Sunday, October 23, 2016

September in Basin and Range Country: Part V (Eastern Sierra)

(Remember that you can click on the photos to see a slideshow, and then hit "escape" to get back to the text. Also, a note on the photo credits: as always, both Felice and I took these shots, and many of my shots resulted from her suggestions.  I do the photo editing using Lightroom; my goal is to reproduce just what we saw, as faithfully as possible.)

         Sept. 26:  We drove from Great Basin to the Oh Ridge Campground near June Lake, about 375 miles, along Highway 6 in Nevada and then Highway 120 in California.  Both roads were essentially empty – an easy and pleasant drive.  That evening, even though we had no radio coverage, we were able to listen to the first Clinton-Trump debate on Felice’s iPhone during an extended cocktail and snack session.  Interesting, if not relaxing.

         Sept. 27:  The campsite at June Lake had a great view of Carson Peak (on the left) and Parker Peak (on the right):

         We headed south to scout boondocking sites near the Mammoth Scenic Loop – there is a whole network of forest roads in that area.  We found a great place about a mile from the pavement – very quiet and isolated:

         Bear in mind, though, that this was a weekday.  I am guessing that on weekends or holidays, this area gets heavy use.  We saw a lot of ATV tracks in the forest.

         We drove down into the Red’s Meadow area beyond Minaret Summit to do a little late-afternoon hiking.  (For future reference, Red’s Meadow Campground was dusty and crowded and not RV-friendly at all.)  Throughout the canyon of the San Joaquin River, we noticed that there were tremendous numbers of very big old-growth trees that had been blown down.  I have since learned that there was a freak windstorm on November 30, 2011; they estimate that the winds were around 150 miles an hour.

         We took the Minaret Falls trail (4 miles, almost no elevation gain).  But after five years of severe drought, it was Minaret Trickles:

         By comparison, this is what it looked like in June of 2008:

         As we were heading back to the trailhead, we noticed this victim of the 2011 windstorm:

         I was puzzled by the big, heavy rocks on top of the tree trunk.  We have never seen anything like this before:  how did those rocks get up there?  It took us a little while to figure it out:  the root ball (on the left side of the shot) had trapped a number of rocks, as the roots always do.  But instead of riding the root ball gracefully down as the tree fell, as is usually the case, these rocks were violently catapulted out of the roots by the sudden shock of the tree slamming into the ground, propelled by that terrible windstorm.

         Sept. 28:  We took the Duck Pass trail in the Mammoth Lakes area, 10 miles with 2000 feet of gain.  It was a perfect day:  partly cloudy, breezy, and cool, with no snow on the trail.  And we were already acclimated to high-altitude hiking (after a full month of it!), so the hike was not difficult at all.

         The canyon headwall, seen from the perspective of Barney Lake, is a little daunting – to get a sense of the scale, Felice is in the lower left corner of this shot:

         But the trail up the wall is well-engineered.  It snakes through the talus with a reasonable grade, and the surface is not too blocky: 

         From the pass (at around 10,800 feet), we had a great view of the high country of Yosemite to the north, in the left background of this photo.  Skelton Lake is near Felice’s left hand:

          The big payoff, though, was when we made it over the top to Duck Lake.  Every other time we have gotten to the lake, the weather has been cloudy; but in sunny weather (and with the sun at the proper angle), the lake was a vivid mix of indigo and aquamarine, much like Crater Lake in Oregon.  The color in this picture is just about exactly right -- this might be worth clicking on: 

         We then headed west toward the outlet of the lake:

         At the outlet, there were several big metamorphic “whalebacks,” ridges of uptilted resistant rock that had been glacially polished and sculpted.  And on top of the whalebacks were erratics, boulders that had been carried and then dropped by the melting glacier:

         After lunch, we climbed back up to Duck Pass.  Barney Lake is in the foreground:

       Sept. 29:  Just before we left for our hike, I had to get another shot of the trailer tucked back into the forest, with the aspens backlit by the morning sun:

         We took the Mammoth Crest trail, 8 miles with about 1700 feet of gain.  After a long, steep climb (much easier than the last time, in deep snow), we arrived on the crest, which is an anomalous plateau.  (After some research, I could not find a geological explanation for the wide, flat ridge.  It is certainly covered in glacial material, but why wasn’t it carved up?)  Behind Felice are the Minarets, Mt. Ritter, and Banner Peak:

         We went pretty high up on the crest, but we didn’t make it all the way to the top – there were storm clouds forming over the Minarets, and the crest would be a bad place in a thunderstorm.  Before heading back, we posed (carefully) on the edge of the cliff:

         This is the storm that had us worried – eventually, it started to drift away from us, but discretion is the better part of not getting hit by lightning:

          The trail crossed the peak of a cinder cone -- Felice is holding a volcanic bomb:

         Halfway down, we took a detour to Crystal Lake.  I am pointing at the place up on the ridge where we stopped for lunch:

         That night, we took yet another Milky Way shot, right from the campsite.  We very briefly “painted” the aspens with an old-fashioned incandescent flashlight, which gives a much more natural light than an LED: 

         Sept. 30:  We hitched up and headed south to Onion Valley Campground.  After shoe-horning ourselves into a very small and un-level campsite, we went for a walk and stopped off along Independence Creek:

         Oct. 1:  I took the last of our “door shots” at sunrise:

          We started the hike up Kearsarge Pass (9.6 miles and 2600 feet), departing right from the trailer, a dream come true.  (Maybe not everyone’s dream, but that’s ours.)  It was a cool, breezy, and clear day, perfect for this demanding hike.  The trail was well-graded and well-maintained, which made it a lot easier than in the snow.  The mountains were distinctive southern Sierra crags:

         Up at the pass (11,800 feet), we spent quite a bit of time enjoying the view of the interior of the Sierras and the Great Western Divide, which we usually see from the other side of the mountains:

          As we descended, we were looking down on Big Pothole Lake, a classic glacial cirque.  On the left is University Peak, at around 13,250 feet:

         This is a close-up of the jagged granite “fingers” atop the headwall on the south side of the lake:

         We stopped off for a while at a cascade about halfway down the trail:

          We caught a glimpse of the trailer in the campground (lower left corner), far below us – it took us another 45 minutes from this point to get back down.  The Owens Valley and the Inyo Mountains are off to the east:

           We drove home the next day -- most of the day was spent listening to Vin Scully call his last game.



Ski3pin said...

A fun month of fun in spectacular and varied country! Nothing could be better. Thanks so much letting us come along.

MTWaggin said...

I so love your adventures and your photos, now to finish catching up on all the other "parts"!