King Spruce Trail #980
ElevationAscent: 814' 248 m
Descent: -100' -31 m
High: 6,363' 1,939 m
Low: 5,580' 1,701 m
GradeAvg Grade: 6% (3°)
Max Grade: 19% (11°)
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“A now abandoned trail that once provided a less steep approach to Alta Lake.”— Bruce Hope
This trail is inside the Sky Lakes Wilderness and the usual federal wilderness area regulations and restrictions apply here; practice Leave No Trace (LNT) backcountry skills and ethics, camp 100 feet from fragile areas, bury human waste at least 200 feet from water, trails, and campsites. This trail is usually closed by snow between November and May.
The original reasons for this trail may have been to access the springs at the head of the Sumpter Creek drainage, as a lower altitude way to reach Alta Lake, or to access King Spruce Camp. Forest Service employees gave it this name in the 1920s due to the large Engelmann spruce tree growing there, said to be one of the largest specimens in this species' westernmost range.
Today, while this trail is not truly impassable (and was not in the footprint of the 2008 Middle Fork Fire), it is definitely no longer being maintained. Lengths of it are overgrown with brush or covered with ravel, and it's an obstacle course of fallen trees the last mile or so to its end at a juncton with the Alta Lake Trail #979. Yet the small cairns perched on trees along its tread attest to it still being used—whether by accident or intention is hard to say.
The King Spruce Trail starts at a signed junction on the Seven Lakes Trail #981 about 0.6 miles up from the Seven Lakes Trailhead. From there, it descends into the Sumpter Creek drainage, then traverses the head of the drainage past several very exuberant springs (which seem to run even in the driest years). The site of the King Spruce is supposed to be in this area but there are no signs and no unusually large trees are evident. Past the springs, the trail turns a forested ridge and starts to climb up a drainage. This drainage holds a thin and stunted forest of hemlock with no ground cover underneath. The trail becomes faint at this point, with fallen trees complicating the route-finding, which is aided somewhat the presence of small rock cairns here and there along the route.
Runners not looking for an "adventure" will find the Seven Lakes Trail #981 and the Alta Lake Trail #979 combination to be a longer, but easier, way to reach Alta Lake.
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Need to Know, Flora & Fauna
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Land Manager: USFS - Rogue River & Siskiyou Nat. Forest Office