The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 100: Thousand Lakes (extended version)

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

There are big opportunities for a wilderness experience in this rather small place. This week on The WildeBeat; Thousand Lakes.

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number one hundred.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: The Thousand Lakes Wilderness is just north of Lassen Volcanic National Park, in the Lassen National Forest. For a lot of years I noticed it on the maps, but it seemed so small. I wondered whether it could actually be worth visiting. I should have known not to judge this place by it's size.

JAN SOROCHTEY: ...It's approximately sixteen thousand acres. Those are truly lovely acres with a mixed conifer forest, and pure stands of lodgepole pine around a number of lakes. There are not a thousand lakes in Thousand Lakes Wilderness, but there are at least seven fairly good sized lakes that are fish-bearing. Good trout fishing. And also enjoyed by folks for their scenic value, and swimming later on into the season when things warm up. The Thousand Lakes nomer may have come from numerous small lakes and potholes that dot the wilderness landscape.

STEVE: Jan Sorochtey is the recreation officer for the Hat Creek District of the Lassen National Forest.

JAN SOROCHTEY: In addition to its small size, the terrain is fairly easy compared to other wildernesses in northern California. At least one trail accessing the interior is a gentle grade, and welcoming to novice hikers and users. The other trails offer varying degrees of difficulty, but the lakes are easily accessed within an hour or two's walk, hence it's great popularity.

STEVE: The roads to the trailheads here are kind of rough. They're not actually that easy to get to. I'm at the Cypress trailhead with Jan Sorochtey, along with backcountry patrol ranger Don Mason.

DON MASON: We have four trailheads in this particular wilderness. We have Bunchgrass, which is at the southern end. To get to one of the lakes from Bunchgrass you have a gradual climb for approximately four miles and you tie into what we call Durban Lake. The next trailhead, which is the most used trailhead in the wilderness, is Tamarack trailhead, it's on the southeastern side of the wilderness. To reach one of the lakes from Tamarack trailhead you approximately have to travel about two and a half miles, and it's a gradual climb of about four hundred feet to reach Eiler or Barrett lake. The third trailhead is the Cypress trailhead, where we're stationed at right now. It's at the northern end of the wilderness. The first part, approximately a mile and a half of the trail is a very steep upgrade, and then it flattens out to what we referred to as the lower part of the wilderness. When you get up to that top part of the Cypress trail, you've got a choice of either making a left and going east to Eiler Lake, or continuing to the southwest where you will start the climb up to Everett and Magee... One of the trailheads that is still recieving some use is the Magee trailhead, which is on the western part of the wilderness. This is a very strenuous trail. It takes approximately six miles to get to what we refer to as Magee Lake. You climb over Magee Peak, which is at about an elevation of eight thousand feet, so it's a fairly strenuous hike.

[Begin hiking clip 1]

STEVE: Don and I hiked up the trail toward Eiler Lake, the largest lake in the wilderness.

DON MASON: Over the years this particular wilderness has become very dear to my heart. Not only the fact that you've got some very pristine gorgeous lakes. The upper part of this wilderness is magnificent, beauty-wise. If you're a fisherman, the fishing is usually excellent in this particular area. The fall is gorgeous. One of the unique things about this particular wilderness is when the days get shorter and the plants are not involved with as much photosynthesis, all the ground cover in this particular wilderness turns bright red, and it's just so gorgeous up here during the fall.

DON MASON: Thousand Lakes is part of the southern Cascaade border. It's basically created through volcanic action. The dominant peak, here in Thousand Lakes is Crater Peak, approximately eighty three hundred feet in elevation. The highest peak in ...Lassen National Forest. It's geology, ...if you were to go to the western end of it, and from Crater Peak on down and move eastward, this is where apparently at one time there was a volcanic eruption and this area blew out to the east and then during the last glacial period there were several lakes, large lakes that were formed in this particular wilderness, starting off with Magee and you continue to move eastward until you hit Eiler Lake.

DON MASON: Now Steve, this is what we call Eiler Gulch. If you were to come here in mid-May, this is totally full of water. And it's a raging river. You can see some of the size of the trees that get washed down every year.

STEVE: It looks to be about fifteen feet deep, and about, oh, forty-five, fifty feet wide.

DON MASON: Correct.

STEVE: And it's filled to the bank, huh?

DON MASON: You can see, this gulch here. Can you imagine the amount of water ripping through there in the spring?

STEVE: You wouldn't be able to cross it, that's for sure.

DON MASON: No. And it just flows out to the north here and just trickles down into the ground.

STEVE: Really! This isn't a tributary to anything?

DON MASON: No. Nothing at all.

STEVE: So it percolates into all these loose volcanic rocks somewhere.

DON MASON: Exactly. Probably ends up in Hat Creek somehow.

STEVE: The better part of an hour later, we arrived at the shore of Eiler Lake.

STEVE: And what are the kinds of wildlife people are most likely to see here?

