I just returned from a trip in the Emigrant Wilderness to introduce a friend new to backpacking to the joys of the backcountry. I planned a very low-key, easy trip since it was her first time. We left the Gianelli TH around 2:00 on Sunday, July 21st and arrived at Powell Lake around 4:00 (slow going due to upset stomach from a too rich sandwich for lunch), jumped into the lake for a refreshing swim, set up camp, ate dinner, and clambered around on the granite piles around the lake until the sun went down. It was warm (over 100 in the valley on the drive from the Bay Area) and the lake water warmer than I remember lakes being in that area in the past. Lots of cloud action but we stayed dry. Mosquitoes were pretty much gone, but the wild flowers still abundant - perfect timing.
Monday morning, packed up and hit the trail by 9:30 It was sunny in the morning but the clouds were already starting to build by the time we started walking; they got steadily thicker as the day went on. All the small seasonal creeks are completely dry between Powell and Toe Jam, and the creek at White Sides Meadow had water but it was very stagnant and I would only have drank it if I were desperate. Fortunately the ranger at the Pine Crest Ranger Station had warned us about the water situation so we made sure to carry enough. The flowers at White Sides Meadow were spectacular though - swaths of purple and yellow against the green grass, or patches of pink interspersed with celadon and little puffs of white, etc. (I'm not good with flower names). We arrived at Toe Jam around 4:00, and quickly set up the tent as by then the sky was completely clouded over and we could hear thunder. For the next two hours there was a lot of loud thunder right above us, a couple flashes of lightening, and some sprinkles - nothing too heavy. We were nervous though, and found a low lying spot in the meadow at the approach to the lake away from the biggest trees and just crouched there, feeling very exposed. It felt so counter-intuitive to be out in the open like that - I had to fight the urge to get under the bigger trees. The thunder finally moved off but the clouds stayed and it continued to sprinkle lightly on and off through the evening. We did finally take a dip in the lake after the thunder stopped - again, the water felt very warm for that elevation and this time of year. The water level here, as at Powell, is normal, but there is no new water flowing in and the outlet creek is completely dry so the water just sits in the sun and gets warmed up. Nice for swimming!
Next morning woke up to completely socked in skies, but at least no thunder that day. We sat around camp all morning chatting and then hiked over to Leopold Lake for lunch and quick swim. The clouds just sat all day - no movement, no wind, and intermittent sprinkles like the day before - so unusual for the Sierra. We were lucky that the precipitation was so light that we were able to be out all day - it could have been a lot worse. Hiked back to Toe Jam and climbed up a couple of the granite knobs at the north end of the lake. Towards sunset the clouds finally started to break up and we were treated to a spectacular show of alpen glow on all the surrounding ridges as well as on a bank of huge cumulus clouds way off to the east. We had Toe Jam to ourselves both nights and the intervening day (I guess the weather kept people away) and that was a real treat. That night the almost full moon finally came out and I got up out of the tent at 3:00 am just to sit and watch the moonlight on the lake for a while. Still very warm - I was comfortable in a single thin wool undershirt at that time of night.
Next morning woke up to clear blue skies - a perfect Sierra morning, more like what I'm used to out there. Packed up and started on the hike out to the TH by 9:30. Small puffy clouds started appearing as the morning went on, but it just made the scenery even more beautiful. Had some great views of the Three Chimneys ridge line to the north as well as all the gentle rolling granite country to the east and south. We've been hiking more in the southern Sierra the last few years, and though the Emigrant doesn't have those high dramatic peaks, it has a subtle and very hospitable beauty all its own. We got back to the TH by 4:00, drove to Pine Crest Lake Resort for a cold drink from the store and a dip in the lake, and started for home. My friend had a great time and swears she is going to make backpacking a regular part of her life.
Unfortunately I don't have photos - I have so many photos of that area from the half dozen trips we have taken there, I decided not to bring the camera this time.
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Thanks for the trip report, I am planning a short backpack in this area late Sept/early Oct with Freddog. Sounds like you had a lovely trip!
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