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McGee Creek and Convict Creek headwaters

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McGee Creek and Convict Creek headwaters

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Jul 08, 2015 4:46 pm

The “Other McGee” and Convict Creek Headwaters
July 2-6, 2015

There are lots of “McGee Lakes” in the Sierra! This is the McGee Lake near Mammoth Lakes. The original idea was a point-to-point from McGee Creek trailhead to Convict Lake trailhead. With only one car, the idea of hitching or walking back to my car was not appealing. So I decided to add a few days and loop up McGee Creek, over Corridor Pass to fish the upper lakes of Convict Creek, then over Gemini Pass to Tully and Red and White Lakes, and over McGee Pass to return. The route was not committing as I could easily alter the route if conditions required. Lingering snow on passes and thunderstorms forced me to do just this. Nevertheless, it was a great trip.

July 1: I left town at a relatively late hour not sure if I would get my preferred next day start, or if I would have get a same-day permit. Surprisingly there were plenty of next-day permits, so I drove on to Mammoth Lakes, browsed the outdoor stores before driving up to McGee campground. My husband and I had camped here last fall and day-hiked McGee Canyon to see the stunning autumn colors. We had only reached the beaver ponds and this time I wanted to see more. The hot afternoon soon morphed into light rain and claps of thunder, which miraculously cooled the air. I washed down my dinner cold cuts and fruit with plenty of cold beer.

July 2: to Big McGee Lake. 6.8 miles, 6 hours, +2900 feet gain

I was up at dawn, ate a quick breakfast and washed up (this campground actually has flush toilets and sinks). As I drove to two miles to the trailhead parking, light rain started so I put on rain pants and started up the trail at 6:30AM. Murphy’s Law of raingear- as soon as you put on rain pants that will not come off over shoes, it quits raining. It remained overcast and thankfully cool and breezy as the trail passed through sage and abundant wildflowers. I stupidly missed the “partially collapsed bridge” and waded, only to see the bridge as soon as I was halfway across. I had been here just six months earlier; this time the path to the bridge was overgrown with thick brush. I jumped to the conclusion that the Forest Service took it out since it was in poor shape. I dried feet, took off the rain pants as two trail runners were coming down the trail.

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Lower McGee Pass trail

The beaver ponds had less water and looked a bit weary. I managed to find the second crossing; the logs were slick and wet so I carefully crossed. The leftovers of the last night’s storm soon dissipated and it became beastly hot. So far there were surprisingly few mosquitoes. The upper meadow was lush green and full of flowers. At Big McGee Lake I did not like the camping at the outlet area so went back to the trail which climbed nearly 200 feet above the lake. A use-trail drops to the inlet passing a gorgeous meadow along the gurgling stream with awesome views up valley to red rock peaks and canyons. Someone was camped at the lake so I set up on a ridge between the lake and the meadow for views both ways.

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Beaver Ponds (photo taken on return)

Then I went fishing finally finding success at the inlet. I caught three 8-9 inch fish with big heads and two smaller fish. As I was cleaning them near my campsite, the resident of the tent down by the lake meandered by so we chatted a bit. He had been here four days and caught and released forty fish! I thought it was near dinnertime so I cooked the fish and wrapped them, in a tortilla. I finally found my watch and it was only 4:00! So I wandered about taking photos. Unfortunately the sky turned cloudy and few photos turned out. By 7PM I felt I could head into the tent; pretty much a good idea anyway since the weather was deteriorating quickly. Sometime after dark the storm really picked up and I had to brace the tent pole to keep my tent upright. It briefly rained hard then drizzled as I fell asleep.

