Yosemite, June 2009
Back to other trips
year we were
back to a full week with both Alex and Eric.
Our route skirted the Northwest boundary of Yosemite, crossed a saddle
near Haystack Peak,
and returned via the popular Jack Main Canyon, essentially
circumnavigating the mysterious Kendrick Creek valley. Much of
area is without trails, and we spent three full days hiking cross-country.
This was most definitely The
Early Trip. We'd never been in
June before, and the season manifested dramatically: giant
snowfields, torrential creeks, massive swarms of mosquitoes, and
intoxicating carpets of wildflowers. I'm not sure we'll go
this early again soon, but it was certainly worth the trouble.
Again this year there is a slide
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Shingle Spring Trailhead to Many Island Lake
After a pleasant night at the Cherry
Valley Campground, we dropped one
car at the Lake Eleanor
Trailhead and all piled into the other for the
last few miles to Shingle
Our hike up Kibbie Ridge
started moderately steep and then slowly leveled
out to a gentle climb. We hiked for an hour or so through
recently burned forests under a cloudy sky, then stopped for a snack at
The trail was very swampy in places, but we
made it through without too much trouble. Emerging from the
forest just past Sachse
Spring, we stopped for lunch on the bare
granite, where it began to drizzle on us.
lunch, we continued towards Styx
Pass, where we turned right and
descended off-trail down granite slabs to Many Island Lake.
We set up camp at an adequate site on the northwest shore of the lake
and explored a small portion of its complicated shoreline under gray
skies. We declined to quantify the number of islands.
Day 2: Many
Island Lake to Upper Inferno Lake
morning greeted us with beautiful blue skies, and since our hike
was short today we spent an hour swimming and relaxing. As
clouds began to form, we set off up the hill due east, over an easy
pass and down to an unnamed lake at 7489'. We were hoping to
skirt this lake and head northeast to Boundary Lake, but
not possible. Instead, we followed the lake's drainage to the
south and curved around under an impressive granite edifice towards
Little Bear Lake.
Just before the crest, we found a
delightful little waterfall beside which to have lunch.
We then circled Little
Bear Lake and followed its inlet creek up a
series of steps to a set of small lakes at about 8000'. From
there we continued east down a steep face to
the southwest shore of Upper
Inferno Lake. The terrain around
this lake is quite rugged, and the lake itself features a small island
with a glacial erratic balanced atop it. We set up camp
amongst the trees and climbed up to a lookout between the two Inferno
Lakes for some stunning evening views.
As the wind died down, the lake became a mirror, and we spent a long
time at its edge, gazing at the rocks.
Day 3: Upper
Inferno Lake to Peninsula Lake
Once again we awoke to blue skies, but today we packed up quickly and
got hiking -- we had a full day of off-trail hiking planned.
I was very excited for today, because our route was not only completely
off-trail, but mostly unmentioned in any guide books or maps.
I'd planned it myself from studying topo maps and satellite
photos. As it turns out, the route worked perfectly!
We began by heading north up the low ridge on the east side of Upper
Inferno Lake. Once we hit the saddle down into Cherry Creek
we turned east until we crossed the contact to the darker rocks of
From here it was a steep 600' climb SSW up the
flank of Wheeler Peak,
threading our way between trees and snow
We finally crested the ridge and walked left to a
nice high point from which we could survey the remainder of our
route. We decided not to scale the final, rocky ridge to the
peak and instead had our snack where we were, with expansive views of
the Kendrick Creek
After snack, we returned to the saddle and made our way down to the
wide bench on the southeast side of Wheeler
Peak. This is a
very easy route, almost a highway straight down to Kendrick
Creek. Near the bottom of the bench, Alex heard
a noise in
the trees 50' to his left and turned to see a black bear running full
speed, head-first down a tree. Alex didn't know which way the
bear was headed and almost messed his pants! Fortunately, the
bear hit the ground and ran the other way: a quarter mile up
the hill. At that point it turned around, started sniffing
the air, and began walking back towards us. We decided to
The bench dropped us off along Kendrick
Creek at a beautiful and very
loud cascade, beside which we had lunch. The weather began to
turn, though, and clouds and drizzle ruled the rest of the
day. From here it was an easy walk up the west side of the
creek to Fawn Lake,
passing many waterfalls along the way.
