Tag Archives: Hiking

Backpacking in Ansel Adams Wilderness

My favorite person joined me on this planned 3 night trip which seems now like a lake tour of the area. It was a nice change from going solo. He’s just so easy to be around, effortlessly helpful, always encouraging, up for most anything, of course makes me laugh, and a partner in all decisions. He loved the trip, but isn’t going to go every 2-3 weeks like I do. (-;

I was < 16lb and carried the tent + water + first day food so probably max was still under 18lb. He was about 23lb with all the food in the larger bear can + water so probably 21 on exit since we had another day’s worth we didn’t eat. Don’t at me on the pack weight difference, his old pack is heavy and my new bag is very light and he turned down my other lighter pack.

Day 1

We were dropped off at Agnew Meadow out of Mammoth and started hiking at noon on Wednesday along the mellow River Trail. Stopped for lunch where the drainage from Garnet Lake was tumbling steeply into the rushing Middle Fork San Joaquin River. The paths near here went in and out of pine tree shade and the ground was sprinkled with white, green, grey and very purple rocks – some steps were solid lavender. Neat.


Two videos of the headwaters of Middle Fork San Joaquin River from south approach to Thousand Island Lake. #whyihike #anseladamswilderness

♬ original sound – Terra’s Adventures

After a warm, tiring, but mild climb we were making the final approach to our home for the night, Thousand Island Lake (9800′), and the headwaters of Middle Fork San Joaquin River which was really flowing! Water was abundant and pleasantly loud in the otherwise near silence, save a few birds and, infrequently until this point, a few other hikers. Last year, this area was so unbelievably dry.

After walking around the lake for a bit, Banner Peak dominating the view over the lake, we found a durable place to set up the tent, though infrequent gusts were rather annoying and we added rocks inside the tent for stability. Many chipmunks ran about the rocky hillside being very adorable with wee hands and fast scratches and effortless jumps.

Late at night a helicopter came in and we thought it was a rescue but then it was circling loudly for an hour with a search light. Coupled with a full moon shining in our faces it was a bit of a tough sleep.

~8.5 miles depending on which part of Garmin’s info you believe. 1500′ gain, plus some 400 loss and regain for 1900 overall.


Day 2

We broke camp slowly, snacking and enjoying views of Thousand Island Lake and omnipresent Banner Peak. After walking back out to trail, we headed up Island Pass and down the other side, admiring changing views and nice, full lakes atop the wide pass.

After what seemed like a long decent (it wasn’t, it was just a bit of a slog) we were at 3 miles and dropped our packs for a side trip up to Davis Lakes. The lower one was lovely: opaque teal-green from sediment content and in a sheltered valley with mountains all around. Some tadpoles swam by in the expansive waters while we rested at its grassy shores. Its drainage was also a nice tumble at the end of the meadow and many flowers were about.

We descended and got our packs on our backs and continued on for a bit. There is a network of drainages before Rush Creek and the one from Davis Lake was very nice and we almost camped there, where the trail crossed on two logs to head to Rush Creek Trail and off the PCT, but instead wandered a bit more over two more very sweet creeks, filtering water and enjoying a cooling face wash, before finding a nice, durable spot above the trail with a quick walk for water through a pine forest and small meadow.


Lower, trail-accessible Davis Lake was a lovely opaque teal in a sheltered mountain valley. #whyihike #easternsierra #hiking #sierranevada

♬ original sound – Terra’s Adventures

Rush Creek lived up to its name, here’s just one tiny section. #whyihike #hiking #rushcreek #nature

♬ original sound – Terra’s Adventures

After setting up camp, we filled some day packs with snacks and kept heading north. We got to Rush Creek proper and it lived up to its name: tumbling, falling, rushing past. Those last two weeks of heavy rains really filled the area and it felt wet and lush and green and full of life. We left the PCT again and climbed the Rush Creek drainage to Marie Meadows where the water forms big, gentle pools in a large valley.

We headed up to Marie Lake and it was very steep and nearly a use-trail being so thin and rocky. We took frequent breaks to catch our breaths as we made it over a small pass at 10,900′ and then down to the big, teal lower Marie Lake which was very dramatic, if also sometimes windy. It felt remote and the peaks around were very steep – the falling water from the upper lake roaring nearly straight down across the way. The only clouds of the trip were here, and it was minimal and just added more drama. When the sun shown the lake was so brightly colored. We ate lunch then climbed a small rocky bit to get a view of the full lake before making the decent.


Lower Marie Lake was so colorful and the area so dramatic, worth the steep climb. #whyihike #easternsierras #mountains #placestovisit

♬ original sound – Terra’s Adventures

We stopped in Marie Meadows and took our shoes off to treat our pained feet to the cool water. It was a lovely break where time didn’t matter. The ripples made mesmerizing patterns, the fish darted about, it was green all around, we felt sheltered by the surrounding mountains, the views were astounding. There were more people here (too many, in my estimation) but everyone was in a good mood, lounging in the sun or taking a swim, it was impossible to be irritated. Reluctantly, we left and returned to our camp.


Marie Meadows is basically the headwaters to Rush Creek and there it meanders and pools and tumbles sweetly. #whyihike #mountains #rushcreek

♬ original sound – Terra’s Adventures

Our feet in the cool waters of a Rush Creek pool in Marie Meadow as a reward for the hike to lower Marie Lake, mesmerized by the ripples. #hypnosis

♬ original sound – Terra’s Adventures

We were alone and it was silent outside of a nice rumble of falling water. A deer walked by with a collar (?). Ate a better dinner, slept a bit more. The weather was outstanding, though no night sky due to bright full moon – no Perseids for us. It was a great day with lots seen and done. ~11 miles (Garmin seems to think it was either 10.5 or 11.5, stupid GPS) overall, just over 5 with our packs on, gain and loss of 2000′ at various places, though the overall climb was 1300 from lowest to highest.


Day 3

We had sun early and felt a bit refreshed after a better night’s sleep. I guess the ground is wet from all the prior rains because both nights the tent ground was wet so we packed up most things but left pads and tent to dry in the sun as we brushed our teeth and snacked. We headed back the way we came, heading up Island Pass in reverse and E kept us moving at a good clip with nearly no breather breaks! It was a lovely morning on top and the views were clear as ever – amazing weather! We stopped to venture to the shores of one of the lakes and generally enjoyed everything as we chatted.

The decent to Thousand Island Lake was still a slog to me, despite lovely views. This time I noticed you could see Emerald Lake and thought it was best to stop there, not near the junction where we only paused for a drink. It was a small climb, but the break at the lakes shores was very nice. It was a peaceful, quiet place with ducks diving and fuzz off some plant floating by.

Another small climb and down and we were at Ruby Lake (btw, on-trail I got the names of the two mixed up, weird considering I had a map). This lake was very dramatic: a bit more jewel colored, its western shore went right up to steep mountains, nearly sheer, so no hiking around this body of water. We took another break in a shady spot and E filtered water.


We liked Emerald Lake. It was a gentle place for a break and we watched ducks diving. #whyihike #trailtreasures #thegreatoutdoors #sierranevada

♬ original sound – Terra’s Adventures

Ruby Lake was very dramatic with western shore right up to steep mountains. #whyihike #easternsierra #placestovisit #hiking

♬ original sound – Terra’s Adventures

The climb was more than I expected to get to Garnet Lake, and the decent was long, too, but I still thought it was far to early and in the day and too low mileage to stop here for the night. Instead, we continued to walk the north shore eastward, enjoying the great views, until we got to the outlet footbridge. There we stopped a long while, removed our shoes to enjoy a cooling foot bath, filtered water, and took in the sights. Banner Peak is still prominent west and E was a bit confused as to what lake we were looking at at first, being so alike to Thousand Island.


Garnet Lake from the east-most shore where there is a footbridge over the outlet. #mountains #hiking #nature #whyihike #thegreatoutdoors

♬ original sound – Terra’s Adventures

The hike out of Garnet Lake was way more than I expected, again, and I reminded myself I wanted the 24k map as the 100k just wasn’t helping. It was short, though, so I’m just complaining. It was the way down the other side that really was taxing: it was so dry, where the rest of the trip had been wet, and in the sun, and it felt like ages to get down. The upper trail was rocky and unstable, the rest dusty, and not many views through a pine forest. Finally, we made it down and to the junction and the most excellent Shadow Creek which is a turquoise opaque color and tumbles and falls in a really beautiful place. We ate a snack by the shores of the creek and discussed if we should stay or leave.

E agreed with what I usually also decide: sure, the mileage would be long, but we had all day and it would be nicer to eat hydrated food and sleep somewhere comfortable than stay the night. We headed out with the goal of existing Agnew Meadow in time to catch the bus. Shadow Creek provided joy for the next mile, as did stunning Shadow Lake. I needed a foot break at the waterfall outlet, then we pushed downhill in the sun, noticing more lavender rocks.


Shadow Creek was so dang lovely, opaque jewel toned and tumbling and falling in a stunning area. #whyihike #trailtreasure #mountains #placestovisit

♬ original sound – Terra’s Adventures

At the bottom, back at Middle Fork San Joaquin River, I was really feeling the heat. Another small break for me and this would continue all the way out. We thought it wouldn’t be so much further, but it was three more miles and it goes to show we were so innocent and happy at the start. I wasn’t amused for views anymore on an exposed trail that went up at the end – I was overheated and rather grumpy on that 400′ gain trek. More small breaks for drinks and foot rest here and there, and finally the meadow was in view – just a bit more to exit, walk up the road, and wait for the bus.

The birds were meeping in the pine trees, the road and meadow lined with yellow and purple flowers, I sat in the street and we waited to board a bus to Mammoth. We walked a long way to our car then drove to Bishop and stayed the night at a Motel 6. We had a big pasta dinner with soda and it tasted great. We slept better. We had a nice breakfast. We drove home with breaks for junk food. I thoroughly enjoyed having company on this adventure! ❤

Garmin says it was either 14.27 or 13 miles, I don’t know why the map and elevation chart conflict and I’m getting rather annoyed with it, but I’m inclined to believe the latter despite that meaning I was slower. 1700′ ascent and 3000′ decent for just 2200′ difference in highest to lowest – a lot of ups and downs!


Running from the weather: Rae Lakes and more

I finally made it to Rae Lakes this year, after a wind event halted my hike there via Baxter Pass a few weeks ago. My goal was to enjoy Sixty Lake Basin, which I absolutely did, and I had varying weather to the point of confusion but overall it was sunny and warm.

