Back to other trips My
first solo trip!
It looked for a while like it wasn't going to happen, but
after twice postponing it I finally pulled the trigger on Friday
evening. I had everything packed up in an hour and woke up
early Saturday morning for the drive up. I picked this part
of Emigrant mostly because it was close: from the time I woke
up to hitting the trail was only 4.5 hours! I also wanted
something off-trail, but not too hard to navigate.
The weather was incredibly hot and dry -- a nice change from the last
few cold, wet trips. Almost every creek I crossed was bone
dry, and it was so hot that my lunchtime tortilla
was crunchy by the end of the meal.
I had a couple of equipment changes this year:
A new, lightweight single-person tent (which I ended up not
using, there being no rain or mosquitoes)
A very lightweight, compressible down jacket
A pencil in my pocket, which allowed me to track my route
and keep an itinerary
As on the last trip, I carried my SPOT emergency locator beacon,
without which Marjie would never have let me go alone.
strangest part of the trip was starting off. Nobody with
whom to coordinate packing, nobody to ask "Ready?"...just start
walking! From Crabtree,
the trail winds slowly up
and around a hill. With the new, lightweight equipment and
for only three days, my pack felt wonderfully light. From the
of the hill, I
took the right turn down into Pine
Valley. This trail is a
pack animal highway and had been ground into a thick layer of dust.
I looked like Pigpen trudging along, and by lunchtime my
were a dark brown.
The Pine Valley
trail meanders pleasantly up a wide valley, past Grouse
Lake. From there it climbs through an
canyon before descending again to Groundhog
low pass brought me to a beautiful view down into Louse Canyon, run
through by the West Fork
of Cherry Creek. I stopped for lunch
at this overlook, and while I ate I watched a mule train descend from
across the valley and up again on my side.
lunch I scrambled down the remaining 100' into the canyon, passed
through some nice camp sites along the creek, and started up the other
side. From this point on, my hike was off-trail. I
climbed south, up the shoulder of a creek bed that cut diagonally down
the side of the canyon. The creek bed was made of beautifully
red, blocky rocks, and must be quite a sight when wet.
Emerging into the meadow at
the top, I skirted the hill to my right and climbed up to an overlook
from which I could get a view of Rosasco
Lake nestled in its valley.
From here I climbed down the ridge, across a broad valley,
and up the gentle rise to the shores of Pingree Lake.
lake is gorgeous: full of islands and weird
peninsulas, with granite cliffs in the background. It looked
quite shallow, though, and not great for swimming.
I made my way around the south end of Pingree Lake and
attempted to find a
path through to continue down to Big
Lake. The terrain was
extremely jumbled, though, and I ended up detouring quite far to the
east before I found an easy way through. The slope from here
down to Big Lake
is scoured clean and polished by glaciers.
It was so smooth and shiny I think you could actually ride a
skateboard down it. I traversed high, making my way towards
the west side of Big Lake,
where my friend Bob had said there was a
great camp site. I found one on a beautiful rock knoll
bumping out into the lake and quickly sat down for a snack -- it had
been a long day!
When I stopped hiking, the silence was overwhelming. It was
at this point that I had my only minor freakout on the trip:
"Oh my God, I'm completely alone in the middle of nowhere!"
It only lasted a minute, fortunately, and the feeling was
completely destroyed when a group of eight rowdy school kids arrived on
the north shore of the lake and proceeded to have a screaming water
fight. Sigh. Not so solitudinous after all.
I picked up my things and moved 100 yards further south,
around an outcropping that helped dull the sound.
Where I ended up was a better campsite, anyway. It was
perched on a low ridge between the lake and its huge drainage valley.
I had views in both directions, great swimming, and a soft
sandy bed. Bliss! I swam, read, and took pictures
until alpenglow lit up Haystack
Peak in the distance -- the highest point on our 2009
trip! -- then watched the moon rise over the lake.
Day 2: Day
Hike to Peaks and Lakes
plan for the day was to do a day hike and explore as many of the
central Emigrant lakes as I could get to. But first:
a view! I enjoyed a leisurely morning, then started off
towards my first goal: Gillett
skirting the outlet of Big
Lake and its southern edge, I turned south
into a small valley. From there my first obstacle became
apparent: a pair of 20' vertical walls at the base of the Gillett Mountain.
With a little reconnaissance, I managed to find an
easy scramble over both of them, though, and was soon trudging up the
500' towards the west ridge of the mountain. From there
it was an easy walk to the saddle between the two peaks. I
decided to climb the south peak in order to get a view into Yosemite, so
from the saddle I turned right and climbed the remaining 150' to the peak.
