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Emigrant Wilderness TR--Iceland Lake

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Emigrant Wilderness TR--Iceland Lake

Postby balzaccom » Mon Aug 20, 2012 6:29 pm

The reason you haven't heard from us for a few days is that we were doing what we love--backpacking in the Sierra. This time it was around Emigrant Wilderness, to a series of lakes for which there is no trail, only sloping slabs of granite and a topo map to guide us.

We started at Kennedy Meadows and followed the horses and manure for five miles up to the junction with the trail to Lower Relief Valley. It had rained torrents the night before (we met one group who weathered five hours of thunder, lightning, and pouring rain near Emigrant Lake) and so our normally dry Sierra felt like a sauna. Steam was rising off the rocks, and we were sweating like...well, we were sweating.

That's the gorge below...and you can see the steam rising.

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But once we got above Relief Reservoir, things got a lot better. The trail goes through a very steep climb here, and after lunch we stopped at Summit Creek to enjoy the water, the view...and what the heck, let's camp here. That afternoon P took a recon hike up the granite just to make sure this route was possible...and came back down full of confidence.

That's the view from near our campsite, below.

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The next morning we were up early and hiking straight up the smooth granite. What a wonderful way to explore the Sierra! The views opened up, and there were so many fabulous trees struggling in the granite that we kept stopping to take photos of them.

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You can see all of our photos on our Picasa page for the trip:

https://picasaweb.google.com/balzaccom/ ... elandLake#

In about an hour we were up at the top of the pass, and then pulled out our map and compass to make sure we were headed in the right direction. We contoured around the granite bowl, and ended up right where we wanted to be, at the northern corner of Ridge Lake. From there we hiked around to explore the three other lakes, fish a bit, and spend the day far from the madding crowds below. Wonderful. The sky was full of fluffy clouds, and we just wandered from one great spot to the next.

Iceland Lake is below:

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The last day was Friday, and we started early to beat the heat. Most of the hike back down to Kennedy Meadows was in shadow...but we also ran into seven (yep, seven!) groups of horses, from three to fourteen people in each. Add in a few groups of hikers, and it sure felt different from Iceland Lake.

This is not a trip for those who want a nice hike along a well-marked trail. In fact, the lakes in question are well off the trail, and take quite a bit of navigation. But they are lovely lakes, and we promise you that you won't see many people up in this area. And the scenery and fishing is pretty darn amazing.

(Note--we did not see a single fish at Iceland lake--only pollywogs. But Ridge Lake and its companion were full of fish, as was Summit Creek.)
Balzaccom

check out our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/



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Re: Emigrant Wilderness TR--Iceland Lake

Postby Mradford » Mon Aug 20, 2012 6:57 pm

great report and great shot of Iceland lake, it looks amazing.
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Re: Emigrant Wilderness TR--Iceland Lake

Postby justm » Mon Aug 20, 2012 7:36 pm

I saw all your pics. Loved all the clouds!!! I was there about a month ago, it's a real special place up there. I think Iceland lake and Sardella lakes are now home to the frogs.. which is ok. Did you make it up to the Lewis lakes ? Good fishing up there. My favorite was Ridge and I had it to myself. I wanted to dismantle that huge fire ring pyramid at Ridge lake but only saw it on my way out and didn't have the time. I'll get it next time. Actually the rest of the area was clean, which makes me happy. Thanks for the TR and Pics !!
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Re: Emigrant Wilderness TR--Iceland Lake

Postby balzaccom » Mon Aug 20, 2012 8:04 pm

Thanks Justm. We didn't see that fire ring...happily !
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Re: Emigrant Wilderness TR--Iceland Lake

Postby windknot » Tue Aug 21, 2012 8:52 am

Thanks for the report, I've always wanted to visit this area.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: Emigrant Wilderness TR--Iceland Lake

Postby DriveFly44 » Tue Aug 21, 2012 10:43 pm

I love that area and have had a lot of fun fishing the Lewis lakes. Thanks for sharing.