At Fawn Lake
we were supposed to turn right, but the creek was so full
it was impassible. Instead, we walked around the lake to the
left in hopes of crossing Kendrick
Creek further up (and avoiding a
second crossing). This, too, proved too full for anything
other than a dangerous swim, and we feared we'd have to turn
back. We began following the creek up the hill, hoping for a
miracle -- and we found one: single tree had fallen in the middle of a
meadow, neatly bridging the rushing river! It was a scary
crossing, but we made it.
(An interesting aside: this location is the first time I've
found USGS topos to be incorrect. The creek has changed
course since the map was made, and now flows down the west side of a
small hill instead of the east. You can see this by comparing
the "terrain" and "satellite" views on Acme
Mapper. Or maybe
the maps have been wrong all along...)
From the crossing, we headed up the steep hill towards Peninsula
Lake. This was a tough climb through patches of
snow and up
rockfalls that required hands as well as feet. Eventually,
however, we tromped the last hundred yards over a solid snowfield and
make it to the lake. It was cold and drizzling, and we were
very tired. We set up camp near the lake's outlet, in the
shadow of towering Haystack
Lake to Otter Lake
Another beautiful morning cheered us, and we started out along the east
side of Peninsula Lake.
At the inlet creek we turned due east
and climbed the granite slabs to Upper
Peninsula Lake. On the
way up, we looked back and saw that half of Peninsula Lake was
partially frozen! The upper lake was mostly frozen, too, and
was nestled in a massive, snowy bowl. It seriously looked
like a ski resort. We set off over the snow, stepping
carefully, and wound our way around to the east side of the lake where
the snow had melted and our climb to the ridge began.
The climb from here is described in my guide book, and involves a
northerly traverse up the cliff, scrambling in places. A
badly placed snow bank blocked our way near the top and we had to
adjust our route, but we made it to the top without too much difficulty
-- just a lot of effort and some vertigo. We emerged onto the
saddle midway between Haystack
and Schofield Peaks.
described as "must see", but Schofield looked a lot more snowy so we
dropped our packs and set off northwest towards Haystack.
hike was easy (especially without packs), and within half an hour
we had reached the peak. The view from Haystack Peak is
remarkable. In addition to the great peaks in the distance
(including a puny-looking Wheeler
Peak), there is the view straight
down to Peninsula Lake.
And I do mean straight
down. It was like being in an airplane 1200' over our
We ate a quick lunch, since the clouds were beginning to form as per
usual, and hiked back to our packs. From here, our route was
supposed to be an "easy descent over granite slabs" to Otter
Lake. Unfortunately, those granite slabs were
under four feet
of snow! We boot-skied much of it, but once we hit treeline
it became too uneven and we attempted to traverse to the less snowy,
south-facing slope. The going was still tough, however, and
our route less direct. I was pretty exhausted when we
stumbled into a nice campsite near the northeast corner of the lake.
revived with a snack, fortunately, and we spent a fantastic evening
at this beautiful lake. We whiled a couple of hours watching
the icebergs slowly drift, bubbling and melting amongst snow-covered
rocks. Eric also found a viewpoint near the lake's eastern
outlet which provided a fantastic view of the peaks of upper Jack Main
Canyon. It was a lovely, relaxing evening, and
without any serious cloud cover.
Day 5: Otter
Lake to Jack Main Canyon
After finding a log across Otter
Lake's eastward outlet creek (it has
two), our route down to the Pacific
Crest Trail was generally southeast
over granite slabs and benches. Once we hit the trail, we
followed it past Wilma
Lake (or Wilmer
Lake -- the signs don't match
the map) and on into the lower part of Jack Main Canyon.
trail here wound between Falls
Creek, a series of small lakes, and the
sides of the canyon. In places it was atop an isthmus only a
few feet wide between the swollen creek and a lake. In many
places it was completely flooded out, but we only had to take our boots
The mosquitoes were quite thick in the canyon, and we had a very rushed
and unpleasant lunch beside the river. A quick dive into the
water only temporarily kept them at bay, and we worried about finding a
camp we could tolerate. Eventually, we broke out onto a
granite knob and the afternoon wind picked up, dispersing the crowd of
flying bloodsuckers. We found a great spot beside the river,
next to a spectacular series of cascades. As the evening came
on, however, the wind died and the mosquitoes returned, swarming so
thick they made breathing difficult. We located a spot at the
water line below a large cascade, and the spray provided some relief
until the sun completed its descent and the bugs went home.
