|Cumulative climbing:||1700 feet|
Mammoth Crest North, September 10, 2017 - We agreed that our first hike of the week should allow us to sleep in and to get us home by mid-afternoon, ahead of the predicted thunderstorms. The loop David and I had done in 2011 after our Thousand Island Lake loop popped into my mind. Frank and Stella hadn't explored to the northernmost end of Mammoth Crest. The hike was short and offered interesting terrain to make the climb to the Crest worthwhile.
We drove to the Horseshoe Lake trailhead. For several prior years the lake level had dropped until only a small pool remained at the deepest spot. This year the lake was nearly full, and the change was a welcome sight.
We started our hike by circumnavigating the eastern side of Horseshoe Lake, then heading cross-country for the ridge that climbs adjacent to Lake George and upon which the Mammoth Crest Trail ascends.
After some cross-country climbing we came upon a pair of water tanks, and shortly afterward encountered the maintained trail. We climbed the main trail past the spur to Crystal Lake, passing several groups of hikers, and being passed by one couple who appeared to be out for their morning exercise.
After the spur to Crystal Lake we encountered fewer hikers on the trail. As we passed through the red pumice zone near the top of the climb we paused to enjoy an ever expanding view, then proceeded to climb to the high point on the northern end of the Crest, stopping to enjoy the view of the Lakes Basin area.
We did not remain at the high point for long as a cold wind blew. We descended a use trail northward along the crest and remained near the cliff edge as we made our way to the northern end of the Crest.
We continued northwest and downward along the edge of the Crest until the view to the south and west opened up.
At the furthest point along the Crest I noticed a short pinnacle that might be worthwhile to explore. At the same time I could see our descent route off the Crest, a steep, sandy chute that David and I had slid down six years earlier.
At the bottom we regrouped at the Crater Meadow-Mammoth Pass Trail before returning to Horseshoe Lake via McCloud Lake, where we were again thrust back into civilization.
|Cumulative climbing:||3680 feet|
Valentine Peak, September 11, 2017 - On the morning of our second day in the mountains we managed to get ourselves out the door before 0900, early for a group on a relaxing vacation, but not early enough for a group that wants to avoid getting wet on a day forecast for afternoon thunderstorms.
The night before at dinner we decided to attempt a peak climb that did not involve a long drive to a trailhead, allowing for a later departure and more sleep. Having researched Valentine Peak with its apparently Class 2 approach, its proximity to Duck Pass and its trail, I floated the idea as appropriate for a second day hike, and the idea was accepted.
Duck Pass Trail is popular for hikers in the Mammoth area due to its proximity to town and its striking beauty. We had hiked it a number of times in past years. Valentine Peak (sometimes called "Duck Lake Peak") is the highest point on the Sierra Crest near Duck Pass and is only a short distance from the pass. Once we arrived at the pass we would take the spur to Pika Lake, and then from the northeastern shore of Duck Lake we would have a short cross-country climb up the peak's Class 2 western slope. I expected the outing to be moderately difficult but within our capability.
The hike up to the pass went without incident. I found myself hiking only slightly faster than Frank and Stella on the climb, but I felt at my limit. When I arrived at the pass I was happy to sit and regain my strength while I waited for Frank and Stella to appear.
After a short snack break we continued toward Pika Lake and down to Duck Lake. From the trail's lowest point next to the shore of Duck Lake we set off cross-country, taking care not to walk in each others' footsteps so as not to form a use trail across the delicate meadow.
The meadow lush from the summer's daily rainstorms should have been an indication of what was to come on our chosen day of the climb. In past years meadows like this would be dry and brown with the occasional wildflower managing to eke out an existence. But this year all was lush and green.
Above the broad chute the terrain became easier for a while. But it was not long until we encountered unavoidable talus at such an angle that the Class 2 rating for the climb was sorely stretched, as were the muscles in my legs, arms, and back after traversing it.
