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Emigrant Wilderness 2007

Page history last edited by lmckeega@... 10 years, 11 months ago



Greetings from the Red Leader,


Three of us began the first week long trip of the 2007 backpacking workshop. I was joined by Lupe Perez ('00) and David Skove ('06). Our trip was to be a 29 mile loop through the Hoover and Emigrant Wilderness areas, just north of Yosemite National Park. Dave had asked to ride with me and we met Lupe at the Pleasant Hill Community Center on Saturday, August 25. From there we drove east to the U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station at Pinecrest, where we picked up our wilderness permit.


We weren't that hungry but decided to stop for our last "real" meal at Strawberry. They weren't open for dinner but said they could serve us pizza. We sat on the deck overlooking some lovely cascades and pools of the South Fork of the Stanislaus River. The view was much nicer than the pizza, which was made with Bisquick dough topped with Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese. The sausage was chopped up breakfast links. Next time we'll wait the extra half hour and order from the dinner menu.

We were about to pull out of the parking lot when Lupe alerted us to the flat tire. With the verbal assistance of some Harley riders, lounging nearby, Dave and I changed the tire, noting that Lupe should check the air in her spare more often

Then we were off, up the mountain, to Kennedy Meadow Resort and our bivouac in one of the Forest Service campgrounds. Dave had remembered to bring his Golden Age Pass and Lupe used it to sign us in while Dave and I drove on in to the restaurant and general store. I wanted to verify the restaurant hours for our lunch at the end of the hike. The store had a freezer and we got ice-cream bars to "cleanse our pizza palates".


In the morning we were up before dawn and, after a quick breakfast, broke camp and loaded our packs. We decided to leave my car at Kennedy Meadows for the end-of-hike car shuttle and were soon on our way over Sonora Pass to the trailhead at Leavitt Meadows. We made final pack adjustments and were soon on the trail south, along the West Walker River, toward our first camp at Hidden Lake. The route follows the river valley, staying above the flood plain, on the east side of the river. About a half mile from the Hoover Wilderness boundary, a trail from the Leavitt Meadow Pack Station intersects the hiking trail and from there on the trail is seriously impacted by the many horses and mules of the pack trains. We were now hiking on a deeply rutted and dusty trail. The packers we passed did do us a service by telling us of trail conditions ahead and mileage to our destination.


We were about two miles from the Hidden Lake cut-off and Lupe was in her usual position (way ahead) when Dave began to experience some leg cramping. We stopped and I gave him some electrolyte tablets, and had him drink more water. We rested a bit and started on our way. Soon the cramps began to get worse and Dave and I stopped and took off our packs. Dave tried to stretch his legs and I took off up the trail to catch Lupe. She was resting in the shade when I caught up with her and we discussed our camping options. We decided to stop at the Hidden Lake cut-off and I went back to see how Dave was doing and get my pack. Dave was going to hike slowly and either Lupe or I would hike back and bring him more water. I hurried south and Lupe and I continued on to our destination. At the Hidden Lake Trail junction we dropped our packs and Lupe took some water and started back to find Dave. I filled my water bag from the stream and began to filter water into Lupe's bladder and water bottles. I had just finished when Dave and Lupe walked in. We investigated camping options and began setting up our tents. I organized my gear and took a nap. Soon it was dinner time and we gathered around the "cooking rock". The evening was calm and warm but we were tired and retired by 8:00. We had come six and a quarter miles, with a net gain of 688 feet.


We were up at 6am, ate breakfast and broke camp. Dave felt that his cramping of the previous day would probably start again and decided to hike back to Leavitt Meadows. We discussed his various options for getting back home and Lupe, very generously, offered Dave the use of her car. We hoisted our packs and waived good bye to Dave as he started off north. Lupe and I headed south, along the West Walker River and soon turned west, crossed the river, and began our ascent out of the West Walker River canyon. At the top of the ridge we arrived at a trail junction just as a couple walked up from Fremont Lake. We asked the distance to the lake and inquired where they were headed. Fremont Lake was only a few hundred feet west and Lupe and I decided to take a look. The couple asked where we had come from and told us they were headed south to Cinko Lake. We wished them a good trip and dropped our packs, taking our cameras to get some photos. Fremont Lake is oriented in a north/south direction at an elevation of 8240 feet and is aver 3000 feet long by 1000 feet wide. The lake outlet creek is at the north end of the lake and drains into the West Fork of the West Walker River. There appear to be very good campsites located along the west shore. We didn't explore much but it appears that the views from the north end of the lake might reach all the way to Leavitt Meadows.


