Last weekend we did a quick trip to the Eastern Sierra to do some leaf peeping. Reports were coming in that the colors were peaking early, so we thought we’d check it out.
What we found was a weird year for fall colors. It seems that everything is either still bright green or already browning, without much in between. We found scattered groves of bright colors and got some nice photos, but then the storm came in.
The forecast on Saturday morning was a 20% chance of precip with snow at higher elevations, but not enough to stick. By the time we were on the east side the chance had upped to 85% and snow was falling. The forecast for Bishop was dry, however, so we planned on camping around there. Unfortunately that 0% didn’t hold and we were rained on pretty good for a few hours on Saturday night. Meanwhile, snow was falling at higher elevations.
We usually spend Easter weekend in one of two places: Carrizo Plain (in good wildflower years) or Lava Beds National Monument. This year we decided that a visit to the Eastern Sierra was in order instead. Five months without a Bishop fix was long enough and despite the passes still being closed, driving the long way around for a three day weekend was worth it.
On Thursday night we headed out from San Jose for Truckee where we had (gasp!) booked a hotel room for the night. That hotel was conveniently next door to one of our favorite breweries, FiftyFifty. Several delicious beers were enjoyed with dinner, and we retired early to get up the next day for some outdoor adventures.
Another summer weekend, another whirlwind trip to the Eastern Sierra. This time my destination was the peaks of the Inconsolable Range, a sharp ridge on the eastern edge of the Sierra just north of the Palisades and Bishop Pass. Rather than use the traditional Bishop Pass trail approach, we decided to access the ridge from the east via Coyote Flat, an open plateau at an altitude of about 10,000 ft that sits between the Inconsolables and the town of Bishop.
Although it is only about 20 miles outside of Bishop, Coyote Flat is a relatively quiet and empty place, especially when compared to the nearby Sierra access points of South Lake and Lake Sabrina. The reason? The only road that goes into Coyote Flat is a class II/III 4×4 road that switchbacks steeply and rocky from 5000 ft to 10,000 ft. The road was rough but fun, bouncing us around quite a bit as we drove the 22 miles from Manor Market along 168, through Coyote Flat, to the end of the road at the wilderness boundary along Baker Creek.
Last weekend, the first one with an open Tioga Pass of the season, we did a quickie overnighter to Bishop. David is recovering from a sprained ankle so instead of hiking we did a bit of fishing, bouldering, nomming on Whoa Nellie goodies, and hot springing.
Our trip took us to Ellery Lake where we fished the outlet. We saw tons of fish but they weren’t interested in anything we were throwing at them. David caught one guy who would end up being a decent dinner appetizer. From there we timed our lunch stop for fish tacos at Whoa Nellie, then headed down to Rock Creek. The road is clear all the way to the Mosquito Flat Trailhead, remarkably dry for early May.
We fished the creek and wandered up to the first couple of lakes. While snow still dominated the slopes of the peaks to the west, there was barely any in our immediate vicinity at 10,500 ft. Absolutely insanely dry. On the bright side, mosquito season should be long gone by the time we head out on our annual August backpack.
Bear Creek Spire, Mt Dade, Mt Abbot, Mt Mills
For camp, we found a nice spot out Casa Diablo Road north of Bishop. It was quite hot out but cooled nicely overnight. In the morning we headed straight to the Sad Boulders where we saw some colorful lizards and got in a little bit of bouldering. My hands are calloused by indoor gym holds, and the real rock hurt so much, ouch! But it’s still a lot of fun.
On our way back north we hit one of our favorite hot springs and went for a second lunch at Whoa Nellie (lobster taquitos this time). Back over the pass, we decided to fish Tioga Lake and it was here where David had the best luck. We ended up bringing home four holdover stockers from last summer, so dinner was covered for a couple of nights!
Conditions are changing rapidly up there as the snow melts out. While almost all trailheads are accessible now, remember that the higher terrain still has a fair amount of snow. If you’ll be venturing out make sure to get recent condition reports and be prepared for spring conditions – it’s not summer *quite* yet.
I’ve only recently finished posting my photos from our annual Thanksgiving trip to Death Valley. It’s kind of fun going all the way back to November to relive this trip, always my favorite of the year!
Part 1: Alabama Hills, Andrews Peak, Papoose Flat, Hidden Dunes and Eureka Valley
We hit the road on Friday night after work and drove to our typical late night camp just north of Ridgecrest where we met up with Antony. On Saturday morning we took our time on the Eastern Sierra 395 corridor, visiting some of our typical and favorite places like the Alabama Hills Cafe and Wilson’s Sports in Bishop. In the early afternoon we headed east out of Big Pine towards Death Valley, turning off on a side dirt road into the Inyos where we got to engage 4WD and start exploring some new terrain.
A few miles in we turned off on an overgrown faded track and followed it partially up the side of Andrews Peak until a downed tree blocked our way. We left the cars and kept hiking up the road. I glanced at the map and misread the topo, so what I thought was a ~600 ft climb was really 1000. Sorry guys.
After the short hike up Andrews Peak to catch the view towards Waucoba and Squaw we continued back on the main dirt track through a rocky canyon and up some steep switchbacks over a ridge. It was a beautiful drive that never really challenged the truck but was still a lot of fun.
From the top of the ridge we followed the winding track along the crest of the Inyos until we started to drop into a Valley. At this point I knew why friends had recommended this spot to me. As you descend into Papoose Flat a beautiful rocky landscape appears. Piles of rocks similar to those in Joshua Tree combined with the high (very high) desert scrub brush made for some amazing scenery. We drove around and found a stunning campsite behind a pile of rocks with a view of the Sierra. The only negative part: it was so, so cold. Overnight it got into the single digits. That’s what happens at 8800 ft in late November, even in the desert.