With great effort I managed with my sticks to walk up this talus until I was about 80 meters below the summit, whereupon I put my sticks away and climbed using all fours. By my definition a climb is Class 2 if I can climb it using my sticks and legs. But if I have to put my sticks away to free up my hands and arms for monkey moves, especially those to help pull me up, then the climb is Class 3.
I was happy to reach the summit, but I knew I had to down-climb the talus, there being no obviously easier route off the peak. Even finding a place to sit comfortably to eat lunch was a challenge. I was fatigued and didn't want to slip or lose my balance as I hopped across the angled rocks looking for a good sitting spot. and I needed to recover my strength before I climbed down. I could find few level rocks to sit upon, and it was clear that the summit saw few visitors. I saw no sign of a summit register, but that was not my main concern.
The summit actually had two peaks. The northern peak appeared higher to me, but to be sure I traversed to the southern. Between the two peaks was a short notch, the bottom of which formed a narrow arete with a precipitous drop to the east. Upon this arete stood a rock that tilted alarmingly in the wrong direction as I placed my weight on it. I thought of tipping the rock into the abyss so that a future climber would not be taken by surprise, but I reconsidered. "Gardening", moving rocks and other loose items to ease a visitor's travel off-trail in the backcountry, is frowned upon. and although unlikely, it's possible other climbers were below my position on the much steeper approach from the east. I moved carefully.
While the view to the north was pleasant enough, to the south dark clouds gathered. A light breeze blew from the south. It was clear to me that weather to our south would be visiting us or at least drawing closer. Already it was raining between us and Iron Mountain in the Ritter Range.
I sat and ate my lunch while waiting for Frank to arrive while I admired the sweeping view and watched with some trepidation dark clouds building to the south. Stella had already radioed to us earlier that she would not climb the talus to the summit but would wait for us at the bottom of the talus field.
Frank had taken a less direct route toward the summit and had traversed slightly to the north. He had stopped at about the elevation that I put my sticks away when he snapped this photo of me descending straight off the summit toward Stella's position. At the time I could not see Frank, but I could see Stella far below.
While I ate lunch the sun disappeared behind the leading edge of the storm. I radioed Frank that unless he would be summitting shortly I would be descending soon as the storm was bearing down on us. I wanted to be off the summit and preferably off the talus when the rain started. There was no way we could find adequate shelter in time. I had already resigned myself to getting soaked. Fortunately, I saw no lightning nor heard any thunder, but that was no guarantee there would be none by the time the storm arrived. Fortunately, when the storm was upon us I heard only one distant roll of thunder.
I know that Frank was disappointed having to turn back so close to the summit, but I felt that our safety was more important. Valentine Peak would be there for us to climb in future years and better weather, and I promised Frank that I'd climb it again with him if he wanted to give it another try.
I descended straight to Stella's position and was surprised that Frank had not yet arrived. Fortunately, he wasn't far away. We could both see him exiting the talus field as we donned our rain slickers and prepared for the onslaught.
The rain started gradually, but then gained strength. We kept moving to stay warm, descending mostly the way we had climbed down the broad chute. Although my hat is not waterproof, it provided my head and face welcome shelter from the wind-driven droplets. In hindsight I am glad the storm did not dump frozen precipitation on us.
The rain reached its climax as we reached the meadow below the broad chute and above Duck Lake. We trudged to the northwestern end of the meadow and began to descend to the Pika Lake Trail when the rain stopped.
To the south the skies cleared, and as we started down from Duck Pass the sun made a welcome appearance. Meanwhile our storm had intensified and moved to the north, no doubt bringing a soggy adventure to other hapless visitors in the Yosemite high country.
As we descended to the trailhead we felt warm enough in the weak afternoon sun to stop for a group photo above Barney Lake. As I expected we did not feel soaked for long in the dry high-altitude air. By the time we arrived at the trailhead we were mostly dry, only a few corners of our undergarments retained any moisture.
One benefit from the rain was to dampen the dusty trail, clear the air, and freshen the surrounding landscape.
