Backpacking the Four Lakes and Siligo Peak Loop

Four Lakes & Siligo Peak Loop

AllTrails Stats: 18.4 miles || Elevation Gain: 5997ft || Loop


Driving through Redding, we stopped at Weaverville Ranger Station on our way to the trail for a permit. It was about 2 hours south of where we had camped the previous night. The 53-mile distance as-the-crow-flies looked much shorter than the 131 it took to get to Long Canyon Trailhead. We took shifts in the car to attempt to refuel our brains from the early morning wake up call and crammed sleeping arrangement in my CRV.

Once at the trail, the car lot was spilling over into the approaching road to accommodate its large number of visitors. We rummaged through the cooler to eat some lunch, before packing our bags and starting the trail around 1pm.

The hike up to the summit was lengthy and heavy. My initial nimble steps quickly faded to a crawl as we ascended the canyon. The pine forest trail switch backed nearly two dozen times before opening to a lush meadow beneath the summit. Hours had passed, and my conscious was focused on the scraping of my boots against the dirt and the gentle ping of Reid’s trekking pole. Bushes and wildflower stems towered over the trail, trying to reach higher than neighboring vines for traces of sunlight. Branches grabbed my pack as we trudged through, providing a bit of relief from the relentless sun. My mind wandered through childish ideations of how insects might observe their sky-scraping surroundings, like us in this overgrowth.

My idea of reaching the summit was harshly false. I should have known by the continued climb detailed on the GPS map. But eventually we were met by a strong wind as my burning calves drug me over the ridge line. We were a short walk away from the opposite ridge, one that I could only guess was the view of the first lake. After a short refuel of tortillas and Sunkist Chunk Light Tuna in Sunflower Oil, we made our way over descended quickly down. One that I thought (that we both thought), would take us to Summit Lake. Unfortunately, at the bottom of this mile-long detour-was a dead end. It was a valley over a large hill, the opposite side of the lake. We had taken a wrong trail-and what goes down must come back up.

At this point, the sun was starting to set, and the fuel I was burning was the crazed energy you feel right before crashing. We re-reached the summit and saw the first lake, Deer Lake, bathed in the pale luminosity of sun rays behind Siligio Peak. A dozen or more brightly colored backpacking tents stippled the circumference of the lake, their patrons sitting tiredly nearby. A sight that I most certainly would not have seen if our eagerness had not taken us elsewhere.



In our re-examination of our destination, we decided to push onward towards our intended night stay, the third lake, named Diamond Lake. The trail cut fiercely left into the mountain, with a steep, rocky cliff-side below and above the path. Every few minutes I stopped to admire the view, uttering the words “wow” more than Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris. We pushed on towards Summit Lake, and not long after we came across the ridge line that plunges down to Diamond Lake. Three campsites were in sight, and the deep, saturated purples of blue hour were setting in behind Sawtooth Mountain. With not much daylight left, we expeditiously descended. My eyes were wide in concentration and focus, trying to communicate with my swift steps before tripping on stray rocks that the darkness concealed. It was just after dark, and all that could be seen with the naked eye was a silhouette of the adjacent mountain range and the silvery reflection of the luminous full moon on the alpine lake.

Two Australian Sheppard’s barked loudly at us as we walked down to the lake to fill up on water, confused at the two dark figures emerging from the mountainside. Not too long later, we found a flat(ish) spot to make camp for the night. Counting our sunrise wake-up call, we had completed my first “fifteener” (15 miles) and gained somewhere over 5000 feet in elevation. I tore off my boots and peeled away my dust-coated socks before allowing my body to recognize the day was done, and it could finally rest.

Reid had asked on our way down to Diamond Lake if I was planning on waking up to shoot sunrise. My reply was loose, predominantly because of the days lack of sleep and my legs undeniable exhaustion. I still set my alarm at the potential, but honestly my decision was subconsciously made. When my alarm sounded at 5:50, first light had already made itself known. I peeled away the rainfly of the tent and laid my head back on my crumpled down jacket. Every two minutes, I opened my eyes, patiently waiting for the possibility of the alpine glow I was longing for. After the sixth or seventh time I saw just that. A pale pink hue flushed the mountain tops, perfectly detailing the natural edges and corners of the Trinity Alps. I poked Reid’s head, beckoning him to turn around and marvel at the glory of the warm dawn glow. A fatigued and faint “whoa” escaped his comatose body before falling back on his sleeping pad. I reached for my camera bag, carelessly put on my boots, and left the tent, leaving no time for socks.  I climbed down a few rocks to the trail and was met by the sudden intensity of Australian Sheppard growls. I darted away in guilt and their barks were soon softened by the pleas of their tired owners.

I sat atop a large granite rock for what seemed like an hour, the shutter of my camera meticulously clicking away.  Nearly a dozen hummingbirds zoomed around the valley in search of the wildflowers. One curiously stopped on a branch a foot away from me but darted away as soon as he saw my lens, camera shy. After making my way back to the tent for a short nap, we made oatmeal and sipped on terrible chai tea I had made. Reid, lacking a bowl or cup, ate his breakfast out of the used Chunk Light Tuna package.

