Hiking the shores of Bass Lake

On a sunny, fall afternoon as I enjoyed lunch with a friend on the patio of Ducey’s Bar and Grill on Bass Lake, it hit me -here was an opportunity for a hike I had never done — following the shoreline of Bass Lake — all possible due to the low water level of the lake because of our drought conditions.

Some Internet research told me that Bass Lake is about 2.5 miles wide, just over four miles in length, with a shoreline of 14 miles around the lake. Due to the drought, I anticipated that shoreline length would be altered allowing for some shortcuts. But what I had not factored in were the additional steps needed to find easy fording of the various small streams and rivulets that feed into the lake.

I met my hiking friends, Betsy Blum and Scarlett Bullock, at Ducey’s on the north shore, It was decided we would start on the east side of the lake hiking toward the dam. That decision was made because we considered the possibility we might find it difficult to cross some of the inlets on the north shore of the lake.

Water slides on docks leading to dry sand served as a reminder of the drought. An abandoned one-person plastic raft, a floating raft wedged in a narrow inlet, and an aluminum boat partially filled with sand were some of our finds.

Empty Dorito bags, numerous flip flops and water shoes, and a passel of empty cans, glass and plastic bottles made us wish we had brought along trash bags to haul out some of the rubbish we found.

We traversed Willow Cove where the Pines Creek feeds into the lake, and later on we hiked to the cove where Salter Creek empties into Bass Lake. Great blue herons, egrets, a sage-grouse, mallards, raccoon and bear tracks, a lone blooming lupine, and fall colors of flame red and brilliant yellows reminded us of the variety of nature supported by this reservoir owned and operated by PG&E.

The lake, officially known as the Crane Valley Reservoir, has a capacity of 45,410 acre-feet of water (an acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover the surface area of one acre to a depth of one foot) of water, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

The level of the water in the reservoir is regulated by the Bureau of Water Reclamation and adjusted seasonally but the general guidelines are that it be lowered each year to 60% of its capacity by Sept. 15, and 50% of its capacity by Nov. 1. Depending upon the various needs for the water from the reservoir, there can be allowances for waivers involving this time frame.

The reservoir held a 23-month high of 35,619 acre-feet of water in May, 2013, and while the monthly average for September is 27,806 acre-feet of water, the reservoir held just 21,984 acre-feet of water in September, 2014.

After climbing over a number of downed trees and around several large boulders, and at other times walking over fine sand, we finally arrived at the dam that underwent a $120 million seismic retrofit from Oct., 2010 to Dec., 2012.

This portion of the hike had taken us about three hours as we had taken time for photographs along the way. Now we decided to head to a path running along the bank and then to hike along Road 222 to make better time. An hour later, we arrived at The Forks Resort where my friends had wisely decided to park a vehicle.

While we did not make it around the entire length of the shoreline of the lake, we did make just under 10 miles. If we had continued along the road to Ducey’s, crossing Slide Creek and the North Fork of Willow Creek, it would have been another four miles but a bit shorter if we had gone to the lakebed.

This great fall hike gave us all a chance to appreciate the natural beauty that is so close and to ponder the diverse usage of the waters flowing into and from Bass Lake whether it be for recreation, fishing and wildlife habitat, power generation, drinking water, flood control, or central valley drinking and agricultural water.