We spent some time getting photos of this very pretty place before retracing our steps to our packs and making our way south. The trail from the Fremont trail junction follows up and down and in and out, along the ridge top, soon arriving at the Chain of Lakes. These are a series of sometimes swampy ponds three quarters of a mile in length. Less than two miles from the Fremont trail I arrived at Lower Long Lake. Lupe, as usual, had arrived before me and was waiting there, taking her packless ease in the shade. As I walked up I was greeted by a couple who said they were from Reno. They appeared to have been in the woods for some time and asked many questions about our experience in the Hoover Wilderness. Lupe and I had planned to camp at Lower Long Lake and decided to move on to a spot away from the Reno couple. We walked on and investigated Upper Long Lake but decided to keep going to our intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail and look for camping possibilities along the West Fork of the West Walker River. We found a nice spot, with easy water access, just south of the PCT bridge over the West Fork and made camp as clouds gathered ominously in the northern sky. We filled the water bag with a goodly supply, had a light lunch and took to our tents for naps. When we arose   there were lightning strikes and distant thunder over the high peaks to the north. The sky to the east was filled with towering thunder heads and we decided to start dinner just in case the storms closed in on us. After dinner we took a walk, across the West Fork bridge and north along the PCT for most of a mile. We felt occasional sprinkles and turned back as the day faded. We were in our tents and snuggled down for the night by 8 pm. We had hiked 4.7 miles with a 809 foot net altitude gain. 



We awoke to cloudless, sunny skies; then ate and packed up, before heading south up the PCT to the cut-off that followed the West Fork up the canyon. A few clouds began to form and we kept an eye out for developing thunder storm activity. We were heading for the Sierra crest, and would be above the tree line for the next 24 hours. We didn't want to be taken by surprise by lightning on our exposed position. As we wound our way ever upwards we passed the mouth of a beautiful canyon, entering from the west. The creek emanating from this canyon was the primary source of the West Fork and we checked our maps to identify the creek. Our maps showed no name for the canyon or the creek and I christened them "El Canon Maria Guadalupe" and "Lupe Creek". The quad map shows the creek dropping only 280 feet in a mile and a half, a grade of less than 4%. It looks like a great trout stream and may be worth a trip just to explore the area.


We soon reached the junction with the trail to Cinko Lake and turned westerly, on our way up to Emigrant Pass. I caught up to Lupe and she waived me to stop and pointed out a large Marmot, sitting on top of a large boulder, keeping an eye on us. We both took photos before heading on up the trail. At the head of the West Fork drainage, just east of Emigrant Pass, the trail entered a beautiful meadow. The axis of the meadow is oriented in a northeast-southwest direction and is about six tenths of a mile long and nearly a half mile wide. The elevation is 9600 feet and is above the timber line. This has been a dry season and most of the wild flowers were long gone, but we watched several large hawks as they soared in the updrafts, hunting the small rodents that scurried about the valley floor. There was no obvious trail across the meadow but we could see signs of the trail to the southwest, climbing up to 9650 foot, Emigrant Pass. We were soon across the meadow and topped the ridge just in time to meet the Fremont Lake couple heading back from a day hike to Emigrant Pass. We spoke to them and found out they hadn't made it to Cinko Lake, but had stopped at Upper Long Lake. We commented on the growing storm clouds and wished each other "good hiking" before continuing on our way west.


We had planned to camp just west of the summit at one of the two lakes at Grizzly Meadow. Just before we could see the lakes we met a lone backpacker heading east. He was carrying the largest pack I had ever seen, outside of photos of Tibetan sherpas. I do not exaggerate when I say his pack was over 6 feet, top to bottom. We commented on his load and he told us that it was lighter than it had been when he started from Kennedy Meadow and that he typically went out for twelve or fourteen days at a time. I kicked myself that neither of us remembered to take photos of "Big Pack's" enormous load. He told us he was headed north, over 10,800 foot, Big Sam. We wished him well and hurried on to investigate the Grizzly Meadow lakes. The storm was closing in on us, with lightning and thunder. Soon it began to rain and we stopped to put on rain gear. We didn't like the look of the exposed conditions at Grizzly Meadow and decided to continue on another 1.3 miles, and 230 feet down, to 9407 foot Emigrant Meadow Lake, where we set up camp for the night. Emigrant Meadow is at an elevation of about 9500 feet and is about one and a half miles north to south by a mile wide. The shallow lake is more that a half mile long by a quarter mile wide. The valley is above the timber line and is surrounded by 10,000 foot granite peaks to the south and even higher volcanic peaks to the north. The views are most spectacular.   

