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Agnew Meadows-Marie Lakes-Lyell Fork-Blue Lake-Dike Creek-Et

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Agnew Meadows-Marie Lakes-Lyell Fork-Blue Lake-Dike Creek-Et

Postby cgundersen » Tue Sep 16, 2008 10:33 am

http://www.flickr.com/photos/10845599@N ... 325935315/

Agnew Meadows-Marie Lakes-Lyell Fork of the Merced-Blue Lake-Dike Creek-Ritter Pass & Out

This trip was aimed at getting back into the Lyell Fork of the Merced River, an area my wife and I had found to be starkly gorgeous, but had to hustle through way too quickly on our previous visit. As before, we planned to start on the High Trail from Agnew Meadows. A propitious sign in the thin light of dawn was that as we approached Agnew Meadows, a decidedly alien critter scuttled in front of our car. It was a porcupine! I’d never seen one before in the Sierras. In fact, outside of zoos, I’d only seen a porcupine one other time. They are odd beasts, and this one looked very well fed. And,very well “armed”.

Anyway, I may be increasingly biased, but if there is an entry trail in the Sierras that provides more spectacular panoramas for the minimal effort of the High Trail, please let me know (yes, Rock Creek is up there and the High Sierra Trail has its charms, but the High Trail still wins for me). Even without the flower strewn hillsides that I’ve been used to earlier in the season, the scenery is just magnificent and it makes day 1 walking so much easier! Since there are abundant photos of this area (that are far better than we could do), the photos linked (above) to this report only start in upper Marie basin.

We spent the better part of the first day getting to the Marie Lakes basin. The use trail that cuts off of the JMT/PCT makes the approach fairly easy, but the bulk of the climbing still comes at the end of the day. We spent the night at the second lake, and then very slowly rolled into action for what was going to be a short (as the crow flies), but strenuous day getting over to the Lyell fork of the Merced. I had checked out the Marie side of route previously, but since I was too nervous at the time about what we would face on the Lyell fork side, we backed off and did a much wider loop (that I described last year). However, since that wide loop allowed me to check out the Lyell fork side (and it looked “doable”), we went for it.

The skinny is that the Marie side of the climb is very firm and presents no obstacles. It’s just the usual off trail “grunt”. The views from the top are delicious, and the down slope looked pretty much as expected. However, it turned out to be quite challenging. The entire hillside was loose. It was the kind of loose that you get on Sawtooth Pass (Mineral King). Only, instead of Sawtooth’s sand and gravel, the loose stuff was rocks, big rocks, even boulders. We’re not Irish, but we certainly were doing a jig the entire way down to the big lake that anchors the upper basin of the Lyell Fork of the Merced. This hillside would probably be fun without a pack, but with packs loaded for several more nights, it took sustained concentration to avoid donating too much skin to the rock gods. Still, it was worth every molecule of adrenaline that we burned on the way down. The next two days in that upper basin were bliss. I made sure that the saddle out of the upper Lyell Fork basin into Hutchings Creek basin is “doable” (for a future visit, because the Hutchings Creek basin is gorgeously underutilized, too), but otherwise we just rested and enjoyed the austere serenity of the area.

From the upper basin, we made the relatively short trek down to the lake immediately below Mt. Ansel Adams. The photos on the link tell the story better than I can. As one heads down the Lyell fork basin, there is a fairly abrupt transition from meager vegetation to healthy forest, and this lake exemplifies the transition. For those who need a few trees on the radar screen, but want solitude, this area is as close to perfection as I’ve found.

The next day we climbed the ridge to the plateau above the Lyell fork and headed for Blue Lake. By early afternoon, there were scattered snow flurries and intermittent hail. Not wanting to get caught on a high ridge if any electrical activity kicked up, we hustled more rapidly than I would have liked (for instance, the last time we did this route, there is a quartz deposit the size of a school bus and I wanted to spend some time investigating it; however, that was not in the cards). Unlike previous visits to Blue, there was a guy camped in the choice area that affords infinity pool views of Ritter/Banner & the Minarets, so we went to a promontory on the southeast side of the lake. Had the smoke from the Tehipite fire not been as bad, the views from that spot would have been even more incredible. Still, even in this very dry and somewhat smoky autumn, it was amazing.

