Full TR: Mono/Parker Pass>Devils Post Pile>Tuolumne Meadows

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knick11
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Full TR: Mono/Parker Pass>Devils Post Pile>Tuolumne Meadows

Post by knick11 » Thu Aug 31, 2017 12:36 am

Dates: Sunday, August 13, 2017 - Friday, August 18, 2017
Duration: 6 Days
Distance: 76 Miles
Group Size: 4 (became 3)

Route: Mono/Parker Pass > Devils Postpile (via PCT) > Tuolumne Meadows (via JMT and Minaret Loop)

This trip was a memorable one, as they usually are. Having done a trip of similar length in less time (High Sierra Trail / 78 Miles / 5 Days), I knew this trip would be doable and worth it. But this was also an uncharted area of the Sierra for me, an area I've always wanted to visit, AKA the Ansel Adams Wilderness. One thing I have learned going into this trip was that there is always something that doesn't go to plan. Sure enough, something unpredictable happened on this one as well...

Day 1 - Sunday, August 13, 2017:

Route: Mono/Parker Pass Trailhead > Alger Lakes (12 Miles)

This day was intentionally one of the shortest for several reasons: 1) Acclimatization - We had come up from the Bay Area the day prior, would be going over Koip Peak Pass (12,300 ft), and would be camping at Alger Lakes (10,600 ft). 2) Permit - We managed to show up only 4 minutes after the wilderness office closed at Tuolumne Meadows (thanks largely to a slow driver of Tioga Road), so we had to wait for the office to open the next morning, delaying the start of our hike. 3) Elevation Gain - This day would end up being one of our bigger climbs of the trip.

After obtaining our permit, we drove to the trailhead at Mono/Parker Pass. Our first stream crossing was less than 10 minutes in, but easy, nonetheless. Everything was so green. It felt much more like late Spring than mid Summer, and the mosquitoes were in full force. We managed to pass a few fellow backpackers and day hikers, but once we forked off on the Parker Pass trail, we saw NO ONE until mid-day the following day near Gem Lake. The trail was pretty wet going up to Parker Pass, but easy to navigate otherwise and plenty of water. Traversing from Parker Pass to the base of the switchbacks at Koip Peak Pass required a few snow and water crossings, but again, nothing treacherous. I had spent a good amount of time trying to spot out where the switchbacks were going up to Koip Peak Pass once we left Parker Pass. They are impossible to miss on a map, so surely I would find them on the actual mountain. I looked at one of the steepest slopes in front of me, thinking "that can't be it," only to realize they were in fact the switchbacks, and from that moment I knew the rest of the day would be tough. Sure enough the switchbacks were a slow going, but we eventually reached the pass, where it was windy and smoke (probably from the Wawona Fire) started to blow in. After a lengthy rest at the pass and taking in the views, we headed down to Alger Lakes, which seemed so close. However, it took awhile to reach them, including some loose rock and snow crossings, along with steep switchbacks. We camped near the south end of Alger Lakes. As we were readying for bed, it became extremely windy, cold, and very smoky. We could not see more than 100 yards through the smoke by nightfall as we went to bed.
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Re: Full TR: Mono/Parker Pass>Devils Post Pile>Tuolumne Mead

Post by knick11 » Thu Aug 31, 2017 12:48 am

Day 2 - Monday, August 14, 2017

Route: Alger Lakes > Upper Soda Springs (18 Miles)

This day started out with 2 great things: Crystal clear skies and a gorgeous sunrise :D This day was always conceived as the "long day." And it ended up being even longer than planned. The hike from Alger Lakes to Gem Pass was pleasant, with a hazy sunrise to watch. We encountered a fork in the trail just before Gem Pass - one that led down to switchbacks over the pass, and one that traversed straight across to the top of the pass. Obviously, we chose the traverse, but we were greeted with a large slope of snow that we had to navigate around to maintain the trail. In the end, it probably would have been just as efficient to take the switchbacks. Once crossing Gem Pass, we started seeing people for the first time in over 24 hours, a bittersweet realization. This is where the downhill to Devils Postpile began, and this is also where the unpredictable began. A member of our group had blown out his knee several years ago in high school, and his knee was really starting to bother him, so much so that we found ourselves stopping much more often than we would have liked. Questions about the shuttle from Agnew Meadows to Mammoth were also starting to circulate. Similarly, being unfamiliar with the area, I was unaware that the PCT / High Trail had uphill portions as well. I had just assumed it only descended to Agnew Meadows. This area of the hike was stunning. The view to the west were absolutely amazing and only made me want to hurry to the 3rd and 4th days of the trip, where we would be in the Ritter Range. The trail was heavily overgrown between Agnew Pass and the PCT junction, and it was also flooded and/or muddy in several spots. After getting a 6:30 am start, we managed to get to Agnew Meadows by 4 pm, with all the delays. This is where my friend chose to leave the trip and group and take a shuttle back to Mammoth. This left us as a party of 3, and knowing we wanted to be closer to Devils Postpile, we decided to push on to Upper Soda Springs, where we utilized the campground's amenities before crashing for the night.
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Re: Full TR: Mono/Parker Pass>Devils Post Pile>Tuolumne Mead

