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TR - Ansel Adams Wilderness/Long Canyon/N. Fork SJ River

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TR - Ansel Adams Wilderness/Long Canyon/N. Fork SJ River

Postby Electra » Sun Jul 17, 2011 10:56 am

July 14-16, Isberg Trailhead

I was the only car at the trailhead as i arrived at 6:30pm Thursday night and the ranger had said nobody had been out this way this year. My original plan was to hike in and camp at Surprise Saddle (awesome view) with the full moon and then descend to Hemlock Crossing the next morning and take a long planned cross country route up Long creek from the N. Fork San Joaquin River into Long Canyon, east of Long Mtn and west of Bench Canyon. I would then decide whether to continue west thru a saddle between long mtn and sadler peak or exit via the unmaintained long creek trail east of sadler peak.

Having been in this general area at least a dozen times, I knew trails and terrain were challenging in the best of conditions, let alone early season...I hit the trail at 7pm and was about 3 miles in by 8pm at the Granite Creek crossing. Not ideal timing :) to cross but if you are ever in that area, go about 250 yards upstream from the normal crossing and look for an open flat area across the creek and cross here. Water was above waist and swift (just above knee deep on return at noon) and invigorating. Side note: it's funny how there is a realization after a few steps in to a crossing that "wow, i am in this thing and its cold, real and potentially dangerous so get your **** together".....Quickly changed into warm dry clothes and no sooner got into lovely wet soggy trail and meadows and then into even more enjoyable snowy red fir forest with intermitant trail and frequent downed trees. With fading light and challenging route finding, lets just say i was glad to know the trail and area so well. I could see the full moon briefly thru the trees but the last hour to surprise saddle was by headlight and decent trail and i was greeted with a proper San Francisco welcome as the canyon and saddle were socked in with thick fog. Set up camp, ate a quick dinner and watched fog lift for a brief look at the massive canyon and Mt. Ritter, Minarets and views to the Silver Divide, Kaiser Ridge, Shuteye Ridge, and beyond to the south.

Awoke to strong coffee, a big chunk of smoked salmon on a bagel and the lifting fog. Nice walking for the first mile along the canyon rim but at about 8900 feet I hit almost constant snow 1-4 feet deep. No biggie except that the trail veers east for its descent into the canyon thru thick forest and it was impossible to know if I was on target and this is an area you do not want to make a mistake and get stuck descending the wrong gully so i did some serious traversing/side hilling over a mile area but i could not find trail or any blazes on trees. I eventually made it to a rock overlook and discovered i was a good half mile north past the trail and as i looked at the near 2000 foot descent, raging river below and uncertainty of my grand plan to go cross country once in canyon, I made the decision to continue cross country along the rim and hopefully get to long canyon this way. I weaved north in and out of some 'interesting' steep gullies dropping down into the canyon and targeted Lost lake as my lunch spot, not sure if i would find it after eyeing it on the map for twenty five years. Aptly named, Lost Lake you have been found. Thawed, about 7 acres in size, forested and 80% surrounded by snow. Glad I found it, happy to not camp there. Finished the day with a snowy slabby descent into Long Canyon about 2 miles above the river and about a mile downstream from the end of the long creek 'trail'. Warm and sunny afternoon with clouds forming quickly and dissipating just as quick. Long Creek was raging and was impassable. Nights are cold and heavy with all the moisture in the air.

Awoke next morning with the sun cresting thru the Minarets. I did a quick but steep climb up the canyon headwall and reached the saddle on the east shoulder of sadler peak. Five feet of solid snow. I decided to exit via the long creek trail rather than traversing into the sadler lake basin since it would be frozen. Made good time initially but lost the trail at the meadow about two miles below the peak. Wandered for an hour towards the chetwood cabin and eventually did some more traversing to find the trail at a spot I knew I needed to find it. Continued down to chetwood cabin, saw only other person, and crossed creek which was much lower at noon. Thru the Niche and down to trailhead.

In summary, challenging conditions in this area compounded by thick forest that require good navigation skills. Stay below 9000 feet for the next couple of weeks unless you like snow and route finding. Above 9500 feet, mostly solid snow. Skeeters were only a nuisance in wet meadow areas. Night time temps seem colder with all the moisture. If you like early season conditions, then you still have a few more weeks of Spring like conditions. I will try to get some photos and video up soon.
Dan Braun
Camp Navarro, Evergreen Lodge & SYMG

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Re: TR - Ansel Adams Wilderness/Long Canyon/N. Fork SJ River

Postby maverick » Sun Jul 17, 2011 12:59 pm

Thanks for the TR, Electra.
Be interested in seeing your pictures compared to mine from June of 2007, when it
was a dry and hot, 100 degrees.
Would love to see a shot of the falls at Hemlock Crossing, and the view from lookout
point across the canyon over towards the Minarets.
Professional Sierra Landscape Photographer

I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member:
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Re: TR - Ansel Adams Wilderness/Long Canyon/N. Fork SJ River

Postby windknot » Mon Jul 18, 2011 7:05 pm

Thanks for the report! Your breakfast sounds delicious.
A few backcountry fishing pictures:
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