I am going to post the semi-wonky Garmin GPS links for each day before I describe it. I am having issues where charts show different distances that the main stats and I’m not sure either are correct. But, it’s not a race so ballpark is fine, if annoying.

My starting pack weight was under 21 pounds (20.8 when measured then I added a cord and maybe something else) and that included a liter of water and snacks plus dehydrated meals for 3 days and nights.

Packed gear list:

  • ZPacks Arc Air ROBIC 60L Backpack
  • Bare Boxer bear can
  • Optimus cup / pot (it has a spout, so required for pouring water), extending spoon, and Crux Lite stove with a small MSR fuel can and cheap lighter
  • Smart Water bottle
  • 1/2 liter HydraPak bottle with Sawyer Squeeze attached for filtering water
  • Garmin GPS handheld 66i
  • Ricoh GRIIIX camera attached to backpack straps with Peak Design Capture 3.0
  • Anker 10k battery and a couple of small cords
  • Outdoor Research Dry Isolation Pack for day hikes and holding stuff in the big pack
  • The most excellent Warbonnet hammock with underquilt and Black Diamond LiteWire carabineers I keep attached for a fast hang
  • Kammock tarp (with the 4 stakes it came with +2 Nemo Air Pins) and their very light hammock straps
  • Western Mountaineering UltraLite (down, +30F) bag and a silk liner
  • Sea to Summit Aeros Premium pillow, with cover and some foam bits added from my home pillow filler
  • The Duece trowel I never seem to use
  • Tiny first aid kit and emergency blanket
  • BioLite headlamp

This gets me to about 13 pounds before adding water (2.2lb) and excellent dehydrated dinners by Next Mile Meals plus various bars and nut things for snacks and lunches I never seem to eat. I came out with about 75% of the food I went in with. I also start with cheese, muesli bread rounds, and a boiled egg for ‘real’ food the first day. I should have brought an apple, too – a fruit I only really like while hiking in warm weather. I also add 1 set of backup socks (Darn Tough), underwear (ExOfficio give-and-go), and bra (Icebreaker), plus my travel toothbrush, small toothpaste, some dental floss, a small cloth from REI, and not a few zip baggies for snacks and trash.

I get a some shocked responses to the lightweight of my pack, but I also wonder what everyone else is bringing. My other overnight pack is a Granite Gear Blaze 60 and that adds nearly 1.5lb so I am able to push to 24lb pretty easy using that one and some more clothes or wet food, and winter adds a few things where I end up near 28lb. I wouldn’t use the ZPack for more than what I was carrying this trip, since it’s not very stable, but I often wonder what y’all are bringing that weighs so much? It has to be said that I’m still passed up on the trail a lot – even day hiking I have heavy packs walk past me. I don’t know how people walk so fast: I’m 1.6 – 2.2 mph depending on elevation gain and how hot it is.

Forgotten and sorely misses was a Kula Cloth (for the pee-pees) so I used some of my facial tissue (and into a trash bag) until I ran out. I also forgot a pocket knife, but, luckily, never needed it. I felt a bit naked without both, though. I also forgot sandals to let my feet breathe on the return to the car later, which was sad. So my typical ‘3 things I forgot’ list wasn’t as severe as when I forgot a fuel can, but it was still sad.

Day 1 – Onion Valley to Rae Lakes

GPS: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/9310804389

Since I drove over four hours in the morning to get to Onion Valley, I started the day a bit late and it was, as is typical for east-facing trails with little shade, very, very, too much hot. (-; It was lovely and started out uneventful with clear mountains (no fire smoke) and monsoonal clouds sticking behind the mountains. There were a lot of trail rumors of a bear, when I mentioned it others said ‘word travels fast’ and we giggled. I did see the creature, fairly good sized, as I turned around the meadow before heading to Heart Lake. It was headed downhill and wasn’t interested in my clapping hands (I was along for a stretch). I heard whistles after that – many people were breaking and snacking down there above Flower Lake. I wondered if the bear was off to harass the parking lot and find a car that didn’t move food into a box or if it had other plans.

Switchbacks, exposed rocky paths, mountain and lake views, then up and over familiar Kearsarge Pass, a small snack, then down the switchbacks on the other side. I was repeating the recent day hike to Glen Pass and back, but today I’d go over it and stay the night at new-to-me Rae Lakes. It seems the year of Onion Valley to me and it’s comfortably familiar now.

I paused to watch a pika run to the only waterway running on this side to grab what I thought was a lot of grass for its small mouth, run back to the rocks and pull them in backwards. This amused me for a long while but I needed to keep moving, I guess, so kept going west There weren’t any more PCT through-hikers, but some section and loop hikers were about – the rest were like me: short excursions.

The mountain views were as astounding as ever, but no more snow was visible. Somewhere away southwest it was raining and dark clouds threatened here and there but seemed distant for the moment. It was warm climbing up past Charlotte Lake and the few lakes left in the places below Glen Pass. Mostly it was drying out and, since my prior visit, the creeks had ceased to run. It felt very difficult to have any place to filter water the entire day, a sentiment echoed by another hiker during a quick chat.

Glen Pass, the more-ridge-than-pass, loomed above as did some clouds at 6:30 and 7.75mi in for the day thus far. It didn’t seem like a storm was imminent but I knew I was pushing it with the weather being it was so late in the afternoon (about 4:10pm). I just wanted to get to Rae Lakes proper for the night. A couple tents were on the lake’s southern shore and one waved me over indicating they didn’t mind if I stayed with them, or maybe it was something else. I suspect they didn’t think it was a good idea to go over the pass in any case, and a guy came down in a hurry asking where was the closest place he could stay the night. I’m not very risk adverse in these situations, so the rain that started to fall that wasn’t strong enough to warrant putting on a coat didn’t bother me. I did quicken my steps, but it seemed like the clouds were moving a bit west and seemed to be passing: some blue skies ahead to match all that had been behind…

So I crested and realized I wasn’t in danger, exactly, but a big storm was pushing fast towards where I was. It was over Sixty Lakes Basin and it was clearly raining there. I didn’t pause on top very long, just enough to take in the views and snap a few photos, then I tried to make my way down the rocky switchbacks fast. Not fast enough. Very soon the cloud was above me and the rain had stopped, like a calmness – a breathe – then the crack of thunder. Several cracks, getting louder and closer all the time until one felt overhead and the hail started. The wide expanse of granite below was looking very exposed and the lakes that dot the place were rough as the little balls of ice also landed on their surface. Jacket on. In fact, tarp over my pack and shoulders. It’s so difficult to walk on rocks. I didn’t see any ground strikes, but they can happen 10 miles away and I was in it. Yikes!

I did have to cross that expanse in the thunderstorm, so you’ll understand if I was moving fast and ducking a bit as I felt like the tallest thing out there: a target. 😳 Then it just stopped, it had passed, and it was very calm: back to a nice summer day! I stopped to filter water that was coming out of the ground – delicious spring that was probably pristine on its own. Some hail was un-melted in the corner of a step of reddish rock. The creeks were running very sweetly, lined with green and flowers. Now pine trees were about and I felt safe, if very foot-sore. I thought about staying up here, away from the crowds, but wanted to be lower and more sheltered.

It felt like a long time, though, descending to the lakes. The sight was lovely though: I didn’t think much of Rae Lakes from atop Glen Pass, but they are apparently best viewed lower down. Across the PCT a bit and I found a spot to hang for the night between upper and middle lakes as the light started to fade. It was near 7pm and I was pooped so I just snacked and passed out.

Day 2 – Rae Lakes to Sixty Lake Basin

GPS: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/9310804406


First lake via trail way to 60 Lakes Basin was so calm in the morning. #whyihike #reflection #hiking #easternsierra #california

♬ original sound – Terra’s Adventures

I was up before the sun officially was. The lakes were calm and I took a couple photos then started the trail up over the pass then down to Sixty Lakes Basin. I wanted to have a full day before afternoon storms rolled in and be hiking up in the cool morning without the sun beating down on me. It didn’t seem like many other people were up before 6am. Nice. Birds were having a fun little time darting about the flowers and brush and I stopped to watch them. They seems to be rather irritated I was on the trail and kept moving up and I kept coming upon them again: repeat.

There was a calm lake and before the final incline and I stopped on the far side, just below where the sun was now at, to take a break for some water and general enjoyment. Butterflies, hummingbird, critters, bees, the mountains reflecting in the water’s surface: nice.

A few more steps and I was over a mild pass and started the descent into Sixty Lakes Basin. The far southern end I didn’t visit, but it held a large lake and high peaks. If not for the previous evening’s storm, I was going to visit via cross-country path over a pass on that side. The trail kept losing elevation and eventually skirted near one of many lakes. The entire basin is just lovely with quiet bodies of water between gentle outflows. There is much more to see off-trail when looking at maps than I saw on this visit. Sometimes I’d jump up some large rock pile to get a better view and could see strips of other lakes – it was just lovely. It was also very quiet and I only saw or heard a couple people my entire trek north.

Admiring lakes near and far, staring at peaks, and breathing the fresh air went on for a long while. My only haste was a concern for late afternoon weather but I wanted to savor the moment. Tiny side ponds were filled with grass. Larger lakes pour into one another with a small waterfall. I stopped down near where the official trail ends at a water crossing and ate a snack in the silence at the green shores watching the sun glint in the surface. I debated where to go. I both wanted to go further north and knew the easiest loop out was a semi-frequented pass to Arrowhead Lake. I decided on the hard way. In fact, I think I choose the hardest way…


Sixty Lake Basin isn’t kidding and the north end was cherry on top. #whyihike #sierranevada #mountains #nature #beautifulview

♬ original sound – Terra’s Adventures

But first, the grassy, marshy, rocky no-trail hike north to what turned out to be a wonderfully larger lake dotted with rock islands under beautiful mountains and one side very much looking like an infinity pool. Then I went rogue and slid down a dry, steep watershed. I never regretted not having a helmet or rope, but it was slow going. I sat and put my hand on a sadly abundant plant with spines as I picked my way carefully down, trying not to cause some mini avalanche. Eventually I was “down” but needed to find my way back east and onto the PCT again. It wasn’t what I was expecting on my GPS map, the danger of map reading and best guesses especially with a 100k map, but I managed to not get cliffed out.

Instead, I saw a lake down below and it’s long, green valley housed a small creek. As I turned south to find a way to Dollar Lake the creek became a nice tumbling waterfall. I wasn’t sure of the best way to get up it, but when I got close it was easy. The east was rather sheer rock and pine trees, the west was a tumble of boulders, the middle was lush and flower-filled. I filtered water halfway up, it was pretty tasty if not totally cold, and paused to enjoy the lovely place.

