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Meeks Bay to Eagle Falls

Day 2 of 4

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Saturday, August 21st
Crag Lake to Rubicon Lake
3.2 miles
1160 vertical feet (ascent)
390 vertical feet (descent)
4:57


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Despite the fact that it had been relatively calm when we had gone to bed, the wind had picked up overnight and was gusting while we tried to sleep. It wasn't until the morning that I realized how bad it had been. Dirt had been blown into our tent, much like it had at Dead Horse Point State Park a year earlier, leaving our sleeping bags gritty. The clothes we had hung outside on a line had blown onto the ground. That was the extent of the damage, however. The tent was in fine shape, and we didn't lose anything to the wind. Still, this was a portent of things to come.

Besides the wind, the other issue that kept me up was that we weren't exactly level. I kept sliding down my sleeping pad. It made me envy the boys who had Big Agnes sleeping bags with pads tucked into the bottom. No sliding there! I do worry that I'd feel too constricted if I couldn't move my legs around, though.

Crag Lake

It was 7am when we woke up, and it was clear but cold. We packed everything up and had breakfast. We left Crag Lake around 10am, following the trail as it headed southeast along the lake shore. After leaving the lake behind, the trail starts to climb gently. After about 0.4 miles, we hopped across a stream, climbed some more, then came to our first trail intersection of the day.

Easy stream crossing

An unsigned trail to the right led down steeply to Hidden Lake. Despite the steepness and the fact that we'd have to descend (and then ascend) roughly 230 vertical feet, we decided to take the detour to the lake. Part of the reason was that this would be the shortest day of our trip in terms of trail miles - only about 3. Plus, the lake looked pretty.

Steep descent to Hidden Lake

And so down we went, down to the lake which we had all to ourselves for a few minutes. The two fishermen we had seen at Crag Lake came by shortly after we did, and went to the opposite shore. We stayed where the trail deposited us, for the most part, by the northeastern shore of the lake. It's much smaller than Crag Lake, but it is backed more dramatically by mountains rising from its southwestern shore.

Hidden Lake

Mountain above Hidden Lake

While we were at Hidden Lake, we noticed clouds starting to form in the sky. It actually even sprinkled briefly. But then it stopped and we were back on the trail, headed up the steep incline back to the main trail. Back at the intersection, we turned right to rejoin the main trail.

Plant on the way back from Hidden Lake

The trail climbed a bit more, but then almost immediately reached another intersection - to the left was Shadow Lake. This side trail is very short, and doesn't involve any steep climbing. Almost immediately we were at the lake, which is even smaller and much more open than Hidden Lake. It's more like a pond than a lake, to be honest. Mountains back the northeastern side of the lake, but the forest doesn't crowd the lake. A marshy area backed by a stand of ghostly snags sits on the southern edge of the lake. Grasses line pretty much the entire shore of the lake, making it hard to get right down to the water's edge. We mostly enjoyed the lake from a bit of a distance.

Marshy area at southern end of Shadow Lake

Southern end of Shadow Lake

Shadow Lake

We were starting to get a little concerned with the weather, so we didn't dawdle too long. Soon we were back on the main trail. The trail climbs gently through the forest before shortly coming to Stony Ridge Lake - the largest of what are known as the Tallant Lakes, and the largest lake we'd encounter on this trip. We continued along the trail as it skirted the southwestern shore of the long lake, through the forest. We looked for a place to stop by the shore, and finally found a spot about a quarter of the way down the lake.

Two rocks in Stony Ridge Lake

Tree roots at Stony Ridge Lake

Stony Ridge Lake is quite huge compared to Hidden Lake and Shadow Lake, and even quite a bit bigger than Crag Lake. Steep mountains loomed behind it, above the northeastern shore. I'm not sure if it was just the coming weather system, or the geography, but it was incredibly windy here. The surface wind was also going in completely the opposite direction of the clouds above. While the clouds were going roughly west to east, the surface wind was going east to west, perhaps being funneled down to us by those mountains.

