Yosemite, June 2009

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This 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 this 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 showThe 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.

Day 1:  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 Spring.  

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 Lookout Point.  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.  

After 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

The 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 that proved 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 Wheeler Peak.  From here it was a steep 600' climb SSW up the flank of Wheeler Peak, threading our way between trees and snow drifts.  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 valley.

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 keep walking...

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 Peak.

Day 4:  Peninsula 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 still 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.  Both are described as "must see", but Schofield looked a lot more snowy so we dropped our packs and set off northwest towards Haystack.

The hike was easy (especially without packs), and within half an hour we had reached the peak.  The view from Haystack Peak is truly 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 previous campsite.

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.

I 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 our first 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.  The 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 off once.

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 Ridge.

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 Beehive.  A bootless wade across Frog Creek brought us to the lovely shores of Laurel Lake.

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 and oak trees.  Soon thereafter we hit the wildflowers.  Wow.  Thousands of them, in stunning variety, colored the ground between the trees.  The aroma was dizzying!

After a distant bear sighting, we arrived at Miguel Meadow...and were 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 Trailhead

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 places, 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 our beer and burger fantasy.

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