By Ryan Loughrey
We had it in our mind that the hike to Tangle Blue Lake was going to be six miles in, and six miles out. 12 miles seemed like a perfectly doable overnight backpacking trip. In actuality, the round trip distance was six miles – making Tangle Blue Lake an easy overnighter and a perfectly suitable day hike.
From Redding, it took us about two hours to drive to the trailhead following the curves of Highway 3 along Trinity Lake until cutting westward. The drive to the trailhead had a few bumps, but otherwise could be driven by a car with a decent amount of ground clearance.
When we arrived at the trailhead, there were about ten or so other cars, in addition to two middle-aged women who were gearing up for the hike. They were accompanied by two dogs, one older, more tranquil and serene, and one smaller, with curlier hair and a jumpier disposition. She barked at us for a minute, but was cut off by her owners. After that, she loved us and when we started hiking on the trail, she even joined us until the ladies laughingly called her to return.
From the trailhead, there was no apparent trail, but instead the road diverged into two. Contrary to Robert Frost’s advice, to get to Tangle Blue we walked along the road that was clearly more travelled. The trail is, indeed, a road for the early part of its life. I was not sure we were even going in the correct direction until we saw a sign on a tree telling us that we were en route to Tangle Blue Lake as well as the Marshy Lakes and the Eagle Creek Divide. The distance was arguable – although “2 ½” was initially etched into the sign, someone had crossed it out and written “3 ½ +” for the mileage. Still, it was assuring that the forest road we were taking was indeed taking us the correct way.
The road dwindles and narrows and in time is a true path. Although we were slightly ascending, the trail was overall very shaded and easy. There were a few marshy areas, and spots where a clan of butterflies blocked the trail, the only difficulties were the occasional rock-hopping to cross a creek or avoiding the mud patches. Water breaks were infrequent. We saw a few people returning from the lake, with most carrying fishing rods that indicated the water would be good for fishing.
Within a few hours, the landscape subtly shifted and we knew we were approaching the lake. Where we had anticipated a much longer hike, we arrived at the lake side in mid afternoon. On the shore closest to the trail, three groups had already set up camp, and so we decided to explore. Heading around the western shore, the trail quickly disintegrated into mud that squelched and stuck with every step. We decided to travel around the eastern shore. Here, we walked under the trees and over the large boulders, but eventually found a perfect campsite. It was set back from the lakeside, but this distance gave it more of a private feel. For exploration’s sake, we did walk to the southern shore, and found a few more campsites that were taken.
Tangle Blue Lake, like most lakes found in the Trinity Alps, sits in a basin surrounded by beautiful white and grey rocked slopes. Parts of the shore of Tangle Blue is not ideal for swimming – mostly due to marshy, reedy landscapes. On the southern edge, however, lies a patch of maybe 15’ by 10’ sandy beach.
This triangular shaped access point proved to be the most popular spot for swimmers, for good reason. The lake gets gradually deeper here, and we definitely took advantage. The hike and heat of the day made us sweaty and salty, and after the beach was unoccupied we took our opportunity to jump in. Rather than the expected frigid temperatures like other lakes, the water was warm and inviting. It was the perfect reward after our hike.
The rest of the lake was perfect for fishermen. The rocky edges provided perches that they could stand and cast their lines into the water. Downslope from our campsite was one such rock, and as we retreated to change into dry clothes, we could hear a family talking and laughing as they fished.
On the eastern shore, near our campsite, there was an abundance of firewood. The usual task of gathering kindling and wood was made impossibly easy, and our fire started almost instantly as we lit our match. We could tell that this camp spot was not the most popular, and this worked perfectly for us. Our fire roared as we ate dinner and the sun set.
The other animal life that caught us off guard came long after the sun had set. We heard faint rustling in the bushes, and I presumed it was a hiker returning to their tent. However, the long pauses between the rustling made me worry about a strange peeping Tom, (I’m sure we are fascinating subjects – two humans staring intently into a roaring campfire), so I walked towards the noise armed with a flashlight.
Suddenly, about 10 feet in front of me, a deer pulled its head out of the bushes and stared at me. I’m sure we both surprised each other, both with the suddenness of movement and the proximity to each other. We eyed each other for a moment – once it decided I was not a threat, it went back to grazing. This deer must have been used to humans cohabitating this space. I called my partner over, like most people do when nature is closer than they are used to. The deer slowly ate and moved along, but the experience left an impression on me.
After our fire had burned itself out, we called it a night. The night was cool, and got cold around 4 am (when I remember waking up to put on pants and a sweatshirt), but by the time I awoke it was warm again. We ate our breakfast and drank our coffee (coffee is always better when camping), and slowly took down our campsite. We made another campfire, and it burned in the background of our morning duties.
Late in the morning, we dampened hats and bandanas with the cool lake water, and headed back. The way back, of course, took about half the time. We encountered a group of Boy Scouts, who were headed back from potentially Big or Little Marshy Lake. The adults looked weary, but the weary you feel after you’ve had a great experience and fond memories. The boys looked ready to go home and be with their couches and their junk food. I can’t say I blamed them – I share a fondness for both.
We returned to Redding after taking a dip in Whiskeytown Lake. The trip was briefer than expected, but peaceful. One more lake that we now know and have camped at, one more venture and exploration of the fringes of the Trinity Alps. One more night where we stared at a campfire instead of a tv, one more swim in a mountain lake rather than a swimming pool, one more night seeing a full sky of stars rather than the street lights. A perfect summer trip.