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TR: North Boundary Yosemite August 8 - 11

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TR: North Boundary Yosemite August 8 - 11

Postby TehipiteTom » Thu Aug 19, 2010 4:54 pm

Did my first-ever trip into Yosemite's north boundary country last week: a 4-day trip in via Little Slide Canyon, down Slide Canyon, over to Rock Island Lake, and out via Snow Lake and the Robinson Creek Trail. Great area, and a really cool route.

I drove up Saturday morning, arriving at Bridgeport by noon. I headed straight to Buckeye Campground to secure a spot (turned out there were plenty, and it never did fill up--on a Saturday in August), then turned around and headed for the ranger station to grab a permit (again, no problem). Then up to Twin Lakes and Mono Village Resort to check out trailhead logistics (you have to pay $10 to park for up to a week), which turned out to be a very good thing because the entry station doesn't open until 8:00 am (by which time, of course, half the day is gone). Back to Buckeye for an evening bottle of Brother Thelonius and a (relatively) good night's sleep.

Next day I was packed and parked and on the 'trail' (the first 1/4 mile or so goes right through the campground) by 7:09 am. The first stretch of trail is easy, flat or gentle rise, first through forest then breaking out into sagebrush slopes with nice views of the whole valley.

My first goal: catching the best route into Little Slide Canyon. As it happens, Secor's directions are pretty solid, with one slight recent wrinkle: the Hoover Wilderness expansion last year moved the wilderness entry sign out to about 1 mile (or slightly more) before the LSC turnoff (instead of 1/4 mile after). I figured this out, so it wasn't a problem. The 'table-shaped' rock isn't quite as table-shaped as Secor thinks, IMO, but it's still recognizable from that description, at the edge of a small grove of a half dozen or so pine trees. Once you're there, the 'faint use trail' is actually pretty distinct (thanks to Secor, I assume), and remains distinct much of the way up the canyon.

From the table rock, the use trail cuts over to an easy snag crossing of Robinson Creek (as Secor says). Across the creek, it immediately starts climbing south and west up the slopes east of LSC. After gaining ~600' the trail turns the corner into the canyon, and shortly thereafter you start to get some good up-canyon views. Early morning shade kept it nice and cool all through this part.

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The trail traverses over to the creek and crosses it, then climbs steeply through an open rocky/talus-y section (prominent cliffs on the other side of the stream) to an idyllic subalpine bench. Slogging up this steep stuff, I set my eye on a prominent lone tree at the top of the cliffs with the promise to myself that as soon as I got there I would take a nice long break.

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Which, having gained about 2/3 of the day's elevation, I did.

Now, the wildflowers had been getting steadily better and better as I climbed--from dried-up lupine and mule ear husks down along the main trail, to slightly-past-their-prime mint climbing up the shoulder, to a variety of blooms once I turned into the shade of the canyon, to the subalpine zone where it was still prime wildflower season. The late spring was definitely paying off for me just as I hoped it would.

After resting a while, I started back up the trail--a little less distinct here, fading out in places, with fewer ducks than before. Generally, though, if you follow Secor's description you'll end up in pretty much the right place. Once past the cliffs, you veer left, cross the stream, and head up the east fork a ways. Somewhere in this section I started to think I heard voices, then after a little bit I was sure of it; and then I spotted the climbers on their way up The Incredible Hulk.

It gets a little trickier here: to get to Maltby Lake, you want to veer off to the right up one of the ravines crisscrossing the granite mass separating the two canyon branches. I'm not sure just how to identify the right one, but after losing and then finding the trail a couple times I got to exactly where I was supposed to be: where the trail drops to the Maltby Lake outlet stream and ascends the gully to the lake.

Just one problem: a high-angle corniced snowfield/bridge filling the gully. I took some time looking at this, and looking for alternate possibilities in the immediate vicinity (they all deadended), and looking at the snowbridge again, and thinking maybe and maybe not, and in the end I decided I just couldn't chance it.

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So I backtracked a ways to see if I could find another route through and over the granite maze keeping me away from my destination. What I found was a nice sandy flat with a tremendous view of the whole canyon and, up front and center, the Incredible Hulk. I dropped my pack and rested a bit, then explored a bit more to see if there was a reasonable way over to Maltby. Not finding anything promising, I had my campsite.

I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and watching the climbers descend--the last of them racing against the thunderstorm that had been building up all day.

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(See the orange rock in the first pic? It's visible to the left of the vertical shadows in the second; the three climbers are visible as a speck to the right of that.)

It started raining a little before 5 pm, so I ducked into my tent; by 6:30 it had stopped, but a brisk freezing wind kept it kind of unpleasant to stay outside, so I wound up having cheese & crackers for dinner and retiring early.



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Re: TR: North Boundary Yosemite August 8 - 11

Postby TehipiteTom » Thu Aug 19, 2010 5:04 pm

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Next morning I was up and on the trail before 7 am. My goal today was Slide Canyon a couple miles below the slide, at the base of the ramp I needed to follow over toward Rock Island Lake.

