With a brightening sky of Saturday July 21 dawn, we were quick to rise, push our gear back into packs, and at 6:20am began moving up a gradual 700 foot climb towards a broad ridge top. Fresh with strength in pleasantly cool early morning air, we stopped frequently as is our style on every convenient set of boulders and logs. By time the first rays of sun were shining on the trail we had topped out and were then rounding the ridge where at the 3.5 miles point we came to Cold Creek with lush creek side vegetation below a lodgepole pine forest. There at 7:45am we took our first 20 minute break, another feature of our style that has a strategy of easing the effort of carrying such heavy packs. Backpacking carrying a load one-half one's body weight requires a different approach versus usual 25% or so most folks carry.
I shoved some granola into my system and with a few mosquitoes about and with more sure to visit further ahead, applied some 100% DEET to my hands, wrists, and face, the only unprotected skin they might attack. In the Sierra we've learned to not mess around with usual diluted insect repellants. Although one will hear some claim that at times Sierra mosquitoes will bite regardless of whatever repellant one has applied, don't believe such as it is just loose talk. Not only do they not bite even in dense swarms after 100% DEET is applied, but most will not ever come close as though the smell deters them. Both of us wear large bill sun caps with detachable neck and ear drapes, the most important piece of clothing to keep mosquitoes away because they naturally attack in the back of animal heads out of view of eyes especially ears. Mosquito's proboscis cannot penetrate the thick synthetic weave of our ripstop nylon shells. Likewise they cannot stick through heavy cotton blue jean weaves. I almost never wear shorts because I am often traveling crosscountry through rough abrasive brushy and granite landscapes, it keeps horse apple trail dust off my legs, protects from the harsh high altitude sun, and as noted is an element eliminating mosquitoes. We passed a solo hiker's camp who had ineptly hung his food bag in a short thin pine chuckling because it was an example of why wilderness policy no longer recommends bear bagging from tree limbs. Where the trail crossed the creek to the north side, I splashed through in the water in my Vasque Bitteroot GTX boots while Joe chose a log.
The trail continued east along the northern forest periphery of long Graveyard Meadows then doglegged north gradually climbing up the glacial granitoid canyon. The meadow is grazed by cattle and horses walk the trail both of which are carriers of giardia lambia. Since neither wear diapers, water in the creek is not safe to directly drink without filtering. Past peak wildflowers were abundant in the shady forest understories while secondary stream channels had long dried up. Joe was carrying a water filter we made good use of. Cold Creek remained a vigorous stream and we noticed pan sized eastern brook trout were darting for cover in pools. By 10:30am we had reached the 6.5 mile point at 9350 feet below Upper Graveyard Meadows where we took our second 20 minute break. There we planned to venture the one-mile crosscountry towards the lowest Graveyard Lake 500 feet above instead of taking the tedious horse trail.
Well my crosscountry route wandered a bit east of where I intended to climb that brought us through mildly tedious terrain. Now near 5 miles we were running out of gas and stopped even more. However because we were so close now, we also kept pushing on just to get the strenuous effort over with and that tired us even more. Well by about noon we eventually reached the rectangular shaped lake and headed around to the southwest shores where we dropped our packs and stumbled slowly about looking for a camp spot.Acme.com topographic map of Graveyard Peak area
This lowest of the Graveyard Lakes I refer to as 1a, is surrounded by a lodgepole pine forest with granite peaks rising beyond. There are 10 lakes in the basin not including shallow ponds, with rectangular shaped 1a the second largest that has 7 lakes draining into it from two watersheds, 2a, 3a, 4a, 5a, 6a and 2b, 3b, 4b.
On these west shores were a few lakeside camp spots with large rock circle campfire pits illegally close to the lake edge. I was dismayed to find most visitors on this side of the lake had obviously been using these spots and almost no groups had used perfectly usable spots at legal 100 foot plus distances. This is a common situation with weak minds because people notice other groups have been camping there, don't want to walk up the easy hill, so rationalize it is ok to camp close to the water. One spot had a large fireplace about 20 feet from the lake. Although it is legal to have campfires at the lake since it is below 10000 feet, these same easily influenced types of backpackers when above that elevation will often use similar lame rationalizations to make campfires if they can see a recently used firepit at their camp spots. We chose a spot at the top of a now dry talus outflow meadow bench maybe 50 feet vertical above the lake below lodgepoles and decorated with blue petals of lupine and greenery.
I set up my Big Agnes UL1 tent, tossed in gear, set up my cooking gear, then headed back down to a turfy lake edge where I dipped into the moderately cool waters and then laid out on a granite slab. I quickly noticed brook trout feeding on surface insects. One mosquito visited and squash. I only applied repellant once in the morning for the section along Cold Creek. Up at these lakes they were scarce so little bother. After pumping water, I was back up at camp then got my MSR Whisperlite burning and cooked a Mountain House turkey tetrazzini rice freeze dried meal. Now mid afternoon with temps in the low 60F's with an easy breeze rustling the pines, we could see some small thunderstorm buildups to the east on the Sierra Crest but it was obvious our zone on the Silver Divide would though partly cloudy remain dry. The meal down, my quite weary weak body was finally ready for a long nap and I in fact I slept for over an hour. Note blue lake waters between the pines.
At 3pm I marshaled enough attitude to eject from the lethargic confines of the tent so decided to survey the local area. But I moved slowly with weakness noticing my heart rate was racing at 92 beats per minute instead of 60 in part to make up for the low oxygen levels at these elevations. Thus with my SX130 and map in hand began wandering about. Less weary Joe, had already been about and even climbed up talus to view lake 2a at 10035 feet. The stream between the two lakes was in fact fully beneath moderate sized talus its whole way. Because of permanent snow at Graveyard Peak's shady north facing east cirque at 10700, the stream always has at least a little running water. Also on the lake's north shore was the now dry stream from lakes 2b.
Joe reported there was a pond and willow meadow on a bench just above us. So I walked up and noticed the shallow pond surrounded by a turfy rim with wildflowers was in a good location for early and late light cloud and sky pictures so I immediately surveyed its photographic potential. In a few weeks it would be dry thus a reason it was not on the map. From an overlook dome bluff (image at page top), I could see the large bright green turfy meadow below fed by our lake's outlet stream that I had intended to come through on my route up but missed.
In the distance was the impressive form of familiar Seven Gables and the Mount Hooper ridge. Snow on the northern exposures of those high peaks appeared to be what one might see in late August.
I wandered down to our lake edge and despite feeling weak, as soon as I again saw the illegal fire pits, decided to dismantle two. So tossed the hefty rocks about in the nearby tenting spots and with a stick scattered the black coals all about making the notion of tenting there less appealing.
As I set up to take a picture of lupines and the lake,
a big doe peered at me from the fire pit apparently looking for some left over morsels I might have stirred up.
The rest of our afternoon moved along sluggishly and even Joe didn't bother to unpack his rod. At sunset I climbed up to the pond with my SX130 but the air west over the valley was obviously rather hazy with pollution and water vapor. For several minutes I observed a pika scurrying about on the pond mud flats making a dinner of dead insects. Tracks in the soft dark mud held an interesting history of visiting local birds and animals. For a brief minute some better light poked through and lit up 13040+ foot Seven Gables, a summit I climbed along the impressive north ridge of in 1980.
We quickly retired and hoped for a long night of restful reviving sleep. Both of us rise early out in the backcountry whether trail or layover days. On trail days we are often packing up during dawn and quickly on our routes while temperatures are cool without bothering to make any hot breakfast and do not have caffein habits. On layover days we may bother to heat up some hot chocolate and make hot oatmeal.
Next:Day 2 Sunday July 22