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Trip Report: Rush Creek

Posted: Tue Jun 29, 2010 2:25 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Check out the Snow!
Rush Creek June 26-28, 2010

Bumping this up- see photos at the end.

After hearing lots of rumors about snow in the Sierra I decided to check it out myself. Having been up Rush Creek in June previously I knew that the slopes north of Rush Creek melted off early. Rush Creek is south of Tioga Pass, east of Yosemite and north of Mammoth Lakes. The trail is the “backdoor” approach to Mt. Lyell via Donohue Pass (on the PCT) when Tioaga Pass is closed. I had never been to Alger Lakes or Lost Lakes so decided to do a loop to these destinations. Friday I drove to Lee Vining and picked up my permit then drove back up to a camp below Conway Summit that is free, has cell phone coverage, quick access yet hidden and a great view of Mono Lake. It was a beautiful night with full moon.

Camp near Conway Summit

Saturday I was up at 5AM and drove back to Lee Vining where everything was closed. I really wanted a cup of coffee but decided to continue to Silver Lake café, which was also closed! Darn, I had to set off at 7AM in a swarm of mosquitoes with no coffee! No sooner had I gained 1000 feet and turned the corner and mosquitoes were totally gone! Reaching Gem Lake two groups of 16 adolescent hikers in each group (church group) came down the trail in file. Boy was I glad they were going out and I was going in! Water was high and by the time I reached Gem Pass I had waded four creeks and reached patchy snow. The north side of Gem Pass was total sun-cupped snow and the traverse to Alger Lakes was about 70% snow. The only good campsite at the lower frozen Alger Lake had a big pile of fresh bear poop! I decided to retreat a mile back to an unnamed pond on the traverse. The snow was slow going as I sunk in about 10 inches and had to high-step over endless sun-cups. Occasionally I post-holed to my crotch. I was glad to set up camp and just sit there after my 9 hour day (8 miles, 4000 feet gain). That night I was serenaded by dozens of coyote songs and another full moon.

Gem Lake

Alger Lake

Unnamed Pond where I camped

Sunday I decided to go back a different route to avoid the very steep snow on Gem Pass. I went over the higher pass half mile north of Gem Pass staying mostly on dry ground that had melted out due to the dark slate rock. From the top there was a great view of the Minarets covered in snow. For those planning on 4th of July hikes in the Minarets be forewarned!

Minarets, Mts Banner-Ritter on right (Thousand Island Lake hidden by ridge)

The cirque of Crest Creek was, in my opinion, prettier than Alger Lakes. I checked out the frozen lower lake and then descended the snow-free ridge back to the Gem Pass trail at the creek crossing where I again waded across. Rather than drop 800 feet to the trail, I traversed at about 10,200 feet through open forests mostly snow-free but soggy with an occasional steep ridge to cross. I passed many small melt ponds with a chorus of frog croaks. Then I ascend 400 feet to the lower Lost Lake, where the ground was total snow and the lake was just beginning to melt. I found a dry spot up on the rocky buttress northwest of the lake. Fearing no camp sites at the upper lakes, I set up camp before heading up to the upper Lost Lakes with my day pack. Travel as tough sinking in soft snow with very deep sun-cups. My feet were soaked. On the rocky hill at the lip of the upper lakes, I found a few great dry campsites with a 360-degree view. Oh well, another day.

Melting lower Lost Lake

Upper Lost Lakes

Koip Crest

I headed down to my more modest view campsite in time for a freaky light rainstorm. Raindrops fell from nearly clear skies! I sat on my rocky perch, and watched the evening light on Koip Crest and the crest of the Sierra from Mt. Banner to Mt. McClure. All the upper lakes were not only frozen, but under total snow. I only knew there were lakes there because I had visited them previously (and my map said so!). I gladly sat here not moving after another hard 8-hr day (6 miles, 2000 feet gain). Today I met nobody.

Mt Banner and Davis at dusk

Monday I headed out the 9 miles. This time I descended east side of the Lost Lakes drainage through partially snow-covered slopes of open forest and rock slabs. Finding a dry path was like walking a maze. I reached the trail at Waugh Lake where it was amazingly dry. Water was high and there was a lot of debris floating on the lake.