That evening after the hike I realized I had extended myself beyond our hike training. None of our training had been for extended Class 2-3 terrain, and I could tell my muscles would be sore for the next few days. To put an exclamation point on things, I was awakened that night twice by Charlie Horse leg cramps, brought on by overuse and lack of conditioning for the monkey moves I had to perform while travesing the talus. Although it was not the longest hike it was the hardest hike of the week for me.
|Bike Ridden:||Power Gold Rush|
|Cumulative climbing:||5230 feet|
|Avg. Speed (moving):||16.1 mph|
|Max. Speed:||47.4 mph|
|Nominal System Voltage:||48|
|Battery energy available:||2400 wh|
|Battery energy consumed:||1212 wh|
|Net battery consumed:||1004|
|Battery Amps-Hour Used:||23.7|
|Regen Amps-Hour Recovered:||4.1|
|Peak Forward Current:||24.3 Amps|
|Peak Regen Current:||41.5 Amps|
Long Valley Tour, September 12, 2017 - After our adventure on Valentine Peak the day before we were ready for a change of pace.
Ron and Alice, who were staying at the McGee Creek RV Park, had set aside some time for us to get together. We decided that a relaxing bike ride was the sort of recovery activity we needed.
I would ride from the townhouse down to McGee Creek. A half-hour later Frank and Stella would drive with the bikes down to Crowley Lake Drive and US-395 and meet me and Ron (and Alice). Then all five of us would ride out and back on Benton Crossing Road, around the back-side of Crowley Lake.
I started down the town bike path to CA203, then down to US-395 and on to McGee Creek. I met Ron at his campsite, but Alice had already started out on her bike ride. She would meet us as she returned.
As soon as Ron was ready to go we rode west on Crowley Lake Drive and met Frank and Stella setting up their bikes. Then all four of us headed up US-395 to Benton Crossing Road, then we rode east toward Benton.
Several miles from US-395 we encountered Alice returning. We stopped to convene a brief meeting. It was then that Ron decided his heart was acting up too much to continue—he couldn't get his heart rate to climb into the exercise zone. (We both suspected that his Afib was acting up.) So he returned to camp with Alice while Frank, Stella, and I continued east on Benton Crossing Road.
Several miles later Stella decided she had ridden far enough for a recovery ride, so she turned back and returned to the car while Frank and I continued to Waterson Summit.
Feeling like riding a bit more, I rode back toward town, taking the out-and-back to Convict Lake, then continued to Mammoth Scenic Loop (escape route, in case of eruption), climbed the Scenic Loop road, then climbed to Minaret Vista to take in the view of the usual afternoon clouds forming, then descended back into town.
I was going to head straight back to the townhouse for a good soak in the spa when I got a call from Ron Bobb that it was raining "bullfrogs" at McGee Creek. I then returned to the viewspot along the town bike path to see a small but impressive raincloud hanging over McGee Creek to the southeast.
I then returned to the townhouse, soaked my still sore muscles in the spa, then dressed for dinner at the Good Life Cafe, where all five of us would meet.
On our way to dinner I managed to photograph a beautiful double rainbow over the meadow near the townhouse, a fitting end to the day's activity. During dinner rain fell hard outside.
|Cumulative climbing:||2150 feet|
Mount Hoffmann, September 13, 2017 - After getting spanked by the weather on Valentine Peak two days earlier, we needed an easy victory. Frank and Stella had a plan.
In 2006 when they first visited Yosemite they had attempted the climb up Mount Hoffmann but had quit before reaching the summit. They were not in good physical condition that year, but this year they were, and they wanted to finish that hike.
By our current conditioning Mount Hoffmann would be a moderate outing: a fair amount of climbing to be sure, but relatively short distance from the trailhead. The weather was again predicted to deteriorate through the afternoon, so an outing we could finish by mid/late afternoon would work nicely.
