A recent trip to Summit Lake by Eric McDaris and company reports back on the their adventure. Originally they set out to reach Maggie Lakes, but hitting a snow covered trail beyond Summit Lake changed the plans. However, this didn’t stop the enjoyment of being out doors. Here is what he has to say:
This past weekend (6/24-6/25) we hiked out of Mountain Home State Forest into the Golden Trout Wilderness/ Sequoia National Forest up to Summit Lake. Summit Lake is just inside the Sequoia National Park boundary. We pretty much crossed all the wilderness boundaries California has to offer. Our plan was to hike all the way to Maggie Lakes if it was accessible, but recent trip reports indicated that above Summit Lake was still covered in snow. Those proved to be correct. We ended up camping just below Summit Lake.
The hike in was much more strenuous than I anticipated. Though not impossible even for a novice, don’t underestimate it like I did. Maybe it was because this was my first outing of the season, or maybe I had a case of ‘seasoned hiker big headedness’, but I definitely did not expect to have to hike as hard as we did.
The trail left out of Shake Camp in Mountain Home and immediately began a slow steady climb. Passed multiple small streams (which were surprisingly mostly all dry), the trail cut along the rim of the North Fork Middle Fork of the Tule River valley. As the North Fork Middle Fork valley fell away to the south and east, we continued northward on towards its headwaters.
The forest itself was very green and lush at this point. The canopy overhead provided plenty of shade. At about mile 1.2 the trail dropped sharply into the river canyon and quickly thereafter (mile 1.8) we crossed the river for the first time. The crossing wasn’t too bad. Knee high but powerful and cold.
The trail continued on and on uphill mostly along the river passed multiple viable camp sites. I noted several camps that I could easily enjoy over-nighting at for a quick sub-three mile weekend. From just before the first river crossing to the second is all Giant Sequoia territory (I believe it is the Mountain Home Grove). The trees are immense and they stand guard all over the place.
At about mile 3 was the second (and largest) river crossing. We got thrown off here because the trail did not obviously veer westward crossing the river. It kind of just disappeared aided by the heavy debris and blow down that littered the trail at this point. The harsh winter had done serious work to the drought weakened trees. A quick consultation of the map had us removing our boots and gingerly crossing the river. It was cold and just wide enough to keep your legs submerged long enough to really hurt.
From here the trail climbed uniformly through a series of meadows to the junction of the Tuohy Meadow trail. Stayed to the right and shortly after that was the third and final crossing of the North Fork Middle Fork and then the real uphill pull began. Approximately 2,000′ in elevation gain in about 2.5 miles. Right around here I noted how good it would feel to take my pack off and sit down.
As we neared Summit Lake the trail became a muddy mess. The trail providing the path of least resistance for the intense melt off of the Sierra snowpack. Passed the awesome water falls that mark the mountainside just below the mouth of the lake and after a final push up the rocky slope we reached Summit Lake. The final push is very exposed and rocky but provides great views.
The lake was partially frozen over and the surrounding areas were still covered in snow. It had only taken us 5 hours to get here so pushing on to Maggie Lakes was a possibility (it was only about 1:00 pm), but the trail was indiscernible. Even though we theoretically had the time, we probably wouldn’t have made it by nightfall traversing over the snow with no obvious trail.
We elected to backtrack down trail about a tenth of a mile and look for a camp. Our initial intent was to camp at the site just below the falls (just off the trail to the right), but if avoidable we didn’t want to hike all the way back down. Luckily we found a decent one that had already been used so we decided to set up and call it a day. It wasn’t the best camp I have ever stayed in, but it wasn’t the worst.
We made quick fire, filled our waters out of the creek and settled in for dinner. Noodles and dried strawberries. I never appreciated Spicy Chicken Cup’o Noodles more than I did that night. As the evening came on the Marmots came over to see what we were up too. A few were even brave enough to come up and scrape up against the tent.
The night was pretty cold but not unbearable. I slept in just a t-shirt and long johns. The morning was just chilly enough to put on my fleece and beanie. Again—not unbearable.
The next morning we had an oatmeal breakfast, some coffee and cleaned up camp to head out. Pretty much just a repeat of the day before except in reverse. We breezed down the mountain only taking 3.5 hours to reach the truck. Helped that our packs were a bit lighter, our legs were a little more broke in and we didn’t waste time taking our boots off to cross the river–we just trudged right through.
Thanks for the report Eric. Glad to hear everyone had a safe time too. If anyone reading this would like to contribute a trip report, no matter how short or long, please feel free to do so. It is a big help to so many people planning their trips out this summer season.