We needed water and spent some time exploring this shallow lake, looking for a place where the water was deep enough to dip our pots without getting any mud. We saw where "Big Pack" had been looking for water and had taken off his shoes, leaving barefoot prints in the mud. While we wandered about in the wet grass we noticed very small, bright green frogs hopping about.


We caught one and Lupe took a great picture. The rain had stopped for an hour but began again and we retired to our tents to nap in the dry before dinner. After and hour or so the rain stopped we emerged from our tents and I pumped. Lupe went off to explore the northerly end of the valley and watched a Marsh Hawk dive into the grass and then fly to a nearby boulder to enjoy its dinner . Soon it was dinner time and we enjoyed hot food as it began to get dark. We were in our tents by 8 pm. We had come 5.6 miles with a 782 foot net altitude gain.


We were awakened about 2 am by coyote howls. It sounded like a sizable pack probably chasing a deer, somewhere off to the south. This was the first time in many years that I have heard coyotes in the Sierra. It was a welcome sound.


We arose at 6 am, ate breakfast and broke camp. As the sun rose above the Sierra crest, the bright light lit up the meadow and set the 10,000 foot granite ridge aglow to the south of the meadow. While we were loading our packs we heard the coyote pack again. They chased their quarry over the saddle to our south and their yips and howls echoed in the canyon and faded in the distance. We didn't have binoculars so we didn't get a look but it was a magic moment.   

We were soon on the trail, heading west across the meadow, to begin our climb up to 9750 foot Brown Bear Pass. As we neared the top we met a couple with a pack dog, heading east, on their way to Twin Lakes, just west of Bridgeport. They had begun their hike at Meeks Bay on Lake Tahoe, and were on their tenth day, following the Tahoe Yosemite Trail. They said they had come through Kennedy Meadows the day before and had spent that night at Sheep Camp. We were planning to camp at Sheep Camp and they gave us information on campsites, before continuing on their way. I stopped often to take photos and Lupe pulled ahead as we descended into Summit Creek Canyon. A mile below Brown Bear Pass I passed a trail heading south, over 9730 foot, Mosquito Pass, and on to Emigrant Lake. This is a large lake lying about three miles north of Yosemite National Park. It is a popular place for hikers and horse packers. From this trail junction, all the way to Kennedy Meadows, the trail is heavily used by horses and pack trains. Since the Chain of Lakes we had been hiking on trails used by hikers mostly. Now we were back to hiking on dusty, rutted, rocky trails. At least we were hiking downhill. Just below the junction I stepped aside to allow two backpackers to pass, on their way up the trail. They stopped and I got the only photos of other hikers that I remembered to take on the whole trip. They were from San Diego, on their way to Emigrant Lake. Lupe didn't get their names either. Two pack trains passed, deadheading back to Kennedy Meadows. It seems there were more than a few people staying in the vicinity of Emigrant Lake, all requiring supplies packed in on horses and mules. I walked on down the canyon, enjoying the warm sun and lovely views. Soon I arrived at Sheep Camp, where we were to spend our layday. Two of the pack trains had stopped for a break and the wranglers sat in the shade and smoked. Lupe and I spent some time looking for a spot to set up camp. We filtered water, ate lunch, then it was time for a nap.


Sheep Camp is located on Summit Creek, in a deep canyon orientated northwest-southeast. The canyon walls on the south rise more than 1500 feet to the top of the 10,300 foot, Black Hawk Mountain. To the north, massive granite ledges step up several hundred feet to the base of the basaltic talus slope of 10,808 foot Relief Peak. After dinner Lupe and I took off in opposite directions to explore the beautiful canyon. I went south across the creek and discovered a meadow of approximately 10 acres. To the west, the meadow is defined by a large granite "rib" tapering from the base of the ridge to the creek. To the east of the meadow is a forested flat with evidence of old campsites. This would be a wonderfully secluded spot to camp. I made note for future trips.


