Friday, May 8, 2020

Fish Lake Creek

The dry stats for hiking to Fish Lake via Fish Lake Creek Trail were 8.7 round trip miles to and from the lake, 1,500 feet of elevation gain, 90+ degrees of heat, and 4,692 whiny snivels to myself. My dispirited legs felt every mile, every foot of climb, and every degree of heat. Maybe I should exercise in between hikes but then again, that would be exercise. Maybe I should make myself younger, too.

Just another beautiful day on the trail
But while the legs were noodly, the resolve was steely and this hike began with your merry blogster full of expectant anticipation of getting out onto the trail after a short layoff from the wonderful avocation that is hiking. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and the forest growing along Fish Lake Creek was lush and well-shaded. Life was good indeed, at least until the hiking started.

A galaxy of vine maple leaves
My frame of reference for this trek is my very first visit here, occurring shortly after the 2002 Tiller Complex Fire(s) ravaged the forests along the trail. Back then, the hiking was hot, dusty, and totally shadeless. Most of that laborious epic was spent wading over, under, and around tons of dead trees lying on the trail. Flash forward sixteen years and those fallen trees are almost decayed out of existance, the surviving trees are all leafed out, and the undergrowth has been restored to its usual dense green jungle. Best of all, the path is clear of downfall for all of the distance to Fish Lake.

False Solomon's seal was just one of many
species of wildflowers beautifying the trail
For the first couple of miles, the trail is well shaded and joyously cool on a hot day. The grade was gentle so I was one happy hiker enjoying the rampant greenery and wildflowers blooming along the trail. Fish Lake Creek was nearby but mostly more heard than seen, due to the vegetation and forest surrounding the stream. My pace was relaxed and slow because of the scenery and photography thereof, and life was good.

It's just not a hike unless you
have to hike through poison oak
To be honest, life was also good when the trail broke out into the open burn zone and warm sunlight. It was just a warmer good. After about a mile and a half of hiking through the forest, the trail peeled away from Fish Lake Creek and headed uphill in the sun to contour up and around a nameless side creek. Poison oak was thriving happily here and I took care to avoid the oily red fronds of itching madness. Speaking of itching and given my last tick-infected hike, frequent tick-check stops were a thing because because I could just feel a veritable tick army marching with military precision on the parade ground of my skin. The final stats in that regard were just one tick found all day long, but it's still a mental condition.

Rocky cliffs loomed next to the trail
As the trail steadily gained elevation across drier south-facing slopes populated with dead trees and buckbrush, the views of Fish Lake Creek's forested canyon continually improved. The trail contoured the base of a prominent cliff and the poison oak was at its worst among the rocky soil and open sunlight. There was no western fence at this trailside locale but there were lots and lots of western fence lizards scuttling about on the rocky ramparts and battlements. Those lizards closer to the ground stirred up dead leaves, the dry rattle making sure to startle one certain incredibly handsome hiker with yet another mental condition, stemming from a rattlesnake encounter of several years ago.

Beaver Swamp in all its swampy glory
The trail rounded a ridge and Beaver Swamp made an appearance, the blue-green waters looking particularly swampy on this hike rendition. Normally, turtles are spotted sunning themselves on logs floating in the pond but not on this day, not sure what happened to them. In the middle of the pond there is a notable beaver lodge but it had that air of abandonment, particularly as there were no fresh animal paths tracking through the swamp grasses. A burbling inlet creek flowed into the pond and the vine maples were lush and profuse. A convenient log was sited next to the trickling stream and was the perfect place to eat lunch and generally just sit and ponder in the cool shade.

Highrock Mountain presides over Fish Lake
By now, the day was hot and yes, I am well aware it will get hotter yet. The trail angled steeply uphill  away from the swamp and a trudge now entered into what had previously been a joyful hiking rhythm. But Fish Lake was less than two miles away so really, there was no other manly option other than to determinedly plod to the lake. And when the lake was reached, the immediate reward was a magnificent vista of snowy Highrock Mountain presiding over beautiful Fish Lake, making all the toil and trouble to get there well worth the effort. Standoff Point standoffishly stood off at the northeast corner of Fish Lake, reminding me I'm overdue for a visit to Rocky Ridge (of which, Standoff Point is part of). Anyway, views like this are why we hike, boys and girls.

Trail, as the day cooled and shadows lengthened
It was nice to be walking downhill on the hike back to the trailhead, especially since my legs wanted to go on a sit-down strike. The forest became even more pleasant as the day cooled and afternoon shadows lengthened beneath the trees. The only occurrence of note was when a startled grouse exploded out of the brush next to trail in a flurry of feathers and whirring wings. A grouse won't kill me but the heart attack might, darn birds that wait until you almost step on them. anyway.

Fish Lake Creek was always heard but seldom seen
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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