Monday, September 19, 2011

Castle Lake to Heart Lake Hike - Day 8 - Trip Report - 9-17-11

          We woke up at dawn and stepped out onto the catwalk of the Girard Ridge Fire Lookout where we had spent a very quiet night. There was a hint of color above Castle Crags and we enjoyed some tea as the morning grew brighter.

First Light on Castle Crags


Girard Ridge Lookout

          After breakfast we loaded our daypacks and drove down the ridge to I5 where we headed north toward the city of Mt. Shasta. We exited off of I5 and headed west toward Lake Siskiyou but veered left onto Castle Lake Road before reaching the turnoff for Siskiyou Resort. Several miles later we pulled into the Castle Lake parking lot which was full and booming with activity. The vicinity is very popular with dispersed camping and therefore receives a fair amount of transient traffic. There was a large group of about 30 young folks camped out and I assumed they were all homeless travelers as their hygiene was virtually nonexistent; but my assumptions were disproved as we watched several of them fetch some items from their shiny new cars in the lot. Go Figure!
          Castle Lake is set in a large cirque with tall cliffs making up the southern headwall and steep hillsides to the east and west. There are plenty of camping spots on the north side of the lake where the hiking trail begins.

Map of our Heart Lake Hike Route

          We set off from the parking lot and followed the trail around the northwest shore where we started climbing up the ridge toward the southern headwall. Near the top of the ridge there is a saddle where there are several faint use trails that lead in the direction of Heart Lake. If you reach a seasonal pond you’ve missed the turnoff.
          The trail, which is occasionally hard to follow, maneuvers over rocky terrain as well as through meadow grass and wildflowers. Having previously studied the topo map we just kept heading in the direction that felt right to us (toward the top of the southern headwall) and soon found ourselves looking over the shallow and small Heart Lake. For this reason it is known to be a good swimming lake, warmer than the average mountain pool.
          We sat at the edge of the lake on a large boulder and enjoyed it to ourselves. I ventured around the shore to the south end to get the quintessential view of Mt.Shasta reflected in the water.

Mt. Shasta Reflected in Heart Lake


Heart Lake


Heart Lake Reflections

          While relaxing at Heart Lake we noticed a use trail that followed the edge of the headwall overlooking Castle Lake up to a steep cliffside overlook. We traversed along the cliffs edge stopping frequently to absorb the vast scenery that included Castle Lake shimmering below with Mt. Shasta and Black Butte dominating the back drop.

Views From the Headwall

          After some steep climbing we made it to the craggy overlook which precariously overhangs over the edge.

Craggy Overlook


Castle Lake Overlook

          We had a snack and took it all in for a while. From where we sat we noticed a steep ridgeline and what looked like a faint trail leading up to the top of peak 6617’. Looking at the map and the terrain in front of us, we judged that once we reached the top, we could traverse the ridge east and then descend to reconnect with the trail to Heart Lake making a short but strenuous loop.
          Despite the fact that the use trail up the steep ridge line appeared to be laden with shrubs, it was a clear path for the most part. As we grunted up the challenging ridge, we could see Heart Lake below starting to fill up with a cluster of the transients and a couple of determined folks following in our footsteps toward the rocky overlook.

Looking Down on Heart and Castle Lakes

          We reached the top which earned us views of the north side of Castle Crags, a perspective that was new to us both. To the west was Mt. Eddy with its colorful scree mountainside. There was a nice outcropping at the top which was decorated with rock stacks and other rock drawings.

Castle Crags from Peak 6617'

          After another long break we headed cross country along the ridge through more pilings of stacked rocks.

Good Times!


Castle Crags

          We picked up a faint path and continued traversing and descending until we eventually picked up the trail to Heart Lake. From there we contemplated going to see Little Castle lake which lies just below the saddle to the east. We made it as far as a seasonal pond which was dry at the moment before retreating down the official trail back to Castle Lake. The cross country travel up along the ridges was difficult footing and took its toll on the knees.
          We made it back to Castle Lake where we found a nice spot along the north shore to hang out for a while. We waded in the cool water to sooth our aching knees. We planned on diving in but a cold wind picked up and we chickened out.
          We drove back to the historic Girard Ridge Fire Lookout to enjoy the last night of our vacation. We were treated to another awe inspiring sunset and stayed up late polishing off what booze or sweets we may have had left.

Girard Lookout Sunset


Sunset at Girard Ridge Lookout

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