On the Drive from Home to Mammoth, June 29, 2013 - These are photos taken from the van on the drive up, a few of them through the window glass.
|Cumulative climbing:||1200 feet|
Mount Watkins, June 29, 2013 - David wanted to leave home early (before sunrise) to beat the heat going through the Central Valley and suggested we do a hike on the way. The day before I did some research to come up with something interesting and not too long. I discovered that we had never hiked to the summit of Mount Watkins before. Better yet, it was a relatively easy hike, quite doable while driving through Yosemite. This is a mountain whose summit is the same altitude as the trailhead.
We got to the trailhead at about 0930, after leaving the Bay Area at 0500. Our route started on a maintained trail that crossed Tioga Road at this point, the trail that goes between May Lake and Snow Creek.
We took this trail for less than a mile before we veered off to stay on the ridge. As it happens a well-worn and evenly-graded use trail went in our desired direction, so we took it.
After descending about 400 feet we encountered another maintained trail, this was the Snow Creek Trail that leads to Olmstead Point. We crossed this trail at right angles and continued south, up the broad ridge, the top of which is Mount Watkins. A use trail continued, but eventually the terrain opened up and the way became obvious.
After lunch we continued south on the ridge to the southern "summit" of Mount Watkins, the summit with the better view of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, and other points of interest such as Basket Dome, North Dome, Washington Column, Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome, Sentinel Rock, and the top of El Capitan. On the way we passed a tree-less section of ridge where the rock was pock-marked with depressions, some holding pools of water. I suspect these are formed by repeated lightning strikes as this was an exposed section of the ridge.
We sat at the southern summit for some time enjoying the view. I was surprised that on a fine Saturday we were the only hikers enjoying this magnificent spot on the rim of Yosemite Valley.
We hiked back up the ridge, veering east of the summit to head over to the northeast summit, the summit with the better view of Tenaya Canyon.
On our way we heard an animal calling out a deep "whoomp-whoomp-whoomp!" Never saw the creature. Then shortly after this, we heard a loud "Crack!", that sounded like a large crack propagating through granite. There was no tumbling or rumbling to follow on, so it wasn't a rockfall, but it was obvious that some large slab had cracked somewhere in the vicinity of the northeast summit of Mount Watkins.
The hike out onto the dome is easier than up to the main summit, having a rise of no more than 50 feet from its lowest point. David was tired, so he decided to sit and enjoy the view from the high point on the summit while I continued down the ridge to explore a bit.
"Don't get out of sight," he instructed.
As I hiked down toward the sharp drop-off into Tenaya Canyon, the view only got better. I promptly dropped out of sight. Before I could radio back to David that he should join me, his form appeared over the horizon. He forgot about my disobedience when he saw the view open up below him in spectacular fashion.
We took several photos down into the narrows of Tenaya Canyon 2000 feet directly below, and back up toward Lost Valley and Pywiack Cascade. The eastern face of the northeast summit is nearly sheer. We both sat uneasily on the edge in light of the Crack! noise we had heard earlier. It was clear that the east face was exfoliating, peeling off layers of granite that would from time to time fall into the abyss.
After enjoying the view we hiked back up to the trailhead as we had come earlier in the day, taking a slightly different and shorter route at the end that had us passing through an old quarry that was apparently mined for rock during the construction of Tioga Road. On our way back to the trailhead we passed another party going the other way, the only other people we had seen since we left the car in the morning. They were carrying tripods and other photographic equipment and would enjoy better end-of-day light than we had in exchange for a dark hike out or a night on the mountaintop.
This hike had lots of bang for the buck. Class 1 all the way as the cross-country walking is all open and easy.
Rest Day, June 30, 2013 - Bill and David rested on our first full day in Mammoth. The combination of the early start the day before, the long drive, and the hike that ended up being longer than expected (though worthwhile), took its toll, and we wanted to be rested for the next day.
|Cumulative climbing:||3110 feet|
Mammoth Crest, July 1, 2013 - The group we were meeting in Mammoth this year consisted of Marc Regelbrugge, Trudy Theiss, Brian Dixon, Nancy Dixon, and Madie Krois. All but Madie and David would join us on the Mammoth Crest Loop (what they called the Panoramic Loop).
