Aug 18, 2013 at 3:30 pm #1306670
<address>our son was off to camp. We choose a route neither of us had been on before and were once again surprised by the beauty and majesty of the High Sierra!</address>
Bishop, Ca — Amber and I left Los Angeles after work Tuesday August 6th and headed for Bishop, 30 minutes south of our planned departure. We stayed at a nice hotel, but opted for a photo of us in front of a classic 50s style motel instead.
Saturday morning we woke to clear skies–rangers say they haven’t seen a clear morning since the Aspen Fire began More than 16 days earlier. After a quick bite at McDonald's, we headed to the Mammoth visitors center, picked up our permits and by 9:00am, we were at the Coldwater Creek trailhead and ready to begin our adventure.
Both are packs weighed more than we would have liked. Our base weights were around 12 pounds each due to the required bear canisters. Without the canisters we would've been at about 9 pounds each. Also, as it turns out, we were carrying more than 3 pounds of extra trail mix; we are still scratching our heads trying to figure out what happened?
Day One – 9.5 Miles
The parking lot of the trailhead was quiet, and the air was cool – perfect day for an extended hike. Both Amber and I are out of “backpacking shape,” making our first 3 to 4 miles difficult. Once we reached the summit of Duck Lake pass, we started feeling much better.
Once over the pass we dropped into Duck Lake basin and stopped for lunch and fill our water bottles. We each used five drops of Aqua Mira for each liter for the entire trip.
Back on the trail, we continued toward Purple Lake. Our original plan was to bypass Purple and head up to Ram Lakes, but by the time we reached the junction, we were feeling the altitude and ready to call it a day. Since Purple Lake is on the JMT, we thought it would be more crowded so we took a scant use trail along the north side and bushwhacked our way to the eastern side where we found a large site near the inlet creek.
Since we typically “cowboy camp,” it takes us about ten minutes to set up camp. Once set, we went for a long walk up the inlet creek to a meadow to try and find wildlife at dusk. The only thing we found was swamp onion for our meal.
Going light and keeping gear to a minimum allows us the freedom most traditional backpacks do not have. For instance, we decided to give up our 6-person site for a group of backpackers. Amber and I simply took the groundsheet with the pads and bags and carried our "camp" up the hill to our even better site. It took us minutes.
On our way back we found a handful of nice, stealth sites and considered moving. When we got back, four people were frantically looking for a site, as it seems our site was the only fairly established clearing that would accommodate four or more people. We gave our site and moved up the hill, reestablishing our camp. It took all of ten minutes.
Day Two – 14 Miles
Our daily morning routine is to heat water for coffee, down a PopTart, pack our bags and leave camp. We typically eat breakfast on the trail once we feel the urge.
We took another use trail along the south side of the lake, fighting back trees and limbs that had fallen from the great wind storm of 2011. I was crawling over a downed tree when I brushed up against a sharp tree limb that caught in my pack and ripped a four-inch gash. I quickly repaired the rip and continued on.
The four mile hike to Lake Virginia was beautiful; the lake was even more so. We stopped at a couple campsites along the shore for future ideas with a larger group.
Back on the trail, we pulled off to water up at the lake. I noticed a lot of suds where, obviously someone violated the Leave No Trace principle. I think most camper still do not realize that Camp Suds, Dr. Broners and other soaps, despite being "biodegradable," still pollute lakes and streams–they just don't pollute as long as conventional products.
After treating our water from the lake, we continue down the JMT and dropped into Cascade Valley.
We came to a stream crossing without stepping stones, so we rolled up our pants and walked through with our shoes on. The next few miles to Lost Keys Lake junction were a bit wet on our feet, but it felt rejuvenating and helped us greatly on our last push up to Lost Keys.
We were told that Upper Lost Keys Lake was the best, but we settled on Lower and turned in at 8:00PM.
Day Three – 18 Miles
Waking up at 6am, we packed up and hit the trail. Amber and I took extra time to shoot photos and video during our walk down the hill. Along the way we saw a mink scurry across the trail. From Lost Keys, the trail dropped in elevation from over 9,000 to 7,100 at Ina Bell Hot Springs.
We were lucky that the wild berry season was in full swing. Ripe currents and goose berries tantalized us at every turn.
At the junction, we took the trail up past a few large campsites, past a large meadow on the hill, and then scrambled up even higher until the small creek was steaming. We were surprised at how far we had to hike, but the payoff was sweet; the hot springs were awesome! There are about three pools where we were but we could see another larger pool about 200 yard below us. We stripped down to our underwear and jumped in. It doesn’t get much better than that.
From Ina Bell, we followed Fish Creek down even father. We were by now in a completely different pine belt and plant community. Now in the Jeffery Pine Belt, we were surrounded with lush ferns, aspens, colorful lichens and the seemingly ever-present sound of a rushing stream. We dropped down to 6,300 at Island Crossing where our hike begins to once again climb.
After crossing the bridge, we were instantly thrown into an arid plant community of Manzanita and sagebrush, very much like our home mountains, the San Gabriel Foothills. The trail was steep and hot. Luckily, we used the map to schedule water fills, rather than carry three quarts of water, “just in case.” We ended up having just enough water; when we reached the crux of the hill, we ran out of water about 100 yards before a small stream crossing.
The trail along Crater Creek parallels the San Joaquin River a few hundred feet below. The valley which the river cuts through is incredible—almost like Yosemite. We stopped a few times to shoot pictures and video, trying to capture all its beauty.
Once we reached our next junction at Rainbow Falls, we knew we were back in civilization; there were day-walkers wandering around the falls and the wide, pumice laden trail. Amber and I took a quick detour to the Falls and then back to a side trail to find a place to camp. As we got closer to Reds Meadow, it was evident we would have to stay at the established camp and join all the other backpackers, which ended up being a blast!
Day Four – 7 Miles
After packing up, we headed up over Mammoth Pass Trail to Mammoth Lakes. The hike was a little tedious, probably because we had the end in sight. Originally, we planned to take the JMT from Red’s to Arrow Head Lake via Purple and Duck Lake Pass, but we didn’t have the time to 19 miles and ended doing seven, which was perfect for us.
We were about a mile from our car when I felt a small rock on the ball of my foot. I ignored it for a bout a half mile and finally pulled over to check it out. Sure enough, the rock cut a small hole in my foot causing a small yet painless blister. I patch it with duck tape and finished our walk back pain-free.
We arrived at Coldwater Creek and our car before lunch and enjoyed a nice shower at the Lake Mary Marina for $4 each.
Next stop: John’s Pizza and home!
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