Above the falls, I followed the water for a bit but realized I had to find my way up and over the hill east so found a crossing and just walked straight up. Again, a 100k GPS map isn’t terribly helpful in these situations – increments of 100ft elevation don’t help cross-country planning as it could mean 90ft climbs are invisible. Just have to play it by sight and hope for the best. After a couple scrambles I was on top and cut northeast to catch the PCT just south of Dollar Lake. I walked north a bit for a view, then headed south and back to camp.

I thought Arrowhead Lake was very lovely, but most of the trail was exposed and a bit of a slog here. Fin Dome really stood out the entire time – weird poke of smooth granite compared to all the rocky mountains around. As I got closer there were several watersheds wet and filterable basically all around the path near the ranger station. Eventually, a bit tired and behind schedule due to slow pathfinding earlier, I got to Rae Lakes and the junction to get back to camp. I paused there and rested my feet while looking out over a meadow and the beach-like northern shores of the upper lake beneath the red and black peaks and debated what I was up for.

Another backpacker walked into the meadow to a side inlet creek and started filtering. A very small marmot darted about. I decided I had enough gas to make it up to Dragon Lake. I joined the other hiker and filtered water – it was clean and cool and the area was peaceful there. Other critters were about and lived there a long time if the amount of poo was any indication. It did look like a great place to live!

The trail up to Dragon Lake didn’t seem like something that was built – more of a consensus on how to make it directly uphill. The bottom was the most difficult because people walked all over and it caused confusion, but there were markers and with a patient eye it was easy to figure the common way to go. It did go straight up, absolutely no nonsense, a calf burner. But it was short and after cresting it was a short walk on varied terrain to the lake. The winds were a bit stronger here and the clouds started to look threatening, so I didn’t pause very long. The water was lovely and the peaks dramatic – Dragon Peak seemed immense, a few passes were obvious. Interesting place and worth the visit.

As steep as it was, it was a pretty easy downhill – just a few spots to be careful with. In short order I was back in camp. I had a snack and then the rain started. It wasn’t terribly heavy, but it did last a long while. No thunder, just cuddled in my hammock listening to the sound of rain on my fly and the ground and the lakes. I napped until it stopped. It was sunny again and things dried off quickly.

The chatter was about unpredictable weather and not knowing what to wear. Someone’s sleeping pad was very noisy with every movement. Nearby a mountain climb was being planned but someone wasn’t feeling great. Views, dinner, generally enjoying the time, sunset, sleep.

Day 3 – Rae Lakes to Onion Valley

GPS: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/9310804419

Not too much to report except I didn’t stay the third night. This is pretty typical: if I am within 12 miles or so of an exit and I did all the day hikes I wanted already I just can’t bring myself to hang out all day I just feel like I can hike while there’s daylight and would rather have a nice, hydrated meal. Getting up Glen Pass from the north was rough for me. Two other backpackers, women, passed me and another, a man, nearly did. I felt so slow and took so many breaks and it felt so very long. The views were lovely and I was very glad I started early and did this trek in the shade.

Happy to crest I didn’t rest and came down the other side’s steep switchbacks quickly. Paused at the lake to filter water and spoke to the women who passed me earlier for a bit. We were headed the same way and I’d see them several times: they were faster but took longer breaks. The views over Charlotte lake and the weird granite slope that serves as the entrance to Kings Canyon from there were nice as ever.

I didn’t break at the PCT junction. I waited another mile or so for a spot to sit looking at the lovely opening full of mountains to the south. The wind suddenly picked up and annoyingly chilled me but I forced myself to sit for 15 minutes by looking at my watch, snacking and drinking and looking out over beautiful Bullfrog Lake.

It felt so long to get back up to Kearsarge Pass, but I do like this stretch of trail, colloquially referred to as The High Road but it’s just Kearsarge Pass Trail. The terrain changes a lot and the views are always nice – mountains south, mountains west, lakes below.

I was walking pretty fast for me until the switchbacks, then it seemed like people came out of nowhere and started passing me. I sometimes cannot believe how fast people with really big packs are walking – I’m never much more than 2mph no matter how hard I try. I made an SOS joke to someone coming down and we giggled. Then I was up and over and cruising down the other side.

The paths are very rocky and my feet were complaining. I waited a few switchbacks until reaching the nice, pine tree shaded spot overlooking Heart Lake. Then I plopped down, dropped pack, and ate lunch. I watched the poofy white clouds roll by quickly, changing shape as they went west. Actually, I watched too long and freaked myself out, haha. I changed my focus to the lake and the shadows of the clouds on the steep mountain peaks. People passing up and down all paused to see the view – it was a lovely spot.

The rest is standard and familiar: rocks and switchbacks, dirt and trees, lakes and creeks. It was very hot near the end and the soil is dark and my feet were mad. A kid with some parents on a day hike cried and I shared the sentiment. Shortly after I had my typical breakdown during my exit-early day where I felt overheated and nearly cried on a rock in some precious shade. I will-powered myself back on my feet and pushed down the trail. I enjoyed the flowers and waterfalls and was very happy to exit. It’s “only” a 12 mile day, but it felt every bit like 16. Up and down two passes was more difficult today than 2 days prior for the exact same hike but it was truly a great trip. Now for the drive home…

Day 5: No Hiking, Just A Giant Pancake

Instead of the hike out from a campsite near Baxter Pass per my original backpacking plans, I had been having the absolute best time day hiking. After a rough night trying to sleep in the car in Alabama Hills I knew what I needed. I needed Doug at the Whitney Portal Store to cook me a great breakfast.

I was at portal pretty early. The drive up was lovely with clear views over the burn area into the Meysan drainage and of Mt. Whitney towering above before the winding road. The parking lots were fairly crowded but it was near empty of people: Whitney hikers were long gone and the campsites were barely showing signs of waking up.

I walked around enjoying the waterfall and cool morning air as the sun began to warm the quiet place. I had a long conversation with a man that had quit the PCT near mile 500 because it felt like a chore and was instead doing something I agreed was much more fun: driving all over the state hiking the places he wanted to visit and the sections he’d been looking forward to. He’d already taken the year off work and was spending the rest having a great time roaming. I was jealous! We talked about having nothing left to prove and just wanting to enjoy time in the mountains. He’d certainly knocked off some more technical stuff than I: the AT through hike, summit of Denali, a bunch of other crazy stories. We talked gear for a bit then I took my leave because food time!

The eggs were perfect, the bacon was yummy, and the pancake was too big as ever and I wasted the vast majority of it, much to the dismay of the blue jays that harassed me and the other group (who were about to head up to overnight before a summit, they had infectious high spirits). Now well fed after a few wonderful days hiking the eastern Sierra Nevada, it was time to head home and get a hug from my partner and sleep in a comfy bed and, for goodness sake, take a shower.

Alabama Hills looks nice in the morning light.
I added Tapatio to the eggs and lots of butter to the giant pancake (which is also over an inch thick – it’s impossible) and bathed in the warm sun under trees by a running creek.


The days of debating were over: I decided I was going to day hike to a view of Rae Lakes, where I was supposed to be backpacking if the first two days weren’t horribly windy, if it killed me. The shortest, and I think easiest, way there is out of Onion Valley, where I had debated a shorter overnight trip Saturday evening before bailing due to winds again before bailing and heading up to Bishop Creek instead. Based on the prior day’s hike, which was also mild elevation gain, I wasn’t sure if I could make it down to the lakes and have daylight on the way back nor that I wanted to do 24 miles in a day and included coming back up Glen Pass from that side. I set my sights on just getting atop Glen Pass for the views, settling on just under 20 miles.

The first 4.4 miles up to Kearsarge Pass are so familiar as to nearly be boring – except it’s always stunning. I had woken up very, very early as birds were pretty loud at the first hint of sun. I cuddled in my bag in the cold, again, but wanted to have all the advantages summer daylight hours provided so sucked it up and finally got moving at 6:40am. Facing east, the first switchbacks were in the sun and I dropped my outer puffy at Little Pothole Lake just 1.5 miles in. I like this body of water, often passed up by hikers: the steep surrounding mountains includes up to 3 waterfalls (more like tall drainage tumbles) feeding the bowl. It’s green and a nice mix of sweetness and gentle times under rocky and brutal looking mountains.

Little Pothole Lake

At the pass is where I learned there were Dutch stories and a German documentary on the PCT which explained the unusually high percentage of them through-hiking this year. I had driven a sweet German couple up here a day and a half ago but we had just talked trail stuffs and I completely neglected to inquire why they decided to travel here for this. I left quickly worried for time, but was happy thus far. The new insoles I’d bought the night before were really making a difference: my feet felt way better!

5 miles in I stayed on the high road, officially still the Kearsarge Pass Trail, and enjoyed the stunning views of lakes and mountains all around. I’d been here last winter when all the lakes were frozen, but melting and making loud PING sounds. It is always nice to revisit a familiar place in a different season. Another 2.2 miles and I was at a junction: down to meet the PCT and head south, which I had done in winter a bit, or west to Charlotte Lake, or straight which was new to me! Woo-hoo! A bit later is the second cut off, the official PCT, and I was at 7.5 miles and 3:50 in.

Views south over Bullfrog Lake are astounding – so many mountains and valleys between to visit!

Actually, despite amazing views above Charlotte Lake and into Kings Canyon, the path is exposed in a sparse pine forest on a sandy, dry mountainside. Some pauses to catch my break and a snack and water break halfway – supposedly the mild climb is 0.9 miles but it felt 3x that both directions. Once up to a pass of lakes and very steep rocky mountains all around, it was supposedly less than 3 miles all the way over and down to Rae Lakes but the effort felt twice that. It’s not even terribly steep – maybe a sunny, dry day and long miles were taking a toll.

All along the trail, especially as the day worn on, I was surrounded by through-hikers and had many chats or, at least, hellos and well-wishing. I walked past little melt lakes that were shallow in the sand and filled with rocks which strongly reminded me of an early scene in Return to Oz where Dorothy and the chicken watched the river they thought they were on dry into the Deadly Desert and had to stay on the rocks to exit to safety.

It was maybe 1.2 miles all said to the top of the pass – a ridiculous fact that doesn’t match up with perception in the slightest. On the way I passed a melt lake of incredible blue that was mostly frozen and a PCTer from Alabama who’d never seen a frozen lake before (look, he should have by now but it’s a warm, dry year) and he had tried to walk on it but it was thin and he was drying his shoe now. It was very warm and there was a little bit of water draining and filterable from the upper lake so a few pairs of hikers were resting and enjoying the day with each other after various switchbacks near it.