Ladd
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Re: Emigrant Wilderness TR--Iceland Lake

Postby backpackerlabelle » Tue Aug 28, 2012 11:39 am

I'm thinking of taking this trek this upcoming long weekend. I have found a few elevation profiles with approaches from the west side of the lakes, but none that capture the route you suggest here. Is it consistent with the 4800 feet I've heard estimated from others? It looks from the topo maps like the cross country stretch (from lewis lake to the saddle and hitting ridge lake at the north) does about 800-1000 feet in a mile or so, sound about right?

That makes for a long day, for sure!

Thanks for any input. I love your blog, by the way, I have been using it heavily as a resource for hikes. I especially appreciate how you arrange it by road, that makes it very useful for planning a trip when folks are coming from different regions of the state.
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Re: Emigrant Wilderness TR--Iceland Lake

Postby balzaccom » Tue Aug 28, 2012 10:11 pm

Thanks for the kind words.

OUr route was slightly different from what you describe. We went up the Summit Creek trail...but within the first fifty yards of hitting Summit Creek above the gorge, we headed directly up the granite. There is a small knob there, we went to the right of it, then more straight up (to get past a slot canyon of pink granite.) Once past the slot canyon, we headed south to follow the small creek there, always staying to the right of the creek. Never got close to Lewis Lakes, and came over the pass into a granite bowl. We contoured around the bowl to the left, and that took us directly to the northern end of Ridge Lake.

If Kennedy Meadows is 6500 feet, the top of this ridge is 9200 or so...3700 feet of climbing. But we camped where the trail hit Summit Creek the first night, then had the full next day to explore Iceland, Ridge and the rest.

Hope that helps....please send us a report on your trip!
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Re: Emigrant Wilderness TR--Iceland Lake

Postby giantbrookie » Tue Aug 28, 2012 10:15 pm

Wow, I missed this when it was originally posted. Nice report on a nifty area. Very interesting observations about Iceland, Ridge, and Sardella with regard to fish populations. I wonder if this means they've stopped air dropping this area. I had figured that the three lakes were self sustaining when I visited them in 1992 because at the time they were being air dropped with goldens but I saw rainbows in all three lakes (so I presumed the rainbows were producing from an earlier time).
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: Emigrant Wilderness TR--Iceland Lake

Postby justm » Wed Aug 29, 2012 7:32 am

giantbrookie, I was camped at a high point above upper Lewis lake where I could see both upper lewis and Sardella lakes. While Upper Lewis was bubbling with rising fish in the evening, Sardella was flat and still. I fished it the next morning with no luck,Saw nothing moving. Same thing at Iceland lake, except I saw tadpoles there. Both Sardella and Iceland lakes have a poor inflow and outflow. On the other hand, all three Lewis lakes and Ridge lake have a robust year round glacier fed inflow and out flow with excellent fishing. I don't think they're going to plant any of those lakes anymore.
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Re: Emigrant Wilderness TR--Iceland Lake

Postby balzaccom » Wed Aug 29, 2012 8:53 pm

balzaccom wrote:Thanks for the kind words.

If Kennedy Meadows is 6500 feet, the top of this ridge is 9200 or so...3700 feet of climbing. But we camped where the trail hit Summit Creek the first night, then had the full next day to explore Iceland, Ridge and the rest.



Some of you may have noticed that 6500-9200 is 2700 feet, not 3700 feet.

The rest of you probably didn't do well in math in the third grade. :eek:
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Re: Emigrant Wilderness TR--Iceland Lake

Postby backpackerlabelle » Tue May 21, 2013 11:07 am

This is a long overdue report out on this trip!

We followed the excellent suggestion of several members on this forum and took a Labor Day trip into Emigrant last year. Wanting to avoid the crowds (especially since we were a bit of a crowd ourselves) we opted to venture off trail and up to Ridge and Iceland lakes.

Knowing we had a long day ahead of us, we got an early (~7 am) start to the day. Kennedy Meadows trailhead is at a semi-developed resort area which requires payment for parking, but you can park up the road for free so we shuttled in packs and then parked down the road. We headed out from the Kennedy Lakes trailhead and enjoyed the trail up, past old mining equipment and up to Relief reservoir. I had heard there was a lot of stock, and we definitely saw the signs but didn't have to deal with too many animals ourselves. Not far past the reservoir, we reached a point on the trail where we could see our ultimate destination. It was a great vantage point.
where we're headed.jpg
The vantage point showing where we're headed. You can just make out the distinctive ridge over Ridge Lake.