The south peak of Gillett
Mountain has a nice, broad top
which quickly falls off to a cliff on the south. From the
peak there is a great view down into Cherry Creek Canyon
on its opposite side -- both of which I'd visited on previous
trips. To the northeast, in the direction I was hoping to
explore, I could see a beautiful sheer granite slope with what looked
like water running down it. Since running water was a rarity
this trip, I decided to try and make it over there later in the day.
a nice rest on top, I climbed back down to the saddle and made my
way through some thick brush to the east ridge of the mountain.
I found some fairly fresh bear poop on the way, so I did most
of this traverse while singing, a stark contrast to the normal silence
hiking alone. From the top of the east ridge I descended
diagonally down towards Yellowhammer
encountering some rough
terrain and brush, but nothing impassible. Eventually I
on the eastern shore of the lake and began scouting for a lunch spot.
is long, thin, and deep, hemmed in on both sides by steep rocks.
I found a small ledge just above the waterline and sat down
eat. This was a fabulous spot, completely isolated and quiet,
full sun. I spent an hour here, swimming, eating, and
and never heard another voice -- just bugs buzzing and fish jumping.
packing up again, I set off along the shore of the lake. Just
past the northern end of the lake I found a beautiful meadow, and
across the meadow I caught sight of a building. I backtracked
a path leading across the meadow, followed the path through the woods a
little ways, and suddenly came upon a small complex of buildings:
consisting of a stable, a cookhouse, a storeroom, and a shower(!).
Subsequent research indicates the camp has been there since
19th century. It was in pretty good shape, but I'm not sure
it's still in use or not.
half an hour of exploration and
photography, I continued up the canyon towards my supposed cascade.
When I reached it, however, I was disappointed: it
merely stains on the rock. I continued up the slope
flat shelf about halfway up the ridge. There I was confronted with
obstacle: a 40' wall of granite. I traversed east
viewpoint down on to Five
but could find no break in the wall. Next I tried west, and
eventually found what looked like a feasible path up the face.
was, but just barely. After pushing through some brush and
hauling myself up some tight crevices, I emerged on top of the cliff,
fairly well exhausted. The hill continued up gently from
and after cresting the broad ridge I was able to easily walk to the
shores of Kole Lake.
This was a bucolic little lake, surrounded by forest and low
rocks. I sat there for a while, eating, reading, and
I then skirted the shores of Kole
Lake to a small hill from which I could get a view of Leighton Lake.
It looked very appealing, but at this point I just wanted to get
to camp for more swimming and reading. I continued around Kole Lake, then
descended the broad valley towards Pingree
Back down the smooth granite slope I went, into camp once
I spent the late afternoon relaxing around camp.
of school kids at the north end of the lake was still there, and they
fired up their raucous laughter at around 6 p.m. Amazingly, a
second group of rowdy young folks soon appeared on the east shore of
the lake! I really don't mind sharing a lake, but the yelling
just awful. Fortunately, they settled down as the sun set.
An hour later, I watched the moon's light sweep down across
western hills towards me.
Day 3: Big
Lake to Crabtree Trailhead
to hike out, already. I wanted to get home in time to
the kids, so I ate breakfast and packed up quickly. I
route around Big Lake
and up the granite slope to Pingree
Lake. I went around the north shore of Pingree Lake this time,
and traversed high across the valley to the meadows above West Fork Cherry Creek.
I descended into the valley back down along the diagonal
creek bed, then followed the dry bed of Cherry Creek
up to the trail. Instead of heading west on the trail,
continued across the trail and followed the creek up past a series of
fabulous (dry) cascades, then turned left to Piute Lake.
Around the north side of the lake I picked up the other major
east/west trail in Emigrant, and started down towards the trailhead.
From here on I was done with my cross-country fun.
little ways above Piute
Lake I found a nice hill overlooking Cherry Creek where I
sat and had lunch. After eating, I continued down the trail
to Piute Meadow,
then up again on the other side. This was a brutal climb in
heat of the day, and I stopped for a while at the top to rest and pump
water from a lily-filled pond. From here the trail descended
again to Lily Creek,
the only flowing creek I found the entire trip. A more
manageable climb lead from there up to Camp Lake (no
camping), and then down again to the junction with the Pine Valley
my steps from the first day, I soon arrived
at the trailhead. A quick rinse of my Pigpen legs in the stream, a final
check-in with my SPOT, and I was back in the car, driving home.
mere 3.5 hours later (not including my traditional stop at the Tracy In-N-Out Burger)
I was home, in plenty of time to help with homework!