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TR: T. Meadows-1000 island Lake via Blue Lake and Glacier Pa

Posted: Sat Aug 22, 2009 9:08 pm
by adam
Two weeks ago I did a trip I’ve been wanting to do in some form or another for years now. We left a car at the Rush Creek trailhead (across the street from the Silver Lake campground on the June Lakes road) then took the YARTS bus back to tuolumne meadows. From there we hiked south over Vogelsang Pass, continued south on the “High Trail”, then followed Roper’s “Sierra High Route” in reverse east over Blue lake pass, down Bench Canyon, to Twin Island Lakes, over North Glacier Pass, and out to 1000 island lake. From here it was back on the trail to the car. Probably more pictures than you care to see, and maps, are at: ... IslandLake#" onclick=";return false;

The first day was the only part I’d ever been on before—up the Raferty Creek trail to Vogelsang High Sierra camp, then continuing up over Vogelsang pass. This is pretty much a moderate uphill the whole way, and an extremely crowded trail—it seemed like we were always within sight of someone else. This day was our only with any hint of rain, but it mostly brooded cloudy and lighly sprinkled—nothing to break out the rain gear for. I’d never been to Vogelsang before when the high sierra camp was open—what a zoo! After the pass the trail drops steeply, then follows meadows and Lewis Creek. We camped at the cascade where Florence Creek crosses the trail, which is a beautiful spot.

Day two followed Lewis Creek downhill past some great looking swimming holes, then went steeply uphill to join the “high trail”. Perhaps I was just in a bad mood, but I thought this part of the trail—sandy and dusty through open forest—was one of the worst stretches of the whole route. For all of this day, we encountered various trail crew groups from a large CCC camp below Coney Crags. As it descends toward the Lyell Fork of the merced, the trail (in my opinion) gets nice again, with big views and beautiful trees. We camped at the Lyell Fork and walked upstream to the large meadows below Mt. Ansel Adams. Since reading (if I recall correctly) a passage in Ansel Adams’ autobiography about him coming camping here with Georgia O’Keefe and seeing a photo he took of the area, I’d always wanted to come here (see ... rodID=1033" onclick=";return false; for the real deal). One of my regrets of this trip is that I didn’t schedule another day to explore the lakes higher up in the Lyell Fork.

Day three was when we left the trail. In his book, Roper says something to the effect of “leave the trail ~300 yards after it levels off”. This got us stuck in cliffs—we should have followed our gut and common sense and just followed the meadow/stream gully east when it crosses the trail, as it takes the most gentle way uphill. After gaining some elevation, the route starts a long, easy, pleasant traverse SE to Blue Lake Pass. I took a detour to the notch in the ridge above the lyell fork to look down on the meadows from the day before. Going up the west side of Blue lake pass is tedious but technically easy. Roper described the steeper east side as “incredibly easy” benches. From above it certainly wasn’t! My best advice, which I’m not exactly sure is correct, is to traverse N (downclimber’s left) higher and farther than seems natural (at least to us). It would have been nice if Roper had included less about “cavorting like a child” and more useful information like that.
From Blue Lakes, the walk down Bench Canyon is easy and beautiful, with huge views of the Ritter Range and Minarets rising from the meadows. We camped here, which I hadn’t planned on, but turned out to be a great choice, as the other places I had considered (the lake before twin island lake and twin island lakes) turned out to pale in comparison with the Bench Canyon site.

Day four continued down Bench Canyon before leaving it more or less per Roper. The subsequent traverse looked daunting from the previous night’s camp, but turned out to be no big deal. The final section was something of a maze of connecting meadows that let out to the unnamed lake before Twin island, which was a great swim and snack stop.
From here we attempted to reverse Roper’s “diagonal traverse” down toward Twin island lake, and ended up downclimbing some cliffy stuff. We should have either traversed east higher before diagonaling down, or descended N of the outlet stream to the flat meadows below, and then done an essentially level traverse E. This part of the route was made more difficult because the USGS quad used 20 m, rather than 40 ft, contours, so we lost ~50% resolution.
I had thought Twin Island lake would be a really beautiful spot; it wasn’t. I found the area extremely barren and, as much as I hate to say it, ugly. The fact that the topography there made just walking around the lakes very difficult didn’t help my opinion much either. We didn’t go up Roper’s described “waterfall route”; instead we took what looked to be a gentler ramp that ended behind a small knoll shown on the topo as an isolated circle of the 3200m contour line. This worked well, and we then contoured across meadows to get to the main drainage stream and follow its waterfalls up to Lake Catherine. By now it was late and we were beat, so rather than hoof it down to Thousand Island lake, we camped in a clump of lodgepoles above it. Again, this turned out to be better than Plan A, as we could watch the sun rise over the lake and hang out in the meadows in the morning light. I’m not sure if this was better than the Bench canyon site or not, but both were spectacular campsites.

