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McGee Creek & Hortense Lake questions

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McGee Creek & Hortense Lake questions

Postby Telkwa » Fri Sep 08, 2006 7:05 am

Good morning!
One of the folks from the Rock Creek/East Sierra forum introduced me to this forum.
We just got back from a trip originating at Mosquito Flats, the end of the road past Rock Creek Resort. Can anyone tell me about the McGee Creek trailhead, one valley north of Rock Creek? I'm curious about the amount of traffic on the road (someone picked us up from Tom's Place after just 10 minutes of hitchiking), vandalism, etc.
The Rock Creek road extends further into the mountains, but McGee gets you directly into the next valley system north of Mono Creek.
We passed by Izaak Walton Lake on this latest trip, and I'm looking for the most direct way back there. What I'm seeing so far is McGee to Tully, then xctry thru the Cotton Lake area to Izaak (we came down from Cotton on this trip). Other ideas from the east? I didn't see any easy passes north out of the Mono Creek basin.
Or possibly come in from Thomas Edison, past all those Indian-named lakes, then past Tully's Hole, Horse Heaven, and xcntry up the granite bluffs to the west of Izaak's drainage. We came down those bluffs, and they're a bit more complicated than expected, but nothing technical.
Has anyone gone past the Indian Lakes, started down the drainage, then turned east at roughly 9500' elevation and traversed to Hortense? Izaak should be easypeasy from Hortense. This looks doable on the map but you know how that goes.
Thanks for any input!



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Postby giantbrookie » Fri Sep 08, 2006 7:35 am

McGee Creek doesn't get nearly the traffic of the Rock Creek/Little Lakes Valley road/trails, probably because there are not nearly as many hiking options from there. Whereas Little Lakes Valley offers very easy dayhike destinations, the first lake along the McGee Creek trails is much further in (Big McGee on the main trail, Steelhead on a spur). I've never had vandalism problems at McGee, but, on the other hand, I've been fortunate enough never to have had any such problems at any Sierran trailhead in 40 some odd years of hiking there.

There are two passes out of the McGee Creek drainage that offer passage west of the crest: the McGee Pass itself on the trail going to Fish Creek, and Hopkins Pass, an easy cross country pass leading to Hopkins Creek of the Mono Creek drainage.

McGee does in fact provide a direct way to Izaak Walton and environs, although by the time you get to Hortense one can argue that it may be just as convenient to come in from Coldwater (Mammoth Lakes). Edison approaches (especially with boat ferry) can be fairly quick too, if one goes out past Mott Lake and the lakes above and a cross country pass leading toward Tully Hole (forget name of pass; it's listed in Secor). There is also a very entertaining, adventurous way in via Convict Canyon, wherein one drops in on Purple Lake via the Ram Lakes.

Regarding your Indian Lakes to Hortense traverse, I've thought about that on a topo, but haven't done it myself . I recall there is someone else on this board that has actually done this route. There is an earlier thread ( this forum and this particular category) on cross country routes in this area; I believe Krudler is the originator of that thread. When my wife and I visited Hortense it was on a dayhike from Virginia Lake which we reached from Mammoth. I had planned to visit it this past summer by including it in a big 4-day loop out of Edison that included Big Margaret Lake, Minnow Creek drainage (Anne, Peter Pande), Hortense, Feather Lake, etc., mostly connected by cross country routes.

I guess the bottom line is that you have a lot of options to choose from in terms of possible routes into the Izaak Walton/Hortense area. If you are with a party of more than one vehicle, you could even do a shuttle between Mammoth and McGee or visa versa (if Convict is involved, it is a good idea to go out of there because finding the key pass west to east is much harder than the other way around). In any case, the Mammoth, McGee, and Edison approaches are all viable and offer their own advantages.
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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Postby TehipiteTom » Fri Sep 08, 2006 10:43 am

I've done Cotton to Hortense via Izaak Walton, and it's a nice route--just enough challenge to make the routefinding interesting, not so much that it's really frustrating. We did not traverse to the Indian lakes from Hortense; instead, we dropped down to Fish Creek and met up with the JMT at the bridge. That would add a climb if you're headed for the Indian lakes (we were going on to Cascade Valley), but it might still be easier than the traverse.