Not too long after the reservoir, we reached the junction in the trail and headed away from Kennedy Meadows and towards Summit Creek. At this point, we were just north but very close to where Summit creek joins up with the Lewis Lake outlet creek (let's call is Lewis Creek.) Having read the trail reports of others, we decided this would be the place to stop and refresh ourselves while we contemplated the off trail venture. We hit the confluence around noon and were delighted with the creek, it was a great spot to refill water and soak our feet.
summit creek frefresh.jpg
Refreshing and refilling at Summit Creek.


We had read one report that suggested going slightly right of a granite knob, but we had headed a bit further east and saw an approach going back west and more or less straight up the slab (just to the left of the knob feature). The off trail here is easy, steep and exposed but manageable. We headed up between two small peak formations on the east side of Iceland and Ridge lakes.
x country.jpg

x country 2.jpg
cross country - up the slab!


Once we topped out the small ridge between the two peaks, we ended up across a wide bowl from another ridge. It was easy enough to traverse across the bowl and get to the other side.
top of one ridge.jpg
top of the ridge overlooking the wide bowl


We headed a bit far to the south and popped out right by Ridge lake. Much to our chagrin, despite our early start, a few others had beat us up there and snagged the best spot at the unbelievably beautiful Ridge lake. Not to be deterred, we headed back west in search of Iceland. After a brief and confused stop at an unnamed and pollen choked little lakelet, we discovered the large and accommodating Iceland lake just north. There were campsites on the shore, but we opted to hop onto a small island that offered many flat tent spots, though it was very exposed.
ridge lake 1.jpg
Ridge Lake

iceland lake 1.jpg
Iceland lake - beautiful. You can see the distinctive ridge that gives Ridge lake it's name in the background.

kennedy meadows from iceland.jpg
Kennedy Meadows from Iceland Lake



Though we were exhausted, that night offered a full moon and we hiked up to the small round peak just at the southwestern edge of Iceland lake. This afforded us moonlit views of the entire Kennedy Meadows valley, down to Relief reservoir, where we could even see the headlights on Highway 108 off in the distance. The full moon shining on that granite slab and Iceland lake is more beautiful than words can describe.
iceland lake nightscape.jpg
full moon nightscape


The next day, rather than staying up at Iceland lake for two nights, we decided to head back down and try to find a campsite below fire level. Before heading back, we all stuck around and swam in the icy cold lake (even in early September!), and two of our crew were motivated to climb Granite Dome. They headed from the west and were able to make it to the top and back down in about three hours. Fortunately, they had the smarts to bring a couple beers and stash them in the ice that remained on the ridge and were able to reward themselves with a few ice cold beers. ;)

Early afternoon we sadly bid adieu to the gorgeous basin and struck out. We headed back in more or less the same direction, but ended up a bit too far south and west coming down off the ridge, closer to the outlet from lewis lakes. I do not recommend this route, as the granite slabs were broken up and we encountered a few places we had to either jump down or take a long detour to the side. The creek coming out of Lewis has a lot of elevation and is a bit gulchy. However, if you head further north away from the lake outlet and to the wide flat area just south of the confluence of the creeks, the terrain is manageable and would probably make a better approach than we had initially taken up to the lakes.
headed down.jpg
Headed back down - you can see the distinct difference in geology facing the more volcanic soils on the east side of the Summit creek watershed.


We came out onto the trail above the confluence of Lewis creek and summit creek and found many nice campsites just off the trail above the confluence. We had a great night with a beautiful fire, lots of whiskey, and many happy smiles with the adventure we had enjoyed.

Summary: This trip is physically demanding if you want to make it up to Ridge / Iceland, but is extremely rewarding. The off trail takes time but is not inherently difficult if you're armed with a topo map and the skills to read it.
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