RC01988-02019-4x1v  12700x6000 pixels  4 frame 4 column 1 row 32 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view            image text section

NEXT:  Page 16   Kaiser Pass
2017 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

Laurel Creek Backpack 8/2
Laurel Creek Backpack 8/3
Laurel Creek Backpack 8/4
Laurel Creek Backpack 8/5
Laurel Creek Backpack 8/6
Laurel Creek Backpack 8/7
Laurel Creek Backpack 8/8

2017 Trip Chronicles:  Page 15

Laurel Creek Backpack 8/22

After returning from the Desolation backpack on a Friday then relaxing over Saturday, by Sunday was working on and gathering gear for a quick turnaround. I needed to fit a week plus trip in before heading north on the long road trip up to Oregon for the August 21 eclipse. Thus did not really have the luxury of waiting for better weather. Thunderstorms had been unusually active so far in this summer of 2017 and would continue to be so through the remaining summer. Weather forecasts showed more storms in the days ahead I would just need to deal with.


RC01429-34  4000x6000 pixels  1 frame 6 image focus stack blend  A6000 60mm extension tube
enlarged vertical slice view            image text section

Early Wednesday morning August 2, I was driving south on US101 opposite the commute traffic, then east on SR140 and down US99 to Fresno where I made pit stops before continuing east on SR168, reaching the Sierra National Forest Prather Ranger Station late morning with the temperature hovering at 102F degrees. A same day walk up 9-day wilderness permit to start hiking out from Edison Reservoir was secured. My itinerary included Second Recess, Laurel Creek, Lower Hopkins Lake, Mott Lake, and Silver Lake but given forecasts, doubted I would see much more than Laurel. I continued up the mountain, past Shaver and Hungtington Lakes, then up the amusement ride like paved road over Kaiser Pass. My Forester however began making strange sounds while turning in steep areas on the epic bumpy one lane paved road that had me wondering if the front end suspension I knew needed new struts and engine mounts was showing itself? That had me slow down even more resulting in my reaching the Vermillion Valley Resort later than expected at 3:25pm, leaving just 35 minutes to take care of several loose ends before their ferry left the dock.

The resort has safe paid parking at the resort that would cost me $20 over a week that I declined and instead just bought a $23 roundtrip ferry ticket. Then drove down 150 feet past the resort to a wide spot in the dirt road I'd noted to park that was out of view of anything at the resort due to dense forest. A spot someone with a rock could break in through a window without notice though that was very unlikely. Thunderstorms were active across the area so the sound of rain drops pattering on my car added a couple unexpected tasks of putting on my rain clothes and pack rain cover over my pack. I had bought some added food on the drive but time was running out dealing with that and other issues. One key task anytime I leave a trailhead is securing the car, moving much into the rear covered storage, not leaving stuff in view through windows thus making its possible contents appear uninteresting. In having to dig into and take stuff out of the main pack compartment, I managed to leave out my tent footprint blue plastic tarp that during the trip would mean I would need to be more careful selecting spots to tent at given my BA UL1's thin tub floor that I'd already patched up with dozens of glue spots. Well I got down to the dock just before 4pm but then everyone had to wait a half hour because of squalls with lightning bolts zapping down at the other end of the 4+ mile long dammed reservoir. That storm moved off towards Recess Peak and Bear Ridge so by about 4:45pm our group of about a dozen sailors were setting out on granite shores at the 7650 foot elevation. Mono Creek map: online acme mapper topo


RC01404-09  4000x5900 pixels  1 frame 6 image focus stack blend  A6000 60mm extension tube
enlarged vertical slice view            image text section

In dim threatening skies, sprinkles, and chilly high 50s temps, I set out east on the very familiar up and down and up trail. It was about a mile and one half to the John Muir Trail/Pacific Crest Trail junction where that trail crosses large Mono Creek at 7900 on a robust bridge. It wasn't long before I was hearing whining given considerable marshy areas all along the bottom of Mono Creek for miles, so stopped to apply DEET to my hands, wrist, and face. Reaching the thru trail, hiking traffic increased. I asked a group of 3 young women about the North Fork of Mono Creek crossing and one related they waded after having looked at the tree trunk crossing downstream that I'd read about. I asked how wide was the trunk, and one spread her hands out only about a foot that told me it was best avoided carrying a heavy pack. At the 8050 creek ford 2.2 miles along, were 3 other men that had just waded the creek that further pointed to not bothering to check out the log crossing. A bunch of willows and dense lodgepole pines obscured that whole area just downstream.

