Northern California’s Trinity Divide is something of a paradox. Few people know the range by name but portions of the range are among the most heavily used alpine areas in the Northstate. Mount Eddy, the Castle Crags and Castle Lake all receive concentrated use. The range also hosts about 37 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Ironically, the trail passes only few hundred feet below the summit of an officially unnamed peak that is unique and notable for several reasons. This peak, dubbed “Many Lakes Mountain”, is the functional hub of the entire Trinity Divide. The Eddy Range, extending to the north, the Southern Divide and the great rib of the Castle Crags protruding to the east all radiate like spokes from the summit of “Many Lakes Mountain”. Perhaps even more noteworthy, a total of 14 named lakes and nearly 10 unnamed ponds divided between three lakes basins are found at the foot of “Many Lakes Mountain”. This is respectable by any standard of measurement but is all the more notable given the relatively low elevation and latitude of the area. Further adding to the attractions of this seldom climbed summit are the spectacular views to be had, perhaps the finest in the Trinity Divide after the all-encompassing summit vista of Mount Eddy. All of these attributes, plus the exceptionally rugged nature of the mountain, the ease of access and the obscurity of the summit make “Many Lakes Mountain” a fantastic, easy adventure in the Mount Shasta area.
The Trinity Divide runs south to north, extending from Red Mountain in the South to China Mountain in the north, a linear distance of about 20 miles. As previously mentioned, the range is broken up into three primary areas, with a fourth, ancillary section covering some semi-independent peaks on the western fringe of the range. All four of these areas converge at “Many Lakes Mountain”. In a fashion befitting a peak at the hub of a mountain range that is defined simply as a “divide”, three major watersheds begin on the flanks of the mountain. Flowing off of the mountains west flank is Mumbo Creek, one of the first significant tributaries of the Trinity River. To the south is Castle Creek, one of the first significant tributaries of the Sacramento River. To the north of “Many Lakes Mountain”, beginning in Upper Cliff Lake, is the South Fork of the Sacramento, the largest of the three forks at the headwaters of California’s longest and largest river system. Each of the watersheds begins in one of the mountain’s three lakes basins.
Despite the central location of “Many Lakes Mountain”, the lakes themselves are the most distinguishing characteristic of the peak. The least of these basins is Mumbo Basin, which is found west of the summit. This basin contains only two (eponymously named Mumbo and Upper Mumbo) lakes. Of the two, Mumbo is the only deep body of water. Both have attractive meadows around them and good views of “Many Lakes Mountain”. To the south of the peak lies the Seven Lakes Basin, the headwaters of Castle Creek. This area is a first rate hiking or backpacking destination and is easily accessed via the PCT. Upper and Lower Seven Lake are deep cliff lined lakes. Helen Lake, the highest in the basin, is situated on the shoulder of nearby Tri-Counties Peak, so called because Shasta, Trinity and Siskiyou Counties all converge on its summit. However, the finest of the lakes in the Seven Lakes Basin is Echo Lake. This is the largest and deepest lake of the seven and is nestled dramatically beneath Boulder Peak, at the foot of a 1,000 foot cliff. Surprisingly, the Seven Lakes Basin is not the most spectacular of the three basins surrounding “Many Lakes Mountain”. That status belongs to the network of lakes clustered around Cliff Lake, the headwaters of the South Fork of the Sacramento. Where the Seven Lakes Basin is an expansive rampart lined bowl, the Cliff Lake Basin is tucked tightly into a small space with its five lakes and numerous tarns situated at the foot of a dramatic, sheer 1,400 foot cliff or tucked precariously onto benches or in cirques high in the cliffs. This is easily the most spectacular side of “Many Lakes Mountain” and, ironically, the least visited.
Even though the lakes may be the most distinguishing characteristic of “Many Lakes Mountain”, the mountain itself does maintain an attractiveness of its own. From both the Seven Lakes Basin and Mumbo Basin, “Many Lakes Mountain” appears to be a large, scree covered dome, nice but hardly impressive. However, the paradigm established throughout so much of the Klamath Mountains is that what appears to be sun baked scree on the south side is a glacially carved, rugged cliff on its northern side. “Many Lakes Mountain” follows this paradigm splendidly. Its northern face is a sheer 1,400 foot cliff with the appropriately named Cliff Lake sparkling at its foot. Beautiful Upper Cliff Lake is tucked tightly into a narrow cirque about halfway between the mountain’s summit and Cliff Lake. This is possibly the most difficult lake to access in the Trinity Divide (all other candidates for this position are difficult due to isolation and bad roads while Upper Cliff is just hard to get to because it is in such vertical terrain). When viewed from the shores of Cliff Lake, “Many Lakes Mountain” really looks like a giant, foreboding alpine summit.
