Upper Piney Lake
July 21, 2018 · Eagles Nest Wilderness
The hike to Upper Piney Lake is an odd hike. The trailhead is at a remote resort, Piney River Ranch, basically a dude-ranch in the middle of nowhere. I'm sure when the weather is good the views from the lake at the ranch are breathtaking. However, on this hike the valley was filled with wildfire smoke from the nearby Lake Christine Fire. The first three miles of the hike are piece of cake and go very quickly, tough the wildfire smoke slows you down.
I did notice some odd looking animal tracks on the first leg of the trail. They were from padded foot animals and not those of a dog. They were infrequent but frequent enough that told me these are not that of a dog. One set that I saw a few times had claw marks digging into the trail. In order of likely animals those could have come from are Porcupine, Marmot, Badger or Bear. Another set where so clear that it had to be a cat, they could have been from a Bobcat, Lynx or Mountain Lion; they seemed too big to be a Bobcat or Lynx. Didn't see anything that could have made those prints.
Once you get to the bend in the trail that turns right and up into the valley and pushes on to Piney Lake changes this trail from easy to difficult. The first three miles are well maintained and downed trees on the trail have been cut and. However, after the bend, the trail is not maintained at all. There were a few things that made this next leg to be so difficult - though the wildfire smoke cleared for about 2 hours mid-day, the valley quickly filled up with more smoke. Also, since this leg of the trail is not maintained, all downed trees across the trail are not cleared. What makes that more challenging is the official trail is lightly used and there are social trails everywhere, making it difficult to spot and stay on or near the official trail; so there is a lot of stopping examining the GPS and backtracking, then going forward again, on another social trail, stopping and backtracking again.
Ultimately, I did not make it all the way to Upper Piney Lake, there was just too much wildfire smoke and I had gotten to the point of making excuses as to why not to continue, which included: the smoke, I had been bushwhacking for about an hour and there was at least another hour-plus of bushwhacking to get to Upper Piney Lake, it would be dusk by the time I got back to the first part of the trail with the odd animal footprints on the trail and didn't want to meet up with them. I did manage to get in some good pictures along the way. All-in-all this turned out to be 10.5 hours on the trail coming out at 14.4 miles roundtrip.