No one else around, I stripped down to my shorts, strung my boots at the top of the pack, and headed across barefoot with the 65 pound load using both hands pushing down on my big tripod with all 3 legs extended and spread upstream for stability. Not as functional as trekking poles but better than a stick. Just upstream, the bare skeleton of a tree was anchored in the stream bed across the first half of the 30 feet or so stream width reducing flow velocity. The water was of course quite cold and my feet painfully slipped around on the rocky cobbles on the bottom, something I've been familiar with over decades. My surfing neoprene boots were back in the Forester, not bringing them a victim of my rush to get to the ferry. It was best to bull my way across quickly pausing little despite cold and pain because the longer in such water, the weaker more incapacitated a person becomes.

The crux just beyond midpoint was fast flowing crotch deep water swirling around both sides of a sizable underwater boulder. My toes painfully jammed between some larger rocks at the bottom as I inched across that section facing and leaning upstream while fighting to keep down force on my tripod. I made it behind the flow protecting underwater boulder. Beyond was a final fast flowing section I just might be able to lurch across into calmer water. I first picked up then pushed down the tripod into the middle of that flow, fighting to stabilize it with force on the bottom. Then leaned against the top of the tripod and with a momentary stall used all the jackrabbit DNA my legs could muster, before lurching. As my lead right foot left the bottom, the flow immediately rocked me downstream some but I pushed off against the tripod top helping push across the gap to slower flow where wobbling awkwardly I then stabilized. Stumbling out quickly from the cold water, glad that was over, spent about 20 minutes putting clothes back on and gear back together. Apparently my right big toe had suffered some nerve damage because it would still be a bit "strange" six weeks later. On my return leg 7 days later would learn the tree trunk crossing was the far better choice as it was over 3 feet in diameter where it spanned the creek while being just a foot in diameter well beyond the west side of the creek where dense willows hid views of the rest of its true size.


RC01391-99  4000x6000 pixels  1 frame 9 image focus stack blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view            image text section

I immediately left the thru trail, heading out cross country on open glaciated granite slabs in order to shorten my route by about a mile versus the normal trail that climbs up along the North Fork before traversing back south across the 500 foot dome separating the two stream branches. That effort required a bit of modest route finding with wet vanilla fragrance of jeffrey pines in the air, and by a bit after 7pm I was over the top at 8450, then descended into the jungle at the bottom of the main Mono Creek canyon. With off and on sprinkles increasing, dark clouds above, much wet all over, mosquitoes agressive, and sunset approaching, I did not entertain the night hiking option considered before the trip, so did not waste time before looking for a place to camp. At 8170 feet saw a granite outcrop amidst all the vegetation, explored that, then hurriedly as light rain began set up my tent atop a mediocre spot that would just have to do. It was then I discovered my ground sheet was not in the pack! I was glad I had already eaten enough during the drive in so did not have to hassle with cooking dinner. I did bother to do a torso dunk by flash light in the cold roaring creek since the 3.5 miles 900 feet of uphill in cool humid conditions left me a bit sweaty, sticky, not a way I prefer to get into my clean down sleeping bag.

At sunrise Thursday August 3, I was out of my tent packing up wet gear as it was, then back on the trail heading up east. It was obvious from the few tracks that I was one of the first backpackers this summer of 2017 venturing up this way. Not surprising since most of the lakes in the side hanging valleys had just melted out or were still covered with snow. Wildflower species along these very lushly green canyon bottoms were at or had passed summer peaks by a week or two. Much of the trail was under shade of its tall lodgepole pine and white/red fir forest. Streamlets from the canyon walls were frequently flowing over the trail.