The upper lake is very lovely and it was certainly nicer to look at then whatever the hell Glen Pass is. If you want the surprise, as a hiker on top reminded is nice to have hiking, stop reading. I have never seen a pass like this before. I immediately starting thinking “Glen Not-A-Pass” and looked around wondering why the trail went that way as it seemed crazy. Kearsarge is a classic pass. Others are almost like wide saddles. The Mono Pass I was on out of rock creek you’d call a ‘pass’ without thinking about it – it passed between two steeps mountains. Not Glen. No. This “pass” was a ridge, and not even the lowest or most accessible point in view. WTH? Actually, on a topo map it does look basic and a bit of a dent in the ridge – once again, a map that just does reality no justice to the place. Once up there, though, it made sense why some of the other paths couldn’t be taken, but this was really something and I have to imagine rockslides destroy the trail on both sides from time to time. I had some excellent conversations on top with a fun, talkative man that was waiting for the Alabama man mentioned earlier plus another couple.

Please, Glen is not a pass it’s just a thin, black, rocky ridgeline – a lake bowl of scree that I guess was easier than the rest of it but still seemed a bit crazy.
The views north from atop Glen Pass over Rae Lakes were astounding. The Sierra Nevada seems to go on forever and the long miles paid off on a day with excellent weather.

The return trip followed the exact same path but it was all lovely and new again with the different position of the sun in the afternoon. There were much more PCTers around, borderline crowded, as I came down and many didn’t speak and seemed grumpy with full packs and feeling the afternoon heat. I ate half a sandwich (the joys of day hiking include real, bulky food) back at the junction, chatted about fire damage on a long stretch of trail up north, then headed back for the 7.5 mile return.

After some rest breaks, I made it back over Kearsarge Pass and didn’t stop in the slightest. I walked down the long, exposed stretch and waited until quite a few switchbacks down the other side before a break to eat the rest of my sandwich with a lovely view of Heart Lake. Actually, I had stopped earlier and an overnighter reminded me the view of the lake was so good further down and she was correct. I remembered I had brought Reese’s Pieces and enjoyed those a bit as I drank the last of my filtered water. Time to get moving and finish the day up! Between the non-visible Flower Lake and Gilbert Lake there is a tumbling, shaded drainage and I grabbed some water and some mosquitos found me, though they were not yet biting much.

There were still some late arrivals heading back onto the PCT nearly the entire way, and a few coming down late. When I got to the last slog of switchbacks where you can see your car but still have to lose a lot of elevation to get there, I was just pushing through as best I could and noticing when I was just plodding and pushed myself a bit to move. There was a treasure, though! I heard a grouse (males make a sound like blowing on the top of a bottle) and it seemed close. I never see these dang birds, that finally changed. Around a corner, there he was! He paused and considered me, then made quite the show. A few more deep blowy sounds, puffed out his cheek things to show the yellow behind, flared his tail feathers and did a slow spin: it was all very dramatic and I could have watched longer but I was ready to be done, haha. I whispered a ‘thanks and good luck with the ladies’ and continued.

It felt good to finally be off the trail. It was a 20 mile day but I was happy with the time and my speed: less than 12 hours out which is nearly the same as the prior day’s less mileage hike. The trailhead is about 9,200′ and the highest I got was just below 12k atop Glen Pass, but coming up and down both led to a day’s gain of 5300′ overall. I was also happy that I felt so good. Health is a great commodity and being able to do this long hikes is deeply appreciated by me. Chats at the parking lot as I grab my stuff out of a bear box. Bathroom breaks and beverages, stretches and packing up. It was end of day and it was time to find dinner a place to stay the night before heading home the next day.

Day 3: Finally I hike out of Lake Sabrina

I drove down from Rock Creek thinking I might still use my overnight permit to get to where I wanted (Rae Lakes and Sixty Lake Basin) so I headed south and thought to stay the night at Onion Valley. I got a sub sandwich for dinner and picked up two PCT through-hikers on the way up. They were from Germany and we chatted about trail stuff like food and their heavy, newly-loaded packs, and their hike thus far. Later I was told that there were a lot of Germans on the trail this year due to a documentary a countryman made, and there were a good amount of Dutch due to a book or something.

It was still windy. Really bad and not just gusts – the area was still in the grip of high, loud, sustained winds and here it was very cold. I ate food and started thinking about the next day’s hike. The forecast for wind was supposed to clear up, and I think it did, but I didn’t see it because I decided to leave. I drove back north and decided on another day hike I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time but haven’t had the chance.

I’ve hiked all around the absolutely stunning Bishop Creek area and never been disappointed, but have been shut out of the middle ground, Lake Sabrina, for a long time. My first try, years ago, there was too much snow for my comfort and experience level at that time so I had turned around. Next couple times I just never made it early in the morning enough for the lack of parking and found it ridiculously crowded – typical for summer and colorful autumn. This time was a success! I was so excited to be at the trail head a bit after sunrise, though I sat in my car cuddled in my sleeping bag while I awaiting for the sun to make its way over the high ranges on either side of the valley to warm the temps above 30F – yeah, it was cold overnight!

Since I had a long day planned, I finally got myself moving, all bundled up, at 7:40am. I dropped my trash bag and small food bag and tiny cooler off in the bear box and started moving on the trail which first heads south around the east side of the dammed Lake Sabrina which was lovely in the morning light. Some boats were just starting to head out for a day of fishing.

Just before 3 miles, which felt longer both in and out, I was at Blue Lake at long last! It is a lovely location at 10,400′ elevation surrounded by dramatically jagged ridges high above and the lake is worth a visit as it’s a pretty one. It does have the most people, day hikers and backpackers, but it’s a big place and a long western shore to search for solitude. After one area of steeper switchbacks climbing from Sabrina to Blue to gain 1,400′ everything else on the trail is very mild. Between tall mountains it’s a winding kind of basin with lots of lakes hidden around corners of granite slabs so it’s less a climb now and more just walking to get to whatever lake strikes your fancy.

I was going to the furthest on the established trail: Hungry Packer Lake. It was very large and dramatic with Picture Peak behind absolutely dominating the scene, but when I arrived what really floored me was the drainage basin below it. The series of waterways coming out of two lakes tumbles and falls down granite slabs into green and flower-lined creeks and fills a bunch of pools. This looks absolutely regular on the map, labeled Sailor Lakes, but it was a special place.

There are places on this Earth where the air is thin and it seems that another world bleeds into this one. I turned a corner and found myself walking into one of these wonderous breakthroughs and realized I was being given a rare gift: a mortal entering a slice of Valhalla. I stopped and cried and barely kept myself from falling to my knees.

The absolute magic of the place was healing. Did my feet still hurt? Was I tired any more? Where my knees still complaining? I tell you it all melted away. I hopped over boulder fields for fun and didn’t feel my fingers get raw on the rough granite (they did peel 2 days later). I nearly skipped up large slabs for a better view of things. I followed some use path up a bit too far before coming back down and adoring the teal color of Moonlight Lake during a small lunch break at its shores, thinking an inflatable kayak would be useful to get to that island around the corner. I nearly ran down large rocks to get up close to Moonlight Falls and admired the ice sculptures from it’s light spray. I paused at gentle waterways and turned in circles above small, flower-filled fields to take it in from all angles. I have looked at pictures and it is lovely but maybe it was more the feel of the area, something in the air, something intangible.


This basin of waterfalls, winding water ways, lakes, and peaks was like walking into Valhalla. Also Hungry Packer Lake. #hiking #sierranevada

♬ original sound – Terra’s Adventures

It was sometimes cold in the wind, but otherwise warm in the sun, though I was still wearing all my layers. There were mosquitos in the boulder fields, but they seemed new and non-biting and stayed out of the breezy open places. It was difficult to leave, but I eventually did. I paused for a better view lovely, jewel-colored Topsy Turvy Lake on the return. I was still feeling rejuvenated so added a mile to head up to Midnight Lake. That turned out to be just okay, and I think some people there were not my favorite and it was a long day (over 9 miles) so I left quickly, but the way up is in the drainage and it is sweet and peaceful and has a small waterfall.

Looking at a map does the place no justice at all. You just can’t know until you’re there. #whyihike
Mountains and waterfalls and tumbling creeks and lakes nestled all around. <3

The rest of the way felt a bit like a slog, being so level, but I wasn’t up for other side trips: I was tired and couldn’t imagine any place being nicer. The last 3 miles down from now empty and quite Blue Lake were not my favorite despite still being lovely. I was done! Tumbling creeks to cross, long, dusty paths to walk, flowers to admire, views of the dam and down across the high desert and across to the White Mountains now lit nicely in late afternoon light… still, tired and anxious to be done for the day now.

I was outside for 11 hours and 30 minutes, but the ~14.6 miles (that felt like 17) had a moving time of about 7:40 to get only 2,000 ft gain – that is a lot of breaks for me. Maybe time in that lovely place stopped having meaning. It’s happened in a few precious places and they are all fond memories. Other than health, time is incredibly special and finding a way to feel every second is a treasured space to exist in. Maybe, because I have felt it before, it’s what I am chasing out here in the mountains of the vast Sierra Nevada. An endless quest to feel at peace and whole for just a few moments.

Day 2: We Are Already In Heaven

Since I was no longer backpacking out of Baxter Pass to Rae Lakes due to intolerably high winds, I decided to hit some trails I’ve been meaning to do. I drove north, pondering heading all the way to Tahoe, but instead turned at Tom’s Place, just north of Bishop, to Rock Creek. The drive is excellent for autumn colors, when not filled with fire smoke last last year, and the last time I was here was in winter for a snowshoe test where I stayed overnight at the Little Lakes Valley trailhead all alone as temps dropped to 12F. It was fun and I learned about some gear issues and fixed them for those conditions. So I returned to finally hike this popular place and parked at Mosquito Flats, this time free of snow, and stayed the night in a crowded parking lot.

The next morning was chilly so I stayed cuddled up as I awaited the sun to make its way over the steep mountains around this valley. Then I loaded up and headed out, having decided to head out of the valley and up Mono Pass – unusually a duplicate named place. Usually, it’s just mountains (so many Iron, Table, and Sugarloaf’s) and lakes (lots of Ruby, Emerald, and Grass’s). Even more annoying, the other one is nearby in Yosemite.

