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2019 Trip Chronicles: Contents
Duck Lake Backpack 9/4
Duck Lake Backpack 9/5
Duck Lake Backpack 9/6
Duck Lake Backpack 9/7
Duck Lake Backpack 9/8
A week after returning from the Upper Kern backpack, I drove up to my brother's residence in Solano County. Over the last couple years we had been planning on a fishing oriented trip to Duck Lake that we had hiked by in 2015. The glacial lake is one of the largest in the High Sierra and probably has the greatest volume of water as it is deep. Supposedly there are some larger rainbow trout in the lake, however it does receive considerable fishing pressure including day hikers. After loading my gear in his near new Ford truck, J then drove us over the Sierra via SR120 and out on a dirt road at Obsidian Dome where we spent a less than pleasant night with too much truck noises at nearby US395. There had been thunderstorms earlier that left the ground and air damp. At dawn Monday September 5, 2019, we drove down to the Mammoth Lakes Visitor Center where we waited for about an hour in order to obtain a wilderness permit for Duck Pass that went smoothly. By 8:30am we were up at the Cold Water Creek trailhead at 9.3k where several other groups were also organizing their gear for day hikes up the trail.
By 9am were slowly making our way up the trail. Weather forecasts showed probable thunderstorms by afternoon as had occurred the previous two days. At 9.7k we passed Arrowhead Lake and at the 2 mile point reached Skelton Lake at 9915 feet where we stopped about 10am at an overlook near the outlet per image above. Indeed by time we reached Barney Lake at 10.2k about 3 miles along after 1100 feet of uphill about 11:45am, the sky looked like rain was near that made the decision to find a camp an easy decision versus trying to go over Duck Pass.
The heavily used campsite at the northwest end of the lake was a disgusting black sooty area of illegal campfire pits that I scattered around per image at right. We spent quite a lot of time wandering about looking for tent sites before settling on modest sites out of sight of the trail. Our lazy effort caught us unprepared barely set up when it began to suddenly rain harder. For the next couple hours we were mostly tent bound while bouts of light to moderate rain and a bit of hail fell outside. Eventually a temporary lull occurred that had me going for water. With the horse trail right next to the lake that looked rather slimy in some bays, I went all the way around to the lake inlet where a seep offered fresh clean water. J then took off likewise only to be caught in a heavy downpour. After making dinner, blue skies appeared giving us some time to explore that area. Pan sized brook trout inhabited the lake however fishing pressure was obviously considerable just a couple hours hike up from a large public campground. Although I rambled about, I didn't find any reasons to pull out my camera.
The most used campsite in the area is just above the outlet stream crossing. There we found per image at left, two inflatable fishing float tubes some inconsiderate group apparently thought was better left up in the wilderness to ease their pain of carrying them back to the trailhead. I suspect they had actually been heading over the pass to Duck Lake but wimped out due to the strenuous backpacking effort by those out of shape thus never reached that destination.
We were up at sunrise for Tuesday September 6, 2019, packed up, and on our way in frosty shadows. The cool air made the 600 foot effort to the pass easier. On the way up are some nice views northward showing Barney, Red, and Skelton Lakes per below image right. Our camp spot had been at the red dot.
At Duck Pass at 10797 feet we could see more weather moving in from the south. I quickly vectored away from the trail as we traversed around a bench a few hundred feet above the trail near the lake edge. Locating a camp spot proved to be a lot more difficult than expected because of the bouldery matrix of the landscape and a lack of flowing streams. Any water from snowfields we could see at the ridge lines was moving underground below the deep sands, boulders, and soil, and only surfaced down below near the lake edge.
I finally found the single seep spring about 100 feet above the trail where a row of mountain hemlock offered some decent tenting spots where there were no signs of previous use. We could see rain moving our way from the southwest across the large lake. Working as fast as possible, we were a bit late completing such as I dove into my tent with a gusty wind blowing moderate rain making final tent set up difficult. By noon the storm showers let up allowing us to complete our camp set up work including the cooking area that I soon had cooking one of my freeze dried meals. Another bout of rain hit but by early afternoon showers had ended. J took off to the north shore of the lake to fish while I explored several areas for possible photography. Down where the trail meets Duck Lake came across the above illegal fire pit that I also scattered per image at left. J brought back several brook trout that made a fine dinner.
Early morning Tuesday September 6, 2019 weather looked threatening off to the southwest and above skies were fully cloudy with temperatures cold in upper 30s. J headed out for more fishing while I began a long all morning tour high up on the upper benches above the northeast end of the lake, swinging around to Pika Lake. By late morning was back down near the lake edge below our camp per image at left. That end of the lake is meadow and willow and because of waves on the mile long lake, has a granite sand bottom that provides an aquamarine color to the water.
After returning to camp and grabbing my fishing gear, I fished some along that shore without any action. Later hiked out to the north side where J was fishing again and along the shore caught one pan size brookie that I tossed back in the lake. Both of us took a quick refreshing dunk in the water despite the chilly cloudy weather before returning to camp.
Mid afternoon we began a hike off to the 3548 meter point on the northwest end of the lake. Along the way we found sections an old use trail that went from Duck Pass above the current trail and over that point. From the point the slope drops steeply with some rocky cliffs down to the lake per image above right. I took the series of shots for the image at page top. The image above left shows Pika Lake in the distance. The majority of groups in the basin camp near that lake. I found more illegal fire pits in those areas than I've probably seen at any other backcountry lake including numbers of elaborate stone works. Disgusting reflection of inconsiderate attitudes of many current generation backpackers. By time we returned to camp, the sun had moved behind Mammoth Crest. Duck Lake is another lake down in a hole where one does not enjoy early or late sunlight.
We rose at sunrise Wednesday September 7, 2019, then got fishing gear ready and hiked along the south side of the lake to the rocky talus areas with some meadows below point 3515. Before the trip we had high hopes of locating some good fishing along that shore as it requires some effort to reach from the Pika Lake area where most camp at. What we found was disappointing. J did catch one fish and we had a few strikes, but fish were sparse with nothing of size. By noon we were back at camp. In the afternoon, skies clouded up some with breezy cool conditions continuing. It was our third and last day at Duck Lake. We played around and did some more fishing. Despite the poor fishing and mediocre cool breezy weather for photography, both of us always enjoy being out in these timberline places.
We rose again at sunrise Thursday September 8, 2019, packed up gear, and were soon on our way towards Duck Pass. J below left on north side switchbacks. By 8:30am had reached Barney Lake and by late morning were back at J's truck with a surprising number of groups just getting to that parking area and setting out up trails. It would be late afternoon when we arrived at J's residence. I then had a long hour plus drive to get back to Santa Clara County. This would be my last trip of 2019 as I never got out for any fall leaf work in following weeks. The unusually snowy winter caused a lack of synchronized leaf color changes that didn't rise to the level to motivate this photographer with an abundance of fall work from better years, enduring another long drive.
2019 Trip Chronicles: Contents