It’s only June and I’ve already managed to squeeze in two overnight backpacking trips in Yosemite. I hope this is the start of a good season! In late April I backpacked to Rancheria Falls, and this past weekend I visited Ten Lakes Basin, a good overnight destination off of Tioga Road.
The conditions this year are extremely dry, so the conditions we experienced were closer to an average July than early June. Rangers had warned that there would still be ‘plentiful snow’ and that the lakes were still iced over, but having driven by the pass already over Memorial Day weekend I strongly suspected they were exaggerating. They were. We had a beautiful visit to the lakes with just enough snow to keep the beers cold.
On paper, Sword Lake does not fit my definition of a great destination. It is a popular lake, not a place to go for solitude. It’s not above treeline or filled with pristine glacier-fed waters. It is surrounded by forest so the views are minimal. There are mosquitoes and noisy boyscouts. There are no fish. The drive to the trailhead is dusty. The hike is short and unchallenging.
Nevertheless, this is one of the best lakes I’ve backpacked to in the Sierra.
What Sword Lake does have is the best swimming conditions I’ve found. If I’d discovered this lake unspoiled and rarely visited, I’d keep it a secret. However, this is a well known place and there is a lot of information out there (including several YouTube videos and a few mainstream media profiles) so I have no qualms in sharing the details here.
On the morning of Day 4 we had a break from packing up camp. Instead we prepared for dayhiking to some of the other nearby lakes. With no rush, David decided to head back to Ediza to try for some breakfast fish, and sure enough, he came back with one for each of us. My own personal breakfast brookie mmmmm.
Our morning destination was Nydiver Lakes, another area that was possibly approachable by trail, but I wasn’t sure. It turns out that the trail was pretty easy to find, and we really needed it, too. The hike along the drainage of the lakes is steep, but the trail is nice enough to switchback up the steepest part, keeping us out of the thick bushes and jumbly rocks. Towards the top (when my GPS had us within 500 feet of the first lake), we found ourselves running out of trail in front of a wall of rock. The water coming out of the lake’s drainage tumbled down the rock in a waterfall, so that wasn’t the approach. I knew it shouldn’t be that difficult, so I just started scrambling up towards the only direct possibility – a notch in the wall – feet slipping and sliding on the steep scree surrounding an old tailings pile.
After spending 30+ hours of the last month on a plane, I wanted to do an overnight backpack trip with minimal fuss and maximum relaxation. I wanted to go somewhere with a relatively easy hike, nice scenery, fishing, campfires, and swimming. I also wanted flexibility in the number of people and time, so I didn’t want to go anywhere requiring a complicated permit.
The destination was Buck Island Lake in El Dorado National Forest. Buck Island Lake sits along the trail just outside the Desolation Wilderness boundary, keeping it free from the Wilderness’s permit and other restrictions. The downside is that the Rubicon 4×4 trail runs along the other side of the lake. To be honest, that is one of the reasons I chose this lake – we had a potentially large group of people going on this trip, and I didn’t want to be ‘that group’ that disturbs the wilderness experience of others. I figured that no one camped at the same lake as the Rubicon folks would be expecting a peaceful night in the wilderness and I wouldn’t feel guilty if we stayed up a bit late chatting and laughing around the campfire.
What does a backpacker in backpacking withdrawal do on the hottest yet weekend of the year? She, along with 9 friends, goes backpacking in the hot, hot Cache Creek Wilderness, of course.
To be fair, this trip was planned several weeks ago so we didn’t purposely choose to go out in this heat, but we certainly weren’t going to let it stop us. We met at the Redbud trail head at 10 am with our almost lightweight packs (heat = lighter gear, yay). However, loading them up with water kind of took the joy out of having a lightweight pack. We took our time getting to Wilson Valley – it’s about seven miles to the valley, and the trail goes up and over two ridges. Although parts of the trail are shaded, there are plenty of sunny, exposed areas too. The terrain and scenery is similar to hiking the East Bay regional parks or Henry Coe (though the trails aren’t as steep).
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.
As planned, we got an early start out of Lake Edison so we could get up and over Bear Ridge before the day heated up. As it turned out the climb wasn’t bad at all – we took it slow and steady and before we knew it, we were at the top. These steep 2000 ft gains get a bit easier after a week on the trail. The trail was well graded and it was even shaded – I now have no doubt that the horror stories we had heard were exaggerated, much like the tales of the climb out of Red’s Meadow.
As we descended off of Bear Ridge there wasn’t as much shade, so the downhill was worse. Eventually the trail met Bear Creek and we had several miles of easy, gently climbing trail. The day was hot so I was keeping an eye out for a good place to soak my feet and dunk my head. A perfect swimming hole appeared mere feet from the trail, so I knew I must stop. We spent about an hour soaking and relaxing before continuing on.
The last few miles seemed to take forever. The scenery was beautiful, but it was still hot and a bit dusty. Our 3500 foot, 13 mile day caught up with us in the last mile or so and we were very grateful to reach camp at Rosemarie Meadow. Unfortunately the campsite was incredibly dusty, but we didn’t feel like wandering around, looking for a better place.