We left Blue early expecting a long slog to get to the upper reaches of Dike Creek canyon. Sheesh. It turned out to be a monster day. Just getting up Dike creek would be a long day without adding in the descent from Blue Lake. My hat goes off to those who have crawled up there, because it’s definitely not a cakewalk, and there is no use trail in sight. We were so focused on putting one foot in front of the other, we took very few photos. Still, the link has a couple shots of the uppermost lake where we crashed before taking on Ritter Pass the next day. Of course, one novel feature of that area is seeing the backside of the Minarets up close. I have not investigated this further, but as the sun was setting, it illuminated what looked like a copper or bronze plaque at the base of one of the Minarets’ spires. We suspected that it might be a memorial to a climber, but even with binoculars, we were too far away to tell for sure.

Ritter Pass: I’m now certain that we took the wrong chute. My wife claims that she had more near death experiences in 150 feet than she’s had in 32 years of backpacking. But, even if we’d taken the “right” chute, the rocks/boulders on the Dike Creek/Ediza ridge are all so loose that it’s really a tossup. All that matters is that we survived, but it was not without more spine tingling moments than my cardiovascular system needed (and a few donations of skin and blood to the carnivorous rocks of Ritter Pass). Anyway, if anyone out there wants more details about what not to do, I’d be happy to oblige. As you’d expect, the Dike Creek side of that ridge is very lightly used and the lakes are hospitable, but it’s just not a spot I’m in any hurry to get back to……………we were intensely relieved to chill our toes in Ediza Lake during a late, late lunch.

The only thing I’d change about this route would be to come back out via Twin Island Lakes and North Glacier Pass. Otherwise, I think that even English majors would have trouble finding superlatives to describe the incredible variation of mountainscapes on this loop.

CG



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Re: Agnew Meadows-Marie Lakes-Lyell Fork-Blue Lake-Dike Creek-Et

Postby maverick » Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:56 am

Thanks CG for the TR and photo's, like the shot of the lake under Ansel Adams.
I saw one small pond from the Dike Basin, I'd be interested to see the others for photography
purposes, distance and how they are situated to the crest. Thanks
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Re: Agnew Meadows-Marie Lakes-Lyell Fork-Blue Lake-Dike Creek-Et

Postby cgundersen » Wed Sep 17, 2008 9:27 am

Hi Maverick,
Frankly, owing to semi-exhaustion and haste, we got few photos of the Dike Creek area (and, to answer your question from the other thread, no, we did not visit Shellenbarger Lake; however it looks like a challenging climb from the Dike Creek side!). Nevertheless, one cool feature of Dike is that one gets to watch the moonrise OVER the Minarets, so I pulled one of our photos of this. With a better camera (and a full moon), I think it could be very evocative!
However, whilst I was scouting out what I thought was Ritter Pass (and still mangling the route), my wife did go visit the other lakes a bit east of the main path of Dike Creek, and I include the only shot she got of that duo in the link below (these are the two lakes a bit east of the uppermost lake that is directly below Ritter Pass). Finally, there is one (not very helpful) shot back down Dike creek canyon from the Ritter Pass ridge (and, it shows some of the haze from the Tehipite fire).
My overall impression is that the lakes of upper Dike are not that photogenic, nor are they well situated for the types of stunning reflections that SSS Dave posts. On the other hand, I think that the Lyell Fork of the Merced presents lots of opportunities and it certainly gets as little or less traffic than Dike Creek (but this is from someone who has zero skills with a camera, so factor that into consideration).
Here's the link:http://www.flickr.com/photos/10845599@N03/sets/72157607344724229/
Cheers,
CG
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Re: Agnew Meadows-Marie Lakes-Lyell Fork-Blue Lake-Dike Creek-Et

Postby maverick » Wed Sep 17, 2008 11:34 am

Thanks CG(and your wife).
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Re: Agnew Meadows-Marie Lakes-Lyell Fork-Blue Lake-Dike Creek-Et

