TR: Graveyard Lakes-Fish Creek-Big Margaret Lake 8/31-9/8/2018

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TR: Graveyard Lakes-Fish Creek-Big Margaret Lake 8/31-9/8/2018

Post by mcgenes » Sun Sep 16, 2018 7:14 am

Me and two buddies planned this trip with much assistance from HST (thank you everyone).

Our original plan was:
Graveyard Lakes
Peter Pande Lake
Lost Keys Lake
Sharktooth Lake
Big Margaret Lake
Devil’s Bathtub

On the trail, we cut Sharktooth from our plans. There were no trip reports on HST, the Prather Ranger said she hadn’t been in there in a couple of years, and the only weather on our trip was expected to hit when we were at Sharktooth Lake. So...we decided to go the long way through Fish Creek. Here are the details and some pics.

Day 1: We started from Lake Thomas Edison on the Goodale Pass trail at about 2pm after driving up from the Bay Area. We hiked to the end of Graveyard Meadows, just before it starts to ascend. Camp was ok, but the meadows were beautiful, especially at sunset. Lots of birds in the area, but we didn’t see any people.
Day 2: We hiked to the top/big Graveyard Lake. There were lots of people and dogs at the first Graveyard Lake, but we had the upper lake to ourselves, which was good because there aren’t many places to camp. Took a hike around to see the rest of the Graveyard Lakes.
Day 3: Went over Silver Fox Pass (?) to Peter Pande Lake. I found the entry to the higher “trail” that heads over to a grassy knoll, which seemed to be a better descent, but my partners were guys and didn’t mind a little talus. I have deep malice for talus, and I was an unfriendly trip partner after an hour of descending down it with 8 days of food on my back. But all that was quickly forgotten when we reached Peter Pande Lake. It was beautiful, and there was a ton of camping. I was a little peeved to see two tents set right on the trail around the lake, but what can you do? They were the only others at the lake and appeared to be off on a day hike/climb. We didn’t see them until dusk. In the meantime, we did a day trek to Anne Lake based on the recommendations here, and it was a very nice lake.
Day 4: I didn’t want to miss Olive Lake, so we cross-countried over to it via a couple of easy chutes.
Then we headed for the Minnow Creek Trail. The trail out of Olive is noted as “unmaintained” on the Harrison map, but recent work had been done here and the trail was cleared of deadfall. We had met a volunteer trail crew at the Graveyard Lakes junction that had been working in the area for a week. Maybe they made it this far.

The Minnow Creek Trail was also noted as seems most of the trails on our trip were in this state. Minnow Creek was in good shape, though. Lost Keys Lakes were our destination, and the sign at the trail junction had a set of keys resting on it (cute). I wondered if people were adding a key when they visited, but there were only four keys on the ring, so probably not. We knew there was a group ahead of us planning to camp at the lakes, and we saw them at the first (middle) lake, so we headed to the upper lake. I liked the granite wall behind the lake.
Day 5: We headed back down to the Minnow Creek Trail from Lost Keys, with Fox Meadow/Fish Creek as our destination. We tried to see the Sharktooth trail junction as we passed, but couldn’t find it. So be it. Once we were on Fish Creek, there was a ton of deadfall. Not much of it was on the trail, but there were years of debris.
We camped near the bridge at Island Crossing. The campsite was underwhelming, but Fish Creek reminded me of a mini version of the lower Kings River where I have fished a lot - it was a “freestone creek”. I should mention here that every piece of water we saw held fish - mainly 4-6” brookies. I’ve never seen so many fish on my trips before, and was sorry I didn’t get my act together and purchase a Tenkara before the trip as I had planned.

While we were in low elevation and camped in an established packer camp, we had an extraordinary evening. We expected weather on this day, and as we sat in camp making dinner, a breeze kicked up - the kind that usually brings a squall. We looked up Fish Creek and could see dark clouds headed our way, and we heard some thunder. It was kind of fun to watch the weather arrive, and even more enjoyable when it stopped short of our camp. We could smell and see the rain in the distance, but it never came to us!

To be continued...
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TR: Graveyard Lakes continued

Post by mcgenes » Sun Sep 16, 2018 7:20 am

Day 6: We started early on this day because we had to ascend about 3000’ feet, most of it in the first couple of miles...and we didn’t know the condition of the trail out of Fish Creek. As it turns out, the Silver Creek Trail in this area is amazingly engineered. The inner turns of the switchbacks were reinforced with big stones that stand to this day. We even saw signs of wooden railings at either end of the ascent. I thought I was in Yosemite. We also saw the bones of a horse/mule spread out on the trail - wonder about that story. The trail was overgrown, with the sections along the creek the most choked with brush. Still, it wasn’t bad to amble through and we never lost the trail.
At the top, we had excellent views toward Devil’s Postpile and to the West. After the steep climb section, the trail became very hard to follow. There were a lot of downed trees and it would be hard to find the trail on the other side. Grassy areas are dotted with granite outcroppings through this section, and we could usually pick up cairns on the granite, but the meadows were hard. Fortunately, the terrain here is pretty straightforward, so you can’t really get too far off the trail. We found a nifty granite park where Silver Creek flowed through crevices and made camp. There was a pool with a bunch of 6” brookies swimming around, and a hole in the granite that was spewing water like a hose.

Day 7: We picked up the trail again and headed to Big Margaret Lake. It was a bit easier to follow in this section, especially with landmarks like the Cockscomb, and we actually came to a signed junction where we turned off for Baby Lake. That was a fun ascent on granite to a very pretty lake.
We had lunch at Baby Lake and then continued on past Rainbow Lake to Big Margaret Lake. We hadn’t seen anyone for the past two days, and we were again alone at Big Margaret Lake.
Day 8: One of my partners has a soft spot for Devil’s Bathtub, so we all agreed to head there cross country. Once we got up to the 11,000’ tarn, I saw a land of talus up to the pass. Oh joy. There was also a rocky chute straight up, so we went there. Probably not the best choice, because it had a class 3 section near the top. Right about this time, one of my buddies said, “look - we are above the pass”....grrrrr. We all survived and had a nice view from near the pass looking toward Devil’s Bathtub.
We took the easiest route down to a really beautiful meadow area above Devil’s Bathtub, and the walking was pretty easy from here on out, despite a 3000’ descent. We spent the night at Devil’s Bathtub and made it back to VVR the next day by 11:00. Showers, pie and then home!
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Re: TR: Graveyard Lakes continued

Post by windknot » Sun Sep 16, 2018 10:18 pm

Thanks for the report and photos! I've been through some of the area along your route and your report is reminding me that I still want to visit some of the others as well. Glad you had a great trip!
You can read a few backcountry reports here:

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