DON MASON: Well, of course you've got your ground squirrels, but the most dominant large game in this particular wilderness are of course your deer, a lot of bears... Seventeen years that I've been working it, never had a bear come into the camp, never talked to a visitor that's had a confrontation with a bear. When you run across them in this wilderness, they have a tendency to vacate the area.

STEVE: What are the interesting birds here?

DON MASON: Well by far the dominant bird species is the mosquito. Thousand Lakes is notorious, has a reputation of having a horrible mosquito problem, especially in the early parts of the season. Generally the season for the huge amounts of mosquitos is from mid-June through the third week in July. A drought year like this year the mosquito population is pretty well died out by this time of the year.

STEVE: So, look here, ...we're maybe thirty feet from the lake, and we've got some furniture that's actually been built here.

DON MASON: Yeah, right here.

STEVE: And this is, I mean, a few more rocks and this could be a hearth in a family homestead!

DON MASON: I can dismantle it, and I can come back a week later and somebody, or two weeks later and somebody's rebuilt it.

STEVE: So we've got trees that are thirty-plus feet tall here.

DON MASON: Oh, easy. Let's try fifty. And ninety percent of them are dead.

STEVE: Not a good place to have a big bonfire.

DON MASON: No. Plus, the wind does blow a lot up here. And if you look around, it's kind of scary.

STEVE: Well here's one that's fallen quite recently. ...Can you describe, visually, what this place looks like?

DON MASON: What I'm looking at is a number of downed trees, that have died from old age or disease. But the most disturbing part is that there is a fire pit that is approximately two and a half feet high and probably three feet wide. In addition with that on the west side of this particular campsite, we have furniture. We have two, eight to ten foot logs over some other logs where people can sit... And if I were to probably look in this fire pit, I'd find tin foil. And there's a small piece, yup. ...It's always disturbing to find tin foil in the fire pit. There's -- must be some legend or something where people believe that if you put that tin foil in there, it's going to melt. But it doesn't. Broken glass.

JAN SOROCHTEY: Probably our largest concern are impacts immediately around the lake shores. People, of course, are drawn to water and want to camp close to water, but what has happened is there are soils being compacted, which creates both erosion into the lakes, and affects the roots of the trees in the area which will continue to create further mortality in those sites. Numerous fire rings have been built all around lake shores of just about every lake... We're asking that folks who use those sites do not enlarge the boundaries of them or create other sites adjacent to them.

STEVE: If you want to plan a trip to the Thousand Lakes Wilderness, you should start by contacting the Hat Creek ranger district of the Lassen National Forest. Jan Sorochtey says that they don't require any permits.

JAN SOROCHTEY: At present, there are none required. We do have self-registration at the trailhead, which is very helpful for us in keeping track of people in case we need to evacuate in case of a wildfire or other emergency. Group size, there are no formal limits. The big rule, above all else right now, the restriction that does not allow campfires in the wilderness. Due to the lack of precipitation during the previous winter, things are critically dry, until any further notice, which I expect will be late in the fall, no campfires are permitted in the wilderness.

STEVE: With all of these dead trees in the wilderness, it seems like fire isn't the only safety concern here.

JAN SOROCHTEY: Many campsites that people have selected have numerous snags around the perimeter of them and adjacent to their tent sites and fire sites. Really encourage people to please look up when you're selecting your campsite. There are many that have been used previously that have a fire ring; that doesn't mean they're safe. And you can feel the breeze gusting a little bit right now. It's going to be much stronger at the higher elevations, and that can bring down snags at any time. So, people are responsible for being accountable for their own safety, but it's something we think deserves extra mention. Please look up when you're pitching your campsite.

STEVE: So if a tree falls in the forest and nobody's tent is there to get crushed they're going to survive.

JAN SOROCHTEY: They have a much better chance.

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STEVE: Well, I see cars. We've been out of the wilderness for a while, and we're almost out of the woods.

STEVE: So Don, thank you so much for taking me back into your park.

DON MASON: It was great. I'm glad you came.

STEVE: Like many of our wilderness areas, some people have been a little hard on the Thousand Lakes Wilderness at times. Don and Jan wish they could remind everyone of the Leave No Trace principles before they visit.

JAN SOROCHTEY: This wilderness does provide an opportunity for folks who may be just beginning to learn about backpacking, or who are very young or who have physical limitations, to be able to come in without a full-on survival challenge, and enjoy what wilderness is supposed to mean. And hence it's popularity. It provides a wonderful experience for folks who might not access wilderness in other situations. This is why even more so, we think it's important to maintain the quality of the natural resources, the opportunities for solitude and pristine environment, and perpetuate wilderness values into the future, so that the next generations, people can continue to experience what this was meant to be. And it's our choice; it's the choice of everyone who comes here to visit, if they're going to honor that. And I certainly hope they do.

STEVE: We'd like to hear your trip reports from your favorite wilderness, or any other comments you have about our show. You can call our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373. You'll find links to maps and more information about the Thousand Lakes Wildernsss, and an extended high quality stereo version of this show, on our web site.

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Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. We need your help to bring you future editions of this free service; please just on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Insitute.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number one hundred. Thank you for listening.

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Next time -- the next hundred.

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