Thursday, December 2, 2010

Canoeing Hell Hole Reservoir – May 2009

 Kathy and I took this trip back in May of 2009. It was our first Canoeing / Camping trip. We had an absolute ball at this very remote lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

If this is Hell, count me in.

We started out early on Saturday from Mountain View. First bit was the drive from home to Georgetown, CA. 171mi and traffic was blessedly light. Had to stop in Georgetown for gas, because there is nothing....and I mean nothing, between there and Hell Hole. We also grabbed a campfire permit at the Ranger station just outside of town. This is an ABSOLUTE requirement if you are considering heading up there yourself. Georgetown is a great little gold-rush town about 40mi outside of Auburn. Really heavily trafficked by the Rubicon Trail jeepers as it's a common route to the lower end of the Loon Lake/Rubicon area trails. There is a cool old saloon there that serves a world class bloody mary amongst other beverages.

From Georgetown it was 25mi to the turn-off for Hell Hole and French Meadows. Then another 28-ish miles of 1+ lane blacktop to Hell Hole. The road is not nearly as bad as some of the descriptions indicate. It's curvy to be sure, but I was able to maintain 50 or so mph for most of it. YMMV depending on what you are driving and depending on how much your passengers enjoy enthusiastic driving on mountain roads.

Hell Hole encompasses 1,300 surface acres and is formed in a granite valley at 4,700 feet by the pristine waters of the Rubicon River, which flows out of the Desolation Wilderness.

We eventually got to the lake at about noon. The put-in is at the boat ramp to the right of the dam.

These photos were taken on Monday with a very light breeze. The wind was blowing pretty well on Saturday though so we made a b-line to the bank on the left of the photo to get on the lee side of the lake. It was 3.5 mi from the ramp to the campground. Probably a bit further if you are following every contour of the bank to stay out of the wind. So we followed that south bank in the photo above to "the narrows" at the far end of this pic (of course this one is facing the other way so the south bank is now the right hand side of the photo).

...and a tighter shot of "the narrows"

There was a 1'-3' chop out in the middle of the lake. As this was our first time in a canoe together, and quite frankly the canoe was overloaded because we brought way too much stuff. I definitely wanted to avoid the rougher water. In the narrows it was about 1'-2", following. Manageable as long as we kept moving fast. I dug out my old Hawaiian outrigger canoe paddling hat and powered us through it. Kathy got a bit nervous and had to be reminded to keep her head up and keep paddling instead of looking at the waves.

Looking into "the narrows" on a much calmer day (Monday)

Once through "the narrows" it was a pretty easy pull to the Upper Hell Hole camp ground. All told, it took us about 2hrs to get across the lake. Would've been quicker if we'd been able to take a more direct route as we'd find out on Monday.

The USPS description of the campground says "15" sites. I'll be damned if we could find more than 10. There may be varying levels, but we found 10 with a picnic table, fire ring and USFS stove. There was one vault toilet as well, but no piped in water. The campground is on 3 tier's of rock stepping up away from the lake. We never made it uphill further from our spot so there may be more there.

We wound up on the second tier with a campsite situated between two creeks. Each one dropping into our level with a waterfall before joining and dropping off this level down to lake level. So we had a one waterfall on the left of the tent, one on the right, and a third just across the tiny meadow.

Here is our spot.

This is one of the little waterfalls. It was about 12 feet from my head when we hit the sack at night.

....and looking out over the confluence and drop-off of the third waterfall.

So, once camp was set up it was time to relax and enjoy ourselves a bit. Saturday was our Wedding Anniversary so I brought along a few things I normally wouldn't for a camping trip.

Hours-devours (Bottle of Veuve, a hunk of good stinky cheese, and a bit of caviar):

That took the edge off the hungries so I could get down to cooking dinner. I mentioned the USFS stove, this thing was way-cool!

I have no idea how they got these big freakin things in there, let alone the mortar to build the stonework that is holding them in. But they are really neat and bloody efficient as well. It took maybe a dozen 1" dia x 12" long sticks to get the thing hot enough to cook a full meal on and it stayed hot for hours.

...and the meal:

Asparagus wrapped in proscuitto, bacon-wrapped filet-mignon and some red-beans & rice. It went pretty well with our favorite wine; Porter Creek Carignane.   That's how I roll.

We put our stuff up a nearby tree for the night, though in reading some of the above it seems like we didn't do a good enough job. I really don't think it would have been an issue though. We were the only ones in the campground that made any effort at all and nobody had a visit.

The next day we hit the lake to do some fishing and explore a bit. We stayed in the upper-hell hole part of the lake because Kathy was worried about getting too tired for the paddle out on Monday. The lake is quite deep and I'm told is an excellent Mackinaw, Lake Trout and Kokanee Salmon but they generally reside in pretty deep water and since we were in a canoe we were unable to do the type of deep trolling required to get at them. I tried getting bait down deep but had no luck. I'm more of a stream fisherman anyway and fishing wasn't our real focus this weekend so the lack of success wasn't a big deal.

We paddled right up to the falls were the Rubicon river dumps into the lake. Absolutely stunningly good, but I was too busy at that point to bust out the camera. But here are a bunch of shots from shore and from the boat of the Upper-Hell Hole portion of the lake:

...and dinner on day two (much simpler) of a marinated chicken breast, a cheesy ricey broccoli thing and a salad:

...and on Monday morning we packed up early wanting to be on the water before the winds kicked up. The pattern according to some folks that we spoke to is a light wind toward the dam through the night and early morning hours mainly from cold dense air (from the surrounding snowcapped peaks) sliding down-slope toward the foothills and then after 9am or so the wind starts to shift and blows toward upper-hell hole through mid-day and all afternoon.

We hit the water at about 7:30 and began making our way back from upper-hell hole to the boat ramp. We were met with much nicer water than on Saturday and were able to pretty much cut across the center of the lake. A much more panoramic view and a much shorter trip.

...all our stuff sitting on the ramp while I ran to get the car. Like I said, we brought waaaaay too much stuff.

A little tired, a little sunburned but really stoked about one of our new favorite places.

The drive home wasn't bad either. A bit of traffic upslope of Sacramento and again at the Altamont Pass but nothing out of the ordinary for a normal weekend. Far less than I expected on a holiday weekend.

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