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TR: Lake Mary over Duck Pass to Pika base camp

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TR: Lake Mary over Duck Pass to Pika base camp

Postby kpeter » Mon Aug 06, 2012 7:34 pm

August 2-5.
This trip was organized by a friend and was a backpacking reunion of sorts for several of us. They prefer the basecamp approach--lugging relatively heavy packs in one day's distance, setting up a base, and dayhiking from that base.

This year's trip was from the Lake Mary trailhead outside of Mammoth over Duck Pass to Pika lake. Pika is a large lake but dwarfed by Duck Lake that lies only a couple of hundred yards and a few feet in elevation away.

Day 1 was relatively straightforward, except I kept being thrown off by the fact that although we were starting from an eastside trailhead, we were actually hiking due south to cross the pass. Odd.

We bypassed the string of lakes leading up to Duck Pass, resting and snacking along the way. Skelton was a pretty forested lake, and I talked to families with very small children who camped there, since it was so close to the trailhead. Barney Lake is immediately below the pass and is rockier and more barren. There we met a group of young guys who had packed in a guitar and a banjo. I'm not sure whether I was or wasn't glad that we missed the opportunity to camp near them.

Duck Pass itself has an extremely well engineered trail, and seems to be used by dozens of dayhikers, backpackers, and horse packers every day. It seemed to me to be one of the easier passes I have done in the Sierras. When we popped over the top we were immediately hit with views of Duck Lake backed by Pika Lake. I was not prepared for the size of Duck Lake. That basin is a huge, sweeping vista dominated by water.

At the pass we took the left down a less well engineered trail that sweeps around the end of Duck to reach Pika Lake. As we passed the end of Duck lake we moved through wildflower studded meadows.
Duck Pass Trip-3.jpg
Flowers by Duck Lake

To the left of the trail we eventually noticed a kind of cabin--actually a cave modified into a cabin, and we wondered if anyone here might know the history of it.
Duck Pass Trip-4.jpg
Odd cave/cabin by Duck Lake

There are many campsites on the small ridges flanking Pika Lake. In fact, it seems like a much better place to camp than the steep slopes that surround almost all sides of Duck Lake. Everyone else seemed to know this too, and we often had several sets of neighbors.
Duck Pass Trip-1.jpg
Pika Lake at dawn


Day 2 we hiked over to Deer Lakes. While it is essentially a cross country route, so many people do this hike that a well defined use trail has been beaten in to many sections. The descent down into the uppermost of the Deer Lakes is very steep, although it did not quite necessitate handholds. From our perch we heard and saw a group of young men swimming, and yelling in one of the lower of the Lakes. I also saw what looked to me like a great many large trout through the clear waters of the upper lake.

Day 3 I did an ambitious day hike on my own. I left Pika at 6 am and hiked around Duck lake and took the switchbacks down to join up with the JMT. From there I headed SE to Purple Lake. Parts of Purple Lake were truly devastated by the big blowdown last winter. For a few hundred yards it seemed to me that every large tree had been blown down, all rooted up and all lying in the same direction. Fortunately the trail crews have done an excellent job sawing them out, but it left parts of the trail looking like a lumberyard. The main camping area which is halfway along the NW shore on the Ram Lake trail seemed unaffected.

Purple lake is still a pretty, forested lake despite the damage. My real interest, though, was in following the use trail up to Ram Lake. The Ram Lake trail showed many signs of being a well constructed and maintained trail--years ago. It clearly has not been maintained for a long time. This bothers me that only main stem trails get any maintenance anymore and side trails are increasingly being left to revert. However, I found my way fairly easily and was charmed by a series of meadows and babbling creeks all the way up to Ram Lake. I did not have time to explore the whole basin, but thought Ram lake was a pretty high lake with low shrubby conifers and broken granite.

I returned the way I came, and 9 1/2 hours into my 10 hour hike the heavens opened up and poured. I got into my rain gear but still was a bit bedraggled. From the relative safety of our low camp my friends and I watched as the sun set during a lightning storm. The sky turned all shades of red, pink, and orange as the lightining over the horizon lit up the clouds. Eventually the hail drove us into our tents, but not before we had been treated to one of nature's more awesome displays.
Duck Pass Trip-5.jpg
Sunset during the storm

Duck Pass Trip-7.jpg
An opening in the storm

Day four I packed out, with a wet tent, and came home.

One interesting "find" that I thought I would ask the members here about. At one point in my wandering I came across a recent memorial/gravesite marker. I'd rather not identify its location in case it was placed illegally. I wonder if any of you knew this man or knew anything about the practice of placing memorials in the wilderness? We wondered if this was placed by his fishing companions, given the nickname.
Duck Pass Trip-2.jpg
Memorial



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Re: TR: Lake Mary over Duck Pass to Pika base camp

Postby windknot » Tue Aug 07, 2012 8:46 am

Thanks for the report! Never heard of "The Troutslayer" (though I believe there is a member on this forum with that username, or some variation thereof). Love the sunset pictures through the storm.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: Lake Mary over Duck Pass to Pika base camp

Postby Mradford » Tue Aug 07, 2012 9:55 am

great trip report and beautiful photos! I would love to know who this guy was as well! Thanks for posting.