The only problem was that we'd set up the tent on top of some strange
flower that emitted the scent of regurgitated Chinese food all
night. Every time I rolled over I gagged.
Day 6: Jack
Main Canyon to Old Lake Eleanor Road
We slept in a little today, hoping the bugs would be gone by the time
we emerged from the tent. As it turns out, there were very
few mosquitoes in the morning, and our breakfast below the falls was
fabulous. We then took a quick dip in the beautiful,
deep-green water upstream from our camp, but it was so cold that Alex pulled a muscle in his
neck! After packing up, we continued the last quarter mile
down Jack Main Canyon
to where Falls Creek
takes a hard left and
plunges down to Lake
Vernon. We peered over the edge, then
began the hot and buggy climb up Moraine
Beyond the crest of the ridge, the trail became a joy: gentle
downhill on a sandy trail, with a cool breeze on our faces and fabulous
views to both sides through the blackened trunks from a recent
fire. We strolled happily down this to a lovely lunch spot
overlooking the valley, then continued descending to The
A bootless wade across Frog
Creek brought us to the
lovely shores of Laurel
Our original plan was to camp here, but a young couple we ran into on
the ridge had told us that Laurel
Lake was nothing special and we
should instead camp at Miguel
Meadow. They appeared to be
wrong about the lake, but their idea fit with our desire to shorten our
last day, so we continued on. After another "portage" of Frog
Creek, we dropped below 6000' and began to see bay laurel
trees. Soon thereafter we hit the wildflowers.
Wow. Thousands of them, in stunning variety, colored the
ground between the trees. The aroma was dizzying!
a distant bear sighting, we arrived at Miguel Meadow...and
somewhat confused. First of all, there was no
meadow. Secondly, it was not as great as the friendly couple
had implied. In fact, it was kinda creepy. There
was an old, boarded-up ranger station, a mysterious shed, and a buggy
little trickle of water. Alex was worried about ax murderers,
so we decided to move on in hopes of finding something further down the trail.
We took a short snack break and then started up the old Lake Eleanor
Road, which looks like it hasn't been a road in about 50
years. It was still quite wide, though, which allowed us a
backcountry treat: hiking side-by-side. About a
mile and a half down the road we found a small granite knoll with some
nice flat spots. There was no water, but we had enough to
last the night and so set up camp. With all the plan changes,
it had been a very long day: about 13 miles, I think.
Our knoll was a happy spot, covered in boulders, and the sky remained
clear the rest of the evening, making a lovely silhouette of the
surrounding ridges as it turned to darkness. We started a
small campfire and fell asleep staring at the stars -- our first night
outside the tent!
Day 7: Old
Lake Eleanor Road to Lake Eleanor
With all the mileage we'd done on Day 6, our last day had only 2.5
miles in it. We started out after breakfast and soon came to
the shores of Lake
Eleanor. The trail followed its inviting
waters around to the west and soon dropped us off at the ranger station
and CCC camp. There we ran into Joe, the World's Loneliest
Ranger, who proceeded to engage us in conversation for a full 20
minutes, while we shifted back and forth on our sore feet.
Finally we broke free and started across the Lake Eleanor
Dam. The lake was overtopping the drains in
submerging the walkway in 3 inches of water! Eric remarked
that it was ironic that the dam was where his feet got the wettest on
the trip. A final mile through hot forest brought us back to
the Lake Eleanor
Trailhead and my car. We picked up Alex's
car and an hour later reconvened at the Iron Door to satisfy
and burger fantasy.