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TR:Isberg/Harriet/Bench/Long Creek

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TR:Isberg/Harriet/Bench/Long Creek

Postby paul » Sun Jul 05, 2015 11:18 am

I’m a very visual guy, and the colors of the mountain experience are a very big part of it for me. My last trip, taken recently to Ansel Adams Wilderness and the southern Yosemite border, had me thinking often about the variations in color that accompany every trip.

We began in blackness, driving at night across the valley and following the winding Beasore Road up from Bass Lake into the mountains, climbing through the darkened forest and away from the valley heat. After midnight we pulled over a few miles shy of Clover Meadows to sleep.

In the morning we awoke in a world of green and brown – the dark green of the pine and fir needles, the dark brown of their trunks, and the dusty brown of the soil and the road. Soon we arrived at the brighter green of Clover Meadow where we stopped to pick up our permit at the tiny ranger shack.

A few miles more of dusty winding road and we arrived at the trailhead. Afoot now, we headed out into the forest on the sandy trail. Greens and browns still, with just the occasional bits of grey where the occasional boulder poked its stony head through the forest soil. Gently but steadily the trail climbed, up to The Niche where we passed through with a stream to our right, entering a broad, slightly undulating valley and encountering our first serious waves of skeeters. Now that we had gained some elevation the grey of the granite was more of a player in the color palette, though greens and brown still predominated. Here also we encountered brighter greens by the streamside and in the meadowy, almost swampy areas where the evil beasties lurked.

The streambeds were almost more like rivers of stone, as the low water levels left much bare rock exposed.

As we walked the granite asserted itself more and more, broad slabs appearing now among the meadows and the trees. On one of these we stopped to lunch, but first to apply some chemical protection to ward off the skeeters.

After lunch we wound our way upward, as the balance of grey and green gradually shifted in the direction of grey, to the deep blue of Sadler Lake, where fish were jumping in the bright sun of midafternoon and a slight chop on the surface, they at least enjoying the abundance of the insect population. A few puffy white clouds graced the sky now, but given the hour and the small size of the clouds it seemed unlikely that we’d see rain.

From Sadler we climbed more steeply, and then, almost suddenly we emerged into the open as we left the trail and climbed a last slope, this one nearly all granite, to McGee Lake. Grey had triumphed at last, and dominated the green of the grass that spread here and there between the slabs. A few gnarled and hardy trees did what they could to represent the plant world but the granite reigned supreme up here, and we were happy to see it, having been too long away from the alpine regions.

The bugs, alas, were not left behind in the forest, and the shelter of a tent and the protection of headnets when out of the tent were necessary to maintaining sanity.

The cloud cover had increased somewhat and while we doubted rain we hoped for sunset color, but in the end we had too many clouds for spectacle and had to settle for subtle colors as the light faded.
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McGee Lake at Sunset
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In the morning the sky was clear, and blue asserted itself as a challenger to grey, with some success. Packing up, we made our way towards the Long Mountain saddle, ascending through rock gardens of springy green turf and grey granite, sliced by the occasional tiny stream.

As we neared the saddle the rocks dominated the gardens till at the top it was all rock. But the plant kingdom had not given up yet, for off to our right a patch of krummholtz clung to and guarded the ridge of Long Mountain. We dropped our packs, and skirting the krummholtz, scrambled to the summit of Long Mountain. Here the granite truly reigned, as it was all rock and sand, no soil even. But the view spreading out in all directions encompassed all the colors we had seen so far and more. Rock and stone and forest and meadow and lake and stream, in every variation and fading into the hazy distance. We sat and stared and photographed. Then a sliding scramble back down to the saddle , where we picked up our burdens and headed down over the rocks into the basin that holds Harriet and her lesser and unnamed sisters.

We had new colors in view now: white and reddish brown. A few small patches of snow lingered near the north side of the saddle, and here surrounding the highest of the unnamed lakes, a mere tarn really, was the rich reddish brown rock that so livens up this part of the Sierra. We wandered down to and through it, crossing and then following the outlet stream from the tarn as it tumbled over the rocks amid green grass, a lovely sight.

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outlet stream
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And now we entered the meadowy green that is the plateau on which Harriet and her nearest sister are perched, crossing the stream that joins them and ascending the broad greensward to the northeast of the big girl. That brought us to a steeply sloping rock garden which we ascended to a rocky shelf leading around the corner to the lakes that sit below the west side of Blue Lake Pass. Here we abruptly left the green behind again, and paused to lunch on the broad slabs by the outlet stream. Ahead was nearly all grey and blue, with just a hint of green fringe around the edge of the lakes and few puffy white clouds. Behind was certainly a rock-dominated world – the Clark range in all its glory, mostly grey but highlighted in reddish brown sprinkled with the green of trees up high and covered in patches of green lower down. A few spots and streaks of white completed the scene.