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Upper McGee Meadow



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Re: McGee Creek and Convict Creek headwaters

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Jul 08, 2015 4:57 pm

July 3: Big McGee Lake to Cloverleaf Lake. 8 miles, 8 hours, + 2425 feet gain, -2375 loss

I awoke early but did not get out of the tent in time for the first light to hit the peaks, but did get some good photos later of the yet glowing light on the meadow. It would be a long day to reach Cloverleaf Lake at the head of Convict Creek so I got an early start. The fellow down at the lake had day-hiked up to Corridor Pass earlier and gave me great route information. I followed his directions and walked up the hillside and then dropped into a lush, beautiful, wildflower filled gently sloping valley and followed a little stream that headed directly to the pass. It became apparent why it was called “corridor” pass! The upper part became rockier with the last bit over a steeper moraine. Luckily I could skirt the snow cornice at the top.

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Sunrise on meadow above Big McGee Lake inlet

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Looking back towards Big McGee Lake en route to Corridor Pass

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Corridor Pass

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beautiful stream on south side of Corridor Pass

The view north revealed a complex series of seemingly endless ugly moraines. And to add anxiety to misery a steep snowfield dropped to the bowl of the highest moraine. A few steps and I realized it was too hard and icy to safely descend so I was forced onto the steeper and difficult rocks to the side. It was slow going. Once into the bowl of jumbled rock, I first went to the left and decided that the southwest snowfield was too steep so I turned around and crossed to the right side, to another snowfield. I stepped onto the snow and was surprised to find a path of nearly perfect bear footprints with distinct claw marks ascending; I was sure glad I did not meet Mr. Bear while descending! I wish I had built-in crampons. Soon the snow became hard and icy so again I was forced onto the steeper and somewhat loose rocks to the side. I crept downward thankful to reach the flatter part of the moraine. After a bit more talus I was on a rock-studded grassy bench.

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North side of Corridor Pass

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Lower down on the north side of Corridor Pass

The remainder of the route was much easier and quite obvious as it dropped into a V-shaped gully ending in a melt pond. From here a faint path went slightly up to another bench which led towards the large inlet ponds above Constance Lake. I first headed towards the southwest shore as the northeast shore was very cliffy. I then decided it too was cliffy so returned to the inlet pond and climbed up onto the 200-foot ridge where I picked up a use-trail. About halfway along the lake, the trail drops to the water and literally is right on the shore- in higher water you would get wet. Fish were cruising along in deep water. I was tempted to stop and fish, but instead decided to take a bath. Oh it felt good and soothed my nerves! I would be returning here the next day, so I left beautiful Constance Lake and dropped to the lush inlet meadow of Lake Wit-So-Nah-Pah. Glancing towards Gemini Pass (my intended route out of here) I realized it would not work. It had even more snow, was even steeper, and given the hard and icy nature of the snow on Corridor Pass, I was not going up that snow field. Additionally, Gemini Pass honestly looks downright miserable, snow or no snow. Oh well, my immediate objective was to continue to Bighorn Lake (drastically lowered water to an ugly pond), and drop to huge Dorothy Lake which seemed to take forever to walk the trail to the inlet. I met two groups of fishermen.

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Gemini Pass

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Lake Wi-So-Nah-Pah

I had thought of camping at Dorothy Lake and day-hiking to Cloverleaf Lake, but not quite sure why I plodded on. The trail climbs up towards a gap, with an amazing view to the Mildred Lake valley and the unreal ridge of wavy mix of white, gray and red rock between Mildred Lake and Bright Dot Lake. Lake Genevieve was reportedly the most scenic lake (and I agree with this) but the water was algae filled and not really appealing. Small fish swam by. I was really tired and tempted to stop anyway, but decided it was not that far to Edith Lake. This lake also had many small fish but equally yucky water and was also full of mosquitoes. So I would make my original destination of Cloverleaf Lake which thankfully had tons of open camping on a breezy ridge and NO bugs! It was already nearly 5PM so I quickly took a bath, washed clothes, set up the tent and went fishing. It took 20 minutes to catch four fat 9-inch fish, one which was a golden trout. It took longer to clean them! Good thing I caught dinner quickly as it began to sprinkle while I was cooking dinner. By 7:30 rain increased and I dove into the tent. It was only a short afternoon storm but by the time it cleared it was dark.