Post by knick11 » Thu Aug 31, 2017 12:55 am

Day 3 - Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Route: Upper Soda Springs > Minaret Lake - via Devils Postpile (13 Miles)

This day was one of the most normal days of the trip, minus the scenery, which was surreal. I had always heard of Devil's Postpile, but had never been, giving the only real reason for making the detour to see it. It also gave us a southern terminus to our hike, meaning everything to come was "homeward bound." Outside of a few short stretches on other trips, this was by far the longest stretch of the PCT I had ever done, and my GPS and map were giving me mixed signals about which trail took us directly to Devil's Postpile. After some backtracking, we found the proper route. We replenished ourselves at the campground, and headed up to Minaret Lake. Things really slowed down going up this trail, but given the increasingly stunning views, this was OK. We scored a pretty sweet camp spot next to the lake, caught a time lapse of the sunset, and went to bed.
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Re: Full TR: Mono/Parker Pass>Devils Post Pile>Tuolumne Mead

Post by knick11 » Thu Aug 31, 2017 1:05 am

Day 4 - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Route: Minaret Lake > Thousand Island Lake via Minaret Loop (13 Miles)

This day was full of danger. Going into the trip, we had 2 concerns: 1) Rush Creek Closure and 2) Snow Conditions at Cecile Lake / Iceberg Lake. Luckily the Rush Creek Closure was lifted before our trip, but snow was still persistent at Iceberg Lake, in fact it was still 90% frozen. WE HAD NO SNOW GEAR, only trekking poles. The scramble up to Cecile Lake from Minaret Lake was fun, but our first challenge was met on the East side traverse of the Cecile Lake. I was not anticipating this. In fact, this area resembled much more of what people described the Iceberg Lake traverse as - about a 30-40º slope directly down into the lake. It was early and in the shade, so the surface was slick. We probably had to traverse 200 yards or so, and we managed to do so in about 30-45 minutes with hiking boots and trekking poles, slowly and carefully. One member of the party was MUCH slower with this traverse, but I don't blame him. Instead of waiting for him to traverse, I chose to scout out the ridge dropping down to Iceberg Lake. I was nervous approaching it because I had never seen the terrain before and I had a bad feeling, considering the amount of snow we already had to traverse. Sure enough, the use trail disappeared under snow immediately down what had to be a 60º+ chute. Now knowing a snow descent was not possible, I tried scouting out rock scramble routes down either side of the chute. While doing so, I managed to dislodge a basketball size rock that rolled, exploded, and slid all the way down the snowy slope to the bottom. At this point, I figured we were going to have to turn back 6 miles to the JMT to finish our trip. However, I continued to scout out other possible routes, eventually finding one that traversed through some vegetation and seemed feasible enough to get down to Iceberg Lake. I scrambled about 25% of the way down the slope (without my backpack) before I decided it was possible. After about 2 hours, I scaled my way back up to the rest of my party who were just starting to go look for me. Long story short, we managed to scramble down the slope from Cecile Lake to Iceberg Lake through loose rocks, heavy vegetation, over streams/waterfalls, and eventually onto snow. It was a technical descent, scary at times, exhilarating, and quite a memory, but we made it safely. Other than falling through the snow on the last 3 feet of the traverse, everything ended up OK. Iceberg Lake was completely socked in with snow still. The rest of the day was full of amazing views and eventually building thunderstorms over Yosemite. It took 5 hours to go the few miles between Minaret and Iceberg, but we managed to do so carefully and without snow gear. Going forward, we had to deal with one knee-deep river crossing below Ediza Lake, otherwise the JMT was its roller-coaster self for the rest of the day. By the time we reached Thousand Island Lake, it was getting late, the clouds were clearing, and the sunset and views were amazing yet again.
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Re: Full TR: Mono/Parker Pass>Devils Post Pile>Tuolumne Mead