The plan was for me to be ready to be picked up at 0630 in front of our condo, and to accomplish that I had to get up early. I grumbled at first about this, but later that day I realized that it was prudent to start early before the heat of the day and before afternoon thunderstorms that were starting before noon in some areas.
Because this hike starts and ends at different points, we drove two cars. With five of us it was possible to fit into one car comfortably. Marc and Trudy collected me while Brian and Nancy drove directly to the Duck Pass Trailhead. We drove up to the Duck Pass Trailhead to collect Brian and Nancy, then we all drove to the Lake George Trailhead where we made our final preparations for the hike.
It was at this point that I discovered that my camera battery hadn't charged properly in the night. In fact, it had discharged completely. I managed to get off one photo before it shut down. For the rest of the hike I was reduced to using my cellphone camera and to rely on the photos others took--thank you Brian and Nancy.
I had done the Mammoth Crest Loop clockwise (August 1997, and September 2010) but never counter-clockwise, although I had done parts of this route counter-clockwise. We started with a long slog up past Lake George and Crystal Lake to the north end of the Crest itself. I skipped climbing to the actual point at the north end and took a short-cut instead, meeting the group a half-mile further along where the short-cut meets the main trail.
As we climbed we enjoyed a nice view of the Ritter Range and points to the south and west. The air was hazy and warm, and only slightly breezy. As we descended off the Crest to Deer Lakes, the air became stifling and full of mosquitos. We stopped only briefly to pump water from Deer Lake and again to enjoy the view back down to the lake from a large rock. The mosquitos soon found us, so we did not linger long at any one spot.
The climb up the rock pile below Deer Pass was slightly more adventurous than I expected, mainly as I used the wrong "large green rock" at which to begin the climb. When hiking from Deer Lakes, it's the southernmost "large green rock" at which the climb begins, and there's a clearly worn use trail, which there was not at the first green rock. Nevertheless we all scrambled up the rock pile without too much trouble.
Since this year's hikes were in memory of a recently-departed friend, Charles "Charlie" Rankin who had for many years (along with Frank Brogan) organized these annual gatherings in the mountains, Marc had brought along some of Charlie's ashes to spread at a few select spots that he favored. One of these spots was a short distance off the loop we were hiking today, across a broad alpine valley to the edge of the Crest where one has a sweeping view down to Sky Meadow immediately below and of the Lakes Basin between Mammoth Crest and Sherwin Crest.
It was at this view spot that Marc committed a handful of ashes to the wind that promptly turned back on us, dusting me with a bit of Charlie.
After this short ceremony, followed by a lunch break, we began hiking back down the Valley to get back on route. In the space of 20 minutes clouds had gathered and began spitting on us. A rumble could be heard in the distance. Mother Nature was fixing to put on a show for us. We quickened our pace. While we didn't mind the idea of a show, we didn't want to be in the show on an exposed ridge.
We managed to get ourselves over Deer Pass, down to Duck Pass, and down to Barney Lake before the light and sound show began in earnest, followed by moderate rain. The closest lightning strike was a half-mile away, close enough to get our attention, but not dangerously close. We were now in the valley amongst the trees. But, a number of other hikers had passed us going uphill toward the pass. They must have had a front-row seat for the show.
For the rest of the hike down to the trailhead we kept moving, mainly because the rain had cooled the temperature about 15 degrees F, and it was easiest to stay warm by moving. And, we were all tired and ready to end the hike. By the time we reached the car, our clothing had mostly dried and the rain had stopped.
David's Dinner, July 1, 2013 - While I went with the group hike on the Mammoth Crest loop, David volunteered to cook his vegan lasagna for everyone. We hosted the group for dinner at our condo. These photos were taken at Happy Hour.
Portraits, July 2, 2013 - Nancy Dixon took the initiative to snap portrait shots of everyone in our extended group. I was surprised by how well they turned out, seeing as how she stood only a few feet from us with her camera. Laura and Jack didn't make the set as they arrived in town later in the week.
|Cumulative climbing:||1070 feet|
San Joaquin Ridge, July 2, 2013 - The day after our hike up Mammoth Crest no one felt like getting up early, so we allowed ourselves to sleep in a little longer, setting a meeting time of 0830 to drive up to Minaret Vista. The plan was to hike a short distance up San Joaquin Ridge to a spot off the road with a nice view of the Ritter Range and scatter another portion of Charlie's ashes.