It was not long before a cloud of whining blood suckers attacked while I sat on a log for a break. Thus out came the tube of Repel 100% DEET. While filling my Nalgene bottle, suddenly my back felt rather itchy. I was wearing the same tight weave nylon shell I've been wearing several years that mosquito proboscis cannot penetrate...well at least in the past. Recalled sending the shell through a hot washing machine cycle just before the trip. Then it dawned on me that I'd used it for too long so the fabric stuck flat against my slightly sweating back was simply worn out. After the trip I tossed the old shell in the trash, replacing it with a second brown shell that is very much impenetrable. For the next hour my back felt like about a half dozen mosquitoes might have gotten through defenses, the most bites from one attack I've had in maybe a decade.

At three miles along at 8560 feet I reached the marshy Second Recess trail junction. At least some trail maintenance workers had reached the area as I noted numbers of freshly cut logs especially aspen, that had been blocking the trail. I walked over to the stream crossing noting it was carrying about twice the volume of the North Fork and would be an unpleasant crossing. No doubt the recent week of thunderstorms had raised stream levels. I continued east as the trail gradient increased, reaching the Laurel Creek junction at 8800 feet, 7 miles from the reservoir. From there the south facing spur trail climbs steeply 900 feet to the brink of its hanging valley. There are many more short switchbacks than the topo trail shows. After rising a hundred feet the canyon bottom forest was left behind changing to open brush slopes of mainly manzanita. It was obvious few mosquitoes were about on these drier slopes so relaxing sitting trailside was more leisurely. It was at these 9k to 10k elevation where most wildflower species were now peaking. My climb to the top showed I was in better shape than expected so was confident I would easily reach my destination zone at 10250 feet, another couple miles plus ahead. Skies were now mostly cloudy and I expected that signaled likely t-storms later.

Near the top, a strong young hiker James, doing Roper's Sierra High Route, came up the trail, and we sat down to talk a good while. He with ice axe and crampons, had just come over snowy Gabbot Pass, down through mosquito infested Second Recess where they had their way with him, impressively crossed difficult Mono Creek, and was heading up over Bighorn Pass, then Shout of Relief Pass, then down to Tully Lake, where he would link up with his gal friend. A strong skier, I gave him some advice on the two passes ahead, and we talked about meeting up some time to ski at Mammoth. Further north after crossing avalanche meadows, where I made the final boulder hopping jump across the creek, James grabbed my hand to stabilize my wobbling landing on a wet slanting boulder, then a short ways beyond I made a pit stop for a longer lunch cooking break as he continued on.

The trail along the east side of Laurel Creek is only visible in a few sections as avalanches off the tall steep canyons walls together with rather light hiker use has moved it close to visible extinction. There were also no signs of recent year horse traffic beyond the canyon brink. But it is easy open cross country much like above Mott Lake in the next canyon west. Wildflowers in wet meadow areas were not quite at peak and above 10k where snow patches were common, the very green meadows showed only earliest species, heathers and aster. By early afternoon I reached my target area, then spent about an hour exploring possible places to base camp. By mid afternoon had tented well away from the creek, atop a slight dome with good views, below whitebark pines. I took an enjoyable dunking in a nearby pond with a large snow bank on one side then lay on a flat granite rock noting just a few mosquitoes were about. By late afternoon, it was obvious a storm was moving in. Rains began about 7pm and continued 4 hours till about 11pm dropping over 1/3 inches of water including a few bouts of thunder. Inside my tent all was nicely dry. A second day had passed with my camera yet to emerge from the day pack.


RC00932-00984-5x2v  14900x8300 pixels  10 frame 5 column 2 row 53 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 60mm
enlarged vertical slice view

