Between Steelhead and French Lakes

Between Steelhead and French Lakes

The sun was up and I poked my face out of my tent, still wrapped up in my warm sleeping bag like a burrito. My water bottle was frozen. Hm, that was a first for this trip.

Our original plan was to have an easy day down to Honeymoon or Upper Pine Lake where we would have a relaxing last night on the trail before exiting and driving home on Sunday. Instead, we decided to cover the final 10 miles (2 cross-country, 8 on trail) and almost 5000 feet of descent in one day. After a successful trip with every summit on the list bagged, I certainly didn’t feel like we were cheating or bailing on our plans by exiting a day earlier than planned. Anyways, I only had one packet of Starbucks Via coffee left and we’d polished off the end of my bourbon the night before. The real world has coffee and beer. I was ready for the real world.

After packing up we took off cross-country towards French Lake. It was a really pretty little area with nice meadows and some campsites tucked away along a lightly flowing creek. At French Lake we dropped our packs for a quick snack and some photos. There are some relaxing looking beaches along the shore of this lake, but they didn’t look too tempting on this cold and windy morning. It wasn’t warming up like the previous days. There was an autumn-like chill in the air.

Pine Creek Pass

Pine Creek Pass

In addition to the chill and the wind, there were some unusual high clouds in the direction of Italy Pass. As we got closer to Pine Creek Pass (where we would meet up with the trail for the final eight miles back to the trailhead) the clouds got darker. I would not have been happy if we were heading into the higher country. Luckily we were going down where things were warmer and sunnier.

Brrr. Stormy clouds from Pine Lake

Brrr. Stormy clouds from Pine Lake

Our next quick break was at Pine Lake. Much like our first day, the wind was blowing and the clouds were threatening. And just like that first day, the clouds didn’t look like the typical Sierra afternoon clouds. It was during this break that I figured out why the clouds were making me so uneasy – they looked like snow clouds, not afternoon storms. I found out later that it had snowed a bit in Yosemite and other parts of the high country that day, so I wasn’t wrong.

The final descent seemed to last forever, as the final few miles of long trips always do, but at 2:30 pm we were back at the trailhead and our cars. I dropped my pack and walked over to where the creek runs by the parking lot. It felt great to soak my feat and knees in the cold water, and when I got back to the cars Sooz had pulled a celebratory beer out of her cooler. We sat on the tailgate of her truck and enjoyed it before the pangs of hunger drove us into town for sandwiches at Vons.

Civilization is down there somewhere

Civilization is down there somewhere

We took our sandwiches over to Keough Hot Ditch where we made an effort to clean ourselves up a bit before heading over to Horton Creek Campground to crash for the night. We stayed up late eating an enormous tray of fresh vegetables and drinking beer. Two things I missed the most while on the trail!

On Sunday morning we went into town for breakfast (BACON!) and coffee, and eventually headed home. Dark snow clouds over Mammoth had me concerned about making it over Tioga Pass in my Prius, but fortunately it wasn’t falling that far north.

This trip goes down in the books as one of the best ever. I am already longing to get back into Bear Lakes Basin, get on top of more peaks, and do more cross-country travel.  The wheels are spinning – perhaps some more of the High Route with peak bagging next summer? The list is long and I will never run out of beautiful places to go or things to see in the Sierra. I love it out there!

Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

Mountain sports addict. Dog Mom. Craft beer drinker. Tech nerd. The best days are those spent above 10k ft. Meet me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google +


SF Hiking · October 20, 2010 at 11:44 am

Very figurative 🙂 … “out of the sleeping bag like a burrito…” Not sure I ever quite pictured it that way 🙂 but sounds like an awesome trip and the photos are beautiful!

richard long · February 10, 2011 at 10:14 am

Great trip report! I am a Hi-Sierra Topix member also. Great pics- are you using a full-size dslr?
I was in the Puppet area in early July, but I did not to Steelhead, or French Lake- are there still fish in those lakes. Thanks again for the report-

    Calipidder · February 10, 2011 at 6:39 pm


    I use a panasonic LX3 – it’s a wide angle full featured ‘pocket’ camera with a Leica lens. Not quite as great as a full sized DSLR but it probably does the best job for that size of camera. I’ve found it to be a nice compromise for the trips where I want to keep my weight down. I’ve even gotten some nice prints out of it.

LHoiland · March 31, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Thanks for your interesting adventure story! You really brought the trip to life for me with your fantastic photos and colorful descriptions. I am going to traipse along the Sierra High Route from Piute Pass to Mono Pass this summer. It”s my old stomping grounds since I was a backcountry ranger there back in the day.

kbpaddlesurfer · August 12, 2013 at 7:32 pm

That was really cool Rebecca. Very descriptive. Thanks for sharing.

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