John Muir Wilderness, Red Mountain Basin, July 17-22

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John Muir Wilderness, Red Mountain Basin, July 17-22

Post by balzaccom » Wed Jul 22, 2009 11:48 am

Just got back from a great trip to this remote area: Spectacular scenery, great fishing, and brutal bugs!

We left from Courtwright Reservoir, which is a long drive from hour past Shaver Lake. It's a beautiful reservoir, at 8200 feet, and we camped for the night at a local PG&E campground. There were enough mosquitoes in the campground that we decided to eat our dinner inside the car...but that was only a glimmer of what was to come on this trip!

We left early the next morning, and after a couple of miles of very easy trail we climbed up 1000 feet to the ridge between Courtwright and Post Corral Meadows. We met three groups of two people on this trail...all talking about how bad the mosquitoes were! At the top of the ridge the trail quickly heads down a couple of hundred feet, then begins a long, slow descent over three miles through Long Meadow to Post Corral Meadow. We had lunch at the ford of Post Corral Creek...a lovely, sunny spot with nice pools to cool our feet. And since we had already convered 7.5 miles by lunch, we thought we would hike on to the North Fork of the Kings River. This was a nice walk, with a not a lot of up or down, and it ended with a stunning drop to the river--from above you could see huge granite slabs and deep pools. We camped here and spent the rest of the afternoon fishing and worrying about the terrific thunder we heard in the high country above us. Luckily, it only sprinkled a tiny bit on us...but we learned later that the lightning had started a number of fires on the east side of the Sierra. That night we really fought the mosquitoes---including DEET, head nets. and finally climbing into our tent about 8 p.m. to watch clouds of them attack the netting. AH...wilderness!

The next morning started slowly. We were in no mood to get eaten...but just as we started to cook breakfast, a passing cloud rained on us. Less than 1/4 inch, and it was over in minutes...but it gave us something to think about!

Day two started with a short hike to the junction with the trail to the Devil's Punchbowl. This part was easy, but the following two miles climbed 2000 ft. straight up along Meadow Creek. After a long first day, this one was really hard. A tough climb eventually led us up into the meadows of Meadow Creek--fabulous green valleys that were filled with flowers. It was still uphill, but our spirits were much higher at this point. But all good things much come to an end, and the final crunch up the pass into the Devil's Punchbowl was hard work. The reward, however, was at the lake---a truly beautiful spot with great views in every direction and wonderful fishing for 9-12 inch brookies and rainbows. We camped on the dry ridge west of the lake to try and capture a bit more breeze and avoid the bugs. It worked to some extent, but it was still a tough evening once the bugs really came out.

The next morning we headed down off the north side of the lake, and here the trail was really damaged by the pack company that works in the area. It was a moraine full of cobbles, and the trail felt like you were walking on loose bowling balls and cobblestones most of the time. I hate what these horses do to our trails. It led down to a lovely meadow surrounded by the peaks of the Red mountain basin...and then up the other side of the basin on the north to Rae lake. Once we gained the ridge we were in a wide open mountain meadow, with a wandering brook, stunted trees, and wide open horizons in all directions. The trail gave us two choices: a relatively flat hike to Rae Lake in the West, or a tough climb for three miles into the Hell For Sure Pass area. Since we were feeling a bit spent from the first two days, we headed west. It was a great couple of miles through this alpine terrain, and a short steep climg brought us to Rae Lake. We'd read some great things about this lake, but when we got there all we could see was lots of wet meadow, grass, mud and bugs around it. The lake really was beautiful, but it looked like a tough place to camp this year!. We finally settled on a ridge to the southwest of the lake, where there was drier vegetation and a breeze. Thank God we did, because we needed all the help we could get later in the evening.

Since it had been an easy day, we decided to go for a day hike in the afternoon to Lower Indian Lake. This involved a short climb of a couple hundred feet, but first we had to find the trail. We had our topo maps, and spent 45 minutes looking for the damn trail. We finally gave up and just headed up the hill to a dome overlooking the lake...and as we did, we found the stupid trail. The grass was so lush this time of year that it completely overgrown the trail at the lake...we did notice, on the way back, that there was a small granite cairn out in the middle of the meadow near the lake...and it did mark the trail! We left a few footprints in the grass for those who want to follow us. At any rate, it was a quick an easy hike to Lower Indian, and we loved the drama of this lake...a big open meadow, with a lake in the middle, and dramatic peaks in all the clouds were threatening without doing any damage...and the breeze was stiff enough to make flycasting a bit touchy at times. But we finally lost the battle to the massive bug population, and broke into a slow trot back to Rae Lake and the safety of our tent. I would love to go back here later in the year...the fishing was amazing, and we couldn't stop taking photos. But the bugs might not be better then...this trail does head to Mosquito Pass!

A beautiful evening with tons of mosquitoes lead us to an early night again, which allowed us to get on the trail bright and early for the next day's hike back down to Post Corral Meadows. The first stop was Flemming Lake, which also looked very fishy ( I saw a nice rainbow here!)
but was bug city by 9 a.m. We walked on through a trail that wandered between lovely forests and bug infested bogs; we each ate a fair number of mosquitoes on this day, just walking and trying to breathe. At the top of the descent we met our only other hikers--a group of three guys on their way to to Red Mt. Basin. Then a steep descent led us over granite slabs and through great views back to Post Corral Meadow. While we could have hiked out that day, we decided to spend one more day here, enjoying the creek, the quiet and the sunshine. It really is a lovely place, and I caught a lot of small fish, while M napped and rested. We cleaned up, washed clothes, and generally took the whole afternooon off. Delightful.

In the evening we were attacked again, but we lived through the experience and had a really nice time in this wonderful place.

The next morning we were up early, and retraced our steps to Courtwright Maxson trailhead. The climb out seemed easier (maybe because we had lighter packs and four days of high altitude!) and the downhill to the lake was a piece of cake. We were back in time to drive to Shaver Lake for hamburgers for lunch.

A great hike, and I'd love to go back sometime--we have lots of unfinished business up there! But there are so many great places in the Sierra...and we only have so much time! In all we hiked 35 miles in five days, and saw a total of 14 people. We certainly saw more fish than people---and the flowers were beyond belief. But so were the mosquitoes.

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Re: John Muir Wilderness, Red Mountain Basin, July 17-22

Post by windknot » Sun Jul 26, 2009 8:43 am

Thanks for the report and great pictures! I need to get up to Red Mountain Basin sometime since I've heard some good things about a few of those lakes fishing-wise.

You can read a few backcountry reports here:

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Re: John Muir Wilderness, Red Mountain Basin, July 17-22

Post by maverick » Sun Jul 26, 2009 9:53 am

Thank you for the TR and pictures, both brought back memories of trips to RMB and
Blackcap Basin.
I was out the same weekend and some guys had passed my tent at Lake Ediza and
they said they could see the fires in Nevada from the top of Mt.Ritter that they had
just finished climbing.
It made for some great sunrise photo's, and luckily it nor the fires from the south
did not have any impact on my trip in the MInarets.

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