unrise Friday August 4, showed mostly cloudy skies with a water vapor hazy atmosphere that did not encourage me to get outside for photography. However by 8am decided I might as well shoot some images in the flat light as insurance in case weather was even worse in coming days. By 9am more blue holes in the clouds showed so I went down stream to a large snow drift where I thought the considerable grandeur of this upper basin was best viewed. Light at the time had an interesting semi diffuse quality and the atmosphere was still somewhat hazy with water vapor. I set up the shot above with my 60mm lens, a large 5 column by 2 row focus stack stitch blend. At frame right, Red and White Mountain at 12816 feet has a range of colorful metamorphic geologies and looks rather different from each of 3 directions with this south facing view the more impressive though it lacks the rusty colors as viewed from the east. The peak at frame left is the right summit of 11604 foot Bowtie Peak. To its right in the background is the north summit of The White Crags at 12238 while the south summit just right at 12200+ is more prominent. To the right of Red and White, the saddle just right of the triangular peak is Gunsight Notch. Large Grinnel Lake is on a large out of view bench below that area. The open meadow below was created by snow avalanches from steep canyon slopes coming down from both sides of the canyon. At these elevations, the location of trees are often at spots out of avalanche paths. For instance, the small group of trees at frame left above the creek has a bedrock knob just above that deflects such snow. However as they grow taller and larger, if any branches protrude above the snow depth, they will be pruned away.

Everything else I spent time on during the morning after the trip looked mediocre after post processing that reinforces my opinion of not bothering to work landscapes in such flat dim light. Back at camp I decided to drag my gear piecemeal without packing up to another site I thought was less lightning prone about 200 feet away. Before setting up camp, I laid out wet gear atop rocks or hung clothing items on a strung cord between trees. After lunch gathered all the dried out items and set up camp. Weather still looked like there would be storms later in the afternoon.


RC01025-30  6000x4000 pixels  1 frame 6 image focus stack blend  A6000 60mm
enlarged vertical slice view

About 2pm with skies still mostly cloudy, went looking for close-up subjects. I was disappointed the area was so early in its wildflower cycle because at peak its considerable turf areas have wonderful clor. But such was not unexpected as I had not had the option of delaying the trip given the eclipse. I worked the above red mountain heather, phyllodoce breweri, one of the first species to bloom soon after snow melts. The yellow flowers are cinquefoil and the spade shaped leaves in the grass, dwarf bilberry.


RC01045-53  6000x4000 pixels  1 frame 9 image focus stack blend  A6000 60mm
enlarged vertical slice view

This next close-up of turf above had me puzzled until going through some post trip research. It appears the oblong oval heads at frame left with yellow changing with age to red anthers are staminate flowers of rocky mountain willow, salix petrophila, a turf species I've never identified in the past. Our alpine turf is an amazingly complex micro world. The pink bell-shaped flowers are the ubiquitous dwarf bilberry, vaccinium cespitosum. At the top of the frame is mountain heather with a single bud emerging.


RC01054-01069-2x1v  7100x6000 pixels  2 frame 2 column 1 row 16 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 60mm
enlarged vertical slice view


Skies kept getting darker. At 2:40pm, I shot the above image of a soft turfy foreground with alpine laurel, kalmia polifolia, Laurel Creek, and the 4 big peaks in the background. Yes the creek is named for a flower, one of the Sierra's 4 common perennial heathers that all bloom early and pink hued kalmia tends to be the first colonizing wet turfy areas. Clumps of its cousin, red mountain heather can be seen across the creek on the well drained hillside gravels it prefers. The lumpy nature of such meadows hides an underworld of small talus turf colonizes atop over centuries.

Afterwards I worked a couple more dim weak subjects then spent a half hour having fun climbing up and down a snow slope boot skiing while recording videos. But about 3:30pm it was time to get back to camp as a real storm began moving over the ridge to the east. And at 4pm rain, bouts of minor hail, some lightning, and thunder began that lasted until after sunset at 8pm with some rain rather heavy. I stayed in my nicely dry tent calling it a day. In the morning, a half inch of water was in a cup and a pan. I had already come to terms with limitations weather was having on my intended itinerary. Since magnificent Laurel Creek canyon had enough strong subjects for me to base camp a whole week, I would be content to continue leisurely working from my current pleasant base camp as long as it took to get a least some good sunny days in.

Day 4 Saturday August 5, dawned with more mostly cloudy skies and in any case the tall 1800 foot ridge topping out at 12k to the east blocked early sunlight keeping temperatures chilly. In fact Laurel Creek has tall steep ridges on three sides, the shadiest of the Mono Creek spur canyons, so a late appearing morning and early afternoon disappearing sun that was reflected its abundance of still melting snows. It is not a destination I would recommend for those photographers interested in early or late light. So after rising late then enjoying some hot chocolate about 8:30am, I bundled up in warm clothes then spent an hour listening to some classic rock music atop my adjacent dome top slabs, image above right, while watching the edge of sunlight slowly creep down the west canyon walls. I always have lightweight collapsible Sennheiser PX-100 II headphones and a tiny SanDisk Sansa Clip+ MP3 player down in my daypack that serves purpose of passing time usually as I wait for weather changes like some cloud slowly blocking light.