Postby quentinc » Thu Sep 18, 2008 2:37 pm

I did an out and back from Silver Lake to the ridge above Lyell Fork last September (via Glacier Pass and Blue Lake), and would love to get back there and down to the Lyell Fork area itself. Just how bad was that ridge coming over from Marie Lakes? (My personal point of reference for too-unpleasant-to-repeat passes is Lucy's Foot.)
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Re: Agnew Meadows-Marie Lakes-Lyell Fork-Blue Lake-Dike Creek-Et

Postby cgundersen » Sun Sep 21, 2008 11:32 am

Hi Quentin,
As they say, time heals old wounds, and with the "excitement" of sliding down the ridge from Marie lakes basin into the Lyell fork basin beginning to recede (and, because our version of Ritter pass was appreciably more discomforting), my guess is you'd have no trouble. Anyway, I remember your report of getting out to the ridge overlooking the Lyell fork of the Merced last year (in spite of a banged up shoulder!), and my feeling was that if you'd gotten that far, you'd have no trouble making it the rest of the way. I really liked the Marie lakes approach, because it is relatively direct, and it drops you into the (spectacular) upper reaches of the Lyell fork basin. As I noted, the ascent (from the uppermost of the Marie lakes) to the Marie side of the ridge is no big deal at all. It's very straightforward with solid footing the whole way. The trade off is that ~850 of the ~900 ft descent is on very loose rock (and, because of this, I'd definitely recommend against climbing up the Lyell fork side of the ridge). What makes the descent challenging is that it's unrelenting. It's just a long way down to maintain concentration so that sliding rocks don't eat your legs (the "good news" here is that the slope is such that one never feels at risk of getting much more that badly bruised legs.....but, then again, who wants badly bruised legs out there). However, there was a remnant snow field about halfway down that was a good spot to catch one's breath, and an amazing little spring providing fresh water a bit further down (to the right), but otherwise it's just a lot of loose crappy rock. Because this is the fastest route I've found to get back to that area, I'd do it again...........but, I'd also come back out via Catherine and North Glacier pass.
CG

PS: Overall, I'd rate this as somewhat easier than Milly's and Lucy's "foot" passes.
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Re: Agnew Meadows-Marie Lakes-Lyell Fork-Blue Lake-Dike Creek-Et

Postby Shawn » Sun Sep 21, 2008 11:58 am

Very enjoyable trip report.


it illuminated what looked like a copper or bronze plaque at the base of one of the Minarets’ spires. We suspected that it might be a memorial to a climber, but even with binoculars, we were too far away to tell for sure.

I wonder if it could be the plaque placed as described in this (long) TR?:
http://www.summitpost.org/trip-report/1 ... rt-ii.html
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Re: Agnew Meadows-Marie Lakes-Lyell Fork-Blue Lake-Dike Creek-Et

Postby cgundersen » Sun Sep 21, 2008 12:25 pm

Hi Shawn,
Although I could not get any photos to come up from the TR you referred to, it sure sounds like the answer. Thanks for solving that mystery!
CG
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Re: Agnew Meadows-Marie Lakes-Lyell Fork-Blue Lake-Dike Creek-Et

Postby TehipiteTom » Sun Sep 21, 2008 12:44 pm

There's a whole book about the search for Starr: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1930238185/lostvalleypac-20

Fascinating story, with a very poignant coda.
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Re: Agnew Meadows-Marie Lakes-Lyell Fork-Blue Lake-Dike Creek-Et

Postby cgundersen » Sun Sep 21, 2008 2:59 pm

Hi Tom,
Wow; thanks, you guys are great resources!
CG
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Re: Agnew Meadows-Marie Lakes-Lyell Fork-Blue Lake-Dike Creek-Et

Postby quentinc » Sun Sep 21, 2008 5:08 pm

CG, thanks for the scoop on the Lyell descent. I may try that route next summer.
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Re: Agnew Meadows-Marie Lakes-Lyell Fork-Blue Lake-Dike Creek-Et

Postby Shawn » Sun Sep 21, 2008 8:57 pm

Here's an image of that plaque from Bob Burd's website:

Image
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