Post by knick11 » Thu Aug 31, 2017 1:14 am

Day 5 - Thursday, August 17, 2017

Route: Thousand Island Lake > Kuna Creek Fork / Lyell Canyon (11 Miles)

This day was also a pretty normal day. After a long but fairly generous climb to Donohue Pass, we hung out and ate lunch, presented our permit to the awaiting Ranger, and tried to keep our packs away from marmots. The trail was wet most of the way up, with only 1 snow patch to cross near the top of the pass. Given that thunderstorms had formed in the area the day prior, we ensured that we were at the pass before noon. Sure enough we arrive before 11. On this day, the downhill from Donohue Pass into Lyell Canyon really beat up my knees. But we scored another amazing campsite near the trail and meadow and within walking distance to the river, where we went for a dip and refreshed ourselves.
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Re: Full TR: Mono/Parker Pass>Devils Post Pile>Tuolumne Mead

Post by knick11 » Thu Aug 31, 2017 1:16 am

Day 6 - Friday, August 18, 2017

Route: Kuna Creek Fork > Tuolumne Meadows Lodge (9 Miles)

This day was the easiest day, and we knew it was going to be. Knowing the shuttle to Mono/Parker Pass leaves every 3 hours, we tried to finish the hike before noon to catch the 12 pm bus. Again, we managed to get there at 9:06 am, only 6 minutes after the 9 am shuttle left. Fortunately, we found a generous older couple that agreed to give me a ride to the car a few miles up the road, ultimately concluding our trip.

This trip had it all: High elevation, long distances, sore knees, busted feed, lost member of the party, dangerous scrambles, thunderstorms, amazing views, pristine lakes, and so on. Out of all the trips I've done, this one is right up there, but the scenery has hard to beat. Can't wait until the next one! :D
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Re: Full TR: Mono/Parker Pass>Devils Post Pile>Tuolumne Mead

Post by gary c. » Thu Aug 31, 2017 2:10 am

Great report and beautiful pictures. Thanks for taking the time to put it together and share with us.
"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."
-- Lionel Terray

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Re: Full TR: Mono/Parker Pass>Devils Post Pile>Tuolumne Mead

Post by Hobbes » Thu Aug 31, 2017 7:36 am

What a cool trip. Nice way to link together a series of routes to create your own hike. Except for Koip/Alger, I've been on each of those sections. When I first saw the title of your last day, I read 'Kuna *ford*'. LOL That is, I thought you were going x-c to get back up to the Parker trail. (I don't even know if that's possible; however, I do seem to recall seeing Brookie having done it.) PS Did you see any fish in the Alger lakes?

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Re: Full TR: Mono/Parker Pass>Devils Post Pile>Tuolumne Mead

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Aug 31, 2017 7:53 am

Great report and photos. The Koip Crest area and Ager Lakes are not used that much and so beautiful. Had the Rush Creek ban been in effect, you could have traversed above the ban area (I did that a few years back). I went to Alger Lakes to fish, only to find the lakes frozen! Were the lakes still frozen on your trip? My strategy for the snowfield above Iceberg Lake, when I did the SHR, was to wait two hours until a large group came down. I did not have any snow gear either, but walked up in their footsteps. That is a scary route! When you said a ranger checked permits, does that mean a ranger is checking everyone entering Yosemite on the JMT/PCT? Is your 4th guy doing OK with his knee? It must have been very dissappointing to have to quit the trip.

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Re: Full TR: Mono/Parker Pass>Devils Post Pile>Tuolumne Mead

Post by wildhiker » Thu Sep 07, 2017 12:21 am

Thanks for the great trip report and photos. I've done all of those trails, but not on one trip. In fact, your loop would probably take me 9 days! It was amazing to see how green everything was so late in the summer. All my August trips in those areas in previous years were very dry - for example, no snow at all on the traverse between Iceberg Lake and Cecile lake in August 1991.
-Phil

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