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Duck Lake

Carson-Iceberg Wilderness

December 28th, 2011

3.3 miles
520 vertical feet
Total Time: 3:07

Starting elevation
7381 feet
Max elevation
7541 feet

Rating: 7/10

Directions: From Angels Camp, take Highway 4 east. After passing Bear Valley (cross-country and downhill areas), you'll pass through the gate that's usually closed during winter. You'll then pass Lake Alpine on your right. At the far (eastern) end of the lake, there's a parking lot on the side of the road. Just past that, turn right onto the next road and follow it to the end (don't turn right toward the Pine Marten campground). At the end, turn right toward the Silver Valley campground.   View Driving Map

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GPX File

There were 2 other cars at the trailhead when we arrived, which was 2 more than I expected to see. We parked behind them, on the side of the road, since the campground was closed. As we were getting ready, a group of hikers finished their hike and returned to their car. I asked them if they'd hiked to Duck Lake, and they had. They said there was snow up to the top, but once you crested the climb it was mostly dirt to the lake, which was frozen and beautiful. A nice little walk, they said.

Another group of hikers finished just as we started. I overheard one of them saying that there was a lot more snow at the trailhead back in August. Based on our experience at Desolation Wilderness, that would not surprise me in the least.

We started along the trail, which started out flat but soon started climbing into the forest. There was plenty of snow on the ground, but most of the trail was hard-packed snow, easy to walk on with our winter boots. No need for snowshoes.

Soon enough we crested the climb, reaching a sign for the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. The trail veers left here, and almost like clockwork, turned to dirt. There were still patches of snow here and there, but they became less and less prevalent as we descended this south-facing slope. I explained to my sons why south-facing slopes have less snow than north-facing slopes because of the location of the sun.

Entering the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness at the top of the climb

Mostly snow-free trail after the climb until the lake

After descending a bit, we came to a trail intersection. To the left was the trail to Rock Lake (4 miles from the trailhead), and to the right was the trail to Duck Lake (a leisurely 1 mile from the trailhead). We were planning to do a 3 mile loop, in which case we would return on the Rock Lake trail, but decided it would be best to take the Duck Lake trail going there.

About this time we were passed by a large group of hikers, about 10 of them, heading to Duck Lake as well. We saw about 20-25 people on the trail the whole hike.

The trail now descends a little bit steeper now. Soon enough we could see frozen Duck Lake through the trees to our left, down below. We descended some more and reached a large snow field at the bottom. On the field were the remnants of 3 cabins, built by cowboys back in the early 20th century. Beyond the field to the left was frozen Duck Lake.

Two cabin remains at Duck Lake

Crossing the snow field to check out the third cabin

Cabin remains

We checked out the cabins and enjoyed the sight of the lake before continuing through the field to the southern shore of the lake. We walked near the shore for about a quarter of the length of the lake before we found a nice spot to sit down for lunch.

Looking out at Duck Lake

Closer look at Duck Lake

Crossing the snow at the western end of the lake

Looking northeast across the lake

Duck Lake

I enjoyed viewing (and photographing) the patterns in the surface of the frozen lake. I also noticed some deciduous trees, both on the northern shore and also beyond the cabins to the west. It must be quite pretty in the fall.

Pretty patterns in frozen Duck Lake

Looking west across the lake

Alien frozen under Duck Lake

Our quiet lunch was soon interrupted by the large group of hikers who'd passed us earlier. Several of the kids from the group started walking out onto the ice. One of them was carrying a large rock, throwing it down on the surface, trying to break the ice. Frustrated that it didn't break, he went further out, picked it up, and did it again. He did this over and over again, soon ending up near the middle of the lake, with the younger kids following him. I kept thinking that this was a Darwin Award waiting to happen. Their parents were watching the whole thing so I didn't feel the need to intercede. The boy eventually did get the rock to break the surface of the ice, but it just sat there and the ice around it didn't crack. Then they went back toward the trailhead.

After our lunch, we continued east along the southern shore. We saw even more patterns in the ice, and a small island in the middle of the lake. We reached a spot where someone had made a campfire (most likely in the summer), and noted that some people had apparently had a lot of fun chucking rocks from here onto the ice. The ice below was littered with dozens of rocks.

Tree reflections in Duck Lake

Reflections in Duck Lake ice patterns

Duck Lake reflections

Tiny island in Duck Lake

We reached the end of the lake and crossed a small frozen outlet stream. We looked for the Rock Lake trail, but to no avail. I suspected that it was further south from where we stood (and looking at the map afterwards, that was the case). We thought about just going along the northern shore of the lake and then returning via the trail we'd descended. However, the northern shore was interrupted by tall steep rocks, so we decided to just turn around and basically retrace our steps.

Frozen outlet stream

We crossed back over the frozen outlet stream. Nathan let out a yelp as he got entangled in some old barbed wire. Luckily he didn't cut himself on it, but just be careful if you're walking around here - there's a fair bit of it lying around.

We walked past a frozen pond just to the south of Duck Lake. Eventually we rejoined the path we'd taken earlier, crossed the large snow field past the cabins, and headed up the trail. The return trip was mostly uneventful. Maybe in the future we'll visit Rock Lake on a longer day hike.

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