Day 5 was just getting out to the car—the first half, along thousand island lake, through the Clark lakes, more or less to the descent to Spooky Meadow—was very pleasant (although Spooky Meadow was disappointingly un-spooky). From there the trail literally and figuratively dropped off a cliff, and was just down, down, down, into the desert until we got to the parking lot between the horse corral and trailer park (the only trailer park I’ve ever seen marked on a USGS topo).

Re: TR: T. Meadows-1000 island Lake via Blue Lake and Glacier Pa

Posted: Sun Aug 23, 2009 11:53 am
by maverick
Cool trip Adam, the Lyell Fork and Blue Lake areas are some of my favorite places
in this part of the Sierra.
Interesting how every year brings us some thing different to experience in the same
areas the last time I pasted thru Spooky there were carpets of purple flowers
covering everything which made it one of the highlights of that trip.

Re: TR: T. Meadows-1000 island Lake via Blue Lake and Glacier Pa

Posted: Sat Aug 28, 2010 5:03 am
by BSquared
I'm just plotting the first part of this trip for next year or the year after (RT from Tuolumne to Blue Lake and then back out, perhaps via the "low" trail), and this report is incredibly helpful. Thanks! We'll probably have some inexperienced people, and based on your report it might be better to go up to Blue Lake Pass for the views and then back down on the west side, rather than trying to go down the east side and perhaps camp at the lake itself. What do you think? Did you notice good campsites near the base of the west side of the pass?

I remember hiking out via Spooky Meadows many years ago, and it was full of hooting partridges (sounds a little like somebody blowing softly across the top of an empty bottle). Plenty spooky then! ;)

Re: TR: T. Meadows-1000 island Lake via Blue Lake and Glacier Pa

Posted: Sun Aug 29, 2010 4:37 pm
by quentinc
I don't recall the east side of Blue Lake Pass as being all that bad. But then, I had already dislocated my shoulder by that time, so everything seemed easy by comparison.

Like Adam, I found the part between Twin Lakes and the halfway lake difficult to navigate and that Roper was very unhelpful.

Re: TR: T. Meadows-1000 island Lake via Blue Lake and Glacier Pa

Posted: Sun Aug 29, 2010 4:47 pm
by BSquared
OK, cool. We'll just be sure at least someone in the party has a dislocated shoulder, and the pass should be easy as pi. ;)

Re: TR: T. Meadows-1000 island Lake via Blue Lake and Glacier Pa

Posted: Mon Aug 30, 2010 10:41 pm
by quentinc
That trick has worked wonderfully for subsequent trips too. When ever something goes a bit wrong now, I remind myself that at least I can still use both of my arms. :smirk:

Re: TR: T. Meadows-1000 island Lake via Blue Lake and Glacier Pa

Posted: Sun Sep 05, 2010 5:24 pm
by adam
I don't really remember the lake on the west side of blue lake so well. this photo gives a sense of it, although I suppose you wouldn't really want to camp in that area in the foreground. ... 4231092066" onclick=";return false;

Based on the little I remember, and looking at the map again, I recall some meadowy areas and flat benches in thea area just downstream from the lake outlet. I'm sure there is probably somewhere nice to camp in there, although it is all fairly exposed.

I think the blue lakes would be nicer for camping (but also exposed). The lower lake has a little sandy beach and nice flat meadows on the shore, the views are better, and it just seemed a lot prettier to me. I don't specifically remember sites, but I recall that the area NE of lower blue lake (towards another un-named lake) was full of rock outcrops, meadowy patches, and higher areas of flat dirt-- I'm sure there would be nices places to set up camp there.

I don't think that the east side of blue lake pass is necessarily hard-- we saw two guys going fast and light who passed us while were were swimming and were up and over the pass before we had dried off and put on shoes again. It's just that coming down from the west it's not obvious where to go-- at least, it wasn't for us!