We (Marc, Trudy, Brian, Nancy, Madie, David, and Bill) all got to Minaret Vista after 0900, took a few photos in the parking area, and set off to walk a short way up San Joaquin Ridge.
About a mile from the parking area Marc, Nancy, and Trudy set off across a field to an open area on the broad ridge. Many flowers were in bloom. A spot was chosen for the short ceremony, and a small cairn was erected.
After committing Charlie to the wind again, we split up: Marc, Trudy, and Nancy decided to head back to the condo and rest a bit before preparing a group dinner for later that evening, while David, Madie, Brian, and I set our sights on the high point at the end of the road.
We noticed some dark clouds gathering to the south and wondered if we had time to get up the ridge and back before the weather changed. The ridge would not be a good place to get caught in a thunderstorm.
Brian and I started and David and Madie followed. We stopped to photograph the view, the interesting sky, wildflowers, and anything else that seemed worthy of recording.
After we got to the top we spent only enough time there to take a few photos before we started down into a darkening sky. David and Madie got as far as the horse tie at a junction a 1/2-mile below the summit before turning back.
The sky was darkening, but the clouds did not thicken much over the ridge yet. Maybe Charlie's spirit was holding off the weather until we got back to the trailhead.
We arrived at the trailhead a minute ahead of Madie and David who had taken a slightly different route back and were moving more slowly.
The clouds appeared to be holding off a bit longer, so we enjoyed a quick picnic as the wet weather approached. Then, just as we finished eating the rain started, and we headed back to town in the car.
Group Dinner, July 2, 2013 - Our second group dinner was hosted at Marc and Trudy's condo where Trudy and Nancy put together a delicious vegan chili and made a salad that had even more ingredients than David's.
|Cumulative climbing:||1710 feet|
Lamarck Lakes, July 3, 2013 - At dinner the night before Marc had floated a couple of hike suggestions for today that were met with muted enthusiasm. As I had not hiked up the Lamarck Lakes trail, I suggested this hike. To my surprise no one else but Madie and David had hiked this trail, and neither of them remember it well as it had been many years.
So, at 0700 Marc, Trudy, Madie, Brian, Nancy, and I set off in two cars for the North Lake trailhead, which meant a drive of just over an hour from the condo. David decided the hike would be a bit much for him and decided to remain at the condo and read.
The sky was partially overcast over the mountains, although I noticed that the mountains to the south had less overcast. It was clear that the interesting afternoon weather we'd had the last few days was moving northward.
We started our hike with a half-mile section along the road to the North Lake campground. Once we got through the mosquito-infested campground we found the Lamarck Lakes trail and started off through a lush environment fed by the north fork of Bishop Creek.
We stopped to admire abundant wildflowers growing here. But, where there is lush greenery and wildflowers there are mosquitos. They gave us about 20 seconds before they started to bite. So, we did not linger for long.
The next couple miles of trail climbed nearly continuously and often steeply, with large steps. David would have found this part difficult. The trail clung to the wall of the valley rather than go directly up its more gradual center. I figured that heavy snow during certain times of the year would otherwise bury the trail.
When we got to Lower Lamarck Lake we had become spread out. Brian spoke with a fisherman and his son while we waited for Nancy, Marc, and Trudy who all came along not long after we arrived.
We continued over a crossing of Lamarck Creek that proved to be slightly more challenging than a simple walk-across, then up a small canyon abundant with wildflowers growing in almost every patch of undisturbed dirt.
Before we got to Upper Lamarck Lake a trail sign directed us to cross the creek again. We crossed and continued up around a low ridge before passing a spot with a nice view and several level benches that would make good camping spots for people who do not sleep-walk. By this time it was clear we had continued on the trail to Lamarck Col, some 2000 feet higher on the Sierra Crest. That hike would have to wait for another day. We stopped at the nice view spot to eat lunch and to take a group photo.
After lunch we retraced our path back to Lamarck Creek and then turned left to visit Upper Lamarck Lake. When we got to Upper Lamarck Lake Marc found a sturdy lodgepole pine on which he tied a small paper bag containing what remained of Charlie's ashes. We took more photos, then began the trek back to the trailhead.