On the map, it looks like the most direct route to Izaak Walton would be over the col northwest of Bighorn Lake...but from Izaak Walton it looks cliffy on the north side, so no guarantees there. Probably snow cornices in early season as well.
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Postby SSSdave » Fri Sep 08, 2006 1:39 pm

I've been into the upper Fish Creek headwaters several times as I love the wonderful metamorphic rock scenery to the east. Last fall I detailed out a 9-day group backpack trip that addresses a route to Hortense Lake from directions you've mentioned. I'm not one to waste effort on trails if there are wiser ways to reach places crosscountry. I and some of those I often backpack with are certain to do the trip within the next few summers. Our trip will start at Edison and visit Graveyard Lakes the first day, then will go over Goodale Pass to stay near Papoose Lake a day. Next on the JMT going north down towards Fish Creek, we will turn offtrail at about the 9440 elevation and work our way northeast up the slopes in order to reach the northwest area of Hortense. Although the topo lines indicate it is moderately steep in places and there are likely to be some areas of talus and glacial monolithic rock slabs, I'm pretty confident there won't be any serious impediments. Then after a few days in the upper Fish Creek basin, we'll head south over the well used cross country pass north of Bighorn Lake on our way back to Edison. Note in the past I've gone up from Horse Heaven along the creek to Izaak Walton Lake which is a class 1 walk. ...David

http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?lat=37. ... &layer=DRG
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Postby cgundersen » Fri Sep 08, 2006 3:41 pm

Hi Telkwa,
Giant brookie did a comprehensive job on this, but if you're keen for a bit more perspective, check the earlier question from krudler on page two (Silver Divide XC route: Warrior to Hortense). I'm a fan of heading into that area from the east, but either way, it'll be striking!
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Postby Telkwa » Fri Sep 08, 2006 4:49 pm

Wow, everyone, thanx for the great replies! The internet sure has changed things from the days when we went into the mountains with no more than a beat-up USGS map and high hopes...
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Postby quentinc » Fri Sep 08, 2006 9:42 pm

To add to what Giantbrookie and others have said -- the McGee trailhead is one of my favorite, even though it starts out at a paltry 7600 or so feet. You are immediately in an incredibly colorful red and white panoply of mountains (culminating with Red Slate and Red & White on either side of the pass -- Red Slate is an easy class 2 climb from the pass with a terrific view). And if you're going at the end of Sept/early October, the aspen trees are fantastic.

Also, if you chose to go over Hopkins Pass, be aware that there is now a trail there, so it's really Class 1. The trail starts far to the southwest -- if you look for a direct route over Hopkins it looks nightmarish. In fact, in one of my stupider ventures ever, I came down Hopkins once in a direct line (unaware of the trail), and it was one of the scarier descents with a full pack I have ever made.
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Postby krudler » Tue Sep 12, 2006 7:45 am

Just got back from this area! (trip report eventually forthcoming...)

All I can say is, it is a fantastic place. However, we had an extended trip and went from Red's Meadow all the way up Cascade Valley and then up to Hortense, then x-c over to Mace/Izaak/Cotton/Tully Lakes, and out over McGee.

The McGee trailhead seems "safe", we left the 2nd car there for 9 days with no problem. My pal left his keys in my car, however, but I was even able to hitch a ride from McGee back to Mammoth with a couple of very nice dudes to get back to my car.

Having been to this area a couple times now though, I can say that I would NOT, EVER, go in that way via McGee. It was a great way to come out but going in and up that way is a very long, brutal slog to get over the pass. I think a better, and no longer, route is what was mentioned earlier and I have done before which is to go over Duck Pass from Coldwater and either descend to Cascade Valley from Purple Lake or follow the JMT to Virginia and then down to Tully Hole. Either way once you get to Tully, the way I got up to Hortense was not too difficult. The trail that leaves the JMT to go to Horse Heaven, shortly after the trail splits there is a log crossing over Fish Creek. At that point we left the trail and started up, veering to the right (south/west) somewhat in the direction of the outlet creek. I think you could follow the creek all the way up but I'm not sure of a certain section about 2/3 of the way up. We basically contoured up off to the left of the outlet creek and then a little more left towards the top. There is a bit of a ridge there, basically just followed it up to the lake and came out at the lake right by the outlet. I was pretty stoked I was able to do this and come out right where I had planned. Theres a pretty good campsite right there too, nice views. FYI there are no fish in the lower, island-riddled end of the lake that I could tell, but plenty of brookies in the upper end. You can walk all the way across the "island bridge" in the middle of the lake to the other side, it is an easy traverse.

Report and pics coming tonight, I promise!
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