RC01172-01197-2x1v  6600x6000 pixels  2 frame 2 column 1 row 26 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

At 10:40am I dropped down to Laurel Creek to a snow bridge across the stream creating a tunnel below. In the above image, the White Crags and Red and White Mountain are in the background under mostly cloudy skies. Note the chunks of snow that had just broken off onto the top a stream boulder that is obviously a too dangerous to cross thin snow bridge. After shooting the stream snow tunnel that was more a fascination than aesthetic, I called it a morning and spent an hour boot skiing down the same slope I'd played on Friday. By 12:30pm with darker clouds increasingly moving over the ridge east, I scurried back to my camp, preparing gear for another round of storms and by 1pm was inside my battle worn Big Agnes UL1 tent and further inside my sleeping bag atop an electrically isolating Thermarest NeoAir Venture air mattress as rumbles of thunder approached.


Well it began to rain with a few of those large single drops that make noticeable splatting sound. And then a moderate rain of increasing intensity as thunder became louder. About 1:30pm intense terifying lightning and thunder were right on top of me as I was glad that I'd moved my camp spot. Loud pea sized hail began pummeling my tent and quickly reached the epic intensity of the storm three of us endured on July 8, 2015 but without snow of that storm.
July 8, 2015 storm story.

Very soon I went into max emergency mode as falling gravity accelerated hail began pounding water through pin holes and water resistant material even strong rain would not have. Additionally temperatures dropped with so much ice and cool water vapor in the air causing considerable condensation to form on the inside layer of my tent fly that the impacting hail would then blast off as mist. So everything inside the tent was becoming wet from mist. I used my day pack rain cover and rain shell to protect the top of my lower Marmot Pinnacle sleeping bag. Hail bouncing and rolling off the wet sagging inward tent walls was piling up at the base of the tent tub floor sides with water now draining beneath the tent and at my foot end some had found a pin hole to start wicking through. I bring 2 long sleeve cotton and one short sleeve cotton t-shirts on trips. The latter became my tent mop as every few minutes I would bend over to reach the far end of the tent and sop up a new puddle. With the UL1, the inside roof of the inner tent is bug mesh so drips from the rain fly first splash against that. Actually water was not dripping but spraying down with force from impacts on the top seam. I hoisted the t-shirt up right against the mesh trying to block the splashing. Hail pounding against the tent and outside landscape was at a loud roar only exceeded by thunderous claps every few seconds. My hand became icy cold and tired from stretching upward as the t-shirt was soon so wet it could not soak up anything more.

But the hail storm went on and on as did the lightning and thunder. The upper inner waterproof walls of my tub floor below the mesh was increasingly dripping water down getting items like my sleeping bag wet. I used my large cotton handkerchief to soak some of that up but the UL1 is so narrow that protecting gear that filled the floor space was futile. I wondered if this was going to be one of those nightmare crest storm scenarios where a really big thunderhead sits atop a peak and does not move, just dumping and dumping? Looking outside beneath the vestibule, I could see a few inches deep of white and began wondering about hail avalanches since the slope directly above my position snow avalanched during winters. After a half hour as a helpless mortal blob of protoplasm, I as a religious person blurted out loud to God in essence that ok yeah You are in control and I am at your mercy. About 5 minutes later it eased up and over the next hour and one half kept raining with occasionally modest hail and lightning thunder but never as intense as that first half hour. I humbly lived through it but could easily imagine not surviving due to hypothermia if such a storm had kept pounding down soaking my sleeping bag and clothing. Over four plus decades I have experienced many thunderstorms and together with the 2015 storm, I can say to others that unless one is in a heavy bombproof 4 season winter tent, that you could some day be tested by a terrifying summer storm as they do occur.