No description of the mountain would be complete without drawing attention to its spectacular views. It is probable that these are second only to Mount Eddy in terms of summit views from peaks in the Trinity Divide. To the north lie the Cliff Lakes and the Eddy Range, topped by Mount Eddy. To the west, the Scott, Russian and Marble Mountains and the Trinity Alps are all visible. To the south lie the Seven Lakes Basin and the mighty Grey Rocks (possibly the most rugged peaks in the Divide outside of the Castle Crags). The southern Cascades and Lassen Peak can be made out in the distance. Finally, to the east, stretches the great rib of the Castle Crags, though the granite spires of the Crags themselves are mostly obscured. “Grey Rock Dome” and “Harry Watkins” are present and the entire view is crowned by magnificent Mount Shasta, famously standing “as lone as God”.
A Note On The Naming Of The Peak
Officially, “Many Lakes Mountain” is unnamed and would be designated UN 7,149. While this is certainly the official method, such a peak seems to deserve a more fitting appellation. Furthermore, so many of the peaks in the Trinity Divide are unofficially named (though many have commonly accepted names, such as “Castle Peak” and “Porcupine Peak”) and it would get quite monotonous if all of the peaks were simply given elevation designations. Several name possibilities were considered. Ultimately, the suggested name was arrived upon because it emphasized the most striking feature of the peak, which is the high concentration of alpine lakes clustered around it. Any other suggestions for names are welcome.
For all of its superlative attributes, “Many Lakes Mountain” is one of the easily climbed summits in the Trinity Divide. Of course, this does not mean that it is frequently climbed, since it is entirely off of the radar except for the few locals who have figured out what the peak has to offer.
The easiest way to reach the summit is to begin hiking at the Gumboot trailhead on the Pacific Crest Trail. From here, hike south for over 1 mile. The PCT along this section constantly switches back and forth between the east and west sides of the crest, consequently offering phenomenal views of the Trinity Alps to the west and Mount Shasta to the east. Two options exist for climbing “Many Lakes Mountain” at this point. First, is after 1.5 miles, simply climb to the top of the crest and follow it to the summit. To accomplish this, one must negotiate a lot of loose scree until solid rock is finally reached at the apex of the crest. Shortly before the final ascent up to the summit there is an outstanding view of Upper Cliff, Cliff and Lower Cliff Lakes along with the canyon of the South Fork of the Sacramento and Mount Shasta. The other option for reaching the summit is to continue on the PCT past the 1.5 mile point to about 1.8 miles. Here the trail passes through a band of trees. From here one can simply climb steeply up through the trees to the summit. This is the most direct route to the top. If one follows the crest to the summit, the band of trees is still a good way to descend.
The peak can also be climbed on its southern face from the PCT above the Seven Lakes Basin. However, this route has more brush and is only practical if one is approaching on the PCT from the Castle Crags. If this is the case, due to the brush, the aforementioned band of trees is still more preferable and is only a little further along the PCT. It also seems as though it is possible to climb the mountain from the Cliff Lakes Basin, but the route would cross a small inholding of private property. The property has a couple of cabins that are at times occupied. When they are unoccupied, it is usually OK to cross the land, but due to legal concerns this route is not recommended.
Excellent campsites can be found in all three of the lakes basins beneath "Many Lakes Mountain". The Seven Lakes Basin is a great backpacking destination. Mumbo and Cliff Lakes have dispersed sites right on the lakes that one can drive up to. The nearest official campground is at Gumboot Lake, below the PCT trailhead. Nearby Castle Lake and Lake Siskiyou have established campgrounds. Great dispersed sites also dot the banks of the South Fork of the Sacramento along the drive up to the trailhead.
Getting ThereFrom the town of Mt. Shasta, head west on W. Lake, crossing over I-5. At the stop sign, turn left onto Old Stage Road. After 0.25 miles, veer right onto WA Barr Road. Continue south, crossing over the dam that impounds the Sacramento River and forms Lake Siskiyou. At the intersection with Castle Lake Road, stay straight. The road becomes Forest Road 26. Follow this road for nearly 12 miles. A signed fork indicates Gumboot Lake is 0.5 miles to the left. Continue to the right, climbing up the cirque that contains the Gumboot Lakes. The PCT Gumboot Trailhead is located at the summit with a good parking lot.
"Many Lakes Mountain" is located in Shasta-Trinity National Forest. However, a small portion containing part of Cliff Lake is privately owned and has cabins on it. Please respect the rights of property owners, especially if they are present, which they are sporadically during the summer months.
A permit is required for campfires.
Shasta-Trinity National Forest
3644 Avtech Parkway
Redding, CA 96002
Mount Shasta Ranger Station
204 West Alma
Mt. Shasta, CA 96067