I strapped on my back and clicked my camera into the waist belt. The switchbacks to the third lake were much more forgiving. Not after long, we were at Luella Lake. I filled on water as Reid poetically observed the tadpoles in his bullet journal. We had slept in a while longer than expected.  The plan was to stop at Deer Lake for lunch and a quick swim before making our way back to the car. The last steep climb to Deer Lake clawed at my heels with every step. An exaggeration partly, but Reid says there are few ways to train for a high ascent with a pack on, then doing a high ascent with a pack on. I pushed on.

Creeping up to Deer Lake was superb. In that moment, there was nothing I wanted more than to peel off my sweat-stained clothes and dip in the water. We stayed here for a while observing the lake and passersby’s, Reid staring down a chipmunk trying to steal his salami lunch. A 300ft climb was all that was between us and a long trip down to the car. In a fraction of the canyon ascent on Saturday, we made it back to the car leaving the trail behind us.

A 20 something mile loop in the books (with our detour added) according to Alltrails, and a few miles more according to Reid’s GPS. My blistered toes found rest in my Chacos, and we started our journey home in the late afternoon, stopping at Cinders Wood Fired Pizza in Redding on the way. Two pizzas consumed by famished backpackers quicker than a chipmunk could have eaten a stick of our salami.




①  This is a crowded trail- so have the expectation that it will be crowded. We visited the first weekend in August of 2020 and COVID is very much still a thing. Bring masks and keep distance between yourself and others. Most groups did just that.

②  Luckily, mosquito and bugs were not much of a problem- which I counted my blessings for every few minutes. A few weeks before this trip, we ventured to the Emigrant Wilderness and the mosquito made the trip less enjoyable than it could have been. Nevertheless, a few wipes wont add much weight to your pack.

③  A GPS map, like AllTrails, could help you a lot. Like I detailed above, we took a wrong trail and added 2 miles to our already tiring first day. Don’t be like us- watch your map and watch the side trails

④  Pack light. I could not even begin to tell you how many “over-prepped” backpackers we saw on this trip. Minimize your stuff and account for the number of days you’ll be on trail- no more. A whole bottle of sunscreen, a huge thing of bug spray, and that heavy camera tripod? I don’t recommend it. In the future, I plan to do a post on these sorts of backpacking trips to stay tuned.

⑤  This hike is HARD. When I saw hard, I mean it. The hike up Long Canyon has high elevation gain and will kick your butt if you aren’t an avid backpacker or a PCT finisher like my partner, Reid. We passed a few groups that stopped for the night along Long Canyon or at Deer lake, with no intention of doing the loop. While that is 1000% great and you should listen to your body and plan your own hike- I really encourage anyone to do this loop. The views of the lakes are outstanding and worth every step.

⑥  Drink a lot of water- especially if its hot out! People should drink around 2-3 litres of water a day when they aren’t doing strenuous activity. When backpacking, do double-at the very least. If you have a hard time with water intake like I do, electrolyte tablets will be your best friend.

⑦  Have you heard of a pee rag? If you are female and have never heard of it, I really suggest getting familiar with the concept of one. Personally, I like feeling like I am hygienic and clean, especially when outdoors. Its reusable, you don’t have to worry about packing out TP, can hang on your backpack to dry and be easily cleaned. Just trust me on this.

⑧  Despite owning my hiking boots for several years- I am still prone to blisters, especially going down steep elevation. Blister tape was a big lifesaver for me and a very cheap solution.

  This is the most important thing to plan for and do on your backpacking trip:

FOLLOW LEAVE NO TRACE PRINCIPLES 

I plea for anyone doing backpacking or enjoying nature to follow these principles. There is one principle in particular that is extra important during this backpacking trip and that is dispose of your waste properly. Many reviews of this trip online detail that people around the lakes do not dispose of their waste properly.

What does that look like? Dig a hole 6 inches into the ground, do your business, and cover it. Putting toilet paper into a cat-hole is not great practice and should be packed out. It can be gross to people who are not used to doing this, but bring a plastic bag just for this purpose and I promise-all will be fine. Toilet paper does not decompose as fast or easily as most people think- and when hundreds of people visit an area a month you can imagine that it starts to accumulate rather quickly.

⑩  Lastly, enjoy your time outdoors in this beautiful space. I am an individual who finds great joy getting up for sunrise and admiring sunsets when I am outdoors. Whenever you can, I encourage you to do the same or at the very least find time to stop and savor it.

Take only memories, leave only footprints.


Wondering some things to bring on your next backpacking trip?
Here are a few suggestions:

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lightweight and effective insect repellent wipes

Reef Safe & Biodegradable Sunscreen

Reusable Travel Jars

GSI Minimalist Stove Set- just bought this for the trip and really enjoyed it!

quick-drying microfiber towels- hang on your bag for quick “pee rag” access

blister tape

backpack camera mount

fuel for your tired body…better than ‘in water’ and high calorie.

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Enjoy the Backcountry!


 

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