Anyhow, I headed out at 7:24 am into one of the prettiest places in the Sierra: the popular trail into Little Lakes Valley follows a winding, tumbling, picturesque Rock Creek lined with flowered, grassy fields and leafy trees between dramatic ridges east and west and only climbs slightly south. The trailhead is already in high elevation and the air is “thin” at 10,230 feet above sea level. At only 1/2 mile in, the junction for the trail up to the pass and/or Ruby Lake arrives and I climb a bit more than staying south to the many lakes.

I could write a book on all that is seen on the way up. I was truly floored at the beauty. Instead, a short summary:

  • Nearing the cutoff to Ruby Lake is a beautiful, peaceful drainage of fields and winding waterways.
  • After a set of switchbacks, looking down at Ruby Lake and Little Lakes Valley from above surrounded by dramatic peaks is just about the most stunning thing I’ve ever seen. There is no version of heaven man can invent that could be more beautiful than that view.
  • The trail curves around the Mt Starr’s southern slopes to make a u-turn and steadily climbs to Mono Pass along a rocky path with a steep drop-off to a bare drainage below before the impossibly steep mountains across west.
  • There was a bit of snow, all avoidable, and I knew in advance hiking up would be no problem because there were signs of a recent stock train (horseshoe marks and road apples) – but there was a kind of false summit which revealed a tad more climbing afterward to actually get to the top of the pass which was rather gentle compared to others.
  • The top was more of a saddle between peaks and just below, or a part of, was a sandy valley with Summit Lake sporting ice in the middle but a beach-like shore line around teal waters – lovely little gem and I stopped for a break there on the return and watched a bird peck at ice and generally be cute with pitter-patter steps in and around the water.
  • There is another small ridge after coming down the pass near another drainage sporting some green grass and I paused to watch a 2-part horse and mule train come down, one free of load, and listened to the two riders speak words of encouragement to a couple animals that didn’t like a certain path or a small walk atop snow – it was very cute. They mentioned it was very cold the night before, and certainly any breeze was rather frigid (I was bundled in a few layers).
  • I only descended a bit and decided I wasn’t going to descend further – it was only 200 down to nice looking Trail Lakes (nearby Needle Lake above looked half frozen under amazingly steep peaks), but another 1,000 into the top of the very green valley below and a climb to Pioneer Basin plus all the miles. Instead, I just walked to a cliff edge in the flat spot and admired the absolutely amazing view of rocky peaks, granite slopes, red and black colored mountaintops, lake strewn basin and Mono Creek somewhere in the green below. Now that I have studied a map, I want to go back and do a bit more here, there’s so much!

Pioneer Basin & Mono Creek drainage, near Mono Pass on a sandy beach at teal Summit Lake, stunning Ruby Lake & Little Lakes Valley. #hiking #mountains

♬ original sound – Terra’s Adventures

It was a tad more windy on the return, but mostly in sets: 5 minutes calm in the sun, 5 with a cold breeze. Nothing like the winds in the south, though, so I enjoyed it and stopped when it was calm to take it all in. The mountains seem to stretch on forever and it’s difficult to peel my eyes away and keep them on the trail ahead. I look again at Little Lakes Valley, each body of water twinkling in reflected sunlight, and ponder a return trip through there and up Morgan Pass instead.

GPS unit says just shy of 10 miles round trip, 5:19 moving and 7:18 overall (lots of nice breaks), with a mild gain of 1,780 feet to the pass, though I managed 2,800 overall since I dropped and came back up, though I’d call it 2,500 actual climbing ignoring the small up and downs. It wasn’t the hike I had planned on, but it was an absolute banger. No regrets on this choice.

Day 1: Baxter Pass Fail

The best laid plans can fall to ruin so fast! I was going to head into some light backcountry, still on at least marginally maintained trails, in my home-away-from-home eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. My well-thought-out and researched plan was to finally get to Rae Lakes and into Sixty Lake Basin but do it the hard way by going over Baxter Pass. Permits are easier to get and it’s a trail I had not done before. Sounded like a win to start in an area with far less people despite the over 6,000 feet of elevation gain in 7+/- miles to the top of the pass (yikes!).

The idea was 4 nights, 5 days, so my pack was a tad heavier than normal due to a larger bear can and more food (just under 29lbs with 1 liter of water to start – that’s winter-type weight for me, so… ouch). The morning drive from basically sea level to the high desert was thankfully uneventful then just lovely as mountains came into view heading north on highway 395. There were some interesting clouds and I pondered their meaning. I missed the Lone Pine Visitor’s Center so stopped at depressing Manzanar (horrible incarceration camp for innocent people with Japanese descent) for an emergency restroom break.

I could barely open the door for the wind. The few people about were similarly leaning sideways against the gale-force sustained winds that was roaring through the desert brush. It was actually nice to wear a mask because I could breathe with it on. When winds are very high, as were the conditions when I was hiking 5 days prior at San Gorgonio, it feels terribly like you can’t even breathe as air is rushed past your face too fast and can even feel like it’s being pulled out of you. I definitely had that wild-haired, wide-eyed shocked look that imagine quite comical – but none of us were laughing.

I made a few random signs in hopes that the wind wasn’t this bad where I was going. LOL, not as bad in the mountains? I was clearly in denial. But at the trailhead it was only breezy, hurray!! I finished gearing up, which includes covering head-to-toe for sun coverage (bonus: using a neck gaiter, eg. Buff, up to the cheeks helps prevent wind chapping) and headed out. The pack felt good, actually, and I thought I was moving okay… high desert plants were in flower, a mild creek crossing was lovely and lush, the missing trees from a fire years ago was okay because it wasn’t too hot. My GPS told a different story and it was slow. Oh, well, I had all day to get up and over the pass – and summer days are long.

I think we can spot where the forecast claimed it was “mostly sunny” and it wasn’t in the Sierra where I stood nor Inyo mountains across the way.

I took a snack break at 2 hours and 10 minutes into the day, a very slow 2.14 miles with 1,768 foot gain. Maybe less sleep or the heavier pack was weighing on my mind, but, oof. I was generally going about 1.5 mph but was taking a LOT of breaks to catch my breath – er – I mean – admire and take photos of flowers. I had started at 10:50am after waking up by 5am to get out the door and make the 4 hour drive so finally eating lunch (eggs, bread, cheese – first day of backpacking is yummy perishables!) at 1pm was nice. I was sitting at a corner where the trail curved around a hillside and the view of North Fork Oak Creek was lovely: it was tumbling loudly fairly steeply, like a long, stepped waterfall. It was sunny and my mood was brightening. Then it started and everything sucked.


Extreme winds that had me clinging to rocks made me turn around before Baxter Pass. I swear during every video it calmed down. #hiking #fail

♬ original sound – Terra’s Adventures

The winds did arrive and all at once. I was sitting on rock on the trail and warm one second and freezing the next. I scooted a bit thinking to get around the corner would offer protection so I could finish my last boiled egg. That only lasted minutes before the roar of an incoming gust could be heard. Ug! I got up and moved and not a moment too soon as I could hear rocks tumbling down the steep hill just 40 feet or so back. Like the dummy I am, I stopped to watch. It was a couple good sized rocks down and over the edge and a bit of fat branch that is now just part of the trail edge. Okay… I pushed on, holding my hat on my head, as the gusts became somewhat sustained and the new gusts got stronger. I took a small break behind a little boulder field as shelter and judged the next creek crossing.

It wasn’t too hard to cross, just the issue of the wind pushing me and my pack over when I had only one foot down. I hated it, but after some log and rock balancing I was across and the path was soft and sheltered by dense greenery, including giant patches of thorny wild roses in a lovely pink. I could still hear the wind, but felt a bit protected. Things were looking up, maybe!

Nope. I turned the corner and headed up the hill to sparse pines over dense, low-lying brush in a place that would otherwise be rather lovely, I think. But the dramatic peaks I was looking forward to in the start of a meadow were lost to me as the clouds descended and hid them. The temperature dropped and winds just got worse. Some flakes blew softly before the roaring wind started blowing the clouds like sleet. I added a warmth later and hid behind a tree debating what to do for a rather long time as everything got wet but only on one side, including myself. I had not planned on needing more than a tarp against wet weather and I have jettisoned several prior backpacking trips for less wind (I find it to be “the worst”).

I tried to push on. I realized I wasn’t having fun. I stood behind another tree for a while then decided to give it up. I was alone and was probably relying on a forecast for known unpredictable high-altitude mountains a bit too much in my gear plan. There were plenty of places to enjoy, this wasn’t one of them for me today. I turned around. ~2.94 miles (less than half way), ~2480 foot gain (more than a third) to 8,526 elevation, took a sad 3 hours and 36 minutes total but the moving time was 2:10 which shows the breaks for breathing and eating and debating.

Is that a bit of blue I see? And the mountain peaks almost visible again as I descend? It’s not obvious why I quit the mission based on this picture since you cannot see how extreme the wind was nor feel the wet chill.

The return trip didn’t save much time: 6:10 total elapsed on the day. My knees hate steep downhill, but I also had to stop and grunt just to keep my feet on the ground in the high winds. Several times, as the incredibly loud roar of wind approached, I had to lean over or squat and hang onto a rock with both hands for dear life. Once I was down in the canyon the wind was tolerable and it was once again quite warm for the last bit to the car. Looking back, of course, the fallen cloud cover was lifted – though the winds up there were no less. I was now driving north debating what to do instead…

But did you die?

I learned on later hikes that the temperature was very cold overnight and a bit of snow did fall in the high places and everyone on the trails suffered the wind. Some though-hikers (PCT) exited as they didn’t have cold gear or their tents were a ruin, others were luckily off trail and took another day until the wind cleared. Not every adventure is some tale of glory. In fact, the most talked about adventures are split in equal measure between the beautiful places that were perfect and them mishaps and failures we survived.

Finally got to Moose Lake, sort of

Mind-blowingly stunning weekend in Sequoia Nat’l Park. I was supposed to take the now cross-country route to Moose Lake from Alta Meadow and make it a loop by exiting past Pear Lake. Almost worked out despite snow on the second part until wind…It is very crowded and getting worse by the minute: do NOT go to a National Park on a holiday.

I got my permit, listened to conditions and a speech by the rangers, drove to the trailhead, ate lunch, and headed out. Day one to Alta Meadow was a mostly uneventful 6.25 miles, though it did take me 4.5 hours for 2000 ft gain, the only item of note being, what seems like normal for May here as I’ve experienced this before, the valley made its own cloud (from somewhere near Buck Creek) and visibility was very bad – no views!