After lunch we climbed in an arc around the lakes over the talus toward the pass – our attention focused close ahead now as we picked our way over the boulders. But at every pause we looked around at the growing spectacle behind. And then the pass, and the view over into Bench Canyon. Green again, meadows and trees sweeping down among the granite, around the corner and out of sight as the valley wound down toward the deep canyon of the North Fork San Joaquin. And as the backdrop, the dark greys and browns of the Minarets, bringing more somber tones into the palette that we had not seen before on this trip.

We sat, we stared, we photographed. And I noticed here, as one so often finds at a high pass in the Sierra, in what would seem to be a most inhospitable spot for tiny growing things, not just a few tufts of hardy grass but the tiniest and most delicate of flowers, pink and yellow, hugging the rocks.

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flowers at Blue Lake Pass
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We lingered quite q while savoring the view, but at last we made our way down among the rocks to Blue Lake, across the meadows and to the lip of the shelf on which the lake sits. Here we lingered again, wishing we had one more day so that we could camp here and soak up more of this, and wander down the valley and see the details up close. But we did not have that extra day, so at last we made our way up onto the shoulder above the lake, thinking we must return - though next time it would be after the bug season so that we could enjoy the place more thoroughly without deet on the trail and headnets in camp.

Coming over the shoulder we looked down on the valley of Long Creek, which though less famous than Bench Canyon is hardly less beautiful. Rockbound Lake nestles in its rocky bowl, and the creek tumbles down through rocks and meadows and into the trees below.

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Long Creek
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Here we were descending again, and green was coming back to the fore. The meadows first, then the trees. And here the trees seemed to have found a valley they really enjoyed, for the transition from no trees at all to patriarchs three feet through the trunk was very quick. But the rock had not given up yet, and the many outcroppings made finding a sot to camp a slow process. At last we found a larger grove of trees and a flat patch of deep duff in their midst, and we stopped for the night.

And now we were back in the forest in earnest, though we had come just a short distance from the alpine meadows of the upper creek and the rocky slopes above. The dark greens and the rich browns were all around us again.

In the morning we headed downstream, looking for an old trail that might or might not be still viable. We found it, and followed it – then lost, found it, lost again. At every meadow it was completely overgrown, and finding its exit from the meadow was mostly luck. Finally we gave it up and dropped down what turned out to be a surprisingly short way to join the Stephenson trail. Glad to be on a trail we could trust to continue, rather than a trickster of a trail, we tromped along relieved.

I was confirmed again in my feeling that trying to follow an old or vague trail in a forest is often harder than just simply making your own route – rather than just going where you know you need to go to get where you want to be, you end up spending more time trying to find the elusive tread than you would spend finding your own way.

As we walked through the forest we caught glimpses off to our left of the Minarets looming on the other side of the canyon. In a short while things opened up on that side and we noticed a rocky promontory just ahead. Just as I was thinking I should veer off to it, the trail did just that and took us right to it. The view down into the canyon and across to the Minarets was wonderful. Despite it being too early, we almost stopped for lunch, but we did linger for awhile. The views continued now for a bit, and soon we came to an even better spot, and one which it was clear would be our last viewpoint before heading back into the forest for the last 6 miles to the trailhead. So here we stopped for an early lunch.

The subtle change in the color palette here in the canyon of the San Joaquin was apparent. The greens were still the same, but the rocks were different – darker greys, new shades of brown. And a hazy, partly overcast sky took a hand in the changing color scheme as well, muting all colors.

After lunch we were back on the trail, and with the sense that the big views were past, and that nothing new was to be expected between here and the trailhead, though the first couple miles would be trail we had not seen. But the mountains are full of surprises, of various sizes. Having resigned myself to seeing only the same colors we’d seen before, I was pleasantly surprised by a grove of aspens – the only one we saw on this trip. In their spring green leaves, and with their grey-green bark, they brought new colors to us, and something of a new sense of place. Walking through aspens, however briefly, is quite different from walking through the big red firs and the lodgepole pines that dominate these forests, and makes that small area distinctive in my mind. It made for a refreshing change at that point.

Down we went, the forest thickening, the trees getting larger. We passed by and among many trees blown down bodily by the big wind event of a few years ago, in some sections most of the trees were down, there root balls brown with the lifted soil, the pits created looking fresh and raw still.

Soon we came down into the valley bottom where we would meet up with our outward track, and here we were once more among the green shoots of grasses and flowers of the almost swampy regions. In a wet year this must be a quagmire in the early summer. Our little flying persecutors were here in force, laughing at our repellent – or so it seemed as they buzzed and bit and harassed.