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View of Ridge between Mildred Lake and Bright Dot Lake

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Lake Genevieve

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Cloverleaf Lake
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Re: McGee Creek and Convict Creek headwaters

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Jul 08, 2015 5:05 pm

July 4: Cloverleaf Lake to Constance Lake. 5.4 miles, 4.5 hours, +1640 feet gain, -1100 feet loss

I awoke to dark overcast skies. I had contemplated my options all night. I decided to go back to Constance Lake, which I though was the most scenic lake of all that I had passed. This would be a short day and I was looking forward to fishing this big beautiful lake. I then could decide if the weather would allow me to reach upper Fish Creek (Tully Lake) via the longer two-pass route of back over Corridor Pass and over McGee Pass. If not, I could hang out here and do more day-hiking and then bail out down the Convict Creek trail and take my chances on hitching back to my car.

Unfortunately the overcast skies made all my photos gloomy. I kicked myself for not taking the time to photograph Dorothy Lake the day before when the skies were blue. For variety I tried to climb back up off-trail through the slot above west of the trail. I ended up above the slot and had to scramble up a small cliff. I had to take off my pack and haul it up one short section. Four energetic young folks who were camped at Dorothy Lake were day-hiking and I ran into them several times the remainder of the day.

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Dorothy Lake

There are only a few campsites at Constance Lake on the small peninsula on the west shore, not far from the inlet. I choose the site up on the bench among scrub timber, a good choice given the following events! Then I quickly bathed, washed and set of fishing. First I would go back to Lake Wit-So-Nah-Pah, a short 15-minute drop. After no luck I realized that on my second cast the fly came off. No wonder I was not catching fish! I attached a new fly and soon caught two nice 9-inch brookies as rain began to fall. I left them on a stringer as I ran up the hill to a sheltered campsite which remained dry. Unfortunately, this storm was not going to be the typical short storm. As I was hunkered under the trees, the four young folks came by, seemingly not even fazed by the rain. Ah, obliviously happy youth! I had not expected the rain so did not put on my rain pants, but did bring my jacket. The storm just continued to get worse. Soon I ran back to pick up my fish and started up the hill, a somewhat difficult walk up rock. Soon it was pouring, hail was pelting my face, and my pants got soaked.

I dove into my tent at 2:30 PM, removed the wet clothes and crawled into my sleeping bag, munching on my trail food. One wave of downpour with accompanying thunder and lightning followed another- ALL afternoon! During a 5-minute break I brought my cook gear and bear can inside the vestibule. By 6pm I reluctantly stared cooking in the vestibule, a practice I try to avoid, always fearing burning up my tent. By 7PM I had finished dinner and it continued to rain. At sunset it briefly cleared. I jumped out of the tent with my camera and snapped photo after photo as nature put on a wonderful light show with rays of sunshine striking vividly colored rock wet from the storm. I wish I were a good enough photographer to take advantage of this moment- but I did get some fair photos. It continued to rain hard well into the night. My old tent held up but the floor started to seep a bit. Sometime during the night it quit raining and the wind picked up. My wet clothes hung on a tree branch nearly dried overnight. I kept hearing rocks falling from Red Slate Mountain.

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Constance Lake Camp

Storm Photos:
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Re: McGee Creek and Convict Creek headwaters

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Jul 08, 2015 5:14 pm

July 5: Constance Lake to Golden Lake. 5.3 miles, 5.5 hours,

I awoke to clear blue skies and soon the sun was shining on my campsite. After breakfast as everything dried, I went fishing just to see what kind of fish was in the lake. I caught one nice fish (not a golden, perhaps a rainbow?) and released it. I left at 10AM. I could not dally long as I decided to return over Corridor Pass and then turn up to McGee Pass- a long hard day. I watched the shadow on the snowfields on Corridor Pass as I ascended. When I reached the lower snowfield I again tested the snow and it was unfortunately too hard to safely ascend. This time I climbed right up the terminal moraine – steep for s short distance but soon was no the top of the moraine and walked the moraine to the upper snowfield, where I again had to go up the rock on the right side. I was a bit worried that the rain would make the slopes unstable, but this did not seem to be the case. The rock was stable and it was much easier going up than down.