I somehow got way, way too high headed out of Alta despite consulting a GPS unit – trying to be smart and stay high around a ridge by climbing boulders but also lack of visibility more than 50 feet made route finding very difficult – then I hit a long wall of granite and had to go back down loose ground, a slow waste of time and effort. Elevations lines are rarely the whole story. The old trail kinda showed itself over a forested ridgeline but I was losing light now so I plopped myself down on a big bit of flat rock near a half frozen pond of snow melt. It took me the same amount of time to go the remaining 2.4 miles as it did the 6.25 to Alta, lol. Almost 9 hours for 8.7 miles and 2900′ – jeeeeeebus!

The thick fog lifted near the end of the day revealing an expanse of rocky mountaintops so vast and beautiful it brought me to my knees. This portion of the Sierra is one of the most lovely places on earth: desolate and expansive and impressive. Along the way, marmots had looked at me from atop rocks, ran behind, took one last peak, and disappeared into some hole. Pika squeaked loudly at me and scurried somewhere into their unseen homes. As the sun set, the mountains lit in alpine glow and some of the fog lingering in and above the valley turned pink. When I finally peeled my eyes off the sight I fell asleep – well, as much sleep as can be had with a racket of frogs in the pond nearby.

At 2am I awoke for a bathroom break and it was clear and still and the center of the Milky Way was right overhead. There were so many stars it was unbelievable and the mountains could still be seen despite no moon – the light snow cover reflecting anything available. Absolutely amazing campsite! It was chilly overnight but nowhere near the forecasted 22F: my secondary silicone water bottle didn’t so much as ice up. https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/8921514237

A slow morning cuddled up on the ground (painful, missing my hammock) waiting for the sun to break over mountains and get me. I snacked and took my time packing up. I didn’t really want to leave this peaceful place. Anyhow, I’d been trying to get to Moose Lake for an age and it was finally happening! I climbed up to the gap, again too high and boulder climbing when I didn’t have to. It was only 3/4 of a mile or so and about 400′ up but it took me an hour, haha. Every few bits I had to stop and choose a path and that takes time, forget the low pressure for lack of oxygen (catching my breath). As I got close, and found a trail again, the wind was so, so loud – like, had to yell to hear my own voice talk to myself. I paused, sat on a rock in a sheltered spot, ate an apple while I looked at the mountains again, now different the in morning light.

The roar of the wind was not letting up so I sucked it up and got up there. Luckily, there was a giant boulder at the top that I hid behind: the sustained wind was so strong I had to brace my feet and lean into it to get a view of Moose which was large and lovely and still mostly frozen but I only got quick peeks. I tried to take some pictures but got just a portion, it was just too difficult to even hold out my arm in the wind. A gust nearly grabbed me and my pack off the ground. Yikes. Through hike cancelled. I was not going to get to the Tablelands, again, as the thought of traversing it in the snow in these winds seemed utterly insane.

My knees were killing me, my thighs burned, but there was nothing for it but to turn around and go out the way I came. I found more easy paths the entire way down as some use trails came and went (or, I lost them). It was a significantly different track, hilariously so to me, that was less rocks and more soft soil, still difficult to manage downhill but less sketchy, but ended up going through meadows and muddy marshes and I think it’s a bit terrible to trample these delicate places which were vast and in the middle of growing all kinds of flowers and ferns.

I had watched the place form its own weather, again, and it was now totally dense fog, again, for the exit. It got a bit sunny coming back down over Panther Gap and the sound of tiny chipmunk feet pitter patter was frequently heard. I stopped often to rest my complaining feet. I ate a snickers bar as I stopped to sit on a rock. I enjoyed looking at flowers. The fog left pine trees so wet it rained lightly underneath them. My back hurt, but it was worth every step. Compare route with first day: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/8921514341

It was so amazingly crowded: the Wolverton lot had tons more cars, but I saw so few people on the trail (and was totally free of other humans the entire time after well prior to Alta Meadow). The drive out was full of cars parked along the side of the road, even partially in it, total madness. I did manage to find some spots way down the 198 to enjoy some flowering dogwood trees and giant sequoias that I noted now sported some new burn scars. The burned area was extensive, but hit and miss: hillsides were sometimes half green and half dead brown, occasionally on the same tree (usually oaks, regular-old-guy pine trees were the worst hit). The inner valley I had been in was still missing from views, but the sights in partial rays of sun looking west were very lovely so I, like others, were stopping for photos at turnouts that were awash in yellow flowers.

Uneventful drive home, thankfully, just a bit busy through L.A. and I think people drive pretty stupidly slow at night as a rule. My pack weight was about 23 pounds including 1.5 liters of starting water, with an all-in (clothes and carry) weight of maybe 27. There was at least 3 pounds I didn’t use: stove and meals since it was just one night, microspikes and wet pants as I didn’t traverse much snow after all, book as I had enough to do, and heavier bottle to prevent freezing I never filled up anyhow. Well, still need to get into the Tablelands one day and stay the night at Moose some other time… there’s so much other things to do, though.

Rock Creek Winter Backpack – Good news: my eyeballs didn’t freeze

It was a 5.5 hour drive but mostly carefree with a lovely sunrise coming up the 15. The temps in the high desert was in the high 40s (F) for the most part and the air was clean and clear, every detail on the mountains (Sierra Nevada to my left, Inyo then White to my right) was so east to see. It was beautiful.

Sunrise over Cajon pass
High desert views
Clear mountain views

With daytime highs at about 37F and nighttime lows estimated to be 15F (+ light windchill) I anticipated what I got, and my Warbonnet hammock system, old Mountain Hardwear -15 synth bag, and 3 layers lower and 4 upper clothes kept me warm – no problems there, very pleased. Poo on you, lady who was shocked I was staying overnight and very seriously said to be careful! (The next day a young group skiing had on overnight packs, so I’m not the loan nutter, in case you were wondering.)

I have to admit that nighttime pee froze instantly, and my Kula Cloth was stiff haha, and at about 5am I thought my eyeball fluid was gonna solidify which made me think that by the end of 16 hours bundled up (stupid winter lack of sun) the guy at the gas station the next day was probably correct when he mentioned that nearby Mammoth dipped to 7F. This is your first hint I didn’t stay two nights as planned.

Anyhow, Rock Creek, a stunning autumn drive, was completely snowed in and lovely and super quiet. I actually paid for 3 days of SnoPlay, unlike the 3 other cars there on the way in and 20 on the way out, so was a bit miffed that they didn’t even plow the parking lot at the East Fork gate (~8900′).

Wall of mountains before going up Sherwin Summit on 395
Wall of mountains before going up Sherwin Summit on 395
Plowed Rock Creek Road
Plowed Rock Creek Road

Sunny days in the wide canyon meant I was carrying snowshoes as the top layer inside heavy tire tracks was sticky and easy to walk on with proper shoe tread. Just off it was absolutely not and was posthole city – a place that required skis or snowshoes to stay afloat. It was 1:52 and 2.83 miles and 800′ up Rock Creek Road to the boarded-up resort where I finally put my new snowshoes on. They are from L.L. Bean and I really love them: very easy on and off and excellent traction and just the right tool for the stretches of dry powder and straight-forward terrain this trip entailed. Kept me afloat instead of postholing, which made me very happy, and I had no issues walking in them – they felt natural immediately.

After that it was a straight, if tiring, trek still atop a road but no longer on tracks, to Mosquito Flats (10,200′) – a trailhead and backcountry campsite normally driven to. It took another 1:35 and 1.9 miles and only about 500′ gain (it felt worse but looked level) and it was tiring and I was feeling the pack weight of 29.8 lbs (including 2 liters of water, not including clothes or snowshoes) – I love all the updates to the second version of Granite Gear‘s Blaze 60 except for the padding which I find stiff and need to find a solution for so my hip bones stop bruising. It would be perfection if the padding was the same as the last version – I love the side pockets, waist pockets, and all the adjustability in a lightweight package that can still carry a bunch (it’s weight rated higher than I’d ever want to carry). The trip stats are at Garmin Connect: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/8209882195

No one had walked into the campsite – though certainly they had crossed the snow-covered bridge over a non-existent Rock Creek to the sign – and I set up very nearby (it’s nice to quickly find trees with proper distance) in a little half round of trees which provided protection and extra tie outs for my hammock which I needed because the snow was so dry that I couldn’t compress it. Even if I’d brought the heavy-duty snow/sand stakes, they wouldn’t have worked. I had brought my fav teeny Nemo Airpin Stakes with plans for my usual tie-then-bury method but it was impossible to bury anything – so I used my long cord to tie onto the other trees on one side, then to my great, but unneeded, Black Diamond ice axe buried to the hilt and my sunk snowshoes on the other. Even the drifts never got too much over 4 feet, just enough to bury posts to the signage, and often it was clear to the ground around trees, I was still postholing 4-8″ every time I stepped out to pee – and the dry snow just filled back in. These conditions are new to me and definitely needed snowshoes for float.

Then a problem: I know all pressurized fuel cans can have problems in extreme temps, but this wasn’t my first time trying to use one in winter (I’ll admit maybe not exactly this cold). This was my first time using a Jet Boil can vs MSR. I obviously cannot say that was the issue, they seem pretty similar build-wise, and the only reason I used a different brand was it the circumference is my kind of small so it fits inside my beloved Optimus pot / cup. I appreciate the space savings there. The sun was behind the mountains now, so despite the ample light the temperatures were dropping. The first try a lighter worked but the stove was iffy: it lit but it was not stable and flames were weird and shooting out (it was not windy, thankfully) and the can actually got a bit hot. I kinda freaked out and shut it off after a minute. I was hoping that the can warmth would now assist with better pressure, but on the second try the lighter ceased to work. Have I mentioned the temps were falling? The thing worked when I got back home just fyi, but the can itself sputtered and leaked when I tried at home again – never had that happen before and I don’t know what to make it of it. It must be noted that I was also using Optimus stove, instead of my old MSR pocket rocket. The only way to know for sure it to try it all again with the MSR tried-and-true stuff and see if I still have a problem.

Anyhow, I always have more food than I eat, although that shouldn’t be true (I don’t eat much during exercise nor elevation), so I wasn’t really bothered. This wasn’t a deal breaker, having 2 dehydrated meals I couldn’t eat (but they are actually yummy – the brand is Next Mile Meals and I heartily recommend them, so I was bummed). I munched on ‘lunch’ instead – tuna fish packet in coconut oil, crackers, dried cheese. I didn’t even eat all of it and just passed out instead despite being only 5:30pm.

