“A challenging loop past stunning Big Blue Lake at the north end of the Russian Wilderness.”
— Bruce Hope
Lake · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Wildflowers
This loop is in the Russian 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 road to the trailhead is narrow but paved.
The unique feature of this loop is that Big Blue Lake
is not accessed directly by any established trail. To reach it, you'll have to do some cross-country travel. This is a lot of work but, once you reach the lake, you'll find that it’s an exquisite cobalt blue gem of an alpine lake, set in a rugged granite bowl. This loop can be done as a day run but an overnight (or longer) backpack, with a stay at the lake, would allow you to savor the experience.
Need to Know
To go from Hogan to Big Blue and on over the pass above Big Blue, you must be comfortable proceeding without a trail, proficient in cross-country navigation, and confident scrambling (but no higher than Class 2) on scree, rocks, and loose slopes. There are a few campsites at Neil Lake and at the west end of Big Blue Lake
. You can do this loop in either direction but counter-clockwise is suggested since that makes it easier to find the notch east of Big Blue Lake
This loop starts at the Taylor Lake Trailhead. From there, it's 0.4 miles south on the Taylor Lake Trail to a poorly signed junction with the Hogan Lake Trail. Turn right (southwest) here, pass in front of the rock dam, and continue on good trail up to the ridge above Taylor Creek. Descend on several switchbacks and across some meadows (where the trail may be hard to find when these meadows are filled with summer wildflowers) to Hogan Lake, 3.6 miles from the trailhead.
From the north side of Hogan Lake, trace your way around the lake to the left, staying away from the brush in the drainage near the lake. A short distance up slope, you'll see a drainage (now dry) that rises nearly 1,000 feet to near little Neil Lake on the rim. This is the approximate route. There are faint traces of use trail here and there, with cairns once and awhile, but you're really on your own to pick the best route up for you.
You won't see Neil Lake until the very end of the climb. A more definite use trail starts here and takes you to Big Blue Lake
. The intense blue of the water in this pristine and beautiful lake is enhanced by being set against the light-colored rock walls that surround it. There are a few good campsites at Neil Lake and the west end of Big Blue.
The use trail continues on the level along the north side of the lake and fades near its east end. From the east end of Big Blue, work your way about half way up the slope and then do a rising traverse eastward to the obvious notch in the ridge just south of Point 7654. Do not drift toward the notch west of this point, as that will take you across some really loose terrain and, if you persist, into the wrong drainage.
From the notch, work your way east and down, again choosing a route that works for you, to Upper Albert Lake and a junction with the Upper Albert Lake Trail
. Follow that trail down to the Albert Lake Trail
and that trail to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Go north on the PCT for 2.1 miles to a junction with the upper end of the Taylor Lake Trail in an obvious saddle from where you can see Taylor Lake below to the west. Descend the Taylor Lake Trail as it makes its steep, rocky way down to the shore of Taylor Lake and then continues on an easy grade back to the trailhead.