Somewhere down the hill Madie had been working her way up the steep stuff. I had given her one of my radios, and she had reported earlier that the going was slow for her but that she was OK. By the time we started down from Upper Lamarck Lake Madie had not quite reached Lower Lamarck Lake but had decided to turn around and head down so that we would not have to wait for her on the trail.
On the way down I suggested we return to the trailhead on an alternate route by Grass Lake and thereby avoid the final dusty walk on the road. Other hikers we passed on the trail told us that trail was passable, though not maintained. Since Madie had already started down the main trail it was decided that Marc and Trudy would descend the main trail so that they would encounter Madie while Brian, Nancy, and I would explore descending the Grass Lake trail.
The trail to Grass Lake was easy to follow, and the lake itself pretty and surprisingly free of mosquitos. Or perhaps we just didn't linger long enough to notice.
The trail around the lake was a bit vague, but we stuck close to the swampy shore until we came to the lake's outflow where a haphazard stack of logs crossed the creek. After a second somewhat challenging creek crossing behind us we found ourselves following a well-worn trail down the valley below Grass Lake. The trail was an easier walk than the main trail, I thought. Less rock, more dirt. Unfortunately, mosquitos were thick in the area, so we did not stop often or for long.
At the bottom of the valley, the trail descends a couple hundred feet to Bishop Creek where it passes under the road. We emerged onto the road at nearly the same moment Marc, Trudy, and Madie came by in the car as they were starting their drive back to Mammoth.
We checked out the nearby pack station, then Brian and Nancy dipped their feet into Bishop Creek before we drove down into Bishop to make a short stop in town before heading back to Mammoth. On the drive back we saw an enormous cloud over the Lake Crowley area, probably the same one that dumped rain on the Mammoth area that day.
Group Dinner, July 3, 2013 - At our third group dinner, Trudy and Nancy again hosted, and we (David and Bill) brought the uneaten half of the lasagna from two nights earlier. David made another salad with even more ingredients than the salad from the night before. The competition was hard to ignore. In any case, we all ate well this week.
|Cumulative climbing:||760 feet|
Twin Lakes, July 4, 2013 - Laura arrived in Mammoth earlier in the day. After settling in she wanted to get some exercise, so I suggested she run up to Twin Lakes from the condo. Even better, I was feeling like getting outside, although I didn't want to exercise too hard as I had a hard hike planned for the next day.
Laura ran, and I rode my bike under mostly motor power. The round-trip to Twin Lakes was about 7.5 miles.
Group Dinner, July 4, 2013 - On July 4th we had two people in our party with birthdays: Laura and Marc. Marc's brother, John, and his family also came to celebrate, so we had a big dinner party with a special dessert of fruit torte and chocolate cake, along with fresh fruit and ice cream. There was no shortage of food.
Group Photo, July 4, 2013 - Group photos of everyone present in Mammoth (minus Jack--he wasn't allowed in Marc & Trudy's condo) at some point during the week.
The first photo is without flash, the second with flash. I couldn't make up my mind which was better. The flash shot shows more detail and less noise, but looks a touch washed out and artificial, as is typical of direct flash photos, compared to the natural light photo.
|Cumulative climbing:||3390 feet|
Agnew Pass, July 5, 2013 - Due to other commitments Marc and Trudy were leaving Mammoth a day early this morning and offered to take three of us to the Rush Creek Trailhead at Silver Lake so that we could do a one-way hike over Agnew Pass to Agnew Meadows. Their planned departure time was 0600, so we had another early start.
After a half-hour drive in the car to the trailhead, we said our goodbyes to Marc and Trudy and were on the trail by about 0645. The morning was balmy, uncharacteristically humid. The trail was damp with yesterday's rain, so there was no dust. Everything smelled fresh.
We started from the trailhead by walking mostly level through a mixture of sagebrush and aspen before beginning our climb to Agnew Lake. As we climbed views opened up to our left and behind us, back toward the trailhead.
At three quarters of the way to Agnew Lake we crossed a narrow cable tramway track, built by Southern California Edison (SCE) to service their facilities at Agnew and Gem Lakes.