The problem that made me leave after one night rather than doing a day hike into Little Lakes Valley was my water situation. In the middle of the night I went for a sip and realized I now had a rather serious situation. I should have slept with them and I should have used thicker-walled and wide-mouth bottles vs typical Smart Water reused bottles I backpack with. They both froze nearly solid. I mean, one should have been empty as I should have drank a liter for the 5 miles in, but it didn’t matter now. I was stupid in bottle choice and protection, but without a stove I was now not able to melt snow and there wasn’t any running water to speak of. BIIIGGGG whoops on stove and bottle choice for these low temps – but that is why you pick “easy” hikes with relatively quick exits in new situations, so you can bail without stress or disaster.

I peeked outside from time to time after sunrise, waiting for the sun to actually crest the canyon mountains to hit me. At 8am it was on the opposite slopes, at 9 it was nearly here. It’s always coldest before the sun returns, and I was reluctant to put on my cold Hoka Speedgoats (Goretext). My toes were still toasty in my absolute essential gear: Cabiniste down bootie meant for inside but I wear them *inside* a liner all night in my sleeping bag and mucking about campsites / going to the bathroom. I have been using this one pair a lot and never worn out so I have bunch of others just sitting around the house (I compulsively buy more of something I love since fear of it going out of stock is on my mind – happened to me a few times and now I stress about it). Anyhow, I stayed in the booties for a bit, but it was quite cold now and it was easier in the powder to be in shoes. I switched over, tried to keep my now freezing toes in the sunlight, and finished packing back up. I tried to lick ice / suck out any water I could, then I headed out.

One night trips kinda suck, especially when you have to retrace your steps. I saw on my newer Garmin 66 handheld (I had a 64 I loved but battery life sucked, this one’s screen got scratch immediately, which also sucked, but it works FOREVER and I can subscribe to SOS when I feel it’s warranted). With that in mind, I noticed that there was a trail that went down to the other side of Rock Creek Lake and decided to take it… it didn’t save me road at the start, and it wouldn’t save me the 3 miles of road back (I could have taken another trail after the lake, I’ve gone in snow before, but I was too tired and thirsty to try it), but it was a nice change of pace to be on an actual trail.

You might not know this, but most established trails are very easy to follow in snow: there is usually an obvious path through trees and brush, sometimes you can make out cut trees or lines of rocks, and sometimes it’s kind of sunk in from the surrounding snowpack. I mean, sometimes there are also footprints, but that was not the case here. I was the first one using the trail in winter (joy!) and the only other prints I saw were occasional critters so I enjoyed glittering, pristine snow (else wind-swept icy sculptures). It was fun now!

Except when I fell. Twice near the crossing at Rock Creek the snow just gave way and I learned it’s super awkward to pull out snowshoes from 12-24″ buried beneath you when there is no firm ground to push back up on. I, of course, wasn’t wearing my gloves at the time, as I had gotten super hot in Canadian Goose mittens, so my hands remain all pink, nicked bloody, and kinda faint purple bruises on my knuckles: even dry snow absolutely hurts to shove your bare hands into and this was through a 1/2 inch layer of crust. Plus, the second fall was after I had stopped at where I was about to cross and heard rushing water unseen below the white so I decided to turn around and cross at the flat, iced over bit when it happened, so that collapse was stressful – I didn’t hit water, thankfully, and it wasn’t a deep place anyhow. I did struggle uphill on the other bank, so I have some getting used to with showshoe use on steep powder – unless that always sucks no matter the skill? Probably when poles would have come in handy, but I absolutely hate them and it’s not worth the 2 minutes a hike I could use them.

Generally the trail was easy and mild, going downhill only slightly steeper than the road before it flattened out to meet it again around a different road that winds around the lake. When I passed the cabins after the cut off that meets the Dorothy Lakes Trail on the final decent to the lake, I didn’t like being on existing, deep prints so I was walking to the side and did, again, fall into collapsed snow. Again, I had taken off my gloves. I’m a dummy. A glutton for punishment, I guess. When I made it to the waterside campground, I sat on a bench top, the seats basically below snow level, and ate some macadamia nuts and tried to suck out some water than melted and enjoyed the view of a frozen lake beneath peaks mottled with snow and trees and rock. It had been 1:38 and only 1.75 miles with 500′ loss. Tiring and slow but lovely and totally alone.

Afterward I sucked it up, changed my pack straps to put more load onto my shoulders and off my hips, and pushed through the last 3 miles back down to the car. I took off my showshoes near the place where I’d put them on the day before – there were bits of Rock Creek Campground Road exposed and here I took another try-to-drink sit on a rock – then frequent breaks resting on my shoes like poles from time to time or atop a rock coaxing another frozen sip.

Lots of cars on a Saturday! I saw a lone dude walking around the lake’s shore (not on the road where I was), a couple of women skiing with dogs, the mixed young backpacking skiing group, a group on skis that were apparently learning about spotting avalanche danger, down on the lower trail a group was listening to someone but I couldn’t tell if it was shoeing or skiing. Seems like most people just went to the lake and back for < 6 miles, but as I was changing, drinking, and cleaning up, a group of bearded, large, camo-wearing men came down – no idea where they were, though there are lots of trails around. The days’ stats: 5.3 miles https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/8209882264

I must note that everything in my car was also frozen except the water in a Hydro Flask. I did snack on the highly recommended Ozery Bakery breakfast rounds and some cheese from my Bare Boxer mini bear can, but the eggs and carrots in there were frozen solid: so much for bringing fresh food when it’s sub 20, right? So I drank the only non-frozen liquid I had, cleaned myself, tried to get things to melt in the sun (it was 37F with a cold breeze, but the sun was warm on the blacktop) but failed, and left. I pretty much drove straight home, other than a gas stop and purchasing something to drink. I weighed 3 lbs less this morning and still struggling to hydrate. Yuck! Anyhow, fun trip overall, just need to adjust a few things…

Sherwin Summit view point vistas
Sunset was excellent in all directions, pink one way, gold the other. <3

Very dry leaves sketchy water sources, 2 nights up Rush Creek

Some gear notes below, but for now let’s start at the beginning: I drove up Hwy 395 last Thursday, enjoying mountain views now that the wind changed direction and the area was more hazy than filled with brown smoke. By the time I made it to the June Lake Loop and skies were blue and views were clear… Always watch forecasts for not just weather but also the wind ones are pretty accurate for a good 48 hours and it’s important to do in late summer if you don’t want the backcountry to smell like campfire for your trip (not to mention the lung irritation).

I was on the trail up Rush Creek at noon. The bathroom is closed – they are going to demolish it, just FYI. The first half mile was over two creeks (one dry) and under a canopy of aspen that were changing color for fall – those cute, round leaves in green and gold waving in any tiny breeze. After that it was warm and it’s a dusty, exposed slog that gains about 1200′ in 1.5 miles. Good thing it’s an interesting walk: it’s cut into a steep ridgeline, Silver Lake views below, some brush and flowers when it’s not sheer rock, the crazy rail line to carry equipment up to the dams, the falling water of Rush Creek, mountain views, an nearly all hikers seemed in a great mood (the entire trip, actually) so smiles all around. Still, despite a light-ish pack weight (22.5 w/liter of water but before camera and a few other doo-dads) it is a bit harder to climb mountains backpacking than day hiking due to carrying your house on your back added to jumping out of the car after driving all morning living at sea level and little sleep and not being in any kind of hurry = 1.25 miles per hour. Whew, that’s slow! haha.

At just over 2 miles from the parking lot I turned off onto another trail and took the crossing before Agnew Lake and dam. The water being let out was a nice cascade and there was some dense plants here for shade so after a small climb (about 1/4 mile) I sat for a break and snack overlooking the lake and looked out at the mountains and listened to the birds. Now the trail got “real” and it’s honestly shocking that my path was going to somehow get over the near sheer mountain – intimidating, really. I had one more quarter mile along the lush edge a bit above the lake before the trail cut a straight line across the rocky slope for 1/3 mile and 300′ gain. It reached a pine grove crowded around a drainage at the south side of the lake and made a *lot* of switchbacks for another 300′ in another 1/3 mile. It continued the unrelenting climb up and around Spooky Meadow (unsure about the name, to me it was just a super steep wash covered in dense pine forest with a good size clearing once the first ridge was gained. I sat on a rock and ate a bit more overlooking this sloped meadow and looked at the trees and plants clinging to every rock until the rocks were basically just walls – have I said the word ‘steep’ enough?

The punishing climb continued but I did cross another dry drainage and stopped to take some photos of lovely flowers, some of which I hadn’t seen before. While I did this a day hiker came down – first person I’d seen in almost 2 hours! A final push to gain the pass I could finally see (it’s nice to have a visual goal) – it was about 4.25 miles and I was at around 10,050 feet elevation – so about 2800′ gain, some bits easy, some bits very hard. Up here the terrain changed – the pines were different and twisted and stunted, the rocks seemed as pumice and were dark in composition like old lava, the views opened up and Gem Lake lay below ringed with lovely peaks and autumn colors in a streak up the far north side.

As I came down the pass the trees started again, but the entrance to the forest was a gate of dead trees. Now *that* was spooky. The rest were healthy and after a bit I turned a corner and the forest stopped and there was a grass-rimed lake sitting in a half bowl of sheer rock. There were trailside flowers and also end-of-season plants in seed, many of which were very scratchy and loud in a breeze and downright obnoxious if touched on accident, which I did as I bent for a picture, which made me jump. I was at the start of Clark Lakes, around a cliff corner was a larger one, and they were gentle, quiet bodies of water. The mountains were drama, but it was slow along the shores, and quiet. I passed a pack camp and left the softness behind for Summit Lake: the forest crowded it’s north shore, and the low water revealed a black sand beach of sorts, while the rocky south shore ended at a pass and it was steep on the other side – but that’s where I was going!

Yeah, real steep going down – and rocky enough that a lot of steps were careful. 9840′ to 9510′ in 1/3 mile. My knees! But it was over quick, and the next three miles were up and down but basically nothing major all the way to Thousand Island Lake. I was loosing light at this point and needed to find a camp, so I totally skipped by other lakes I really wanted to visit. My original plan had been to camp at Summit Lake for the night, but I didn’t for a lot of reasons, one of which was being scared of water filtering. I can’t explain how unusually dry it is in California right now – the winter was real bad (not much snow) and the summer didn’t have the constant afternoon rain. *Every single lake was stale* and nothing was draining and all creeks and drainages were dry outside of the dams / Rush Creek. Toxic algae is confirmed not too far south of my location, so I was hoping the larger lakes were safer to drink. I highly prefer, and almost exclusively do, filter water from falling and moving creeks – but there are none. Sadface.