We left the townhouse in Mammoth around 0900 and were on the trail at the May Lake Trailhead an hour and a half later. Soon we arrived at the May Lake flush toilet where we took our first short break before pressing up the well-worn use trail along the southern shore of May Lake to Mount Hoffmann.
As we climbed the sandy slope to Hoffmann's summit plateau, the view to the southeast opened up dramatically. But climbing the plateau was hard work.
I found myself ahead of Frank and Stella on the slog up the slope. While I waited at the base of the summit pinnacle I watched a large marmot nibble on the low green shrubs that grew on the plateau.
After we regrouped, we began the climb up the summit pinnacle. The last time I climbed Hoffmann in 2002 I recall that we had climbed the pinnacle near its northern face, so this time we kept close to the north face.
The climbing was straightforward, and I was able to use my sticks most of the way until the final fifteen vertical meters where I felt more comfortable with my hands free.
Although the summit was comfortable and sunny, we could see cumulus clouds roiling all around. It was clear that wet weather would visit Yosemite later in the afternoon, and we wanted to explore Hoffmann's lesser pinnacles before returning to the trailhead.
After a relaxing lunch in the warm sun we began our descent.
After we had returned to the base of the summit pinnacle, we followed a faint use trail to the nearest lesser pinnacle a short distance to the east. Here we encountered the largest patch of unmelted winter snow we had yet seen up close.
Frank looked for an easy route to the top of the pinnacle. The most promising was a broad chimney, but easy hand-holds were hard to find, so Frank got no further than this.
We then had a Sound of Music experience on the broad flat plateau as we crossed to the next pinnacle at the northeast corner. This slightly lower pinnacle offered easier climbing routes but featured a scary drop-off on its eastern side. The higher southern summit required one to solve a small puzzle to find the easiest way up the crux of the climb, a vertical pitch about eight feet high.
After inspecting the wall for a moment I could see good foot and hand holds spaced comfortably apart, so I gave it a go. Stella tried but felt uncomfortable, so she waited while Frank joined me up top. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, Stella found a route up the northern summit of the pinnacle while Frank and I were busy photographing the view from the southern summit.
After we returned to the plateau we started to descend to the trailhead as the clouds had thickened. But one more pinnacle lay along our descent route. As I walked past it I could see that it would be an easy walk-up climb. Once I was atop the arete I discovered only one obstacle on the way to the high point.
At this point the sun had disappeared behind the clouds, so we began our trek down the sandy slope to May Lake.
As we neared the trailhead drops of rain started hitting our heads, and we could see the last summit pinancle that we had climbed was now in the clouds.
But the weather wasn't going to let us off that easily. After we were comfortably driving back to Mammoth through Tuolumne Meadows we got caught in a brief but severe graupel storm that forced us to park off the road for 15 minutes as we could see nothing through the front window, even with the wipers on maximum. The sound of the graupel striking the car's roof was deafening! But after the storm passed, we got out of the car to inspect for damage and were surprised not to find any. We were all very happy to be finished with our hike before the storm struck.
|Cumulative climbing:||1550 feet|
Mono Craters, September 14, 2017 - At dinner the night before we decided that our last day, as usual, would be our Big Hike Day. That meant that our second to last day in the mountains should be a relatively easy day, moderate distance and climbing, easy terrain, and without the prospect for threatening weather. It was decided that we would revisit the Mono Craters area that we had first visited in 2016. This time we were all healthy and willing to climb to the summit of "Circus Tent Hill", an enormous pile of volcanic rock, mostly gray pumice, sand, and gravel, in the Mono Craters area.
We drove up the four-wheel-drive road from CA120 as close to the trailhead as I felt comfortable in my two-wheel-drive van. After backing uphill into a tight parking space next to the road so that I'd be parking nose-downhill (so as not to get stuck in the sand and gravel), we begain our climb up the same overgrown road that we had hiked in 2016.
Not much had changed in the intervening year, and it was not long before we found ourselves at the prior year's turnaround spot where we took a short break to plan our approach to the summit.