As I returned to the creek Lupe "Bruced" me. I turned and followed the sound up onto the Granite "Rib" and climbed, south, to the base of the ridge. It sounded like Lupe had climbed up toward a notch in the canyon wall. I "Bruced" back and she answered but now her voice came from across the creek. I looked to the north and saw a tiny speck moving about on top of some huge granite blocks below Relief Peak. I crossed the creek and made my way up to where she stood. The view down the canyon terminated at the Dardanelles, 16 miles to the northwest. A few miles down canyon we could see a plume of smoke rising in the evening sky. It looked like a smoldering tree, perhaps set afire by a lightning strike the previous afternoon. The sun was setting and we hurried to get a closer look at a tree that Lupe had been admiring. The we hurried down to camp and turned in for the night. Tomorrow would be our lay day and Lupe had suggested a hike over Mosquito Pass, to Emigrant Lake. The evening was calm and clear as I drifted off to dream land. We had come 3.9 miles with a net altitude loss of 631 feet.


In the wee hours of the morning I got out to pee and noticed that the sky was completely overcast. I wondered if this meant a weather change and whether we would be hiking to Emigrant Lake. I awoke before 6 am and it was still overcast. I loaded my pack before getting out of my tent and found Lupe was already up. We started to fix breakfast when it began to rain. This weather wasn't the typical summer thunder showers and we contemplated either hiking the nine mile round trip to Emigrant Lake   versus holing up for the day in our tents. We decided that neither was acceptable and chose to pack up and head on down the mountain and do the 8.4 miles to Kennedy Meadows in one day. Hamburgers and fries were calling to us and off we went, into the rainy morning. The trail below Sheep Camp drops rapidly before beginning an up-and-down-between-the-contours section. The pack trains that frequent this trail have torn up the path for hiking and the rain made it muddy and slippery. We had been hiking for about an hour when we met our first backpackers of the day, heading up the steep route to Emigrant Lake. About a mile before we reached the Relief Valley Reservoir our trail began to drop rapidly, through many steep, muddy switchbacks. The trail was now in the woods and our sweeping views of the mountains were gone. Now it was just: pick-'em-up-put-'em-down. I caught up to Lupe at the Relief Valley Trail junction and took a short pack break to take off some insulation. The rain had stopped and we hiked on, under a heavy overcast. For the next mile and a half the trail climbed to the beginning of a steep drop to the bridge crossing the granite gorge of the Summit Creek outlet to Relief Reservoir. Lupe was waiting at the other end of the bridge and I stopped to take photos of the spectacular canyon. We were almost to the bottom of the canyon when the clouds rolled back and the sun came out. It had not been particularly cold, as we hiked along, but now it started to warm up and I sought available shade wherever I could find it.


We had passed one pack train and many backpackers as we made our final descent. Now we began to see more and more horseback riders. As we entered the head of Kennedy Meadows we came upon a large number of motor homes, R.V's, and horse trailers, bunched together on both sides of the dirt road. There was a gathering of horsemen and women celebrating some horsy event. As we hiked we passed an area set up as a kitchen/mess area, complete with bar and I saw blenders powered by a small generator. Several "cowboys" languished in the shade and offered us Margaritas if we would stop. Lupe and I decided that our blood sugar was so low that, if we had any alcohol before we had food, we'd be there for the rest of the day; drunk as skunks. We thanked them for their offer and walked on. The road entered Kennedy Meadow and we passed several fishermen with strings of 12"+ trout. In a few hundred yards we arrived at the Kennedy Meadows General Store and Restaurant. We gratefully dropped our packs, used the facilities to clean up and ordered lunch. Lupe had a Cheeseburger and I opted for the Chili Cheeseburger. They were both delicious.


When we had finished eating we hoisted our packs for the half mile walk to my car and dropped our packs one last time. We were soon on the road headed for Martinez, to pick up Lupe's car at Dave's house. We inspected Lupe's car with Dave before waiving goodbye, until next time. It was a truly wonderful trip and we plan to do more hiking in the Emigrant Wilderness next year.


Red Leader out

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