Golden Trout/Sequoia, September 2012
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Alex recently moved to San
Diego, which gave us an opportunity for our first trip in the Southern
Sierra. Time was a little tight, though, so I planned a 5-day
trip out of Horseshoe Meadow -- an easy and quick way into the high
country. As it turned out, two days of unusual rain dampened our
spirits and we hiked out a day early. Before the rain started, I
was tempted to call this the High and Dry Trip (the trailhead is at
10,000’), but I think it more appropriate to call it the Crowded Trip.
Although most of our days were without company, every night we shared a
lake with at least one other group.
Day 0: Drive Up
my drive to Lone Pine to take about 8 hours, so I planned a number of
short rest stops on the way. First up was quick photo op at Olmstead Point in Yosemite.
This was Labor Day weekend and the whole park was very crowded, so I
didn’t stay long. After exiting the park over Tioga Pass, I stopped at the Whoa Nellie Deli for some buffalo
meatloaf. Good, but overpriced.
Turning south on 395, I peeked in on Obsidian
Dome a few miles later. This is a bizarre place: a
mound of obsidian boulders, 2000’ in diameter and 100’ tall, plopped
down in the middle of the forest. I was very curious to go
climbing some of the trails on it, but I didn’t really have time.
I then stopped for a quick espresso at The
Looney Bean in Bishop and picked up a pair of hitch-hiking
backpackers on the way out of town. Turned out they were from
Palo Alto! I drove them to their trailhead at Onion Valley, which
made them very happy.
made it to the visitors center in Lone Pine at around 3:30. I
picked up our permit and headed back out of town for my last tourist
stop: the Alabama Hills.
This is a large area of granite, weathered into strange, towering
formations. Many movies, especially old westerns, have been
filmed here, and it’s a fantastic place to explore and take pictures.
Alex showed up soon after I returned to town, and we spent a nice
evening getting beers at Jake’s Saloon
and dinner at Seasons,
followed by a very comfortable night at the Best Western.
1: Horseshoe Meadow to Chicken Spring Lake
breakfast at the Best Western
we drove an insanely
scary road 6000’ up the side of a cliff to Horseshoe Meadow
. It was Sunday
night of Labor Day weekend, so the large parking area was still pretty
full. We geared up and headed out on the Cottonwood Pass
The walk was easy going for while, through bits of forest and meadow,
before starting up the climb to the pass. The climb wasn’t bad, though,
and before we knew it we were at the top. We found an awesome
east-facing ledge and ate our lunch looking out over Horseshoe Meadow
and the desert
After lunch, we walked the remaining half mile to Chicken Spring Lake
and found a nice
spot to camp. There were many groups camping at the lake, but
they were spread out enough to keep it from being unpleasant. We
whiled away the afternoon exploring and reading. The trees at this lake
were really astounding: beautiful orange wood, striated and
twisted into helixes and whorls. Alex found The Best Tree Ever,
which was really more of an abstract sculpture.
In the middle of the night I discovered
that my Thermarest had a leak.
Day 2: Chicken Spring Lake to Lower
Our second day was a fairly
easy and uneventful traverse. We had fine views down onto Big Whitney Meadow
and Siberian Outpost
. Then we started
our descent into Rock Creek
canyon and soon turned right, towards the Soldier Lakes
. We made camp on
the little peninsula jutting into Lower
The entire hike was over before lunch, so once again we had many hours
to enjoy and explore our destination. We were at about 11,000’,
though, and the altitude started to get to me: feelings of
claustrophobia and anxiety. I distracted myself with walking and
photography and managed to (mostly) enjoy my afternoon.
I also spent some time finding and patching the leak in my
Thermarest. I’ve been carrying strips of duct tape on these trips
for 10 years. Finally, a chance to use them!
Day 3: Day Hike in the Miter Basin
From our campsite, we walked counter-clockwise around Lower Soldier Lake to where the
stream from Upper Soldier Lake
appears, then scrambled up a gully heading due north. This is a
route Alex had tried out the afternoon before, and it brought us to the
edge of the mighty Miter Basin.
The basin is a large expanse of rock, punctuated by small meadows,
surrounded by vertical cliffs 1000’ high. Numerous lakes occupy
the many side canyons.
We angled down the side of the basin to the stream at its bottom, then
followed the stream up past small pools and cascades. We soon
turned right and started climbing up to Iridescent Lake. Our plan was
to have lunch on a rock jutting out from the mouth the lake’s
side-canyon, but clouds had been forming all morning and a chilly wind
was now blowing. Instead, we continued on to the lake, which was
more sheltered. We had a nice lunch looking out over the deep,
clear water, as breaks in the clouds sent shafts of light marching up
the canyon walls.
After backing our way out of the side canyon, we headed due west
towards the base of Sky Blue Lake’s
canyon. The climb up to Sky
Blue Lake provided a number of lovely waterfalls, our enjoyment
of which was not dampened by the rain that had started to fall.
We reached the lake and worked our way clockwise around it to a
peninsula. As we got there, the rain and wind really started
up. We both began to get cold and ended up huddling in a crevice
between two rocks for a while. I can assure you that the lake was
not exactly sky blue this day.
After throwing on a few more layers, we started back down the
canyon. To exit the basin, we continued down to Rock Creek, where we joined up with
a trail that climbed back up to our campsite. By this time, the
rain had stopped, the clouds were clearing, and we were able to enjoy
another lovely (if somewhat damp) evening around camp.
Day 4: Lower Soldier Lake to Horseshoe
morning was sunny, and we were able to dry out all of our gear before
packing up. We started off the day’s hike by retracing the route
by which we’d arrived at Lower
Soldier Lake, then turning left up towards New Army Pass. This was a
grueling, steep climb over broken granite and sand. At the top,
we went off the trail to the left to check out the old Army Pass and have a snack.
Our plan for the day was to drop our packs here, day-hike up Mt. Langley, and then spend the
night at one of the lakes on the other side of New Army Pass. The clouds had
been building since we broke camp, though, and it looked like Mt. Langley would be at best
cloud-covered, if not battered by rain, by the time we made it up
there. We made the tough call to skip the peak and instead
followed the unmaintained trail down from Army Pass directly to the Cottonwood Lakes.
That trail is one of the scariest I’ve taken. The top portion
traverses across a sheer cliff, weaving between and over rocks,
completely washed out in some places. As we got lower, the trail
mellowed out just in time for the rain to start. The rain was
pretty heavy this time, and we were thoroughly soaked by the time we
reached the bottom end of Lake #5
(or #4 -- the maps don’t agree on this). We didn’t want to make
camp in the rain, so we looked for a place to wait it out.
Miraculously, we found a great little cave under a giant, overhung
boulder. We crouched there for an hour or so, munching on snacks
and watching the water drip down the walls.
The rain stopped occasionally, then started up again. More
importantly, the sky showed no signs of clearing. The thought of
setting up camp on the wet ground just to huddle in the tent and hike
out the next day was not very appealing. One more night in the
wilderness is great, but not so much if you can’t enjoy it. So we
made our second tough call of the day and decided to continue on and
hike out a day early.
The route out took us past the remaining Cottonwood Lakes and down Cottonwood Creek back to the
trailhead. It was a nice and steady downhill through pretty
forests. The parking lot was much less crowded than on the
weekend. We drove back into Lone Pine, found a motel for the
night, and had another great dinner at the Totem Cafe.