Ponds were drying up on the lake approach and I didn’t bother any side trails to other small lakes which I assume were just as low. Some fish were stuck in the small ponds which was weird, and it was over 6 hours and 7.5 miles in, and it was 6pm with dying light when I got to the Thousand Island Lake dry outlet. I walked a over a mile on the north shore pining for a campsite. Despite only a few people here and there on the trails, the obvious places were all taken here. I was also looking for a pack trail that cut up the pass so I didn’t have to walk back the text day plus campsites higher up from research I’d done, but I didn’t find what I was looking for and wandered around for too long until I was so tired I just gave up and dropped pack in the next patch of dirt I found. It was basically dark as I put up the tent and settled in for the night. Oh, great, I forgot my fuel can. I eat so little while hiking (exercise and elevation) that I just ate a lunch instead (crackers, dried cheese, tuna in coconut oil) and passed out. I did wake up for a couple night shots, but I just stuck the camera on a small tripod outside the tent and didn’t even leave it: it was getting cold. For a bit there was a frog croaking, and a couple chipmunk squeaks, then it was silent. Overnight, the full moon was so dang bright, so that was annoying, and condensation froze on the tent walls…Day 1, 9/23, about 9 miles: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/7560460622

I tried to ignore the sun, plus I was so cold I just wanted to stay cuddled, but I knew I’d be sad if I didn’t take some early morning photos when lake surfaces are usually calm and mirror-like. I wander out in some warm layers, small plants were frozen and crunchy underfoot, until I got onto a peninsula. Whoops, someone’s tent, sorry… The lake level was really low and I didn’t find it as amazing as most people seem to, but Banner Peak is dramatically prominent and sported a nice reflection at 7am as sun finally made it over the western ridge and lit it’s top.

There would be no morning trek to North Glacier Pass: the winds did as expected and the pass looked full of fire smoke brought up from the south now, just an hour after a clear morning. Smoke was all around west and south – but north looked clear, so I figured staying down here instead of Summit Lake worked out as I got to enjoy the area without haze for a bit. Packed up and off to try to find this pack trail to Island Pass after 8:30am – I did finally find the campsite I was thinking of, doh! But I turned right at the drainage when I think I should have headed left – I never saw any definite trail. It was just woods, though, so I kinda just followed the dry creek all the way up until I hit the PCT a bit east of where I thought the trail should have been, though I also never saw it: rangers have done a bang up job making that old trail disappear. I know leave-no-trace methods and ranger preference hate it when I go off trail, but it’s just so much more fun that slogging on a dusty, exposed, common trail that always seems to take the long way around. *shrug* If everything wasn’t so dang dry, it might not be as boring normally…

Island Pass is quite the wide open mound – a boring pass itself, but astounding views all around. The lakes up here were drying up fast, the sandy edges dotted with rocks reminded me of the movie Return to Oz when Dorothy and the chicken arrive and the water just disappears: the deadly desert! I had planned on staying only 2 nights, for smoke inhalation reasons, but knew I could push food to 3 if it was favorable, unfortunately that failed because, you know, no fuel can so no dehydrated meals which meant a lot less food. So did followed through on the original plan to leave the trail and cross-country hike east and find a path to Weber Lake. The worst that could happen is getting cliffed out and having to come back, and that would suck because I’d have to head down the pass and around Waugh Lake – I could manage the mileage but why bother? Plus, I did really want to check out Weber, which was my original 1st night plan before I switched to clockwise last minute.

Sorry, plants, I tried to walk on rocks and did find a patch of animal trail here and there – in fact, stacked rocks and flattened grasses and paths through brush seemed more people-y than expected, so I cannot be the only person to do this. A drying lake with a duck family with a muddy shore containing deer, critter, and cat (?) footprints. A steep pile of rocks to get over or around. A drainage meadow overlooks Waugh Lake which, drained, looked like the dead mashes or maybe the desolation of Smaug (Lord of the Rings references) – seriously, it looks terrible. Hydroelectric and dams aren’t “green” energy to me: they destroy natural habitat of meadows and flood zones. Now it was stumps and dead land, though I’m sure lovely looking when full – the mountains all around sure are. Eventually I reach the hard part – how to get around and over the ridge that borders the lake’s southwest shores. Elevation maps are often 40 foot intervals, and in real life this isn’t helpful – a guide only but a 40′ line could turn out to be a 60′ cliff with no path (I do not climb, only walk). I tried to walk further down, but this was definitely a steep cliff and I walked back up a bit and found a natural path up and over – this happened twice. It worked out in the end as if I’d stayed farther up I might have come back down to the lake too south and there was a block of granite on the shore that I couldn’t have walked around. On these sloped it was all pines and domes of rock and shelves of shale so natural switchbacks down to the lake shore. Good news, I didn’t die or injury myself! Much more exciting than a dusty trail, but not for most people, I don’t advocate for off trail, it can go very, very badly and you hurt delicate alpine plants. But I’m a selfish human so here we are.

Weber Lake is really lovely and, for me, the highlight of natural lakes for this trip. Ringed with cliffs, brush in fall color, no other people – the use trail heads back around east, passed nice and well-used campsites, over a ridge, back to trail proper, then down to the east side. All lovely, seriously, except that it was absolutely not draining, just like everything else, and there was stringy growth on the surface on the north side which was likely toxic algae – yikes. I walked around, almost tried to reach Lake Sullivan lower down but it was so overgrown, so I came back and sat at an peninsula and ate lunch in silence while a big, blue dragonfly paced the shore endlessly.

Eventually, I left and it was time to be back on the trail proper and it suuuuucked. It was warmer today, as expected, and I was getting grumpy in the heat as I walked yet another dusty trail, dodging road apples, on a bunch of switchbacks down to the dams and Rush Creek again: 600′ foot loss in a painful 3/4 mile. But the next 2.5 miles, despite being even warmer, were mostly gentle and sometimes the sound of water or birds cheered me up. I rested at a junction before a small climb – but took wee breaks to enjoy the drying but grassy ponds, including Billy Lake, eventually cresting and coming down to the north shore of Gem Lake, which was lovely. Here, it was wooded, Crest Creek was actually running to my complete shock, and the aspens, running like veins through dense pines in the watersheds, were gold and orange. Nice! I walked passed the drainage and eventually down a peninsula between two sandy beaches looking very vacationy with blue waters lapping at their shores (though also odd as lines of water lines ran in 2 foot intervals, sometimes marked with tiny plants). I set up and enjoyed the sights but I was also WIPED for whatever reason and basically started sleeping before sunset – so kind of a 14 hour session, haha. The water from Gem Lake tasted the best, honestly, and though some gusts picked up at the end of the day and some waves were heard, it was once again quiet all night except the full moon which was, again, so bright it was loud. (-: I could hear some people on the trail for as long as there was sunlight, but nothing after that until daybreak. Day 2, 9/24, about 7.6 miles: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/7560460645

I still technically had a salmon packet, outside of my useless dehydrated meals, but I ate some other snacks as I packed up for the “short” hike out. Some haze was on the mountainside I had come up the first day, but not bad and I hoped as the trail turned that way it stayed high up (it did). I felt really good in the morning despite not eating, I’m sure, enough calories at all. Eventually the sun warmed camp but still shaded the first trail section so I headed off a bit late (8am) to try to beat the sun and it was nice under the changing color of aspens. It didn’t last long and it was real hot real quick – I did still have my puffy on, though everything was unzipped. I didn’t want to drop pack yet and was hoping for shade but that never arrived. The danger of being comfortable off trail, and hiking alone, is that sometimes you get off it on accident on those wee use trails that sometimes are near turns and switchbacks and it takes you longer than it should to realize it and turn around. LOL Anyhow, I got some interesting images from that short “why is this trail so steep?” accident and was back on the normal, easy trail soon enough. Okay, it was too hot and there isn’t shade, drop pack to remove layers, snack, drink the last of my water (it’s less than 2 miles left where my car and trailhead bear box has much to drink). Everyone heading up is in such a damned good mood. Probably because it’s gorgeous and fairly clear of smoke. I did stop to chat (me, the person annoyed when I have to say ‘good morning’ constantly) and had a nice conversation – I did take the opportunity to warn of dangerous, stale water – unsure if day hikers even filter (a ranger at the car said they often don’t, this is terrible idea, IMO, in these conditions). I didn’t get sick, though, but I did only drink like a liter or two a day (I know, I’m weird, but I felt great so… that’s just me). Hot and dirty and done I was at the car drinking chocolate protein, electrolyte water, and a small energy drink. Chatted up the ranger, talked about water quality and the ‘new normal’ of extended, dry conditions and the dangers it can have if it continues too long – fires aside. Silver Lake was full of people: RVs, kayaks on the water, etc. Time to drive home. I wished for another night, this was too short in too lovely an area. I’ll be back – in better conditions. Sure, no bugs, but sketchy water isn’t nice, either. Day 3, 9/25, about 4.7 miles: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/7560460668

Gear Notes

I had packed a month ago for a trip that never happened farther south in the Sierra. This included a tent instead of a hammock because it was likely to be on a moonscape down there and I just wasn’t sure there would be large enough, or any, trees in the planned campsites. I did have a single freestanding tent that probably would have worked better anyhow (you know, cause the ground is rocks) but I bought one of single-walled tents the kids like nowadays that use trekking poles and require staking out (Gossamer Gear’s The One) out of a misplaced need to save weight. I never use trekking poles, but thought what the heck – but ours were old and not really functioning so I also bought two new pairs (why?) one aluminum and one lighter carbon. The gusts would be occasional on this trip and otherwise winds were still, so I opted to bring the lighter ones. I used the poles the first day and I think they slowed me down: just another thing to be mucking with. Also, there were trees here so I could have hung (my hammock system is warmer and, including poles and sleeping pad, the same weight). I *hate* sleeping on the ground. Man, it hurts. So I re-learned to never do that unless absolutely necessary (ie. need a tent for sleeping on rocky passes). Also, the Sierra is all rocks so… stakes don’t really work. It is a lovely tent, though, with nice space inside and good headroom, but a bit fussy to set up – hammocks are, too, but only two points of contact whereas this tent has 6. Both need a good spot, so hunting is needed, and both need proper contact to be well set up. I swear these pole tents are for back east and, obviously, pretty great if you actually use trekking poles – on it’s own it weighs NOTHING near as I can tell. I have to bring a substantial pad, though (inflatable), and I’m still uncomfortable all night long. My hips! My back! Ouchy!