Meeting the outward trail, we soon passed through The Niche again, and on the drier more open slope just past it, met our first and only fellow traveler of the day, he heading up. Here a slight breeze and some distance from their breeding grounds gave us a respite from the skeeters. And down some more, on trails growing sandier as we went, and the grey rocks giving way thoroughly now to the greens and browns again, until we reached the trailhead.

Surprisingly there were no other vehicles their but ours. I guess the solo hiker had been dropped off. We had seen people while we were out, in fact two sizable groups of Outward bound kids, one at McGee and one at Blue Lake – though not many others, just a few. Since this was early afternoon on a Sunday, I guess anyone coming out must have been out ahead of us, and quite probably no one would head in that day.

As a final gesture of approval from the mountain gods, it started to rain just as we got into the van to start the drive. Not only had we made it back the trailhead in time to miss the rain, but we had been allowed to change clothes and do all the little transition things you do before the drive, before the rain. Good timing indeed.



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Re: TR:Isberg/Harriet/Bench/Long Creek

Postby oldranger » Mon Jul 06, 2015 9:58 am

Thanks for your tr about my favorite area. Don't understand the problem of following the trail out of long creek. Stock use the trail at least a couple of times each year. I've done it 2 times in the last 6 years and never had to pause. At meadows and where trees have fallen it is just a matter of keeping ones eyes open as you circle around the obstacle. Maybe it is because I hike so slow that it is easier to follow the trail. At my age my hiking speed seldom exceeds 2 mph and uphill and off trail considerably slower. But I did make it out to the TH from just below Rockbound by 2:30 a few years ago on day 15 of an extended trip through the upper Merced.

Mike
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Re: TR:Isberg/Harriet/Bench/Long Creek

Postby copeg » Mon Jul 06, 2015 10:48 am

I've been looking forward to your trip report after reading some of your recent posts indicating you headed up into this area - thanks for posting! A similar route through this area is on the top of my list of todo's
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Re: TR:Isberg/Harriet/Bench/Long Creek

Postby maverick » Mon Jul 06, 2015 12:16 pm

Excellent TR Paul, wish there were some pictures of Blue Lake, and the Minarets too, the views from there are quite unique.

How were the wildflowers at Stephenson Meadow? Was the Falls at the meadow pretty decent or just a trickle? I assume you used the trail at Hemlock Crossing to get back to your auto, did you see any wildflower gardens on the north side of the trail at about 8000 ft as you ascended, mainly Shooting Stars?
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Re: TR:Isberg/Harriet/Bench/Long Creek

Postby ereinys » Mon Jul 06, 2015 6:55 pm

Hi Paul--
Thanks for the great trip report. I will be in that same area within two weeks. How is the Long Mt saddle crossing between McGee Lake and the Harriet Lake basin? Is it mostly slabs and grassy benches or is there a lot of big block talus? My brother-in-law who will be on this trip with us gets super nervous on the steeper and looser stuff. I went over Blue Lake Pass last year on the way out of Bench Canyon. Loved that whole route but my brother-in-law would've hated it so just trying to do as much reconnaissance as I can in advance. If it sounds too gnarly, we'll probably just stay on the trail (coming from Red Peak Pass/Ottoway Lakes and heading out via Tuolumne). Thanks for any info you can provide. Emily
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Re: TR:Isberg/Harriet/Bench/Long Creek

Postby sparky » Mon Jul 06, 2015 8:01 pm

The colors man, the colors!

Thanks for the enjoyable read and the pictures. :thumbsup: :thumbsup:
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Re: TR:Isberg/Harriet/Bench/Long Creek

Postby paul » Mon Jul 06, 2015 10:12 pm

Mav - We didn't go down to Stevenson Meadow - we just caught the trail on the way back from Long Creek, roughly just east of point 9443 which is on the ridge running southeast off of Sadler Peak. So no info on the wildflowers you have in mind. In general, flowers were out but light. I have more photos and will get them up on my flickr account when I have time but haven't gotten to it yet. Nothing special anyway, just snaps.

Emily - Long Mtn. Saddle is a piece of cake - grassy slope up on the south and slabs down on the north. Way easier than Blue Lake Pass. Though if I were coming from Red Peak Pass I'd probably just head up out of the triple peak fork direct to harriet, unless you just have a hankering to go over Isberg pass and visit Isberg lakes and Mcgee. McGee is nice but not many campsites
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Re: TR:Isberg/Harriet/Bench/Long Creek

Postby maverick » Tue Jul 07, 2015 9:31 am

Hi Emily,

Welcome to HST! Please come back and write up a TR for us, also an intro would be appreciated: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=9329
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

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Re: TR:Isberg/Harriet/Bench/Long Creek

Postby ereinys » Tue Jul 07, 2015 4:39 pm

Thanks for the info, Paul! I haven't been over Isberg Pass since I was a teenager, so I'm kind of interested in seeing that area again.

Maverick, just wrote up an intro. Thanks!
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