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TR: Emigrant Wilderness 9/10-15

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TR: Emigrant Wilderness 9/10-15

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 20, 2015 8:25 am

Emigrant Wilderness, Sept 10-15 (45 miles, +/-10,100 feet)

I cannot say that this was my most enjoyable trip, but better than sitting in the 100-degree heat in town. And I did get to see some areas I had not been in before and had two days of good fishing. Where I used “color correction” on the photos below, some look a bit artificial; where I could not fix the color I simply converted to black and white. The photos do not show the beauty of the area under normal conditions.

Sept 10. The smoke was unavoidable! Just as I decided to leave for Emigrant to avoid smoke, the Butte Fire broke out. Smoke was thick and choking as I drove down Hwy 49. I almost cancelled the trip, but decided I really needed to get out of town with the predicted 105F. My goal now would be fishing, and not photography. The smoke thankfully was only haze at Kennedy Meadow trailhead. At 1PM, I started up the trail, which was exceedingly dusty and hot; at least the haze diminished the blazing sun. I met a couple with a dog, otherwise nobody. My plan was to camp at the first water, near the Summit-Lewis Creek confluence. Well, I stupidly decided to push on a bit, only to be forced all the way to Sheep Camp due to a dry stream and rocky terrain. I was out of water and hurting by the time I found a nice campsite at 6PM and the smoke had returned. I had not intended to do 8 miles and 3,100 feet of gain in one afternoon! It was so hot at night that I hardly used my sleeping bag.

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Summit Creek at Sheep Camp

Sept 11. There was a little bit of water in the creek at Lunch Meadow but nothing but a rocky dry creek bed continuing upward. With the miles I made the first day, I now decided to add a side trip to Lost Lake. I dropped a bit from Brown Bear Pass and then traversed into the Lost Lake drainage The little creek occasionally flowed, often was dry. Lost Lake was beautiful and the haze was almost gone. At 11AM I put together my fishing rod and immediately started catching fat, hungry 9-inch brookies. After catching five in half an hour I walked to the north edge to peek down into Kennedy Creek. Although tempting to camp here it was only 1PM so I put my fish in an OP sack full of water and lugged them down to Emigrant Meadow Lake where I cleaned them. I was hurting again! I had chosen my “ventilator” hiking shoes; big mistake since all the dust “ventilated” into my feet, making my socks like sandpaper. Soon I had blisters on the bottom of my toes. The off-trail route following the outlet to Middle Emigrant Lake was not the best way to go. Typically the smoke began to settle in mid-afternoon. I set up at the outlet of the much lowered lake, not really able to go much farther. Unfortunately I camped quite close to a couple who kindly let me stay put when I offered to move. After a bath and rest, I decided to try a few casts and immediately caught a 13-inch large headed brookie. I now had so many fish to eat that fish and a few tortillas was my entire meal. Thus ended another 8-mile day, but with only about 1,500 feet gain. It was another hot night.

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Summit Creek at Lunch Meadow

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Lost Lake

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View into Kennedy Creek



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Re: TR: Emigrant Wilderness 9/10-15

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 20, 2015 8:33 am

Sept 12. I headed down the outlet and turned northeast up a broad valley and past some unnamed little lakes to the big lake at Grizzly Meadow where I intersected the trail. Travel was quite easy. I traversed to Summit Meadow where a few ponds still had water. By the time I got to Snow Lake, it was again hazy and photos did not do justice to this pretty lake. The trail actually continues southwest over a small pass, traverses the head of another drainage and over a ridge to Bigalow Lake. Fishing here was a bust. Then on to Black Bear Lake, which also was a fishing bust, but at least I spotted a fish. As the afternoon progressed, more smoke settled in. A good trial used by horses continues to the upper Twin Lake. Two fellows were camped on the southwest shore so I checked out the opposite shore, walking to the inlet, which was totally dry. I returned half-way down the shore to a very nice established campsite. There I fished for an hour. It was shallow and the fish were farther than my cast. I should have simply waded out into the lake, but that did not occur to me. I then opted for a nice bath instead of fishing. It was another 8-mile day, but only 1,000 feet of gain. Smoke again became thicker by dinner time.

