boulder, CO, David enjoys rock climbing, snowboarding, photography and exploring any old place he can get to. Follow him on twitter or visit his website where he's written up many more adventures like this one.

If you want to visit some of the most breathtaking alpine lakes you've ever laid eyes on, make a trip to the Trinity Alps in Northern California. This year my girlfriend and I needed to get away from it all, and we had the perfect hike up through the shadow of the second highest mountain in the range, Caesar Peak.


Morning at camp


We traveled fast and light with our Deuter Guide 45+ and Guide 40+ SL, carrying all of our gear and then some for the three-day trek. Quick on our feet, we made it over ten miles on the first day and set up a camp at Emerald Lake, the first of three alpine lakes that feed the Stuart Fork River. Just as we finished setting up camp some dark clouds rolled in, and we got to watch the rain come up the valley from the shelter of our tent. The clouds dispersed after an hour, but we stayed near the tent because we had both forgotten insect repellent and the mosquitos were out in full force -- it was a quick dinner and straight to bed surrounded by the buzzing.


Emerald Lake


On day two we decided to keep camp where it was and explore the area some. We cinched down our packs to hold just the bare necessities -- food, water, first aid kit along with a map and compass, and headed further up the canyon. We passed Sapphire Lake where the trail promptly ended and we were on our own to reach our destination, Mirror Lake. Following a sparse set of cairns past waterfalls and up several scrambles, we reached the lake, situated at 6,600 feet and surrounded by snowfields even in the dry California June.


Sapphire Lake Sapphire Lake


At the lake we were about as far up the canyon one can get safely without climbing equipment to scale up the surrounding granite walls, so we just soaked up the sun and enjoyed the epic views. We took a (rather skinny) dip in the lake, and I swam to one of the rock islands that juts out from the depths. The water was absolutely frigid, but it was refreshing after the arduous climb to get there. I have read that the fish at the higher lake grow larger because it is visited so infrequently that they have time to mature. Next time I'm bringing a fly rod!


Mirror Lake


We ate a lazy lunch and took in the view one last time, then tried our best to follow the cairns back to camp. We mostly succeeded and only had to bushwhack a few times to get back. We rinsed ourselves and our clothes off in the creek, purified some water and made a gourmet dinner of ramen and canned chicken with a peanut butter cup for desert. The sun sets early behind the granite ridge, leaving a soft light that illuminates the entire canyon until the stars take over.


Mining remains above Emerald Lake


We packed up the next morning and made a quick cup of coffee before hitting the trail. We paused one last time at Morris Meadows, the last true view of the granite-peaked alps, before making a beeline back to the trailhead and the cooler of beer waiting for us there.

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