Walker Basin, September 2008

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Due to my lack of vacation time, this year's trip was a short one:  only four days.  In addition, being in the school year, Eric couldn't join us.  We were joined instead by Alex's friend Jeff.  Our route went up the West Walker basin, dipped into Emigrant Wilderness, and just clipped the northernmost corner of Yosemite National Park.  The geology is especially varied in this region:  the West Walker cuts through both the granite of the classic Sierras and the volanic rocks of the eastern fringe. This made for quite a variety of scenery.

The defining characteristic of the trip, though, was the temperature.  This was The Cold Trip.  We've had hot weather in September before, but some unseasonal cold snap came through along with a biting wind, and we spent much less time swimming than we would've liked.  And more time wearing all of our clothes, huddled in our sleeping bags.

As with last year, this year there is a slide show.  The slide show has a lot more photos than are shown on this page.  Click on any photo to enter the show, or start at the beginning.  You can navigate the slide show using the left and right arrows on your keyboard, and hit the space bar to zoom the photos to their full size.

New this year:  photos of me!  In addition to bringing a Gorillapod on the trip, I've included a bunch of Jeff's photos, too.  Thanks, Jeff!

Day 1:  Leavitt Meadows to Upper Long Lake

We left the Leavitt Meadows trailhead at about 9 a.m. and headed out across the dry, dusty trail.  Far in the distance we could see the crags of Tower Peak through the haze.  The trail eventually traversed up the side of the canyon and emerged onto the beautiful twins of Roosevelt Lake and Lane Lake.  We continued up the basin, sometimes alongside the West Walker River, sometimes in the tumble of hills alongside it.  The trail dropped next to the river just before the cutoff to Hidden Lake, and the river changed character dramatically to slice through granite bedrock.

After lunch we climbed the 400' up to Fremont Lake.  We skirted the south end of the lake before heading up a gully on an unofficial trail.  The trail reconnected with the main one, and we continued down a gentle valley to the Chain of Lakes.  The trail then wobbled south along the enormous fissure or fault that created the lakes, and eventually dropped us off at Lower Long Lake.  This was far too marshy for us, so we continued on to Upper Long Lake.

Our search for campsites on the sunny northeastern shore was fruitless, however, so we scooted around to the deep shade of the forest on the southwest.  We found an excellent campsite there and had a lovely evening around the campfire.  Unfortunately, this lake was also no good for swimming;  all we managed was a splash.

Day 2:  Upper Long Lake to Snow Lake

From our campsite, we immediately hopped on the Pacific Crest Trail for a brief half mile or so before splitting off to follow the West Fork West Walker River (really).  This is one really gorgeous river, spilling over granite slabs into icy pools.  We seriously regretted not going the extra mile and camping here instead of at the lake.

The trail soon passed the cutoff to Cinko Lake and continued up towards Emigrant Pass.  The terrain changed quite a bit as we neared the pass, becoming barren and windswept.  Yellow and red shrubs grew low to the ground.  Just before the pass, we stopped for a snack and then set out cross-country up towards Grizzly Peak.  This was even weirder:  giant ash canyons dotted with volcanic boulders that'd rolled down from the peak.  Unfortunately, we didn't cross the canyons soon enough and ended up pressed against the base of the peak.  We were able to traverse under some amazing ash towers and emerge safely at the pass just east of the peak.

We dropped our packs at the pass and headed up the ridge towards the summit.  This was a crumbly, steep scramble, but it got us to some fantastic views.  To the west we had all of lower Emigrant, including a straight sight down Emigrant Lake.  To the north we had the volcanic peaks of the upper Emigrant:  Big Sam (our nemisis from 2001) and Relief Peak.  And to the southeast we had the peaks of northern Yosemite:  Tower Peak, Forsyth Peak, and the Saurian Crest.

After lunch at the summit, we scrambled back down, donned our packs and ambled down an easy valley to join the trail again just before Summit Meadow.  We examined Aerial Snow Depth Marker 159 and then mounted the small hill to Snow Lake.  We eventually found a nice campsite at the eastern corner of the lake and braved the demon wind for a (very short) dip in the lake.  The weather had really turned by this point, and rain looked likely.  We set up the tent, put on all our clothes, and tried to stay near the fire as the blustery winds blew the smoke in all directions.

Day 3:  Snow Lake to Cora Lake

Thankfully, it never did rain that night, and we woke up to a beautiful, clear day.  Jeff's sleeping bag zipper had broken in the night, so we spent some time fixing that (and warming up) before getting a very late start:  11 a.m.!  We were all a little beaten down by the cold by this point.

We set off cross-country towards Bond Pass, stopping first to examine the ruins of  the Montezuma Mine.  At Bond Pass we rejoined the trail and headed down into Jack Main Canyon.  There we re-joined the Pacific Crest Trail, this time heading north, and followed it up to Dorothy Lake and its pass.  Dorothy Lake was a great glacial blue and had an excellent sandy beach.  Perhaps we'll swim there some day.

Just over Dorothy Lake Pass, we stopped for lunch at Stella Lake, the first of the "lady lakes":  six lakes named after women and "strung together like a sparkling necklace" around a central peak.  The weather was distinctly warmer now, helped by the clear skies, and after a lazy lunch in the delicious sunshine we struck out off-trail around the "necklace".  Lake Ruth was next, followed by Lake Helen.  We seriously considered camping at Lake Helen, on a fabulous spit of granite jutting out into the water, but decided that it was too unprotected for the wind we'd been having.  The views of Forsyth Peak from Lake Helen were fabulous, though.  We'd wanted to climb the peak from a base camp at the lake, but that was no longer possible due to our late start that morning.

We continued down the valley to Cora Lake and were very glad we did.  We found an amazing campsite protected by the woods on the east side of the lake:  nice flat ground, good swimming, and a fire pit pre-stocked with wood.  A beautiful sunset followed, and we were very content on our last night.

Day 4:  Cora Lake to Leavitt Meadows

We had a long hike out on our last day, so we woke up early and packed up quickly.  From Cora Lake there was an unoffical trail down past Lake Harriet to join up with the Pacific Crest Trail again.  We followed that north for a mile or so and then turned down into the canyon, passing Cascade Falls.  Once in the valley, recent trail work -- not represented on the maps -- briefly confused us, but we managed to find our way through.  

The trail wound through Lower Piute Meadow and behind a hill before joining back with our Day 1 trail along the West Walker.  This time we knew what to expect, though, and stopped for lunch at a particularly nice granite pool we'd seen on the way in.  I had a final swim, and we all soaked up the now hot rays of the sun.

After lunch, we retraced our steps back to the trailhead, had some final glances of Tower Peak looming over the head of the basin, washed ourselves in the river, and headed home.

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