August 11-12, 2020
Covid is causing more people to try new things, such as camping, for the first time. We love seeing people discover how they can spend a few days in a tent and explore nature around them. But not every new camper is camping to find peace and tranquility. Lots seem to be going to campgrounds simply to get away from the confinement of their Covid life at home and unfortunately, they don’t know the first thing about camping etiquette. Loose dogs (and their mess) were everywhere in our campground, and once two unleashed dogs raced up to us snarling as their owner nonchalantly watched from her picnic table. A group of 7 or 8 twenty-something girls set up lights in their campsite and had a party long into the night, ignoring posted signs that 10 PM to 6 AM was quiet time. The new couple at the campsite next to us (who were actually unboxing their new camping gear) stayed up late into the night, drinking beer and arguing until after midnight. Dogs barked, horns honked, people yelled long after quiet time. Lately, we’ve found that campgrounds are no longer places to relax, commune with nature and find some tranquility. For new campers, they seem to be places to gather and take a (loud) break from life. Susan can fall asleep when it’s noisy but it was well past midnight when I finally got to sleep.
We were up by 6 (resisting the desire to loudly bang pots and pans) and unhurriedly made coffee and walked to our favorite morning place, the boat launch ramp where we could see the lake wake up. A couple of fishermen tried for trout nearby and a lone paddleboarder was out as the sun crested the hills. Back at camp we had a quick breakfast then went to our pebble beach and launched our waiting kayaks in the brisk morning breeze. After an hour or two, we returned to camp, loaded up the kayaks and all of our gear and set out for a trailhead that passed by several alpine lakes. We loved the campground but even mid-week it was too loud to be peaceful and we’d try to find a more private campsite for the night.
By now it was about 10:30 am and even though it was a Tuesday the small parking lot at the trailhead had a single space left that we snagged. The Lakes Basin Recreation Area is full of, you guessed it, lakes, and this five-mile trail would pass by six of them.
The trail climbed slowly through glacier-gouged boulder fields, eventually reaching Big Bear, Little Bear and Cub Lake. Apparently, we thought, whoever named the lake had never read any fairy tales or we’d have gone by Papa Bear, Momma Bear and Baby Bear lakes. Whatever their names, they were beautiful. All were cirque lakes, carved out by glaciers, and their water was stunningly clear.
As we continued, the trail became steeper and eventually made its way up to the summit above Round Lake (another not-so-cleverly named lake, vaguely circular) where we discovered the remains of a large gold mining operation.
From there, we descended to the shoreline of Round Lake. We took a break and sat on some smooth boulders and had cheese and crackers, a shared apple, and a couple of bites of turkey jerky before heading around the perimeter.
Back on the trail, we ambled past shimmering Silver Lake and then past the oblong and largest lake on the loop (and, again, unoriginally named) Long Lake.
The loop finally returned past the various bear lakes to the trailhead. It was a delightful hike, beginning and ending on forested paths and reaching stark alpine wilderness at the summit. The temperature was in the upper 70’s the entire time and there was a strong breeze keeping us comfortable. We saw only a few people on the trail. Most of the lakes on the loop were surrounded by steep granite mountains and the wind played on the water. We wished there were a way to bring kayaks to these pristine mountain lakes, but carrying two forty-pound kayaks for two miles was out of the question.
The hike over, we decided to forgo campgrounds for the rest of the trip. A half hour later we’d descended from 6,500 feet elevation to about 4,500 feet elevation near the small town of Graeagle (pronounced “Gray Eagle” – a contraction of the name of the nearby Gray Eagle Creek) and headed to a promising boondocking spot we’d found on our iOverlander app.
A turn-off from the main highway led us across a small bridge over the North Fork of the Feather River and then down a short but difficult rocky/sandy road that ended abruptly at a pretty little beach at a turn in the river that we called “Skinny Beach.”
Just as we arrived, we were surprised to see a woman and her two small girls drive down the rocky road in a small car. Even more surprising was that they all spoke Russian.
After the little girls played with buckets and shovels for about an hour, the little Russian family left and the magical beach was all ours.
We brought our chairs to the river’s edge, donned water shoes, and soaked our weary feet in the water, listening to the water trickle by, enjoying the warm sun and inhaling the fragrant cottonwood scent.
Listen closely and you can hear the soft sounds of the river as it rounded the small bend.
It was still warm as evening came, so we stripped off clothes and skinny-dipped in the river – washing the day’s grime off. It felt as luxurious and refreshing as any spa could have. A distant train and a light evening breeze added to the peacefulness and we knew we’d found the isolation and quiet we needed.
We both slept well, waking only once to see the bright stars and quarter-moon rise through the windows. Susan even saw a meteorite—it was the peak of the Perseid meteor showers.
In the morning it was surprisingly cool and the forecast was for strong winds. It’s one thing to hike in the wind, but kayaking in anything but a moderate breeze is just no fun. After a very long and leisurely breakfast, we decided it was time to go home. Perhaps along the way, we’d find a new trail to hike or a dusty road to explore.
As we were warming in the sun, a man drove his pickup near us and two rambunctious dogs tumbled out, excited to visit the river. He politely asked if it was alright if he shared the beach with us and we told him of course it was. One dog was a lab puppy and the other was an older retriever and they both had the time of their lives chasing tennis balls into the gently flowing river. The puppy especially was ecstatic and his entire being was joyful as he gave all his concentration to the tennis balls. I envied the ability. Soon, we both packed up and headed our separate ways, dogs panting in one truck, humans happily meandering home in the other.