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TR: Southern Yosemite

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TR: Southern Yosemite

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Oct 01, 2011 6:13 pm

Southern Yosemite Loop
Sept 24-30, 2011

The night before, I was all packed for an 8-day trip and still undecided where to go! Every spring I plan several trips and put them on my “wish list”. Number one on my yet to do list was a trip to Amphitheater Lake and Dumbbell Lakes but getting stuck if the weather changed was just too chancy. Second choice was a 10-day trip from Courtright Reservoir to west side lakes and Ionian Basin and I just could not squeeze that into 8 days. Third on the list was exploring canyons out of Hetch Hetchy but predictions indicated it would be too hot. Last on my list was a route Fernandez trailhead into southern Yosemite- just about the right elevation and ease of bailout if weather changed. However, I had difficulty getting excited about this trip since I felt “cheated” out of my quota of high altitude Sierra trips this year and I am not that fond of “woodsy” trips. On the positive side, this trip was through nearly all new territory for me.

I left town at 7AM on Saturday reaching Clover Meadow ranger station at 12:30 to find a “closed for season” sign on the door. Luckily a ranger was just driving out a gate to a field, so he kindly wrote me a permit. I left the Fernandez trailhead at 1:00 in a light rain. I walked on a well worn trail through nice forest that mostly kept rain off my head. At Vandenberg Lake I ran into two fellows with horses. I decided to go on up to Lady Lake, only to find three large groups camped there. I still had daylight, so I headed cross-country to Staniford Lakes, and set up my tent just as thunder boomed and it rained in earnest. After set-up a fisherman walked by- he and his wife were camped up the creek a short distance. The first day was 5.3 miles, 1,500 feet gain in 4 hours and was gray and gloomy and honestly a bit boring, with the trail a bit too crowded for my taste. My mood was not great.

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Next morning dawned clear but clouds quickly built. It was 6 miles and about 2,400 feet gain to Breeze Lake via an off-trail route over a pass west of Blackie Lake. The off-trail travel was fun and easy as I circled above Lillian Lake then to Rainbow and Ruth Lakes. The pass was easy Class 2 and soon I found a nice spot at Breeze Lake, although it was overcast and gloomy. I arrived by 12:30 giving me time for a day trip to Upper Chain Lake. I spooked several deer during the day. Back at camp at 3PM, it began to lightly rain. I cooked dinner under a thicket of trees, staying dry. I sure wished there was blue sky for the photos of the lakes. Gray-day photos just are not that impressive. Not great, but my mood was improving.

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My third day would be an all-trail day of over 10 miles with 2,400 feet gain. There was not much to see walking through thick forests and past wet meadows, but the trail was good and I could really make time. Below Lower Ottoway Lake I ran into several trail crew members. One fellow warned me that they had just heard that a big storm was moving in the next weekend. I also passed two groups heading the other direction. Ottoway Lake was very pretty and I sure was tempted to camp there, but two others were already camped there. So far the day was a downer. The weather was great and I had plenty of time to get to Upper Ottoway Lakes. After 6.5 hours on the trail I dropped my pack and hunted for a campsite. At first it looked like campsites were absent, but then I found a nice grassy flat at the lake farther from the trail. The sun was shining so I hopped into the lake for a bath and washed clothes which dried quickly in the breezy high altitude. I then wandered around taking photos. The west-facing cirque proved great for sunset photos with the deep blue lake and colorful rocks. I was now very happy and getting my “hit” of high altitude. Life could not be better!

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Morning of the fourth day brought another opportunity for photos. Late morning sun after a night of dew soaking my tent delayed my start. This was another 10+ mile day of 2,000 feet elevation gain. Weather was glorious; not a bug in the air. The trail to Red Peak Pass is amazing- what an example of fine rock work. I had originally planned to cross over to a valley southwest of the trail, but amazingly, rock hard huge snowfields blocked my way. So I simply descended the trail. It turned out to be beautiful as the trail meandered through the red rock with green pockets and little pools and waterfalls. The greenery was unusual for end of September. I took a side trip to Red Devil Lake and then left the trail to stop for lunch at the numerous little ponds northeast of Edna Lake. Rather than drop back down to the trail I just headed cross country to the little pass into Triple Divide Creek. When I got impatient with the trail that never seemed to be getting lower, I left the trail and headed straight towards Turner Lake. It was mainly easy slab walking. I reached Turner Lake in a little less than 6 hours from Upper Ottoway Lakes. I set up and then hiked up slabs next to a waterfall to a valley west of the lake and peeked over a saddle down to a bench with several small lakes, wishing I had traveled cross country through these lakes instead of dropping into Triple Divide Creek. Back at camp the fish started jumping like crazy and I regretted not taking my fishing gear. I jumped into the lake and washed clothes as the sun was going behind the hill, then put on warm clothes to cook supper. I walked around the west side of the lake and got some good sunset photos. Life is good. I had the entire area to myself.