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Constance Lake

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Red Slate Mountain from northeast shore of Constance Lake

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Looking south towards Corridor Pass from the inlet area of Constance Lake

I descended the south side and soon was back on the McGee Pass Trail. As I headed up to Little McGee Lake, ominous black thunderclouds came roaring over McGee Pass. At this point I decided that retreat would be the best option. I simply was not going to visit Fish Creek on this trip. After lunch at Little McGee Lake, I turned back. Some day-hikers caught up to me and we exchanged stories of the previous afternoon’s storm. “Brutal” is what they said, never having experienced such a storm in the Sierra. At the lower meadow, I decided to try to drop directly to the lower meadow where you can then go up to Golden Lake. I found an old trail but the steep drop did not really save much time, although it was much shorter. As I crossed McGee Creek, hordes of flies (not mosquitoes) made the head net a necessity. I never have been good at route finding wearing a head net. And it was the end of the day, and I felt I was being chased by black clouds. I really wanted to get up to Golden Lake before it rained, fearing a repeat of the previous day. Luckily I bumped into a use-trail.

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LIttle McGee Lake

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Golden Lake

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Golden Lake

I set up at the first flat spot I could find. Then I took a quick dip into the lake. Sprinkles began and I went inside the tent. But this time after half an hour the rain quit. I then went fishing, and then found the “real” campsites on the other side of the outlet. So I moved my campsite to these better sites. It was now 5PM and the storm had essentially passed. At first I wondered if there were any fish at all. I never saw a single fish or rise. I thought I felt a nibble. The late afternoon photography was more successful than fishing. I cooked dinner at 6:30. About 7PM, the fish went wild and were rising all over the place! I tried again, with no luck. Not sure why. I resigned myself to no fish so went in the tent and listened to music.

July 6: Golden Lake to Steelhead Lake to TH. 6.6 miles, 4 hours, + 400 feet gain, -2885 feet loss

Again I awoke to clear skies. I cooked breakfast and took it up onto the granite slabs that ended in cliffs, shortly up from my campsite. This fine viewpoint was breezy offering a bug-free breakfast as well as great views of the sunrise. The night produced abundant dew, so my tent was still wet. I decided to walk to the inlet and try fishing again while the tent dried. There were fish there and I got a nibble but that was all. I cast into the lake as I slowly walked the shoreline back to my camp. One ill-placed cast created a jumble of line. While I was untangling line, a fish took the fly. Isn’t that just how it goes- nothing on perfect casts, fish biting when you least expect it. I guess it just took a lot of time in the water and the waterlogged fly to sink! It was a nice fat 9-10 inch golden trout. Back at camp I cooked and ate the fish. Just after I finished, two fishermen came through my campsite. They asked me what I fly I used. I only took 10 flies on the trip and was down to a poor selection. I simply used what I had left! One fellow then pulled out a case, about the size of an I-pad, stuffed with flies that he had tied himself and gave me three to use at Steelhead Lake. His buddy said he likes to give them away so he can justify tying more. Lucky for me!

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Golden Lake from inlet

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Fish

They went off to fish Golden Lake, and I finished packing up and headed to Steelhead Lake. I dropped to the meadow below (with a pond) and was surprised that was both fairly dry and bug-free. Rather than drop again the adjacent meadow, I climbed a steep hill and then traversed across talus. Not sure if this saved any time, but eventually I was out of the talus and intersected the trail. It had taken me an hour from Golden Lake. I was honestly disappointed in Steelhead Lake. There were plenty of very small fish and it was not that scenic. I stayed about an hour and caught one fish barely more than a minnow.

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Steelhead Lake

Since I had a day’s food remaining I thought about staying here, but decided I would simply walk out and go home a day early. Perhaps I should have tried Grass Lake. As I returned I passed many day-hikers. Clouds were building by 1PM and by the time I reached my car at 3PM it was raining.

