Monday morning marked our departure from the John Muir Trail. After a short walk along the well-worn path where it circles south of Tawny Point, we said goodbye to the trail on Bighorn Plateau (home of many frolicking marmots).
We cut northeast and stayed above the lower Wright Creek drainage so we could get a better view of the lakes beyond. Pretty much immediately we found ourselves in a talus field, but it didn’t last long. The cross-country travel was easy and straightfoward, and once we emerged from the trees it was even better.
Somewhere around ten years ago David and I spent a day at Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park. This is a small and quiet park that is only accessible via boat since other than its lakeshore, the park is surrounded entirely by private lands. Ten years ago we rented a canoe and paddled about a mile to the first trailhead, then did a six mile hike through lava flows and by lava tubes. After the hike we paddled back across the lake. We didn’t see another person and the wildlife was incredible. For years we’ve been saying we need to go back and take advantage of the campsites lining the shore, and we finally got around to it last weekend.
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.
Coming in at number eight is another cheap yet awesome item.
I love to fish in the high Sierra lakes but am not a serious hardcore fisherman. (woman?) I want something I can use to throw in a few casual casts at the end of the day. It just needs to be strong enough to haul in some healthy wild dinner trout; I’m not out there hunting lunkers.
I also want something light and compact that I can lash to the outside of my pack easily. Enter the Shakespeare Telescopic Casting Rod. A few years ago I discovered this rod in a Big 5, retailing for a whopping $14.
I’ve been carrying it for three or four years and it’s been great. Originally I expected it to break on my first 1/2 lb catch so I bought two (hey, at $14, why not?) The second one is still in the back of my gear closet, never opened.
I love how I can collapse it down without having to undo everything. Quick to cast, quick to put away. A perfect backpacking rod for the casual fisherman.
There are plenty of options for getting to the summit of Split Mountain, from the walk-up to the technical. Split could be considered the easiest 14k peak in California when looking only at the route from Lake 3535. Secor calls it the second easiest 14er (after Whitney). Our climb took us on this ‘easy’ walk-up approach, however, you have to get to the Lake first. That requires a hike of nearly 8000 feet of gain in 14 miles, so the summit of Split doesn’t see as many people as, say, White Mountain or Mt Langley. I’m not sure how Secor rationalizes that. Split has two summits (presumably the reason for the name) and fortunately the northernmost and more accessible of the two is the higher one. The ‘split’ in the summit was clear from Arrow Peak and I remember saying something along the lines of “oh now I get it” while enjoying the view from there. It dominated the view and at that time I didn’t realize I’d be standing on it within a few days. I had made a mental note to myself: Get up that thing someday.
‘Someday’ ended up being Thursday. It was a perfect morning at Lake 3535 (despite the mosquitoes) and rather than get an alpine start we took our time getting ready to head to the peak. I enjoyed the last of my Packit Gourmet breakfast smoothies (the 400 calorie punch gets me going better than anything else in the morning) and we finally headed out, leaving David behind to fish for a while before catching up to us.
From our campsite on the northwest end of the lake we hopped boulders and hiked around the shore until we were at the base of several possible routes heading up to the low saddle between Split and Prater. The route from the east, via Red Lake, meets our route at this saddle. Sooz and I zigzagged up the nice green ramps while David took a more direct approach through a steeper talus field. Of course he beat us, because he is fast.
From the saddle the route is perfectly clear – just head on up. The terrain varies from sandy to moderate sized rock, but rarely steep enough to need hands (though I went into “four wheel drive” a few times). I still wasn’t sure what we’d encounter when getting closer to that snow near the top but it looked like we’d be able to get around it – I decided there was no reason to worry about it yet and kept going.
We found that it was easier to stick to the sandier use trails instead of hopping over the more unstable rock. One wonderful consequence of this decision was that polemonium, my favorite flower, was abundant in the sandy areas and it practically guided us to the top like the lights of an airport runway. I could have closed my eyes and navigated by smell alone.
We were unbelievably lucky to have a perfect day. The weather was perfect for a climb – not too hot, not too cold, and the mosquitoes weren’t bothering us. There were no clouds building and we had plenty of daylight to make the climb. We took our time enjoying the polemonium and the views as we climbed – it was just perfect.
The higher we got, the more things fell away below us. Mather Pass looked puny. Mountains that had towered above us that morning looked like quick little run-ups. Scale and perspective is so weird up here, but the more time you spend in these mountains the more you learn to read them. That puny Mather Pass? Really isn’t that puny. That nice looking peak over there? That chute is gnarly up close.