We could see faint use trails zig-zagging across the bare slopes of the hill far above, but a direct approach suggested we'd be slogging uphill on gravel that moved underfoot, making for a harder climb than necessary. We decided to continue along the road into a zone of volcanic plugs and uneven rock. The road made progress easy, and the volcanic plug area was interesting in its own right.
I could see from the map that the road drew near to the eastern slope of Circus Tent Hill, leaving us only a short distance to climb up its steep unstable slope.
Soon I found myself on the shoulder of the Hill not more than 100 feet below its summit.
After we gathered near the last tree on the Hill we climbed directly to its summit. The sand and rock were not as unstable as they appeared from below, holding our feet firmly, making for an easy walk up the gradient.
After snapping photos at the north summit, we noticed that the south summit was higher. Frank and I traversed along the ridge between the two summits while Stella waited for us.
While walking along the ridge I noticed that the western slope of the Hill formed a remarkably flat surface, the rock lying at the angle of repose. I cannot recall seeing as broad an expanse of hillside lie at a constant angle anywhere else.
At the southern summit we snapped more photos. Then Frank hiked back to the northern summit to check on Stella. I waited for him to arrive at the northern summit, then captured a photo of his figurine-like image against the backdrop of Mono Lake. He took my photo standing upon the southern summit.
After enjoying the view for a bit longer I then retraced my steps along the ridge to the northern summit to rejoin Frank. By this time Stella had decided to head down ahead of us.
Although we were in radio contact with each other, it was unclear what route Stella had taken as we could not see her moving on the broad expanse of pumice and sand below, and her description of nearby landmarks was unhelpful as everthing around her looked the same: "I'm passing a rock on my left and a tree on my right".
We planned to meet next to the tree at our 2016 turnaround point, so Frank took off directly for that position that we could see easily from the southern summit.
Meanwhile I tried to spot Stella on the broad expanse below to no avail. After several requests to further describe her location, Stella finally responded with a hint of exasperation in her voice, "I am not lost!"
Frank continued downhill, but due to the undulating terrain he could not keep his target continually in sight. His path veered off-course in a downhill direction to the west. At one point I advised Frank to "turn right" and climb up a small hill so that he'd at least intercept the road we had hiked up and not end up following the natural fall of water descending to the desert floor to the west.
At about that time I saw Stella emerge from the jumble of rock in the volcanic plug to the east. Frank and Stella were almost as far apart from each other as I was from them, but only I could see both of their locations and our agreed meeting spot. Once I could see they were heading toward our meeting spot I started my descent.
Although the weather forecast included afternoon thunderstorms and although we could observe a moderate cloud buildup over the course of the day, rain did not materialize. Even the clouds over the Sierra Crest dissipated later in the afternoon. It appeared that our run of stormy afternoon weather had come to an end, at least for the remainder of our holiday in the mountains.
|Cumulative climbing:||3340 feet|
Thousand Island Lake, September 15, 2017 - On our last full day in the Mountains we decided to visit an area west of Mammoth that some consider the prettiest corner of the Sierras. Due to the length of the proposed hike, we agreed to be out the door at 0630 and to try to be on the trail by 0700.
Our plan was to repeat a hike David and I did in 2011 to Thousand Island Lake and past picturesque Garnet and Shadow Lakes, a hike that neither Frank nor Stella had done. That year I had estimated the hike at about 16 miles, but our GPS devices all gave it a longer distance.
Stella decided that she would probably not do the entire loop but turn around after about five miles. She was saving some leg to climb Sonora Pass on her bike the next day. Since Stella did not wish to wait for several hours at the trailhead nor be forced to thumb a ride back into town, we drove separate cars to the start.
We started off from Agnew Meadows under cold and foggy skies. I walked fast to keep warm, and I found myself getting ahead of Frank and Stella. The trail passed downhill into the river canyon that was even colder than the meadow.