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The fifth day was to be a short-mileage day (6 miles and 2,400 feet gain) so I was quite lazy and got a very late start. I headed up through the open forest to intersect the trail to Isberg Pass. The trail was frustrating- shallow never ending switchbacks! Finally I reached Saddler Lake and cut across the northwest end finding a use-trail to McClure Lake. I regret not going around Saddler Lake on the southeast side since the sun was such that I did not get any good photos of this beautiful lake. I had planned on camping at McClure Lake. This lake looks so good on the topographic map, but is a big disappointment. A rock dam at the outlet evidently leaks, and the lake is really a depleted reservoir and mud flat. My mood was sour. Too much boring trail walking. I headed cross country up to Post Peak Pass. It may seem a bit masochistic to drop 1,000 feet to Saddler Lake only to climb back up to the pass, but I really wanted to see Saddler and McClure Lakes. It turned out that the prettiest lakes were the Ward Lakes. Had it not been so early in the day, I would have camped at these lakes. They even had small fish. The route up to Post Peak Pass was downright delightful- lots of pocket meadows and a burbling little snow melt creek coming off a snow cornice still clinging to the pass. I planned to camp at Post Lakes, but once I saw unique Porphyry Lake, being a geologist, I could not resist camping here. The “swamp” on the north side was quite dry and I found a nice little grassy bench next to a little snowmelt stream. Then I wandered among the plum pudding rocks! Although the lake is shallow and there are no fish, the rocks are just amazing. Life is good again. The weather was great and the night was downright warm.

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My campsite was slow to get sun, but fortunately the tent was dry so I could quickly pack up. I headed cross-country to Post Lakes where the sun was shining. I saw many little fish in the lower lake. Then I dropped back to the grassy bench and traversed over a rocky rib and dropped into Slab Lakes. I had envisioned these lakes as being pure blue puddles on clean granite slabs, but reality was shallow muddy lakes with rock rubble strewn all over the slabs- not really very pretty. I dropped down through open forest to the pretty little unnamed ponds to the south and then traversed to Anne Lake, another shallow somewhat muddy lake. There I picked up the trail to Rutherford Lake, a really scenic lake where I observed several bigger and fatter fish swimming around. So far it had been a great day of interesting off-trail travel. I headed down the trail with the intent of leaving the trail to take a direct path to Lillian Lake. I spaced out and missed my turnoff, end ended up having to go all the way to the trail junction, adding two miles and 500 feet of gain, on a boring trail through thick forest, missing Monument Lake and Flat Lake. As I trudged back up the trail to Lillian Lake I just said to myself, over and over, stupid..stupid.. stupid me! When I got to Lillian Lake I was so depressed I only took one photo and could not wait to get off the trail. My days of solitude were broken as I passed two guys huddled around a smoky fire in thick forest, mid-day. Is this a guy thing? Sort of like a cave thing? I headed cross-country to Shirley Lake, where I finally took a long break. Lillian Lake is truly one of the most beautiful lakes in the area and I really should have taken more time there. From Shirley Lake it was a quick walk to Chittenden Lake where I camped. With my little “mistake” it ended up being a 12-mile, 7-hour day with nearly 2,000 feet gain. But Chittenden Lake soothed my battered soul. What a beautiful lake and a glorious sunset (and even better sunrise the next day).

