Friday, August 22, 2014

Five Lakes basin: more than just lakes

American black bears in the Five Lakes basin

Upper lake of the Five Lakes
The Five Lakes basin is located between the Truckee River Canyon and the Pacific Crest—northwest of Tahoe City in the Sierra Nevada, California. A popular hiking trail, starting at the Alpine Meadows Road/Deer Park Drive junction, leads up to the small lakes from the Bear Creek valley. Bears, indeed, roam this area despite the growing number of humans seeking recreation here.

On one of my Five Lakes visits, I almost ran into a bear mother with her cubs. One cub got curious. But the mother made it clear not to approach any further. Interestingly, they hang out behind some fallen trees just a few steps off the Five Lakes Trail. I am still wondering how many hikers passed by without even noticing the bears—or without being noticed by them. Although brown-colored, Sierran bears are black bears (Ursus Americanus), which are said to be less aggressive than brown bears (grizzlies). Around Lake Tahoe, black bears often get habituated, mostly ignoring summer residents, visitors, hikers and the winter ski circus. 

Yellow-brown mushroom shelf
Locals and visitors love to climb up to the basin for the forest-surrounded lakes: a great place for relaxation, picnicking and swimming. In response to overuse, signs have been posted saying “no camping or stocks within 600 feet of Five Lakes.” Backpackers will find campsites further west, along the Pacific Crest Trail and at Whiskey Creek Camp. The Five Lakes are an excellent gateway for “more advanced” hikes or horse rides into the Granite Chief Wilderness, including Five Lakes Creek, Whiskey Creek, and the upper American River.

Spiny Sierra gooseberry fruit
If you decide to stay in the lakes basin,  there is much to explore between the lakes, boulders and conifers. On the bark of a dead tree trunk, I found “climbing mushrooms” trying to conquer what was left of a once tall tree. The cap density decreases while looking higher up the trunk. The lower, dis-aligned shelves show wrinkled shapes with sulfur-colored edges. I think they are shelf mushrooms, also referred to as bracket fungi.  Any hints or more details on their classification, identification and natural history are welcome! Do bears eat them?

In late summer and fall you may spot some purple-red and spiny gooseberries hanging from branches of low-growing bushes in forest openings. Spiny Sierra gooseberry shrubs grow on sunny, south-facing slopes of the Bear Creek valley; as they do elsewhere such as the gooseberry slope above Donner Lake.
Keywords: Placer County, Granite Chief Wilderness, outdoors, hiking, bear habitat, American black bear, polypore mushrooms, Ribes Roezlii.

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