At the River Trail we encountered a Pacific Crest Trail hiker who found himself slightly off-route on the River Trail and asked me if he would get to Reds Meadow if he continued. I told him he would. A short distance later we were overtaken by a mule train.
At the Shadow Lake Trail we continued on the River Trail a short distance, but an idea popped into my head: Stella was planning to turn around after another two to three miles, and I thought the Shadow Lake Trail might be more interesting to her than the River Trail, given she wasn't going to hike both as Frank and I had planned to do. Moreover, it might be more interesting for me to hike our planned loop in the clockwise direction, since I hadn't done that since 1996. The idea was agreeable to Frank and Stella, so we backtracked about 50 yards to the trail junction and headed toward Shadow Lake.
Eventually we arrived at the shore of Shadow Lake. Slight ripples on the surface of the lake suggested activity within, although we could not see any creatures. Wind was still, but since it was late in the season we neither felt nor heard mosquitos. Shadow Lake has been one location I have almost always encountered mosquitos.
We passed several parties backpacking down the trail, and a few parties that had been camping nearby (although not near the lake shore). We continued past Shadow Lake, climbing above the creek and in places, over slabs.
At one such slab next to the creek Stella decided to turn back.
After bidding our farewells, Frank and I continued upward toward Ediza Lake. But we didn't get far before encountering the junction with the John Muir Trail (northbound). We turned north onto the John Muir Trail and continued climbing more steeply up a side canyon to the ridge separating Shadow Creek from Garnet Lake.
This climb was the longest climb of the day, and when we reached the pretty meadow in a high valley near the top of the climb we were happy to linger for a while to take photos. But with many miles still to hike we did not linger for long.
We crossed the ridge and descended toward Garnet Lake below. As we drew nearer to the lake's shore we could see that the Ritter Range's highest peaks rise sharply from the far western end of the lake.
I waited for Frank on the bridge over Garnet Lake's outflow, and when he arrived we sat and enjoyed a short snack break.
As we started up the ridge to the north of Garnet Lake we encountered several groups of backpackers. For a moment I felt as if we were on a trail in an urban park. Near the top of the climb I stopped for one final look at Garnet Lake and its mountainous backdrop, then continued down to Ruby Lake where Frank was busy with his camera.
Continuing north of Ruby Lake we encountered another mule train. This time the mules were carrying passengers who looked unhappy. We did not inquire about their trip.
Finally we crossed a low ridge above Thousand Island Lake. It was then a short descent to the footbridge across the headwater of the San Joaquin River at the outflow of Thousand Island Lake.
We continued a short distance up the John Muir Trail toward Island Pass to get a better view of the lake itself, only a portion of which is visible from its eastern end.
After lunch we continued our long trek, passing at first a few tarns, then descending into the river canyon, this time in the direction of home.
On our way down we encountered a pair of backpackers who knew about the ford through the San Joaquin River at Garnet Creek where a trail leads to the latter's outlet. David and I had explored this ford on our hike in 2011, finding the river too cold and swift for a safe and comfortable crossing in the morning coolness. This year later in the day with the sun shining brightly the crossing looked less intimidating than it had in 2011, but it still appeared to be an uncomfortable undertaking. Even as we gazed upon the ford, two backpackers on the opposite shore were preparing to make the crossing.
We returned to the River Trail and continued our trek back toward the trailhead, stopping once to pump water from a side stream as we calculated we'd run short before finishing if we didn't.
Soon we drew within sight of Shadow Creek and its slot canyon, and I knew we'd soon be closing our loop.
We descended through an open sloped area with a nice view of Mammoth Mountain, then shortly rejoined the trail from Shadow Lake.
Soon we found ourselves climbing out of the canyon we had descended earlier that morning. Then, after what felt a longer distance than in the morning we rounded the Meadow, crossed the last footbridge, and arrived at the trailhead. We were both tired, but it was a good kind of tired.
Frank and Stella's Mammoth 2017 web pages - For a different perspective see Frank and Stella's web pages of the same holiday.
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