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I had completed my route a day early. I headed back to my car, taking another side trip to Lady Lake, this time with blue skies for better photos. In a little less than 4 hours I reached the nearly empty parking lot. The wind was blowing, and I heard a crash, and a dead tree limb came down nearly falling on the other car in the lot! As I drove down the road, I really noticed how much better the road was than on my previous trips, but it still took over an hour to get back to Bass Lake. Then it was the boring drive up Highway 99- ugh! This was not the most scenic trip and at a mid-elevation when I really wanted to be up higher. I do regret leaving my fishing gear. The cross-country travel was much easier than I thought it would be, leaving me plenty of time to fish. Although I am glad to finally see this part of the Sierra, on the whole, I was under-impressed. Honestly, Emigrant Wilderness is much easier to access if what you want is mid-elevation woodsy country with fishing lakes. But life is good in the mountains, even if not perfect.



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Re: TR: Southern Yosemite

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Oct 01, 2011 6:17 pm

Oops! Here is the proper photo for camp at Upper Ottoway Lake-- sorry that I put in a duplicate of Breeze Lake.

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Re: TR: Southern Yosemite

Postby rlown » Sat Oct 01, 2011 7:06 pm

Nice report, WD! Any particular reason you day-hiked to upper chain?
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Re: TR: Southern Yosemite

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Oct 01, 2011 7:20 pm

Why I day-hiked to Upper Chain Lake? Well, I am a little hyperactive and getting into camp at Breeze Lake at 1PM, I was simply bored so decided to jump over the ridge and down the 500 feet just to see what the lake looked like. It was pretty but not spectacular and the overcast did not make for good photos. I also wanted to check out the feasibility of getting to Upper Chain Lake directly from Shirley Lake. Looked like it would go but the pass by Blackie Lake to Breeze Lake is so easy that it does not make sense to do otherwise. If I had brought my fishing stuff I probably would have tried to fish. I know you told me before- never leave your fishing gear. You are so right! So tell me that agian. Maybe I will learn someday.
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Re: TR: Southern Yosemite

Postby rlown » Sat Oct 01, 2011 7:25 pm

just yankin your Chain, so to speak!.. Upper chain sucks for fishing.. When the fish aren't longer than the lure, it's time to try another lake.
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Re: TR: Southern Yosemite

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Oct 01, 2011 7:59 pm

Here is a photo of a rock at Porphyry Lake that I dedicate to "giantbrookie". I thought it looked like, well, a giant brookie! Unfortunately most of the fish I saw on this trip were tiny, except for Rutherford Lake.

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Re: TR: Southern Yosemite

Postby ManOfTooManySports » Sat Oct 01, 2011 8:00 pm

Nice report and beautiful photos. I wish I could do the trips that make you grumpy!
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Re: TR: Southern Yosemite

Postby windknot » Sat Oct 01, 2011 8:34 pm

Thanks for the report and pictures, WD. I've been toying around with a variation of your route and plan to visit this area sometime. These are a nice set of lakes, even if they might not provide quite the same visual impact as the true High Sierra.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: Southern Yosemite

Postby balzaccom » Sat Oct 01, 2011 9:10 pm

We went through much of this same territory over Labor Day, and had similar experiences in terms of people. Given how long the drive is, we were surprised to see so many people on the trail.

But yes, Ottoway Lakes are lovely, and Post Peak Pass is just plain wonderful. We "wasted" lots of time looking around, taking photos, and not hiking!
Balzaccom

check out our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
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Re: TR: Southern Yosemite

Postby mokelumnekid » Sat Oct 01, 2011 9:52 pm

Great TR. BTW, in addition to that rock looking like a 'giantbrookie' it is a well expressed example of magma mingling- dark 'basalt' blebs into mushy granodiorite. :eek:
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Re: TR: Southern Yosemite

Postby SSSdave » Sun Oct 02, 2011 11:11 am

Another interesting report from your busy summer. Thanks for the tour. One doesn't necessarily need to be caught without any fishing gear at all. Sometimes instead of bringing my usual fishing gear, I just bring a small ziploc with some floating fly line, and a few flies. Then will find some stick, often a willow branch to use as a crude pole. Of course sometimes fish feed right along shorelines, and in streams right along shielding banks.

Amused how your antsyness sometimes leads to not spending much time at even the more interesting landscapes and basins but rather moving on to others. No doubt driven by a desire to continue moving through your rather lengthy, planned itineraries.

David
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Re: TR: Southern Yosemite

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Jul 04, 2016 7:54 am

I am bumping this up as there is a recent question on this area.
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