Highland Trail to Forni Lake - Almost...

Highland Trail to Forni Lake
Desolation Wilderness
Elevation 7,641
I have been wanting to get gone for a short backpacking trip with my 12 year old son for quite some time. He's not a huge fan, but I thought it would be fun for us to have some quality time away from school and electronics, especially the electronics...
(We have since gone back to Forni Lake. You can see our second post HERE

I wasn't quite sure where we were going to go, even the day before we were to leave I hadn't quite decided. I thought I would see if there were any permits available in Desolation Wilderness and sure enough, there was one, the last one in any area that weekend. It was even near the area where I was thinking of going anyway, but now we can go all the way into Desolation Wilderness.  Yay!

So, off to Forni Lake we go, via the Highland Trail leaving from Van Vleck.

This is accessed from Ice House Road off of Hwy 50 in Pollock Pines. 

From Hwy 50, it's about 23 miles to the first turn.  Turn at the Cheese Camp Sign.

It's 6 miles down a windy, single-lane, roughly paved road.

Then you reach the trailhead to Van Vleck. This turnoff also leads into the Tells Creek Equestrian Campground and the Bassi Creek Loop Trail. That's where you'll find the B17C crash site. Lots of exploring to do from this area.

 This is the road marker if you're referencing a map. 
We parked the car and are ready for our adventure!!

Trailhead selfie!!

First time with a real backpack. He's ready!

We headed through the closed gate and up the gravel road.
For the first two miles, you follow the service road. 

About a mile in, the trailhead to Red Peak Trail is on the right. 

And the Loon Lake Trailhead is off the left
This area used to be a large cattle ranch for the Van Vleck Family. 
An old cattle crossing and gate are still intact.

At about 2 miles, you'll reach the weather station and the Trailhead to the Highland Trail. Yay!

The trail then becomes single track

We crossed through several meadows 

Some parts of the trail were simply marked "trail". 
In case you were wondering what you were walking on...

There were some marshy areas.

And a couple of water crossings... We didn't know we would need this later...

This was a cool split rock. There were a couple of trees growing out of the top of it. 
We didn't know we would later be back here..... to camp.

This was a long hike for my son. The longest he had ever done. 
He had to stop about every 15 minutes to rest. This made for a very long hike in. 
But we were really having a good time talking. 
We talked a lot about plants, flowers, bugs and 
I learned more and more about Pokemon Go! 

We stopped for a lunch break after about an hour. 
Here is our selfie we took using the little tripod I have. 

The trail is in and out of the shade and quite pleasant. 
Although the bees were really buzzing around. 
They seemed to be quite interested in us. 

There are a couple trailhead markers that are very hard to see. 
This one is behind the tree and this is the turnoff to Shadow Lake. 
The Highland trail was very easy to follow up until this point, but the trail now gets rocky and hard to follow in places. Apparently a little too hard to follow...

We soon came to a dead end and followed what looked like a trail, but it must have been a game trail as we were now completely off the trail. We bushwhacked for a while to track back to where we had been. Checking my Garmin, it said we were standing on the trail, but we were not. No trail in sight. Thanks technology... The amount of large animal scat I was seeing around wasn't making this a fun bushwhacking adventure. Had me thinking we were about to run into whatever was leaving those big piles behind. 

But soon enough, we found our way back to the trail and were relieved.

The loop on the end of the map is where we were "off trail". Forni lake is in the top right hand corner. After coming home, I now see there was a turnoff to the right on one map and that the trail continued straight after the shadow lake split on another. No wonder we were off the trail, I can't tell which one it was supposed to be...  More research is needed. 

Then the Bee Sting... As we were going through some bushes, my little guy had a bee crawl into his sock and sting him on the ankle. I thought he was just kidding, over-reacting and being dramatic, but he wasn't. He really did get stung by a bee... He took off his sock and I pulled the stinger out.  Now I'm wondering if he's allergic to bees... 
Thankfully, we found out he is not. 
But Benadryl will be the next thing added to my first aid kit. 
It was now getting late in the day and my son was tired and his ankle from the bee sting was hurting. So...

