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.
The day after we climbed Mt Conness we wanted to do something a bit easier on the knees. At least I did – mine were still a bit sore from the big trip I had done in August and Conness just reminded me that I needed to rest a bit longer. We chose to hike the loop of lakes out of Big Pine. This is a beautiful spot, sitting just below the Palisades and the ridge of assorted 14ers. It wasn’t a short hike, but being all on-trail made it nice and easy.
We did the loop counter-clockwise, starting at Black Lake and working our way around Fourth, Fifth, Third, Second, and finally First. First, Second, and Third Lakes are an amazing opaque turquoise due to the silt in the water from the glaciers above. We fished many of the lakes but had limited success since it was midday. We saw fish in all of the lakes but they were only biting in Fifth.
There is nothing special to note about this trip – the map and the pictures say it all. If you want to see all of the photos, check them out here. Unfortunately it was pretty hazy due to the smoke from the Sheep Fire. I’d love to go back to these lakes with my SLR when the haze is gone!
Over Labor Day weekend we once again headed into the Sierra for a backpacking trip. This trip was built around my desire to see Benson Lake (the picture in this entry) with its giant sandy beach and trout fishing. We started off from Twin Lakes (out of Bridgeport), headed through Hoover Wilderness, down Matterhorn Canyon, by Smedberg and Benson Lakes, and back up Kerrick canyon. It took us 3.5 days to cover the ~50 miles, with a long, 20 mile final day when we decided to forgo our last campsite and hike all the way out.
In researching this trip, I learned that most people do this loop counterclockwise, but I chose to go clockwise and am happy with that choice. With our itinerary and direction, the hardest part of each day’s hike was at the beginning of the day when we were fresh. I was really happy to have relatively easy hiking during the second part of each day. A clockwise approach is definitely recommended.
I invited some geocaching friends out on a backpacking trip this weekend. Since I knew it would be a first backpacking trip for some people, I decided to choose a destination that was nice and easy with other attractions, like geocaches, fishing, swimming, etc. Island Lake in Tahoe National Forest is one of my favorite leisurely backpacking destinations and fit the criteria perfectly.
The hike is a mere 1.5 miles over nearly flat terrain, ending at a picturesque granite- and tree-lined lake with many nice campsites. With no permit limits and relatively simple access, the place is crowded with both dayhikers and backpackers. But, if you want to hook someone on backpacking from the start, there is no better spot. The lake is a great example of all that a perfect Sierra lake has to offer: good swimming temperature, amazing scenery and sunsets, and there is plentiful dayhiking to other lakes and ridges for those who want a bit more of a workout. Fishing is even an option – it’s not a great fishing lake, but plenty of trout were jumping and one of our group was even able to haul in a few for breakfast. It is crowded, but there are enough places to camp that you can usually find a spot to yourself, though you’ll be hearing people laugh and yell across the lake as they enjoy the water as well.
I certainly wouldn’t recommend Island Lake for someone who wanted a quiet weekend getaway, or a challenging overnighter, but for beginners, or experienced backpackers who just want a weekend of luxury, it’s a great spot.
I was a bit concerned about today’s logistics and timing, but it turns out that everything went quite smoothly. We left Bishop at about 9 am and drove down to Lone Pine to pick up our permit at the Inyo National Forest visitor’s center. After taking possession of our Wag Bags we drove up to Whitney Portal where we parked the Prius and met our shuttle service. While we waited we had one of the well-known burgers, but I was most impressed with the fries. Mmm.
Our shuttle was there on time and drove us up to Onion Valley. By 1:15 we were on the trail and heading up to Kearsarge Pass. We continued over the pass and past the lakes to where the trail connected to the John Muir Trail. Home again! We turned south on the JMT and headed down into Vidette Meadow where we camped for the night. This was the only place where I was nervous about bears, but nothing bothered us or our food all night.
This was Dave’s first day on the trail but he kept up with me.
As a side note, I should mention that I skipped the stretch of the John Muir Trail between Piute and Kearsage because I hiked it last year. I would have loved to have done it again, but I chose to budget my vacation time this summer on places I hadn’t yet been, like the Yosemite High Passes Loop. Now that I’ve seen the whole JMT I realize that someday I want to take the time to do the whole thing beginning to end, but this year it wasn’t in the cards.
Knowing we had a long Day 2 ahead of us, we started early with a 5:30 AM wake up call. Hitting the trail shortly after 7 AM I began the climb to Donohue Pass in the cool morning shade. I found the hike to be far easier than expected – I think my prior weekend at altitude helped me quite a bit on these first couple of days. I lingered in some beautiful alpine meadows and got the pass at the time I normally hit the trail, 9:30 AM.
Although it was an enjoyable day, there was a lot of time bled along the way, but starting early kept the day pressure-free. Andrea was feeling the affects of the altitude and took a tumble on the way down from the pass, twisting her ankle – this injury would unfortunately cause her to leave the trail the next day. Anna Marie and I got to Thousand Island lake an hour ahead of the rest of the group and had a windy but nice lunch break. We watched lots and lots of hikers go by, including a bit Boyscout group. Most hikers were coming from Agnew and staying at 1000 Island Lake – not many seemed to be heading South along the JMT towards Garnet, so we thought finding a campsite would be a ‘piece of cake’.
Next weekend I start the John Muir Trail. As part of my preparation for the hike I wanted to spend the previous weekend at altitude, but not overdo myself as far as physical exertion. The result was a weekend of car camping at Sawmill walk-in campground to the east of Tioga pass and three stunning dayhikes in the Tioga/Tuolumne region.
On Saturday we arrived around noon and set up our campsite. After claiming our spot we headed down the road to Saddlebag Lake where we hiked a ~8 mile loop through a beautiful basin – obviously named 20 Lakes Basin for a reason. Following a delicious dinner at Tioga Pass Resort we settled in for the night at Sawmill, watching the nearly full moon rise over the Dana Crest.
On Sunday we dayhiked up to Gaylor Lake (the trailhead right by the Tioga Pass entrance station) and kept going to the Great Sierra Mine ruins. Back at the car before noon, we drove down to the May Lake trailhead and bagged Mt Hoffmann. We were out of the park by 6:30 and even had time to grab a yummy bite at the 50′s Roadhouse in Knight’s Ferry.