Above the lowest crossing of the track the trail zig-zags up a steep headwall below the hanging valley that holds Agnew Lake. At the second track crossing Brian hiked up the shorter and more direct tramway track while Nancy and I stuck to the trail that zigged and zagged higher than necessary before dropping down again to cross the tramway track again. We regrouped where the trail crosses the tramway track for the third and last time.
At this point we passed behind some SCE buildings and equipment and crossed Rush Creek just below the Agnew Lake dam and began a long climb up a rockslide to the valley holding Spooky Meadow. This was the most tedious part of the hike as the trail was steep and rocky, and the climb seemed to go on and on.
Somewhere above Spooky Meadow I sat down to take a quick break and to take a photo of Spooky Meadow when Nancy came along and joined me for a break. Brian had gone on ahead but grew concerned when we did not appear soon after. He called down the trail, and I yelled back that we were alright and just taking a break. After this we gave Brian one of the walkie-talkies so that he could call back to me anytime to check on us.
Not too long after we stopped for a break, the climb relented as it topped out and traversed around the Clark Lakes. Brian led us a short distance off the trail where we enjoyed our first lunch stop with a sweeping view of Gem Lake and the high peaks (Donohue, Kuna, Koip, Parker Peaks and Mt. Wood) beyond.
After lunch we continued around Clark Lakes where we encountered a group of backpackers presumably searching for a camp at some distance separation from a Boy Scout camp set up at the designated stock camp site for Clark Lakes and Agnew Pass.
We pressed on up the eastern shore of the largest Clark Lake, over Agnew Pass, down to Summit Lake, and beyond a short distance to the fork for the River Trail where we had a grand view of the San Joaquin River Canyon spread before us.
Not long after we stopped I received a call from Laura who told us they were still waiting in the queue for shuttle bus tickets and would be another hour and a half before they were on the trail at Agnew Meadows. The plan was for them (Laura, Jack, David, and Madie) to hike up the High Trail from Agnew Meadows and to meet us as we hiked down.
At our respective rates of progress they'd encounter us as we finished our hike, so we decided to kill some time by taking more photos and stopping more frequently on the second half of our hike so that they could enjoy a reasonable hike.
Fortunately, the weather cooperated today. A few clouds swirled around Ritter and Banner, but nothing appeared to be threatening. A light breeze had been blowing most of the morning, and I think this prevented the thunderheads from forming. With moderate temperatures, we felt no need to keep moving for warmth, and the views were best enjoyed at length.
As we hiked down the High Trail we passed a small group of horseback riders about two hours out of Agnew Meadows heading to Clark Lakes. Some distance later the wind died as we crossed a small forested area. The mosquitos were relentless here, and I broke down and used a bit of bug juice so that I could free my hands from the duty of slapping them off.
The High Trail crossed many small streams, and along these streams thick vegetation and wildflowers grew. To the right we enjoyed the constant sight of Mount Ritter, Banner Peak, and The Minarets. At one point we had a good view of a corner of Garnet Lake and its outflow. Then later we had a good view of Shadow Lake and its outflow.
Not long after we passed the view of Shadow Lake we encountered Laura and Jack. Jack used the opportunity to take a rest on the trail while we humans caught up on the news.
We suggested that Laura hike another quarter- to half-mile up the trail to get a better view of Shadow Lake, and we would wait for her with Jack, since it looked like he wanted a break.
After Laura returned we all hiked down the trail to meet David and Madie. Once we were all together Laura let Jack off the leash. He ran between each of us on the trail, and, according to Laura, attempted to keep us, his pack, together. It was amusing to see him full of energy at one moment, then flopping onto the ground in the shade the next.
As we arrived at the bus stop at Agnew Meadows a bus came by with just enough standing room to carry our party. We yelled and called on the walkie-talkies for everyone to run to the bus as it was waiting for us.
We all managed to board. Jack found a spot on the floor to lie down. At this point the indignity of a muzzle (required for the bus ride) and purple paw protectors didn't seem to faze him.
Although not our longest hike, it was our longest day on the trail, and the hike with the greatest number of "moving parts". None of them jammed.
Group Dinner, July 5, 2013 - For our last group dinner we ate David's Pasta Primavera and salad. We discussed our day's activity and saw everyone's photos on the HDTV.