Waugh Lake

From the outlet of Waugh Lake to Gem Lake the trail turned to a mix of dry ground, swamps, snow patches next to Rush Creek in flood stage. The outlet dam was spilling in a torrent of water. In spite all the standing water, there were only a few mosquitoes. I bet in a few days there will be swarms. In the two days since I passed Gem Lake, flowers were bursting forth! Expecting swarms of mosquitoes as I neared Silver Lake, I was pleasantly surprised with a stiff breeze that kept those little suckers in the bushes. I reached my car at 2PM and drove home. I had forgotten how beautiful the drive is – almost as good as the hike. The Walker River is cooking, Monitor Pass is breathtaking and Tahoe Basin pretty as ever. It just looked more like May than nearly July.

Footnote: For the Fourth of July weekend, expect solid snow on most north slopes above 9,500 feet and solid snow on south facing slopes above 10,400 feet. The snow in the forest is quite consolidated and not bad walking. The snow above timber is very slow travel; somewhat soft, sun-cupped and very icy in the morning. Be careful not to plan any travel over steep slopes until the sun hits the show for at least 2 hours. Creeks are very high. I am not even sure that the PCT crossing of Rush Creek is possible (I did not go up there). Trails are under water in many places.

Re: Trip Report: Rush Creek

Posted: Tue Jun 29, 2010 2:59 pm
by maverick
Thanks for the TR, and update which will open peoples eyes to what is awaiting
them if they want to visit the high Sierra near the 4th of July (photo's speak louder
than words).
Interesting to see Lost Lakes still frozen/partially thawed, I went there in the 90's
and had a fun time, after which time I headed up to the Kona Creek area.

Re: Trip Report: Rush Creek

Posted: Tue Jun 29, 2010 3:15 pm
by windknot
Thanks for the report! It's fun to see the high Sierra covered in snow (fun to see, not so fun to posthole through). Great pictures of a nice area.


Re: Trip Report: Rush Creek

Posted: Tue Jun 29, 2010 3:48 pm
by Cross Country
That's a really good report and great pics. I 2nd the motion that this serves as a warning for those who might lack patience. This is a dangerous early summer. Confronted by these elements one might be wise to choose places which normally include very little risk.

Re: Trip Report: Rush Creek

Posted: Tue Jun 29, 2010 4:18 pm
by David and Karen
Thanks so much for this report. This is the first one I've seen for this area and it gives me hope that Thousand Island, Garnet & Ediza (9600-9800ft) will be somewhat melted out this weekend.

Re: Trip Report: Rush Creek

Posted: Mon Jul 05, 2010 5:32 pm
by SSSdave
I sometimes camp off on that dirt road below Conway too. In early October sun rises across Mono. Good TR thanks. Shows why the better trip choices for most are going to remain below timberline in the near term.

Re: Trip Report: Rush Creek

Posted: Tue Jul 06, 2010 3:39 pm
by jessegooddog
Thank you SO MUCH for your gorgeous photos and for sharing your ambitious solo trip! This is my first year getting out hiking with so much snow and those hardy wildflowers just amaze me!

Re: Trip Report: Rush Creek

Posted: Tue Nov 16, 2010 4:05 pm
by nomm
Thanks for the TR. I was there in August 1965. On the left side of your picture of Alger Lake I had excellent fishing for golden trout. I also went up Koip Peak Pass, no snow but excellent view.
Thanks for the memories.

Re: Trip Report: Rush Creek

Posted: Tue Nov 16, 2010 4:17 pm
by maverick
HI Nomm

Welcome to HST!
Please share you TR's, pic's, and fishing experiences that you had with us.

Re: Trip Report: Rush Creek

Posted: Tue Jun 02, 2020 4:19 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Bumping this up with new photos. Someone PM'd me about this trip. Did it June 26 -30 2010- a fairly high snow year. Here are some photos.
Snow between Gem Pass and Alger Lks.jpg