Stony Ridge Lake

It wasn't raining (yet), but the fierce (that's the word that best describes it) wind sent us packing pretty quickly. We returned to the trail and hoped the wind would subside as we left the lake. The wind did subside for the most part, allowing us to enjoy the sight of wildflowers of several colors lining the trail toward the southern end of the lake. Shortly after we left the lake behind we passed by a marshy area to the left of the trail.

Wildflower at Stony Ridge Lake

Southern end of Stony Ridge Lake

Marshy area south of Stony Ridge Lake

Shortly after that, it started to hail. It was not particularly cold at ground level, so I was a bit surprised, but it was definitely hail. It was, however, a very light hail and it only lasted a few seconds. Still, that gave us cause for concern that it would get worse. I had checked the long-term forecast for the South Lake Tahoe area, and there hadn't been any rain forecast. So I wasn't too worried, but still, hail is hail.

There weren't a lot of people on the trail today, perhaps because we were further from any trailhead. We did, however, meet two brothers. Not at the same time, though. We met the younger one first. I asked him how far it was before we reached Rubicon Lake, and he said it was only a quarter mile. I think he was a bit off in his estimation, and he neglected to mention that it was all uphill. But in any case, he did mention that he was thinking of trying to convince his brother (who he was waiting for to catch up with him) to hike all the way out instead of camping tonight. They'd started out from Echo Lakes (I'm not sure how many days ago), just like the two guys we'd seen yesterday.

A few minutes later, we met his older brother, who was taking his time, taking pictures of the beautiful wildflowers along the trail. I didn't think I'd ever see so many wildflowers in late August! He thought it was great that we were hiking together as a family and took our picture. Then he was off to catch up with his brother.

Wildflowers south of Stony Ridge Lake

Wildflowers

After passing more wildflowers, the trail started to climb again. Pretty steeply at times. We followed the switchbacks higher and higher, perhaps about 400 vertical feet. As we neared the top we were rewarded with views of Stony Ridge Lake behind us. Finally, the trail levels out and rounds a corner around some granite, passes a pond on the right, climbs some steps, and reaches Rubicon Lake.

Stony Ridge Lake from the trail up to Rubicon Lake

Rubicon Lake is about the same size as Hidden Lake. The trail rises above the western shore. We stopped to look for a good campsite. There was a flat forested area on the western side, but it was too close to the trail. We snaked by some rocks just south of this and found a spot in the open next to the lake, sheltered by granite boulders. It was relatively small and not flat, though. Eventually we found a spot on the northern side of the lake - a large area backed by granite boulders with a nice flat section next to a couple trees.

We set up the tent, placing some rocks around the edges to help avoid the problem of sand blowing into our tent. And make no mistake - it was still windy, though not as bad as at Stony Ridge Lake. As we were eating our dinner, it again started to hail. Only this time it was hailing much harder. I thought to myself as I ate my dinner in the hail - "This isn't so bad, at least it's not raining. I'm not getting wet because the hail is just bouncing off me."

I looked up at the sky and saw patches of blue. I convinced myself that it would get better, and I just kept eating my dinner. A minute or two later, the hail did stop. The clouds were moving swiftly, and as it turned out that was the last gasp of the weather system. An hour later the skies were completely blue, although it was still a bit on the cold side and still windy.

After dinner we walked to the top of the granite above our campsite. From here, we had great views of Stony Ridge Lake to the north and Rubicon Lake to the south. We weren't the only ones enjoying the view, as we saw a couple other backpackers and their dog on another granite structure not far from us to the east. Apparently they were camping just up the shore from us.

Stony Ridge Lake from the viewpoint above the northwest side of Rubicon Lake

Viewpoint above Rubicon Lake

Stony Ridge Lake and viewpoint above northwest side of Rubicon Lake
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Panorama of Rubicon Lake as seen from above the northwest shore
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Rubicon Lake

Rubicon Lake

We returned to our campsite and noticed another group just getting in, taking the spot near the trail. After enjoying some hot chocolate to ward off the chill, we noticed the nearly full moon just rising as we went to bed, hopeful that the rocks would help us sleep despite the wind.


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