By 4:30pm the final sprinkling rains stopped that gave me a chance before nightfall to do what I could with my gear. After putting on all my warm clothes and sopping up excess water on my inner tent walls, I went outside finding a solid 4 inches of pea sized hail covering landscapes though not like snow since hail tends to bounce off solid objects thus rocky areas were just wet. The next day I found the heavy hail storm only reached north to about Laurel Lake and down canyon a mile or so. Where hail pounded down almost every blooming wildflower and considerable pine needles from trees had been blasted off and onto the white layer. Hail had piled up along the sides of my tent about 8 inches so spent awhile digging all those white marbles off the tent walls as best I could while wearing some thin Gortex gloves. A pot and plastic cup were about 3/4 full of hail and water while a number of small cooking items were somewhere buried beneath the white. My pack with its rain cover was safely below the overhang of a large boulder at camp.


With snow chores complete, I grabbed my photo gear looking for interesting images chronicling the event. After the storm there were many streamlets flowing off canyon walls. At the image at right, a stream of dark debris flowed out over a snow field carving a channel. Hail covered the surfaces of snow that made walking atop snow fields a bit unusual for a couple days.

Per image below top of page right, shot at 7:15pm is wet darkened wood of a whitebark pine trunk carved over decades from winter storms into an intricate piece of art. Note its pile of hail balls at frame bottom. View the detail on the enlarged vertical slice link. (to return here select image text section )

Above that image below page top left, a few feet from my tent shot at 7:20pm, is an old whitebark pine stump preserved by pitch with wet wood darkened by the storm. It strongly contrasts against background out of focus white hail. In front of the stump was a new young green whitebark pine tree.

The image near page top at right was shot about 7:50pm below some willow bushes and shows how the hail blasted leaves, seeds, and twigs onto the hail surface. The red flower petals are from heather.


Stars had shown in the sky overnight and clouds had begun moving from the west instead of south or east so I had hope that a weather pattern change was occurring. As dawn lightened morning skies on Sunday August 6, I saw mostly sunny skies above, so was excited to get outside my tent. A breeze was about so did not expect working water reflections would be productive. The hail had pretty much destroyed any wildflowers in my zone eliminating a primary photography subject type. I dug out cooking gear from under the hail layers then made some hot chocolate. I removed gear from my tent onto boulders and hung clothing via safety pins on my strung cord line. Conditions were looking promising and I was feeling much better about the prospects of salvaging some decent images for the trip. I went back up atop the dome near camp and listened to music again while the sun crept down the west canyon walls. The above image was taken at 9:30am after I returned to camp. Hail atop bedrock and soil areas had quickly melted due to warm ground radiation, however hail atop vegetation, snow, and in shadows was still little melted.


RC01531-01546-3x1v  8200x6000 pixels  3 frame 3 column 1 row 16 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 60mm
enlarged vertical slice view

I went to a snow pool to capture in sunlight a Recess Peak reflection above. Note white objects in pool are rocks on bottom that is otherwise brown. Down at Laurel Creek, the snow bridge had washed away due to high flows during the storm. Afterwards the morning breeze increased and I climbed up higher on the east canyon walls, however photo results were rather mediocre.


RC01680-87  4000x6000 pixels  1 frame 8 image focus stack blend  A6000 60mm
enlarged vertical slice view

On my way in to camp, I stopped beneath a shading grove of tall whitebark pine where yesterday's hail had barely melted. Needles knocked off the trees were dense atop the hail so looked about for an aesthetic subject settling on the above.


RC01728-33  4000x6000 pixels  1 frame 6 image focus stack blend  A6000 60mm
enlarged vertical slice view

After lunch I went looking for more close-up subjects. A subject not far from camp was the above colorful metamorphic rock surface, probably brought down canyon by glaciers from higher in the canyon on Red and White Mountain.


RC01739-43  4000x6000 pixels  1 frame 5 image focus stack blend  A6000 60mm
enlarged vertical slice view

Beneath some willow bushes near camp, was the above hail carnage of fresh green leaves that stand out strongly against the fine granular background of crystalline hail balls. The hail in this subject is not as fresh as with the two previous shown hail surface close-up as 24 hours had now passed. The translucent quality of the leaves receives light not just from above but also from below reflecting back out of the translucent snow. Decades ago I discovered this same phenomenon of enhanced leaf brightness when photographing fall aspen leaves on a breezy day that fell atop fresh snow. Do you see the 2 black ants? Well look at the enlarged vertical slice view.