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Flowers along the McGee Creek Trail

The storms I drove through going north on 395 were amazingly severe. The windshield wipers on full speed could not keep up. At several points there was enough hail on the road to almost drive like in snow. The Walker River was steaming, with hail on the ground. I went over Monitor Pass which was not that wise, and the burned area was very unstable. I ran over some rocks and drove through small but growing mudslides. It did not stop raining until I reached Strawberry on Hwy 50. I do not know if Steelhead Lake was also getting hit by these storms. Perhaps just getting out of the mountains was the best thing to do.

I was amazed at the stunning scenery and good fishing on this trip; also surprised by the few people I saw, being 4th July holiday. This area seems to be an overlooked gem of the Sierra. And so close to Mammoth Lakes too.
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Re: McGee Creek and Convict Creek headwaters

Postby sparky » Wed Jul 08, 2015 7:03 pm

I really enjoy the contrast and crazy colors of mcgee/convict area. I like the third picture of the five storm photos. Thanks for sharing yet another nice trip.
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Re: McGee Creek and Convict Creek headwaters

Postby giantbrookie » Wed Jul 08, 2015 8:19 pm

Nice report. That is such a nice route back and forth between those two beautiful drainages. That is a nice trip that really soaked in the highlights of those areas. By the way, you mentioned that Bighorn's water level was low. Did you see any fish there? I have some information that suggests the fish may get fairly big there but have not been there. Of the remaining lakes in that area my experience is similar to yours, which is that Cloverleaf's fish are better fed (my last trip there was very long ago, though---1991).
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: McGee Creek and Convict Creek headwaters

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Jul 08, 2015 8:54 pm

Image

Here is my only picture of Bighorn Lake. I would judge it is about 5 feet down. I saw no sign of fish. The water was pretty yucky. But then I have caught some big fish in very yucky water. I suspect the water may be too warm for fish.
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Re: McGee Creek and Convict Creek headwaters

Postby WarrenFork » Wed Jul 08, 2015 9:00 pm

I like this area a lot and your photo of Dorothy Lake has a dreamlike quality that I admire. I think the lack of blue sky actually ends up enhancing the reflection in the water and gives the shot the kind of spooky luminescence I sometimes see in the backcountry but rarely manage to capture with a camera. Thanks.
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Re: McGee Creek and Convict Creek headwaters

Postby Mradford » Thu Jul 09, 2015 11:59 am

Nice report. The rock in that area is insane!
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Re: McGee Creek and Convict Creek headwaters

Postby rams » Fri Jul 10, 2015 8:19 pm

Awesome photos. Because of this report, Constance Lake has moved from my "maybe some day" list to my "definitely" list.
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Re: McGee Creek and Convict Creek headwaters

Postby paula53 » Sun Jul 12, 2015 10:14 am

Dorothy Lake is beautiful. The area appears to be very rocky, with few trees. The meadows are stunning. I once tried to go to Lake Dorothy from Convict Lake, but the rangers in Mammoth told me that the bridge was out, and the creek was overflowing, too dangerous to cross. I enjoyed reading your report, One day perhaps I will go back.
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Re: McGee Creek and Convict Creek headwaters

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Jul 12, 2015 10:44 am

I thought the best camping was at Lake Wi-So-Nah-Pah, which is also centrally located for day hikes. Lake Dorothy has some good campsites along the east shore, once half-way along the lake. Cloverleaf Lake also had quite a bit of good camping. Constance Lake is very limited - basically only a few campsites. There is plenty of flat ground about 150 feet above the inlet waterfall, but it is very exposed and buggy (huge inlet meadow and shallow pond). I did not go down to Lake Mildred, and I think this is where most people base camp. I can see where Convict Canyon could be quite dangerous in rainy periods. It is narrow and subject to flash floods. McGee Creek, on the other hand, is more wide open. There are two crossings that could similarly be difficult in high water of spring melt.
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