The summit is a nice area with some good lounging rocks where one can sit back and enjoy the view. I settled right on in – we were in no hurry. It wasn’t even 1 pm and the weather was perfect. With hours of daylight left there was nothing to rush us off the peak.
We spent over an hour on the summit. Reading the summit register, staring at the big Tom Harrison map while trying to identify distant peaks, taking tons of photos, getting dive-bombed by a kestrel, and simply sitting back and taking it all in. That’s how you spend over an hour on a summit. It was probably my most perfect summit experience. And the only 14er summit we haven’t had to share with anyone other than us.
To the north we saw the only peaks that were higher than us, the summits of the Palisade crest. I believe Split used to be called South Palisade, but don’t quote me on that.
After over an hour we decided that it was finally time to descend, but we took our time, stopping at the saddle for some fun photos.
And the best part was getting back to camp only to discover that Mr Speedy, a.k.a. David, had already caught limits and was ready to cook us some dinner of this extraordinarily colored rainbow hybrid trout.
Top it off with some bourbon and hot apple cider, sipped while watching acrobatic fish jump and the moonrise over Split, and you have what I call a perfect day in the mountains. Oh! And a spectacular shooting star – one of those that lasts long enough for everyone to see.
After this there was only one day remaining on our Sierra summer trip. The next day we hiked all the way from our campsite at Lake 3535 to the Taboose pass trailhead. We took the old trail that cuts over just north of the JMT South Fork crossing, and made it back to the cars by 6:30 pm after a 14 mile, 8000 ft descent day (with a 1500 climb thrown in the middle for good measure). We covered terrain we had mostly done earlier in the week so I’m not going to write about it in detail, but I’ll share some photos from the last day below, or just use the Photos tab at the top of this trip report for links to more.
Last weekend we visited Thousand Lakes Wilderness, nestled in the volcanic terrain between Lassen National Park and Burney Falls. While we’re familiar with much of the local area the wilderness itself was new to us and we looked forward to an easy backpack and some fishing.
After a long five hour drive from San Jose and some meetup confusion with a friend, we finally were on our way from the Cypress Trailhead to Everett Lake. The beginning of the hike was a slog along a dusty, steadily climbing trail with no views. I wasn’t terribly impressed. But as we got closer to the small basin containing the lake the views started to open up and I started enjoying the hike.
There are no permits or quotas required for Thousand Lakes wilderness so the lakes were pretty busy. But, as always, five minutes of extra effort found us a nice campsite away from the crowds. It amazes me how lazy backpackers can be, dropping their pack at the first available campsite. Some of my favorite spots have been at incredibly busy areas. Something about finding that secret, out of the way camp site that no one else has discovered is rewarding.
After setting up camp the guys decided to crack open the beer and fish. I, however, had loftier goals. The eroded former Thousand Lakes volcano is now a narrow rim that circles a portion of the Lakes valley. The high points on the rim are all named peaks. Which means I had to stand on top of them. So at 3pm I set off towards the rim with the goal to hit as many as possible before my 5pm turn around time.
There is a trail that leads from the lakes up to a low point on the rim. As I hiked up this trail I was a bit dismayed to see a large amount of snow and even cornices clinging to the rim. But I kept going since I wanted to get a better view of the incredibly colorful and dramatic volcanic rock. As I got closer to the rim, just at the edge of the snow, I could see that the trail switchbacked up a melted-out rib. Yay!
By 4pm I was on the rim and heading to Magee Peak, an undramatic bump on the ridge. The views towards Lassen were incredible. After a short break at the summit for photos and log book signing I headed over to the high point, Crater Peak. It looked like a bushwhack from hell but the snakey use trails through the bushes made the climb quite easy. A couple of short talus fields caught me by surprise – a teeny bit of (avoidable) class 2 to make the climb a bit more fun.
After a short summit visit I hit my 5 pm turnaround time so there would be no going along the other edge of the rim to hit the other named peaks. At least I have a reason to come back…
A cross-country shortcut back to the trail saved me a lot of time and I was back in camp at 5:50. David had some minor success fishing and all the guys were trying to catch more. I cleaned up and wolfed down all the food I carried in – too hungry from my extra ~6 miles and 2000 ft of gain to wait for the fishies!
I’m glad we finally visited this little tucked-away wilderness. The scenery was a nice change and reminded me of Lassen, a place I haven’t backpacked in years. With no permits required and no quotas it’s a great last-minute place to slip away to. Don’t miss the peaks – a large part of my enjoyment of the area was drinking in the views from that volcanic rim – it’s incredible up there!
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.