RC01760-01765-2x1v  6800x5700 pixels  2 frame 2 column 1 row 6 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 60mm
enlarged vertical slice view

By day's end my landscape work remained rather mediocre. At sunset I went back down to the snow melt pool and waited in the chilly temperatures to see if Recess Peak or clouds above might take on color and was rewarded with the decent subject above.

My final opportunity to return with some strong landscapes was dependent on Monday weather. During the night I could usually just see stars in the sky for once so was optimistic although a breeze was about that would probably limit reflection subjects. Since I had dedicated Sunday, my first day with sun down in the canyon, about my camp zone, Monday was going to be up at Grinnel Lake. Satellite images before the trip had been showing snow melting slowly on that bench so the lake could still be mostly snow covered. I would need to get on a route up there at dawn in order to arrive a bit before sun shadowed by the tall east ridge, illuminated that area. In dim dawn I got my gear together and headed out on this Monday August 7, on a route I'd spent some time in the middle of the night going over on the topo. The crux of the route requires surmounting a steep 60% grade 80 foot vertical slab face via a crack. Otherwise the use trail route to the bench is three times the distance. The topo showed there was another possible route directly above my camp but I did not want to gamble that being blocked.


I shook my head after arriving at the slab wall, wondering how I'd managed to convince the group I lead two decades earlier to accept going up through that class 3-4 section. The crux requires grabbing down into a diagonal fist wide crack about 10 feet long while one's body is hanging out in space against the slab about 60 feet above the bottom where falling would likely mean a bloody broken bone death. To move up the crack while two hands grab into the crack above, a toe from one boot pushes along below in the same crack. I do recall a team effort where my climbing friend Doug passed each pack up to me through that section so each person could then free climb without a pack on. On this visit the crack was full of a brushy cinquefoil species. If the same situation was down at ground level without exposure, it would not be much to talk about. I put my camera in the day pack and strapped my tripod onto the back of the pack, then just monkeyed up rather quickly before I had a chance to think too much and get scared.


RC01766-01793-3x1v  9300x6000 pixels  3 frame 3 column 1 row 28 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

Higher up the slope gradient relaxes and I was soon rambling up through a puzzle of terrain that brought me back to Grinnel Lake's outlet creek that had a rather significant flow. I crossed that below a large cascade on boulders then continued up to the bench above holding Grinnel and its outlet pond. Soon was looking at the mile long alpine lake at 10804 feet that indeed was mostly still covered by snow. Although it was melted out in some areas, those areas at this time of morning were covered by an overnight freeze layer. A thin frozen layer I knew would probably not melt till later in the afternoon thus no reflection images were on the menu. On the south side of the lake were large snow fields that extended down into lake waters thus along much of the shore it was difficult to know where the lake edge was. With much of an hour to explore I rambled about and found an excellent turf hummock pond area, one of my favorite elements about Sierra timberlines.

I first worked the image above. Note on foreground snow, a slight layer of pink hued watermelon snow, a green algae, chlamydomonas nivalis. The turf grass becomes less brown and greener with distance from my position reflecting how long before snow had melted out. The breeze was blowing enough that I needed to be content to stay well away from the water accepting a wavy reflection. Note the ice layer at frame corner bottom left and also further away on the left frame edge. That is the south White Crags peak reflecting in one of the only parts of the pond without an ice layer.


RC01811-01849-5x1v  15500x6000 pixels  5 frame 5 column 1 row 39 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

Next I went to the side of the turf pond looking out towards Laurel Creek's west canyon wall as the blue sky was wonderfully deep blue, something I had not yet seen on this trip. It was a good subject for a wide panorama so captured a 5 frame stitch. The two Bowtie Peaks are behind the whitebarks pines frame right. A thin ice layer covers the pool behind the narrow grass "crocodile" peninsula.