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Snow Lake

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Black Bear Lake

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Upper Twin Lake

Sept 13. (7-miles, 2000 feet gain) I awoke to more depressing smoke and haze. Would this ever end! I dropped down to the East Fork of Cherry Creek (flowing water) and up to Horse Meadow, which was quite pretty except for the haze. At Maxwell Lake I followed the north shore to the end, fishing along the way, with no luck. A few fish were rising way out in the middle of the lake. Photos to the south, into the sun and haze, turned out horrible.

The off-trail route to Shallow Lake turned out to be very tricky with some confusing orienteering. The terrain is a lot more complex than shown on the map! My planned traverse was stopped by a steep slab, so I dropped 200 feet down a horrible gully of talus and brush. Then I could not figure out which gully to go up to Shallow Lake so ended up too far east costing me more elevation gain and much confusion. I was pretty close to my planned route, but enough off to get a bit nervous. Finally I reached the north end of Shallow Lake and “found” myself. Then it was up to Frazer Lakes; a set of very pretty little lakes, supposedly with fish. I heard a flop, and quickly assembled my fishing rod, only to find out the plop was a big frog! I suspect these are all “frog lakes” so put the fishing gear away. At Frazer Lakes you can also peek down to Emigrant Lake. It was getting windy and clouding up but thankfully the smoke was disappearing. I dropped to the dam of Emigrant Lake and found a nice campsite on the southeast side. After a bath and washing dusty clothes, I reassembled the fishing rod. A big fish was swimming nearby, but not the least bit interested in biting my fly. I gave up and cooked dinner, finishing just in time for light rain to start at 6:30. It rained off and on all night. It had another unsuccessful day of fishing.

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Horse Meadow

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Maxwell Lake

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Frazer Lakes

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Emigrant Lake from Frazer Lakes

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Emigrant Lake at sunset
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Re: TR: Emigrant Wilderness 9/10-15

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 20, 2015 8:38 am

Sept 14. (6 miles, 1800 feet gain) I now had a couple of choices; I could return back to Middle Emigrant Lake where I knew there were fish, or continue as planned up to Lewis Lakes. I chose the latter, in spite of a frustrating 600-foot drop in elevation, just to have to go back up, and uncertain fishing. I had taken this route in the past, but from the other direction. It was not at all what I had remembered until I hit the upper saddle; seems that I had forgotten about 90% of the route! Several granite ribs interspaced with deep slots making the route to Lewis Lake 9545 an obstacle course; I missed the key rock rib and spent half an hour going up and down ribs, while the wind picked up and clouds grew dark. Finally I worked my way down. As I traversed Lewis Lake it started to rain. In fact winds were beginning to be gale force! Fishing would not be good and the wind tunnel I was in would be poor camping. I wisely decided to drop down to the more sheltered Ridge Lake. I set up at 1PM and then spent 3 hours fishing, casting between wind gusts. G&F guide say Ridge Lake contains golden trout. I did spot one golden, lost two rainbow trying to land them, and after much hard work landed a 9-inch and 12-inch rainbow, both very fat. They provided a tasty dinner! Again, just as I finished dinner it began to rain steadily. It rained all night; not heavy rain but driven by wind gusts. I awoke at 4AM worried about getting out of here! (When I got home I checked and found out that there were wind gusts of up to 95 mph on the ridges).