I had a short scramble down a loose sandy chute into the eastern gully, where I picked up another use trail that nicely avoided the worst of the big-block talus choking the upper gully. This trail continues to Ice Lake, conveniently leading above the cliffs on the eastern side, before petering out near the south end of the lake.

At the lake I ran into a couple who were just starting to stir (one still sleeping, the other starting the stove), so I stopped and chatted for a bit; this was the last person I saw until I was back on the Robinson Creek Trail.

Ice Lake Pass was a narrow gully with a long snowfield; the snow was still hard and icy that early in the morning, so I stayed on the dry slopes to the west. This opened onto a gorgeous meadowy mini-valley. Tons of flowers here: Brewer's Lupine, Lemmon's Paintbrush, Elephant Heads, Monkeyflower, red Paintbrush, among others. This area is a cross-country dream: a gentle stepped descent from meadow to meadow, with glimpses of Matterhorn Peak appearing to your left. Bear generally right and downstream and you can't really go wrong.

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Picked up the trail a little below the largest meadow, and followed it down the switchbacks to the long traverse east. Left the trail near the low point of the traverse, and angled down to an easy crossing of Piute Creek a little above the confluence with the unnamed creek from the north. Easy, gentle descent in here, with the biggest obstacle being down trees (but not so many of them that you can't wind around them). Came out in the meadow above the Slide.

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I had read somewhere that there was a use trail leading above the slide on the east side of the canyon, so I angled left and a little up in search of it. Turns out there is a faint sort of an intermittent use trail; if you lose it at any point, just head uphill and you'll probably run into it (it did seem to go higher than was strictly necessary to avoid the talus maze).

Once back down on the canyon floor, it's easy meadow-and-slab walking--just a cross-country dream. Some ways down (maybe 3/4 mile or so) the vegetation started getting thicker and dewier, so I crossed Piute Creek to the drier and more open west side; this worked well generally, although I did have to go uphill a short ways to avoid a steep streambank in one spot.

I had been slightly concerned about identifying the right ramp from below (in MacClure's account, he makes it sound like it was nearly invisible), but I needn't have worried: it's unmistakeable, especially if you use the granite spur across the canyon as a marker. I pitched camp in a gravelly patch at the very base of the slabs I would follow up to MacClure's ramp.

Mosquitoes came out in the early evening; this was the one place where there were enough to be bothersome. I took a stroll up the slabs around sunset to enjoy the late sun on Sawtooth Ridge, then--as it was getting dark--retired to my tent to read a while before bed.

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Re: TR: North Boundary Yosemite August 8 - 11

Postby maverick » Thu Aug 19, 2010 5:24 pm

Oh yeah I had completely forgot about the cornice, I do remember meeting some
climbers on there way up to the Hulk, and Ice Lake was still partially frozen.
I was there late spring/early summer, and the flowers were not as pretty as you
describe them, only at Seavey was there anything worth mentioning.
Looking forward to the descent into Big Slide part of the trip.
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Re: TR: North Boundary Yosemite August 8 - 11

Postby balzaccom » Thu Aug 19, 2010 6:49 pm

Excellent!

We were just finishing up the Benson Lake loop as you started...great photos!
Balzaccom

check out our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
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Re: TR: North Boundary Yosemite August 8 - 11

Postby rlown » Thu Aug 19, 2010 8:50 pm

nothing i can really add, but Wow!

thanks for the report.
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Re: TR: North Boundary Yosemite August 8 - 11

Postby LMBSGV » Thu Aug 19, 2010 9:53 pm

Thanks for the great report. That route is one I've long considered, but never gotten around to doing as a way into Mattherhorn Canyon and beyond (another one of to those many dream trips I still need to do). Now I have a great description and wonderful photos to inspire me.
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Re: TR: North Boundary Yosemite August 8 - 11

Postby TehipiteTom » Fri Aug 20, 2010 9:04 am

Thanks, y'all! Yeah, it is a great route into Yosemite--and I appreciate it all the more now that I've gone out via the ever-so-annoying Robinson Creek Trail. ;)

Rest of the report coming shortly...
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Re: TR: North Boundary Yosemite August 8 - 11

Postby windknot » Fri Aug 20, 2010 9:16 am

Gorgeous photos, thanks for the report to a not-often-visited area!

Matt
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: North Boundary Yosemite August 8 - 11

Postby SSSdave » Fri Aug 20, 2010 1:13 pm

TehipiteTom wrote:Just one problem: a high-angle corniced snowfield/bridge filling the gully. I took some time looking at this, and looking for alternate possibilities in the immediate vicinity (they all deadended), and looking at the snowbridge again, and thinking maybe and maybe not, and in the end I decided I just couldn't chance it.