RC01967-01987-3x1v  9600x6000 pixels  3 frame 3 column 1 row 21 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

Three subjects later, I worked the above reflection in a very shallow snow melt pool on rusty granite gravels with White Crags and Red and White Mountain in the background. Also visible is a bit of Grinnel Lake. I invested quite some time waiting for even this mediocre reflection to marginally lull as the breeze only became stronger. From the east up McGee Creek canyon there are considerable rusty red rock areas on red and White Mountain. Can you see the small area of rusty rock on this side of the mountain? Well look at the right slice of the enlarged vertical slice view. The saddle between the two peaks is Red and White Col, a cross country pass that is only class 2/3 late summer after snow has melted enough to get by cliffs at Red and White Lake.

My next subject was Grinnel Lake at page top showing the two large areas of open water in the south bay of the lake, sort of lakes within a lake, that make for a fine graphic. The mile long lake has 3 sections separated by two narrow channels. The half mile long north bay is not visible in the image. Note the sky blue color visible in some of the cracked floating snow areas. In unconsolidated snow and ice, there are considerable air spaces between ice grains. When light traverses between the surface of water ice and air, full spectrum white light is reflected back from boundary layers. But with consolidated snow that was many feet deep from winter snows or with glacier ice, air spaces have been squeezed out. In ice, long red light wavelengths are filtered out 6 times the rate as shorter blue wavelengths. Thus sun light shining through such ice beside a crack leaves strongly blue light the deeper down into a crack then as some of that now blue light comes back out of ice into airspace of a crack it then bounces back and forth within crack confines. A lighter hue of blue may also be visible on the vertical sides of any section of an iceberg that has cracked away.


RC02147-55  4000x6000 pixels  1 frame 9 image focus stack blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

The snow surfaces softened up enough that I could safely wander about on the large snowfield at the lake edge. I set up a large multi column row stitch subject but upon post processing at home noticed I had botched the camera task by leaving focusing in Manual Focus mode for part of the focus stacking sets instead of Auto Spot Focus. After that set up a single vertical frame above of colorful watermelon snow and floating blue ice crack snow with Red and White Mountain the background.


By 11:20am light was more than harsh given all the snow so I began a descent off the Grinnel Bench. At the slab wall noted how it still looked scary then got down to business quickly moving through the crux carefully and was down. I then traversed north to drop down at Laurel Lake where I explored the lush meadow in back of the lake where a narrow stream cuts a deep channel into the turf. The stream and lake had an abundance of eastern brook trout, image below right, just like meadow areas downstream where I base camped. By 1:30pm I was back down at my camp site and immediately began to pack up. My destination was less than 2 miles down canyon at the brink of its hanging valley. From there I would be 8 miles from the reservoir ferry dock that I could easily reach the next day for the 5pm ferry ride back.


The hike down canyon went smoothly as I met a couple on their way up. The brink zone is a dense lodgepole pine forest with considerable Labrador tea bushes just below a large avalanche meadow. I had a couple hours late afternoon to make camp, take a dip in the cold stream, cook dinner, explore the zone, and take some informational pictures of the south Mono Creek canyon walls. I also found a usable though narrow log crossing to make tomorrow morning's hike start more smoothly.

Tuesday August 8 after lazily rising after sunrise, packed up gear then moved it to the log crossing, I then wandered out onto the meadow above for some information shots of a possible route down the west canyon wall before returning to my pack and crossing the stream. The rest of the day was just about getting to the reservoir comfortably. Along the way, I came across a few groups including 3 young women taking out their beloved 80+ year old father who backpacked when younger. At the North Fork of Mono Creek crossing, I went down stream from the wade and discovered the huge fallen tree crossing I should have taken on my route in. Reaching the reservoir with an hour plus to spare, there were already 3 other groups waiting and more would arrive. A couple hours later I was back at my Forester whereupon I slowly drove up to Kaiser Pass near sunset to overnight so I could do some close-up photography work in the morning before driving home. Although my 7 day trip was not particularly productive given limitations of all the stormy or breezy weather, it had been quite a valued adventure some of which I quite enjoyed and some of which tested me strongly.

NEXT:  Page 16   Kaiser Pass
2017 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

   David Senesac
   email: info@davidsenesac.com

return to home page