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Sunrise at Emigrant Lake

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Ridge Lake

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Rainbow trout from Ridge Lake

Sept 15. I remained awake and worried until 6AM when I decided to dart out and get my bear can and cook breakfast in the vestibule. By the time I finished breakfast and packed up inside the tent, rain at stopped and the fog had lifted. Everything was wet and getting to the far end of the lake proved quite tricky over wet talus. Finally at Iceland Lake it because easy walking. It continued to spit rain off and on. The rock slabs were wet so I had to go descend slowly. Fortunately there was a nice little cairn to mark the proper descent to reach Relief Valley. Then it was zig-zag on granite benches. At one point it was faster to simply lower my pack and down climb rather than backtrack. The creek in Lower Relief Valley is dry, but there are still soggy spots and tons of cow pies and willows, making the crossing a bit unpleasant. After reaching the trail I was chased by nasty clouds the remaining walk out, but at least, the air now was clear of smoke and haze. I ended up descending on the trail too quickly, trying to out-run the storm. I had not noticed it much at the time, but when I got home I spent several days limping with a messed up right knee. I had dropped 3,800 feet in 9 miles. I left the parking lot at 2PM and drove home as it rained off and on until reaching Hwy 49.

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Relief Valley

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Relief Reservoir
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Re: TR: Emigrant Wilderness 9/10-15

Postby Tom_H » Sun Sep 20, 2015 3:34 pm

As always, very enjoyable read. Thanks.
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Re: TR: Emigrant Wilderness 9/10-15

Postby balzaccom » Mon Sep 21, 2015 6:34 am

I agree. We love this area (we have a cabin nearby) and go to it often.

When you hike like this, how are you cooking your fish? Do you bring a frypan?
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Re: TR: Emigrant Wilderness 9/10-15

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Sep 21, 2015 8:19 am

I just use my small titanium pot (I have the Snow Peak nesting 3-pot set). By the time you clean any fish under 9" they fit in the pot. I have to cut the lager fish in pieces. Have the stove on very low heat. Pre-heat LOTS of oil, dump in fish and shake around so that nothing is sticking, put on lid and simmer. I add spices and salt and regularly move the fish around to prevent sticking. The fish come out more steamed than fried (which I happen to like- I have never been fond of battered crispy fish - I really prefer sushi or raw fish). I am not sure why, but I have to repeatedly turn down the stove valve to keep it at a simmer. As soon as the meat will come off the bone, I bone the fish. This slightly undercooks; sometimes I continue to cook the de-boned fish while stirring a little bit longer. Then I take the pot off the stove, and put it in a pot cozy for about 5 minutes. I guess fancy chefs call this "resting" the meat. This method works best for fish of the same size. When you mix large and small fish, the cooking is not very even.

My husband likes the battered crispy fish, so when he goes we take a larger (and quite heavy) Teflon frying pan and switch to our larger (and heavier) stove with a larger diameter burner, and add a small spatula.

If you simmer, you can use olive oil. When we fry to the crisp, I use regular vegetable oil. Olive oil tends to burn easier.

Just a note- I am not a real fussy person about food (sort of an anti-foodie). I am happy with food that may not be prepared perfectly. To make a fish meal even easier, I take some pre-cooked flour tortillas and simply wrap the fish in the tortilla so I do not have to cook any other side dish. I can even warm the tortillas by setting them on top of the lid when the fish are cooking. I am not a perfectionist with boning- what bones remain I spit out when I eat the fish.
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Re: TR: Emigrant Wilderness 9/10-15

Postby windknot » Tue Sep 22, 2015 10:06 am

Great report and glad you found some good fishing! Hope to get out and explore this area myself some day.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: Emigrant Wilderness 9/10-15

Postby balzaccom » Tue Sep 22, 2015 10:51 am

Thanks for the cooking details. As my wife is a chef, she struggles with cooking fish on the trail. I've had to show her how to roast a fish on an alder shoot---but that requires a fire, and we rarely make a fire these days, for so many reasons.

Someday I'll just carry the da*n frypan and cook 'em!
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Re: TR: Emigrant Wilderness 9/10-15

Postby oleander » Wed Sep 23, 2015 10:49 am

All these Emigrant Wilderness posts are getting me excited to do a thorough exploration of some of the more remote and off-trail stuff back in there.

In Emigrant I've only ever seen the stuff that can be accessed by trail, within ~14 miles of a trailhead. That's been a disappointing experience, but it sounds like I've just never done Emigrant right.

- Elizabeth
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