Hiking to the Isolated Toad and Porcupine Lakes

“The trail has got to be around here somewhere….” was our refrain for the day.

After the long, windy, and rocky road through the Shasta-Trinity Forest, we came to the parking area for Toad Lake. The short hike saw us climbing up a rocky scramble, until within minutes we were at the shores of the azure lake.

I’ve been to this lake exactly once before, over a year ago on the Fourth of July. We were losing daylight and never ended up doing the jaunt to Porcupine Lake. This day trip was our chance for me to make it up there.

Toad Lake is simply pristine. It sits in a small, shallow crater and seems ideal for camping – there are many tables and fire rings. There is technically a bathroom structure, which resembled a shack from a distance. I did not investigate, and would not even be able to tell you if there is a working toilet in it. We opted to answer the calls of nature directly in nature.

It surprised us that we were the only people up at this lake. It is a bit of a drive, but is an isolated lake with access to campground and fishing. That being said, neither of us fish, and our main purpose was in exploration and hiking.

We followed the trail around the south end of the lake. The lake sits in a small bowl, and we knew that Porcupine lake lay just over the ridge to our southwest. We kept walking and circumnavigating Toad Lake until we realized we must have missed the trail somewhere along the way. Rather than retrace our steps or continue on the trail, we decided to do brashly leave the trail. We headed directly upslope, knowing that we had to intersect the zigzagging trail at some point. Our ascent steadily increased getting steeper and steeper. About two thirds of the way up, we found a small trail that could have been the trail, or simply could have been a thoroughfare for deer. We decided to follow it, and it eventually did intersect with the real trail. Whereas ours was small and hard to discern, the actual trail looks very clearly trail-like.

We followed it up the hill until we were met with our ever-present and meandering friend, the PCT. We headed south here, with Mt. Eddy standing starkly behind us.  After a short while, we took the cut off up to Porcupine Lake. We could see evidence of the fierce geologic activity from ages past.

At last, we arrived at Porcupine Lake – our own secluded mountain oasis. It sat in what looked like a crater, beside Porcupine Peak. Here, the wind blew and we were surprised to find that for one of the first times in the summer, we were cold. We knew we were going to be climbing elevation, so we were grateful that we had brought flannels and sweatshirts.

The towel I brought remained unused. We have jumped in our fair share of cold water(Tamolitch Blue Pool and the water at the base of Mossbrae Falls, to name two of the coldest), but the idea of climbing out of the cold water into the cold air seemed unappealing and probably slightly unhealthy. So, for the first time this summer, we did what seemed unthinkable: we didn’t jump in the lake.

Still, we took time to explore the rocky shores. We were greeted by small frogs whose colors matched the sun-bleached rocks almost perfectly. We found a suitably flat area and broke out the snacks and drinks and relaxed. After a while, we hopped on some of the rocks and tried to balance against the wind that this bowl created.

After we had cooled off from hiking, we decided it was time to head down the hill. We hobbled across some of the rocks and found that again, the trail seemed elusive. We walked in the direction we thought it would be, knowing that we must have been close. We kept thinking how the area we were hiking in really wasn’t that vast, so it had to be nearby. We ended up hitting the PCT (completely missing the connecting trail) and just followed this back to the fork to Toad Lake. We were rewarded with beautiful vistas of the still-unoccupied-by-any-other-human lake. The hike down was much quicker, especially once we found where we were actually supposed to be going.

Porcupine Lake is beautiful and hidden, but the shores around it are rocky and steep in places, making Toad Lake the more ideal for camping. I’ve heard that there is semi-decent fishing in the area, but it would be wise to perhaps bring backup food. Still, the draw seems to be the distance from civilization: we felt like we could have been the last people on earth up there. I wouldn’t mind spending the night up there to sit by a roaring fire and see how many stars are visible. Perhaps next time, but this time I was content to simply find a new alpine lake I’d never gone to before. 

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Ryan Loughrey

Ryan has been wandering the PNW since 1993. Follow his blog at peaceloveandabowlofrice.wordpress.com

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