Image


Tom, sounds like someone gave you some bum route directions. You were supposed to put on your headlamp and follow that stream down through the snow tunnel. :D
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Re: TR: North Boundary Yosemite August 8 - 11

Postby TehipiteTom » Fri Aug 20, 2010 2:11 pm

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Up and moving by 6:45 this morning. I was expecting this to be my most difficult day: something like 6 miles of off-trail hiking, according to the Topo! route. Back when I first planned this trip, I thought I'd camp near Rock Island Lake; on closer inspection, I decided the camping didn't look great there (too exposed, no shade) and it made for a long hike out, so I'd be better off pressing on to Snow Lake. So I had what looked like a long day ahead of me.

The ramp out of Slide Canyon (visible on the topo as a diagonal notch running roughly north) is choked with talus and willow in the lower reaches; fortunately, there are low-angle slabs to the east of it so you can bypass that section. Aim for a prominent rust-stained cliff, which happens to be the exact point where the talus and willow end. Once you're on the (surprisingly broad) ramp, it's easy going: just follow it up.

The stream shown on the map actually drops into the canyon sooner than the map shows; you'll start hearing it when you're halfway up or more. When the terrain started to open out, I bore left, skirting the southern edge of the big meadow at the top. This area is just magical: wide-open alpine meadowlands surrounded by classic Yosemite outcrops, and (once you're on the broad saddle) great views down Crazy Mule Gulch.

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You make your way through this beautiful and easy terrain toward the obvious knob to your west. Easy slopes lead up to the best crossing of this ridgelet, at a forested notch immediately north of the knob. From here you descend a short ramp and then a short sandy slope into the gully to the west. Follow up the gully a little ways, then zigzag west to the top of Suicide Ridge, following the plethora of low-angle ramps that lead you up and west. At a broad flat atop the ridge, I angled northish through a nice granite alley and emerged to my first view of Rock Island Lake.

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Which is really an extraordinary lake: a mile or so long, nestled in a vast meadowy valley, a landscape so open and inviting you can almost picture living there.

Zigzag ramps lead quickly down to the gentle slopes nearest the lake. I followed the lakeshore north and crossed the inlet stream just a little ways past the north end, with the aim of cutting directly west to the western slopes of the valley and the most direct shot up to the next pass. This was not a bad plan, but the turf is pretty hummocky in places; it might have been slightly easier crossing the valley a upstream a ways. Once across, though, it's an easy, gentle angle right up to the pass.

From the pass, my goal was to traverse over to Rock Island Pass while losing as little elevation as necessary to avoid the most difficult terrain. A series of benches lead inexorably lower, but as long as you keep heading northish as you drop you should be fine. The slopes gentle out some after a while, and at this point you want to stay level or gain elevation. I came out right in the big meadow, and hooked up with the trail about 100 yards before the pass.

Just a short hop down the trail and I was at Snow Lake. Which I reached at...a few minutes after 11 am. The whole route went so smoothly that it wound up seeming like the easiest day rather than the hardest.

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I took a cursory look around for campsites here. Not finding much, and being less than thrilled by the stiff wind blowing steadily through Rock Island Pass, and in light of how early it still was, I decided to continue on to Crown Lake.

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Where I found a secluded campsite well away from the group of eight who were my nearest neighbors.

That night the wind never stopped. There's white noise, and then there's white noise: the sound of a nearby stream can be wonderfully relaxing, but the sound of the wind unsettles me and puts me on edge. It was not a restful night.

Nevertheless, I was up and on the trail by 6:36 am. Not much worth telling about the rest of the trip, beyond my supreme annoyance at the trail builders. Three crossings of Robinson Creek in a quarter mile? Those ridiculous switchbacks up and then down before Barney Lake? What on earth were they thinking?

Oh, and one more thing. In the last flat tedious section of trail, approaching the campground, as I was wanting nothing so much as to be at my car already, I stopped to talk with a couple who were hiking in. I asked where they were going, and the man said Rock Island Lake. So I described my route, and it turned out that they were thinking about doing that same stretch between the lake and Slide Canyon (except possibly in reverse). They were iffy, because they weren't sure about the ramp up from the canyon. I described in detail what I had done and what landmarks to look for, and told them what a sweet route that ramp really is, and enthused over Rock Island Lake and environs. And when we parted I felt a whole lot better: here, in the most tedious part of the whole journey, they had given me the opportunity to relive the most enjoyable part of it all.
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Re: TR: North Boundary Yosemite August 8 - 11

Postby TehipiteTom » Fri Aug 20, 2010 2:14 pm

SSSdave wrote:Tom, sounds like someone gave you some bum route directions. You were supposed to put on your headlamp and follow that stream down through the snow tunnel. :D

:lol:
Don't think I didn't consider it...
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Re: TR: North Boundary Yosemite August 8 - 11

Postby maverick » Fri Aug 20, 2010 2:40 pm

Great TR and pictures Tom to a lake not frequently visited.
The Crazy Mule, and the Big Meadow down to Dog, Tallulah Lake areas are
really nice to.
Still planning to visit those pretty lakes at the mouth of Thompson, or was this
a shortened trip ?
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