We decided to forego the journey to the lake and disperse camp somewhere near the trail. 
We were now at about 5.3 miles of hiking. More than he had ever done. 
To lighten our packs we had not packed much water because we thought we would be at the lake and could just pump more. We were now both getting low and we had to
 backtrack even little further to be closer to a stream we crossed coming in.

 He's saying "BOOM!" Here we are!!
Not many people camp in this area, so there are no previous sites. We just had to make one.  We found an area and set up camp by the big split rock from earlier. Totally raw land, had to clear lots of branches, but enough room for our tent, cooking area and a hammock. It wasn't pretty, but would do. Now to go and get water...

 We pumped water from stream. He really enjoyed this. He was very skeptical of the pump, but after I demonstrated that I would even drink water out of the toilet with it, he was pretty much sold. Yep, that happened... MSR Guardian, thank you! 
We were certainly on an adventure...

We pumped 7 liters of water. That should hold us over for a while...

We found a cool rock to play on at camp. 

We made dinner which consisted of my trail fajitas (recipe here)
and a dehydrated spaghetti dinner for my super picky eater. 

Now for some hammock time!

We were both happy with our meals and spent quite a bit of time in the hammock relaxing. 

Cleaned up and then hung the bear bag. These trees are not conducive to hanging things. The branches are not large, but they all curve towards the ground. Hard to find one that would be able to get far enough out from the tree. After a bit of searching we found a spot. Marked the area with some hot pink trail tape and we were back to clean up for the evening.

  Another selfie with the tripod. Just chillin' at camp. 

And my child being a typical boy breaking sticks and... being silly...

Our tiny tent lantern. 

We listened to music in our tent, turned on our tiny lantern and played a bunch of hangman games. This was a pretty fun bit of quality time with the kiddo. He had complained about having to go backpacking, but now that we were here he said several times he was really enjoying it. I guess getting off trail wasn't so bad after all. He was seeing that you can make do and have fun, even when things don't go exactly as planned. 
We played for a while, it was getting chilly and we deployed the hand warmers!! We both got warm and toasty, then the fatigue of a crazy day set in. My tired boy fell asleep around 8pm. I wasn't far behind until...

Stomach pain started. Gallbladder? Stomach ache? I don't know. Working on finding that out... Been having some trouble with this and was now worried that I was setting up a situation where I might be in real trouble and putting my son in a position where he may have to care for me. I got out of the tent to use the facilities and accidentally woke him up. We were now both wide awake and trying to decide what to do. Stay or go? 
We weighed the pros and cons of both and decided that it would probably be best to go. 
In total darkness.
Good thing I've done plenty of Search and Rescue callouts in the middle of the night. Trails and landmarks look completely different in the dark. My son thought that it was all part of the adventure and actually enjoyed this part a lot. We packed up our packs, broke down the tent and headed out to find the bear bag. Easy to find in the daytime? yes. At midnight in total darkness, not so much. But we finally found it and then turned around and couldn't find the trail. Thankfully, my sons internal navigational system was working and he backtracked us right to it. 
Way to go, my navigational rockstar!
We head headlamps, flashlights and solar lights on the back. 
I think you could see us from a mile away! haha

Selfie at midnight 

The hike out was pretty easy. This part of the trail was clearly defined. However, the water crossing proved to be a challenge for my tired kiddo. He stepped completely in the water. It's 45 degrees out and we have 3+ miles to go and now he has a soggy, wet and cold foot. We stopped and took off his wet sock and I ended up giving him one of mine. I now had one bare foot and he had one, fairly dry one. The adventure isn't quite over yet apparently... 
But we were back on the trail heading out. 

We found that at night, there are all kinds of huge bugs that camp out on the trail. Huge grasshoppers, tarantulas, weird worms and other various beetles and creepy crawly things. 

This is a pretty big tarantula. Just didn't want to get too close to it...

Hike out was fast
Drive home took forever...
But we finally got home by 2:30am.

Tired, but so happy we had this adventure together. I'm sure I'll have to go and explore this area a little more to find out exactly where the trail turned so we can follow it again next time. That is, if I can convince my brave child to go out with me again.