Nelson Lake was going to be a newer area for me on this day hike into the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness. I did hike the first half of this trail toward last fall, but ended up getting to Cliff Lake. This time at the four way trail junction, I was going to make a left instead of continuing straight. With all the snow this year the season was still very early. Mosquitoes had been bad in other places. What would this adventure entail this time around?
The hike to Nelson Lake begins at the Cliff Lake Trailhead. After driving for a couple hours, both River and I arrived at the trail. She was extremely excited to get out and start exploring. The truck would shake as her paws tap danced in excitement. Once my backpack was on and she was let out, it was time to start hiking.
The trail begins a short descent down from the parking area and into a riparian corridor. Here two large causeways exists to help users across. Last year it was dry when I walked through. Not this time and I was thankful for being elevated above all the moist earth. River did remember how to hike along the path and was soon ahead of me. The last little bit was back on the ground where River enjoyed getting a drink. We were not going to cross any many streams for a little bit, so she quickly lapped up water before we proceeded.
The hike parallels the shoreline of Courtright Reservoir at this point. There was so much water in it compared to my frame of reference. It was a nice site as the trail soon wrapped west away from the lake and down through a sandy area. The trail would keep users further inland, but one could see a calm bay like area to the right. Both River and I went over there to check it out before we continued any further. I knew the wilderness boundary was soon approaching, which meant that our first creek crossing was at hand.
No sooner that we had returned to the trail it seemed the wilderness boundary greeted us. The tree was removed from last year so no reroutes or having to climb over it. We would hear Nelson Creek flowing rather quickly from the trail sign. I was hoping that a way across was going to be easy to find. Otherwise I would have to take off my boots potentially to cross. I do not mind doing that but it does just add “one more thing” to do when trying to get to ones destination.
Nelson Creek was flowing quite well for this time of year. This was pretty much the story for any stream this season. The watershed was at 300% of normal as of June 1, 2019. Anyway, as we both looked for away to cross the mosquitoes were encouraging us to find it rather quickly. I ended up just taking off my boots and crossing. The cool water was nice on the warming sun.
Now safely across, hydrated, and dry, we both continued uphill on the trail. The grade is not too bad and we were both just enjoying the silence. We saw vehicles at the parking lot, but had yet to see a soul on the trail so far. It felt like we had the place to ourselves. As long as we didn’t slow down too much in moist areas, the mosquitoes were the only real noise we heard. The birds were still very much quite surprisingly. The trail guided us through sand, rocky areas, and lush green vegetation. Before long we were at our trail junction.
River had a good memory or maybe she was just “in the groove” as we approached the junction. Last time we continued straight and she was ready to do so. I gave her a command to turn left. She perked up, trotted over, and led us both down the trail. She was full of energy once more. Something new? You bet. This was going to be new for the both of us.
Within a minute or two of leaving the junction our trail was underwater. The flow was extremely slow, so the mosquitoes were so glad we were “staying awhile.” As I quickly plotted the driest way across they descended on us both. It is amazing how clearly a path one finds when little creatures are wanting to make a meal out of you. We soon made our way across to drier ground. The mosquitoes took some time to dissipate and leave us alone after that crossing.
The trail continued to climb in sandier conditions now. It was warming up. This did give us the final break from mosquitoes, which we were both happy about. A view of Nelson Peak was seen as we trekked around a bend in the trail. It was nice to take in the view before continuing down the trail. So far we were the only humans out here and it was pleasant to have the solitude.
The trail began to descend slightly down to another crossing of Nelson Creek. We passed several patches of wildflowers blooming in the warm sun on our way down. This time crossing Nelson Creek was very easy to do. We were further up the drainage, which meant lower flows and fewer tributaries contributing water. However, the trail system beyond that was flowing as a creek at times or ponding water from snow melt. The lodgepole trees were encroaching at times too. This is what our cars must feel like in an auto car wash where the brushes comes down along the sides of the vehicle. Anyway, as we trekked further along we were soon greeted by our destination. The trees backed away and our eyes saw Nelson Lake.
Nelson Lake was a big one. There was a chilly breeze flowing down and over the water. However, it would only come in spurts. This was very, very bad news for us both. Why? Mosquitoes. Hundreds and hundreds of mosquitoes were there. Approaching the shoreline both of us were swarmed with mosquitoes. I pulled down my face netting for protection. My clothes were treated with Sawyer’s Permithrin and it was working excellent. HIGHLY recommend you buy some for your next adventure! River on the other hand appeared to be transforming into a Dalmatian. She was diving into the bushes, jumping in the water, whatever it would take. At one point I remember wiping way about 30 of them from my left arm long sleeve shirt only to have others take their place. I quickly did my work. River hid in the bushes to protect herself. Once the work was done we proceeded on to the upper lake. River was so grateful to be moving again.