-Mike
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Re: TR: Lake Mary over Duck Pass to Pika base camp

Postby ManOfTooManySports » Tue Aug 07, 2012 1:02 pm

Nice report and photos!
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Re: TR: Lake Mary over Duck Pass to Pika base camp

Postby maverick » Tue Aug 07, 2012 3:44 pm

Great trip report KP, really enjoyed the pic's, especially the flowers at DL, and the
sunset one.
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Re: TR: Lake Mary over Duck Pass to Pika base camp

Postby miked. » Sun Aug 26, 2012 10:54 pm

Was that cabin/ cave next to the stream between the two lakes
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Re: TR: Lake Mary over Duck Pass to Pika base camp

Postby SweetSierra » Mon Aug 27, 2012 6:17 am

I've seen the cabin and the memorial plaque to the "troutslayer." A friend and I later speculated that the plaque honored the fisherman's favorite lake and that he likely spent many summers there. We thought perhaps his ashes were laid there as well. I was on a solo backpack and had already set up my tent when I saw the plaque nearby. It spooked me a little but the camp site was great and, I felt, likely used by the "troutslayer" so I stayed. I don't know the history of the rock cabin but it is interesting.
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Re: TR: Lake Mary over Duck Pass to Pika base camp

Postby kpeter » Mon Aug 27, 2012 6:56 pm

The cabin is not really between the two lakes. After you descend from Duck Pass on the Pika Lake spur trail, the trail comes around the north end of Duck before turning due south on the way down the eastern shore to Pika Lake. Shortly after the trail makes the turn to the south, the cabin is off to the left, underneath the largest tree at that end of the lake. We walked past it two times before we saw it on our third trip along the trail. It was hidden in plain sight.

If any of you have access to a geneological site, I learned that there are 2006 obituaries for William J. Dessert from Riverside California available. I strongly suspect that would clear up the mystery, but I can't read the obits without paying a fee.
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Re: TR: Lake Mary over Duck Pass to Pika base camp

Postby SweetSierra » Tue Aug 28, 2012 10:23 am

Thank you, by the way, Kpeter, for the trip report and photos! Duck Lake is a beautiful sight when you come over the pass. I watched a group of sea gulls floating on the waves on a windy day in the middle of the lake. The trail as it traverses above the lake before decending at the outlet is a beautiful walk high above the lakeshore.

Where did you find the use trail to Deer Lakes? Near the top of Duck Pass? It looks like the land slopes upward there more gently to the south than in other places farther down the trail, but I didn't look around for the use trail while I was on that trip. It was on another nine-day trip that we went from Lake Mary to Deer Lakes and then to Duck Lake. After topping the ridge on the use trail above Deer Lakes and crossing the flat, grassy/sandy area to the ridge above Duck Lake, we went right following ducks down an obvious route to the right (west) through a gently sloping chute and then make our way down to a place where the terrain was not too steep just above the Duck Pass trail (well before the outlet). We didn't see a use trail, but we were headed toward Purple Lake. At the top of that ridge above Deer Lakes, I did see a use trail going off toward Duck Pass.

Also, I loved the Ram Lake trail too. On the Tom Harrison map, it shows the trail terminating at Purple Lake. So I was surprised to see a sign at Purple Lake that said "Ram Lake Trail." and that it was in good shape and easy to follow. What a beautiful walk along the outlet stream, as you say. On this nine-day trip, we didn't go to Ram Lakes but left the trail about a half-mile before Ram Lake to head toward other lakes in the basin, where we camped. The next morning walked across the basin (easy stroll and beautiful tarns!) and dropped down the ridge to Virginia Lake.
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Re: TR: Lake Mary over Duck Pass to Pika base camp

Postby miked. » Tue Aug 28, 2012 4:33 pm

It was his fav lake used to have a 12 ft. Aluminum up there
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Re: TR: Lake Mary over Duck Pass to Pika base camp

Postby kpeter » Tue Aug 28, 2012 11:39 pm

miked. wrote:It was his fav lake used to have a 12 ft. Aluminum up there

Did you know him, Miked?
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Re: TR: Lake Mary over Duck Pass to Pika base camp

Postby kpeter » Tue Aug 28, 2012 11:50 pm

SweetSierra wrote:Where did you find the use trail to Deer Lakes? Near the top of Duck Pass? It looks like the land slopes upward there more gently to the south than in other places farther down the trail, but I didn't look around for the use trail while I was on that trip. It was on another nine-day trip that we went from Lake Mary to Deer Lakes and then to Duck Lake. After topping the ridge on the use trail above Deer Lakes and crossing the flat, grassy/sandy area to the ridge above Duck Lake, we went right following ducks down an obvious route to the right (west) through a gently sloping chute and then make our way down to a place where the terrain was not too steep just above the Duck Pass trail (well before the outlet). We didn't see a use trail, but we were headed toward Purple Lake. At the top of that ridge above Deer Lakes, I did see a use trail going off toward Duck Pass.

Sweetsierra, I think you figured it out. The use trail bears more toward Duck pass and comes in close to the Pika spur trail. It does fan out and vanish in places, but it follows fairly closely to the route that is marked on the topos as "approximate."
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