I went to Lake Francis in July of 2013, and due to the difficulty of getting there, I probably won’t be back for quite some time. I thought though it would be worth regaling to you the tale of Francis Lake.
It started with a map, a blue dot and a black line on a map to be more precise. I don’t remember where I found it, online somewhere, but it showed that at some point there was a trail to Francis Lake. I was determined to find it.
Searching the internet brought up some clues, very old trip reports or anecdotes regarding the lake, mostly from fishermen. One of them even mentioned the old trail, which really got my hopes up. So, equipped with the essentials, and my fishing pole I set out one July day towards West Fork Miller river.
The old road is long abandoned now, and has largely been converted into a hiking trail. Some years ago it was very rare to see anyone along it’s grade, but in recent years it has gained some popularity with Boulderers, and don’t quote me on this, but I think it’s slated for new trails with the whole Wild Sky Wilderness expansion.
I’ve spent much time up the Miller river over the years searching for abandoned mines or foraging, so I’m very familiar with the area and the various landmarks. I even tried to find Francis Lake once before, ending up in the gully to the NE of it instead. Reaching the area where the map illustrates the position of “Ye olde trail” was no problem, it is more or less at the same area I like to call the “Coney Cut-off”. This area is where Coney creek meets up with the west fork, or a little before it to be precise.
Crossing the creek I found a nice little established camp, and lo and behold, a trail cut through the evil vine maple and bracken that seemed to be going my way! I followed this for a half an hour or better until it became apparent that it went nowhere. I still wonder just who blazed it, and for what purpose. Perhaps another fool trying to get to Francis Lake.
I returned back to the main trail and took a look around, this time deciding to follow the terrain and intuition rather than trying to find the ancient trail. I again crossed the creek, wading through deep, but quite still waters. Upon reaching the other side I started my way up through forest and up the hogback in the approximate position of the trail as illustrated by the map.
At one point I heard a strange buzzing sound, then felt as if my legs were getting warm. Looking down I was shocked to find I was swarmed by little wasps! Shit! I ran, sweeping them off my leg, when I finally felt like they were gone I was surprised to find I only had small welts, with only minor pain. So I carried on.
The route I was taking started to “cliff-out” so I traversed a rather steep slope to try and gain the hillside above the cliffs. It was steep, but thanks to years of cedar branch rock climbing, I was able to best the cliff. I continued to head up through forest and mixed density brush. Soon I began finding semblances of a trail. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
Following the trail was difficult, sometime impossible, but I continued up, eventually running into the outlet stream and paralleling it as best I could, often running into the odd section of trail. After much climbing I encountered a waterfall, I knew I was close. Climbing it, I could tell the lake was getting closer.
It wasn’t long before I was there. I felt pretty damned accomplished, lemme tell ya.
The lake is quite beautiful, tucked into a semi-circle crown of mountain tops. I was also surprised that the lake was much bigger than I expected. Upon emerging from the lake’s outlet I came upon an ancient campsite, the fire pit was overgrown, it was obvious that it hadn’t been used in some time. I dropped my pack off there, and started along the shores, fishing rod in hand.
The lake has a very shallow section, with a slab rock bottom and mud with bleached downed logs and aquatic grasses springing out of the waters. This area is found north of the peninsula shown on the map. Working my way around the peninsula I found the waters grow far deeper to the south of it. Shore access also becomes very restricted the further you go.
It didn’t take long to catch my 5 trout limit, fishing bucktail spinners through the clear mountain water. They were all perfect pan-sized cutthroats, and I was looking forward to my feast that evening when I heard a crack come from the forest near the outlet. I moved to grab my gear and saw a black bear near the shore across from me. “Shit”, I thought. Usually black bear will run from you the moment they see you, but this one didn’t seem to care.
I decided it was in my best interest to find an alternate way back down, rather than close the distance between me and the bear by trying to exit via the lake outlet. I knew the gully to the northeast, as I’d been up it before. I thought I’d see if it could be accessed. Leaving the lake I plowed through chest deep brush in a north easterly direction. It didn’t take long to find the gully, and no, there was no way to get down the massive cliffs and into the rocky stream bed.
I decided to parallel the gully as best I could, hoping perhaps to find a way to descend into it. I still had plenty of daylight, and worst case, I had the gear to spend the night. Most of the way was pretty straightforward, plowing through dense brush, then into semi open forest. There were only a couple precarious cliffs to descend, or to all together avoid. Before I knew it, I was at the base of the gully, and as luck would have it, stumbled upon an old mining camp I’d been searching for some time previous. Score!
My piscean bounty was on my mind again as I made my way to the main trail and back to the old Subaru, and sure enough when I got home I cooked them up and had myself a trout feast.
All in all the trip to Francis Lake was worth it, it was quite an adventure, though I never did find the trail with any certainty. Realistically I probably won’t be back in this lifetime, but who ever really knows.
If you reader decide to embark on a trip up there, feel free to lemme know, I’ll try and help with directions, and hell, if you want, maybe I’ll even tag along. Happy Trails, Harry Biped