The trail was now gone at this point. I don’t mind it though and we both kept moving. Being so close to the water meant the mosquitoes would find us. River zigzagged everywhere. They were after her and she was trying to get away. I picked up the pace more to get out of the area. Thankfully as we made our way to the inlet of the lake, the breeze became more frequent. We made our way across and up into a rock area. Large slabs of granite welcomed us as we climbed higher. It was here we ate lunch, enjoyed the breeze, and minimal mosquito interactions. River ate and laid down in peace.
Lunch was complete and after a few minutes to just enjoy the moment and being there, I packed up our things and continued towards the upper lake. Now if you were to look for “Upper Nelson Lake” you would not find it labeled. It is what I call it as it is the next biggest lake that drains into Nelson Lake. I believe it was about 5 minutes or so from our lunch spot and we were there.
For the first time arriving near a body of water, there were no mosquitoes. I was surprised and thankful for the relief. At the same time I was ready for the assault of mosquitoes. We made our way around to a testing spot and snapped some photos. Some of the snow was red across the lake, which means bacteria is growing on it. The red snow can make one very sick so don’t every “eat it.” I also snapped a photo of River and I before it was time to leave.
Both of us enjoyed the moment at the lake and it was time to pack up. We had about 6 miles to the truck and it was going to be all downhill. As I loaded up our gear, I heard a very quite humming noise. I looked around and didn’t see anyone or anything. I first thought bees but was soon surprised when I looked up.
All of the mosquitoes around the shoreline of the lake were above my head. I’d say about 5 to 10 feet tops above me. It was this large mass of mosquitoes buzzing along. I am sure they saw both of us, but they never descended. Not wanting to give them a chance I moved a little slower to not “warm up” on my way out. Looking across the lake now I saw the swarm being descending over the water. I quickly snapped a photo and got out of there.
Instead of going back the way we came to get around the lake (counter clockwise) I decided to around the other side to get back to the trail (clockwise). Through the slabs of bedrock we went. The sun was warming us both and the rock beneath us. It was a pleasant warming as the cold breeze would cool us down every now and then. A perfect mix.
The hike was a little slower, but not as buggy either. We saw the dispersed camp where most people stay at one point. From here we knew the trail was going to be close by. We just had to cross over the outlet flow and then down the trail we went.
The trail came into view once across the outlet of Nelson Lake. It was time to head downhill. We crossed over snow patches on the trail, but this time there was a cave starting. Both of us just hoped on top and hiked along. We dodged the “creek” at various points along the trail. Nelson Creek was soon in our view again. This time, however, we crossed at a higher point which was way easier than before.
Still there was nobody in sight. The trail only had my boot marks and River’s paw prints. It was nice and we could now hear birds singing their songs. The temperature was much warmer now, but thankfully heading downhill at this point in the day made it tolerable. The trail junction was soon at hand and we made a right towards the Cliff Lakes Trailhead.
The stretch down from the junction seemed to take longer then earlier that day. I imagine we were full of energy, excited, and the temperature was more inviting of a quicker pace. About half way down we finally ran into two guys heading up to Cliff Lake. We chatted a bit and shared how much we enjoyed are Garmin inReach Minis. About 15 minutes tops had passed and it was time to continue on.
The chat was nice and it did break up this stretch of the trail. Soon we were back at the first crossing of Nelson Creek. However, this time I actually did find a way across without taking off my boots. It was further up stream but that was fine with me. I discovered it on the way down the trail so no time wasted. I had River get some water before continuing on down the trail.
On our way out we visited that “bay” like area again. To our surprise there was a small boat coming into the area. Three people were on there exploring it seemed. River was very curious and watched them intently. I smiled at her and after a few minutes we moved on.
Once passed the the views of Courtright Reservoir and the causeway crossing, we rang into more people coming out. They were going to backpack over night. It looked like two families were together. They had 5 young children hiking ahead of them. I think they may have been 5 to 8 years of age. They watched River pass them without worry. River was tired and just walked right on by them and the adults. I said hello and wished them all a wonderful adventure.
The last bit of the trail is all uphill. A nice change indeed, but you just want to be done at this point. We both pressed on hard and within 10 minutes we made it back to the trailhead. The job was done, the hike was complete, and now it was a 2 hour drive back down the mountain. River slept most of the way back too. This is her usual routine. Another day hike complete!