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Deadfall Lakes offer refreshing dip

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Trail near Pacific Crest leads to three places to cool off
Hans Kuhr makes his way along the Pacific Crest Trail to Deadfall Lakes. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]
Middle Deadfall Lake offers camping and swimming. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]
The Pacific Crest Trail-Deadfall Lakes junction presents plenty of enticing options. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]

Sometimes reaching a mountaintop isn’t the ultimate goal.

The view from Mount Eddy, an elevation of 9,025 feet, is fantastic. It’s the highest peak west of Mount Shasta in the Klamath Mountains. From Eddy’s lofty summit, Shasta looks remarkably massive and almost close enough to touch.

But this early afternoon the temperatures were climbing faster than we were — into the mid-80s. We were resting at Upper Deadfall Lake, an elevation of 7,790 feet, enjoying the view of the tranquil lake and Mount Eddy from a cozy, tree-shaded refuge.

From Upper Deadfall, our group of eight diverged. One eager hiker headed for Eddy’s summit. Another decided to go partway up the steep, sun-exposed summit trail and then retreat. A third decided to rest at Upper Deadfall before returning to Middle Deadfall. And possibly the smartest of all decided to immediately double-back to Middle Deadfall Lake and go swimming.

Three of us followed Hans Kuhr, who has explored the Deadfall Lake region several times. We started up the trail, but Eddy’s summit wasn’t our goal.

Instead, Hans led the uphill chug to a path that only he could see that detoured off the trail. Carefully using his hiking poles for balance, he worked his way steeply downhill. Our trio followed, weaving and creating our own impromptu routes.

Within minutes, the outlines of a lake came into view. It’s hidden from the main trail in a bowl-like setting, surrounded and framed by trees, a mixture of pines and firs. The lake’s name is unknown — it’s unnamed on all the maps I’ve since seen.

We paused along the lakeside briefly before continuing, winding our way along a barely visible path that eventually intersected with the Deadfall Lakes Trail at a murky pond above Middle Deadfall Lake.

Finally, we were headed where I was eager to go. On my previous hike to Mount Eddy’s summit, the return trip included a swim in Middle Deadfall. The memory persists.

I was eager. And once reunited with most of the others at Middle Deadfall, it was off with my socks, boots, shorts and shirt. Splash! — into the lake.

Ahhhh ... Refreshing.

There’s something indescribable about a cooling swim after a hot day of hiking.

It was a day that, in retrospect, began later than it should have. It was nearly 11 o’clock when we headed off from the Parks Creek Summit Trailhead for the lakes.

Located at a junction along the Pacific Crest Trail, the trailhead features an information kiosk and vault toilets. From there we followed the PCT south about 2 1/2 gently uphill miles to a signed junction with the Deadfall Lakes Trail.

Along the way were openings with panoramic views of the nearby, sprawling Trinity Alps. Much of the trail was shaded by a welcome variety of firs and pines.

Best of all, near seasonal creeks the trailside was lush with flowers: a cornucopia that included yellow lupine, red columbine, paintbrush, corn lily, angelica, spirea, scarlet gilia, yarrow, penstemon and more. Because we were lake-bound, we mostly strolled past. But on the return hike back to the trailhead, several of us stopped to gawk, speculate on flower names — Danny Hawkes did most of the identifying — and take photos.

Going toward and returning from the lake, we encountered several northbound PCT through backpackers, some who stopped to filter water at a creek for the dry sections ahead, others who never broke step while forging ahead.

Because it’s only steps away from the PCT-Deadfall Lakes junction, Lower Deadfall Lake is heavily used by PCTers. Middle Deadfall Lake, regarded by frequent visitors as the prettiest of the group, also is nearby but semihidden from the PCT. But Middle Deadfall is obviously no secret, with a series of well-used campsites along its northern shore and more isolated southern flanks.

On our way to Upper Deadfall, we had only paused at the Middle Lake. For some of us, its waters were immediately tempting. Like some of the others, I found consolation knowing we’d be back, this time to jump in.

Leaving Middle Deadfall after the tempestuous first sighting, a couple of us played catch-up as others forged up the steepening trail to Upper Deadfall. From Middle Deadfall, the trail abruptly climbs 500-plus feet in about three-quarters of a mile to the upper lake.

There were visual treats along the way, including scattered foxtail pines. Found only at high elevations, a subspecies of foxtail pine is notably found in the Klamath Mountains. They’re distinct because their bark can range in color from gray to cinnamon red.

As mentioned, Upper Deadfall was a fine place for munching lunch, and the diversion to the unnamed lake was a treat. But the swim in Middle Deadfall was the true reward, one that five of us savored.

Even after we partially dried off, the damp sheen from the lake’s waters was welcome on the hike back to the trailhead. As a friend noted, a relaxing dip in Middle Deadfall proved that, yes, high mountain lakes and I get along swimming-Lee.

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