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Puck Lakes are as beautiful as remembered

No, it didn’t seem like yesterday, but really — 40 years?

It was late summer in 1979, after mosquito season, when Renee and I decided to introduce our daughters, Molly and Susie, to backpacking. After studying a Sky Lakes Wilderness map, we chose Puck Lakes, about a three-mile hike from the Nannie Creek Trailhead.

The trail to Puck Lakes, which continues to the Sky Lakes Basin, begins with a steady uphill walk before gradually easing, working its way down and up as it passes the south end of the larger of the two Pucks.

Molly was 6 years old while Susie was five months shy of her 4th birthday. To help pass the time on the hike — and both girls walked the entire way — we played “Simon Says.” “Simon says skip three times, then jump,” “Simon says hop over the log, spin, then pat the tree.”

Plans to camp at the lower lake were scuttled because other campers were already there. A large, threatening dog, which one its owners insisted was friendly, nearly bit my hand. Worse, their transistor radio was turned up LOUD! So we followed a trail north another quarter-of-a-mile to the smaller, serenely beautiful upper Puck Lake.

We set up camp, swam in the lake, where the girls tried to catch elusive jumping toads. A semi-faded color photo shows Molly, with a small innertube, wading in the lake. My favorite photo shows me in the lake with both girls. Another has Molly and Susie eating in front of our tent.

Eat, they did, devouring everything we’d packed in. The next afternoon, after more explorations and swims in the surprisingly warm lake, my backpack was considerably lighter on the return trek.

Over the years I’ve passed Puck Lakes while heading to or from other lakes in the Sky Lakes Basin. But until Bill Van Moorhem suggested Puck Lakes as the destination for an out-and-back day hike, I hadn’t spent time at either lake. So with memories of a wonderful long ago weekend, Monday’s hike was tinged with nostalgia.

Unlike that decades ago, late-summer weekend, the upper reaches of the road to the trailhead was lightly painted with snow. From the trailhead, an elevation of nearly 6,000 feet, our group trooped along a path sometimes hidden under a dusting of snow and sometimes an inch or two or more. But the snow added to the beauty, providing a painterly contrast with the blue sky, forests of mountain hemlock, lodgepole pine and Shasta red fir, and trailside shrubs brightened with splashes of reds and yellows.

A set of stacked cairns marks the unsigned turnoff that leads to lower Puck Lake, a lake that’s larger than I remembered and almost as beautiful as my memories.

We continued on the trail along lower Puck’s west side to a saddle between the two lakes, near the place near where my family and I had camped. Light snow covered the ground, so we laid out pads atop fallen logs to eat a lazy lunch. Afterward, we followed the lower lake’s east side, which offered views of snow-tipped Luther Peak, back to the Nannie Creek Trail junction. On the return hike, someone wondered aloud how Nannie Creek and Puck Lakes got their names. Might Nannie be a misspelling of nanny, a child’s nurse? Is Puck from Shakespeare’s play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” or is it because the lake is shaped like a rubber disk used in ice hockey?

Some things remain unknown. What is known is Puck Lakes are a pair of beautiful high-mountain lakes, a place for a relaxing lunch or a weekend backpack. And, for some of us, a place to find joy and comfort in vibrantly vivid memories.

To get there from Medford, follow Highway 140 for about 43 miles. At the signed junction with the Westside Road, turn left (north) and continue about 12 miles to a signed turnoff for the Nannie Creek Trailhead (Forest Road 3484). The gravel-dirt road goes about 5-1/2 miles to a parking lot at the road’s end.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

Forty years ago, Lee Juillerat enjoys Puck Lake with Susie and Molly. Courtesy photo
A thin layer of snow blankets the shore of Puck Lake. Photo by Lee Juillerat