Due to the view of the east Sierra I was looking forward to photographing sunrise the next morning, but I awoke to some clouds rolling in over the high peaks. As they got closer small flakes of snow started to fly. We quickly packed up and after a brief tour of the Flat headed back down to the main road into Eureka Valley.
Our destination for the next night was Eurkea Dunes, but not before being diverted to Hidden Dunes for the day. The Hidden Dunes are a remarkable long set of sand dunes that are tucked behind a mountain range, just out of the line of sight from the roads and approaches into the area. A very faint side road leads across the flat Eureka Valley to a dead end where you can park and start the three mile trek to the dunes. You approach them via a notch in the mountain range, and the flat hike across the desert is easy and has a lot of interesting rocks and tracks underfoot.
The storms that had been coming in over the Sierra that morning caught up with us and we finished the hike under low clouds, dark skies, and a light drizzle. Still, it didn’t prevent us from having a fun night camped near Eureka Dunes where we grilled steaks and drank good beer around the campfire pit until many hours after dark.
From our second home in Southern Death Valley it was back to familiar territory. We took the opportunity to explore a 4WD road and canyon that we had always wanted to check out (Lemoigne Canyon), and spent our last night in Tuttle Creek Campground outside of Lone Pine where some friends were able to join us. Our final Saturday was spent along the Eastern Sierra where we visited some of our favorite restaurants and and shops and spent some time bouldering in the Buttermilks. After our final night of camp at Glass Creek we made it home safe and sound and on schedule on October 9th.
I’ve never done a road trip this long before. I thought I’d share some of the random things I learned.
What worked well:
Having a goal for the road trip was good. We knew we had to be in Denver at a certain time for GABF. That forced us into a schedule that kept us moving but gave us time to explore what was important to us. Since so much of this trip was in unfamiliar territory I enjoyed getting the basic look at some places I’ve always wanted to visit.
Now that I’m more familiar with some of these places I feel I can go back and fully immerse myself into exploration. For example, I’d love to go back and spend a full two weeks just in Grand Staircase Escalante or Canyonlands.
Before this trip we struggled with what to do with the back of our truck. A simple lid or a full shell? Basically, we wanted something to secure our stuff and something to keep us dry when raining (we sleep in the back). When looking at the basics we decided a lid was sufficient. The bed of the truck is pretty deep so it’s not very suffocating. Having rode out some heavy rain I’m pretty happy with the decision. All the problems we had (like the pasty mud getting all over the tailgate from shoes) would have happened with the shell too.
Speaking of the truck – I kind of thought MrC wert a bit overboard with the Tundra Rock Warrior when we got it but holy cow I love that thing. It gets us everywhere and it is super comfortable for long road trips. Not the greatest gas mileage, but you have to make compromises somewhere…
The Metolius Colossus makes for an awesome two-person mattress, couch, AND crash pad. I don’t know what we’d do without that beast.
Having cash of all denominations is good when you pull into a campsite in the middle of nowhere with something like a $7 fee. When all you have is a $20 you’re out of luck.
Occasional peeks into civilization for a meal and a hotel is not a bad thing. While I prefer the backcountry, sometimes a hot shower and cold draft beer make all the difference in the world.
What needed improvement:
The weather, maybe? Okay, I know I can’t control that but I feel like it really cut into my enjoyment of the area I was most excited about visiting. But, hey, guess we’ll have to go back. Darn.
Sometimes I just need to go with the flow. I am a detailed planner and when things don’t go according to plan I’m usually pretty laid back, but sometimes even my backup plans failed (due to the weather). From Page, AZ on everything fell apart from my original plan (2-3 days in Paria, then home via the ET Highway). I sometimes get so preoccupied with staying on plan I forget to be flexible and enjoy the stuff around me at the time.
Being organized is everything. When I head off for a weekend it’s easy to just throw everything in the truck and figure it out later, especially with a newer vehicle where I haven’t quite optimized the space. But when spending two weeks on the road I need to make sure everything is where I want and expect it to be. By the end of the trip I had the system pretty much figured out and it made packing for our nine day thanksgiving trip a breeze.
I’m sure I’ll think of a million other things, but that’s why God invented edit buttons I guess.
Thanks for bearing with me and reading along during this long string of trip reports. I know it’s a bit late but I just needed some down time to catch up. Next up: Thanksgiving Trip! Nine days of exploring Death Valley including six summits. My favorite trip of the year!
With our longer Sierra trip coming up soon, we wanted to head out last weekend and get in some hiking and sleeping at altitude. I always feel better when I get some time above 10k before hauling a heavy pack up there. Our intended trip was to head out to Laurel Lakes (just south of Mammoth), climb Laurel and Bloody Mountains, followed by camping and fishing at Laurel Lakes. Sunday would be another ~10k peak with a short hike. It sounded perfect, at least until we looked at the weather forecast.
The thing about the Eastern Sierra is that even if your original plans fall through there is always something else equally fun to do. So we headed out despite the forecast, figuring that we’d find something to do no matter what.
As we drove out on Friday night we watched the enormous storm clouds hovering over the mountains. They were beautiful as the sun set and they glowed bright pink. By the time we made it through the mountains the clouds had cleared and we pulled into a dispersed campsite outside of June Lake where we slept under the stars in the back of the truck.