Location: Burgson Lake in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness of Stanislaus National Forest off HWY 108 (Clark Fork Rd to Fence Creek Rd to Wheat’s Meadow Trailhead).
Dates Hiked: July 16-17, 2011
Trails Hiked: Wheat’s Meadow Trailhead to Burgson Lake
Total Distance: Roundtrip about 7.5 miles
Other Rules/Info: Wilderness permit required for all overnight trips in Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. Dogs on leash / under control.
Trip Report: This trip was planned around my baby sister’s first summer visit to California. I wanted to take her on her first backpacking trip because I thought it would be a memorable event and something that she wouldn’t get to do very often. We chose Burgson Lake because we saw on a map that it was only about 3.75 miles to the lake and it wasn’t too far of a drive from Modesto (2 hours).
Maddie, Shaun, Rosco & I set out from Modesto early on Saturday morning. We started the hike and it rambled along up hill for a while – pretty tough for our 11-year-old hiker. There were good views of Dardanelles Cone along the way. After about 3 miles we were planning to turn off and hike the remaining 0.75 miles “off-trail” according to the map. Instead we came upon a cairn trail marker pointing out the inconspicuous side trail turning off to the left. We happily followed the trail and very frequent cairns towards our destination of Burgson Lake, at 6400 ft elevation.
When we arrived at the lake, there was an obvious campsite right on the trail with a nice campfire built along the side of a large flat boulder. Maddie & I watched Rosco swim while Shaun rounded the lake looking for a better campsite. Eventually he came back around and we headed to the west side of the lake. We had to do a little bit of climbing through some rocks, and passed a huge flat stone surface that sloped into the lake (perfect for sunbathing). We set up camp, ate lunch, and took a dip in the lake.
The weather was perfect and Shaun said it was the warmest mountain lake he had ever swam in. Unfortunately we weren’t the only ones enjoying the lake. There were a few day hikers that we chatted with, some looking for a particular plant that only grew in the lake area. There was also another large group of people who stayed overnight with multiple active, rowdy and loud children and at least three vocal dogs on the other side of the lake. The kids were chasing each other all the way into our campsite. The dogs were roaming the entire lake area as well – growling and barking at Rosco and not backing away when we shooed them off. The adults in the group did not seem to notice or respond to this. This was a really big negative for our trip. I understand that people want to share hiking and backpacking with their children and family – that was the point of our trip as well. And I definitely understand the desire to bring your dog along. I just think that people should try to respect other campers and keep themselves, their children and their dogs under some sort of control and out of other people’s campsites. There are no real boundaries in these outdoor situations, but there still should be a level of consideration that we all want to enjoy a simple and quiet lifestyle when we backpack. (End of rant!)
We walked over to the south side of the lake. The landscape dropped off down a steep rocky hill to a view of Donnell Reservoir – an area I’d like to check out in the future. The views were really impressive.
We spent the rest of the afternoon building a small fire ring and climbing around on the rocks near our campsite to find the best seat for the sunset.
We ate dinner and sat by the fire for a while. Maddie ended up going to bed pretty early after her long first day of backpacking – but only after we tried to teach her about time-lapse photography.
The next day we gave Maddie the option to either hike out early enough to get lunch on the road or stay at the lake until after lunch. She chose to hike out earlier, so we ate breakfast and packed up. On our way out, we saw two volunteer rangers dispersing the fire ring we had stopped at on the north side when we arrived at the lake. On our hike out, nearly all of the cairns that had led us to Burgson Lake were gone – most likely work done by the volunteers. Even worse was that the one cairn marking the side trail off of the main Wheats Meadow Trail was gone. We aren’t sure why these volunteers were scattering the cairns, but isn’t it better for people to follow the trail that is already there to get to Burgson Lake, rather than trampling through the forest off-trail?
We reached the trailhead and Maddie was exhausted – but triumphant with no bruises or sunburns, and only one scrape! We started the drive to civilization and decided to pick a restaurant off Highway 108. We chose Andy’s Mountain Grill in Mi-Wuk Village… which was the best decision we ever made – others agree too. This teeny deli & grill serves awesome food made by the owner himself. They have tons of options (all three of us ordered burgers) and some great beers available. They even have their own homemade garlic catsup – buy a bottle, you won’t regret it. Unfortunately the place was for sale. Before we left, we told our waitress that we really hoped the place would stay the same after it was sold. She said the owner was hoping for the same as well. Until then, this is will be our go-to Highway 108 food stop.