Deer Lake

Four Lakes Loop (day 1): Long Canyon to Summit Lake

After getting smoked out of Mt Whitney and frantically scrambling to plan an alternative backpacking adventure for the start of our Mountain West/SW road trip, Dad, Eileen, and I ended up driving north from Sacramento this week to explore the Trinity Alps, a subrange of the Klamath Mountains and the second largest wilderness area in all of California.

One of the most popular overnighters in the area is the Four Lakes Loop, a 2- to 3-day circumnavigation around Siligo Peak that takes in, unsurprisingly, four beautiful mountain lakes. Between swimming in chilly water, summiting craggy peaks, and watching the sunset over clear, smoke-free skies, we didn’t even miss our Plan A!

Trail stats: Long Canyon to Summit Lake

Distance | 12km

Elevation gain | 1,220m

Trail hours | 6.5hrs

Highlights | Beautiful view over Deer Lake from Deer Creek Pass; afternoon swims in Summit Lake; an incredible sunset from our campsite overlooking the Trinity Alps

Arriving at the Long Canyon trailhead shortly before 10am this Thursday, we pack final items into our packs, stow valuables under the seats of our hire car as best we can, and then set off into the trees. 

The first section of the walk is under the cover of towering redwoods and ponderosas, shaded from the surprisingly hot mid-morning sun. The trail ascends fairly continuously towards the high point, a pair of mountain passes just a few hundreds metres apart, and yet the beautifully graded trail makes the uphill almost unremarkable. 

Before long, we pop out of the trees into a rocky valley, with red craggy peaks towering above us and not even a hint of smoke in the sky. The view is a vivid reminder that we are no longer in the PNW— the dark, rust-coloured rocks are distinctly desert-like, although not altogether disimilar from Ingalls Lake (whose red peridotite rim is something of an anomaly up north).

Confirmed by the plentiful Shasta Ferns that lined Ingalls Pass as well as our present trail, we are once again hiking through peridotite, curiously surrounded by dark granite and diorite peaks— also like the Ingalls Lake region. 

As we make the final climb towards Bee Tree Gap, sun beating down onto our backs like it’s the middle of summer, dad and I stop to inspect countless curious rock formations and spot xenolithic inclusions of peridotite inside a granite matrix. With all the geological interest, we make slow work of tackling the pass, but eventually crest over around 2.30pm. 

Trinity Alps Wilderness Four Lakes Loop hike
Overlooking Deer Lake
Trinity Alps Wilderness Four Lakes Loop hike
Geological inclusions
Trinity Alps Wilderness Four Lakes Loop hike
Dad hiking down from Deer Creek Pass

It’s a short 15min walk onwards to Deer Creek Pass, followed by a further 45min of rocky trail to Siligo Pass. Here, dad and Eileen drop packs to climb Siligo Peak while I bee-line down the valley to sparkling Summit Lake, hell-bent on swimming before the sun goes down.

Since we have to backtrack nearly all the way up to Siligo Pass tomorrow anyway to get back onto the main Four Lakes Loop trail (at the Diamond Lake trail junction), I’ll easily squeeze in the summit tomorrow morning— refreshed after my afternoon swim. 

There are just a few easy switchbacks to reach Summit Lake, and not long after, I’m happily submerged in the ice-cold water. It’s a pretty short swim, given the impending sunset, but it’s so insanely nice to be swimming in late October when just last weekend in Washington we were knee-deep in snow. 

When dad and Eileen arrive, we scope out a great camp on the shoreline, set up the tent, and then head up the hill to enjoy our hummus as the sun lowers over the mountains. For a hike we just pulled out of thin air, a Plan G to our original Mt Whitney route, the Trinity Alps has surprised us all and far surpassed expectations. With Summit Lake sparkling in the low light and fiery colours lighting up the hillside, we all agree we’d have flown to California for this trip alone. 

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