Morning Exercises, July 6, 2013 - Bill does his morning stretches and exercises. Laura follows along, and Jack wonders what the fuss is all about.
|Cumulative climbing:||600 feet|
Tenaya Slide, July 6, 2013 - On our (Bill and David) drive home from Mammoth we stopped again in Yosemite to take a short hike with lots of bang for the buck. When I visited in September 2012 Tenaya Creek was dry, but today water was flowing.
We parked at the Sunrise Trailhead. While we were making preparations for our hike, a young couple on the other side of the road were working to park their car. She stood in front of their car pointing and barking orders in what sounded like Russian. Her hapless husband/boyfriend could be seen backing and filling the car, apparently incompetently, given her angry, sharp correcting tone. We could see his animated face yelling inaudibly through the car's closed windows.
Perhaps the Parking Argument was a proxy for a deeper disagreement. We pretended to ignore them, giving them the illusion of privacy. Yet even though we didn't understand a word our conversation stopped, and we found ourselves listening intently for a point of reference and understanding.
Soon we were ready to go. We left the quarrelsome couple to deal with their car and perhaps afterward to recover their vacation mood at the peaceful shore of Tenaya Lake.
Last fall I had hiked out to the Slide along Tenaya Creek and found the route difficult to follow at times, the trail disappearing where it crossed rocks or slabs, and occasionally requiring a steadying hand to climb or down-climb. Since I wanted Dad (David) to see the Slide first and foremost and not to be defeated by the approach, I took us on the reverse of the loop I had hiked last year that involved a shorter and easier off-trail approach from the Sunrise Trail.
We started by heading south on the Sunrise Trail as if going toward Clouds Rest. Somewhere beyond a mile from the trailhead I stopped to check my GPS and discovered that we had walked slightly past the point where we should leave the trail. Dad suggested, jokingly, I think, that we continue on to Clouds Rest, a hike that was nearly 3x as long and for which we brought neither enough water nor food. We backtracked a short distance to the departure point.
It's clear that most of the traffic out to see the Slide takes the use trail along Tenaya Creek as there is absolutely no hint of a use trail veering off the Sunrise Trail at the optimal departure point. If I didn't have a GPS device I would not have felt comfortable leaving the trail at that point as it would be easy to get lost in this pleasant, though featureless forest, there being no visible distant landmarks.
We walked through this forest for a short distance, crossed Sunrise Creek, then came around the low end of a ridge that forms the eastern side of the Slide before finding the top of the broad notch between this ridge and the dome at the head of the Slide. We walked down this notch and onto the granite apron as the breadth of the Slide opened before us.
Our first point of interest was the pool at the bottom of the initial cascade. Even though it was without shade we sat there for a while to eat lunch and to enjoy the sound of water crashing down from above. Aside from a few people hiking on the Sunrise Trail, we had seen nobody since we left the trail, and it looked like we had the entire Slide to ourselves.
After getting our fill of the cascade we walked down the Slide almost to the bottom where it ends in a deep pool at the head of a forested valley. Here we found a large group of young people sunbathing on the slab, probably after spending some time sliding down the last 50 feet of granite into the pool below.
Since the next point of interest in the canyon, the top of Pywiack Cascade, would have required us to cross the creek and hike another mile and a quarter through the forest below, we decided to turn around here and hike back up the Slide.
When we reached the bottom of the cascade I suggested we try the route back to the trailhead along the use trail next to Tenaya Creek. I did warn him that it might be a bit tougher hiking than the way we had come in, but that it would give us a different perspective.
David found scrambling down the blocks difficult and felt it was a bit risky for him. Fortunately, that was the hardest part of the route, and he was past it. The use trail varied from easy to follow to disappearing altogether when it crossed a large slab or appeared to end at a short cliff. But, finding a way around was not difficult.
It was reassuring to see a couple of parties walking the other way toward the Slide, some wearing flip-flops and bathing suits and carrying beach towels. How hard could the route be if people were passing through dressed like that? David grumbled that they were all less than half his age.
After another hour of this we finally got back onto the Sunrise Trail, and a few minutes later we were back at the trailhead, preparing to drive home after seeing one of the hidden wonders of Yosemite.
On the Drive from Mammoth to Home, July 6, 2013 - David did most of the driving home from Yosemite, driving from Tenaya Lake after our hike all the way to Tracy, where we stopped for a hearty dinner at Olive Garden and filled the gas tank.
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