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2021 Trip Chronicles: Contents
Golden Creek Backpack 7/14
Golden Creek Backpack 7/15
Golden Creek Backpack 7/16
Golden Creek Backpack 7/17
Golden Creek Backpack 7/18
After our Kibbie Lake backpack, weeks flew by quickly. On July 1, on my first attempt to secure a wilderness permit on recreation dot gov, several spots were open for our intended trailhead of Mosquito Flat over Mono Pass. Without further consideration while not knowing whether such midweek openings would continue, I jumped at that availability and secured a permit for 2 of us starting Wednesday July 14 for 7 or 8 days. That would include 3 nights at Pioneer Basin, a night at Golden Lake a night along Mono Creek, a night at Fourth Recess Lake, and a last night possibly at Trail Lakes. Early September of 2013, I had backpacked into Pioneer Basin so had some familiarity with the trail and area. High Sierra weather had continued to be unusually dry though a few thunderstorms did occur in the interim period just before our trip. J wondered how he would deal with delaying his service business work that had just picked up and would remain so busy he would not have extra time dealing with his fitness. In addition to urban street walking a few miles 2 or 3 times each week, I began my usual daily exercise of carrying an old backpack with 55 pounds of water weight up and down my residence stairs. More pessimistically, wildfires had begun to smoke into California skies and by the time we departed the whole range was rather hazy even where smoke was absent. Note all images below without borders were taken with my tiny Canon ELPH190 camera.
A week before our start, both of us had taken care of most of our gear and packing tasks. My food weight that includes packaging came in about 10.5 pounds for the 7 or 8 days we would be out that I stuffed into my Ursack and small Lil Sami canister. From Amazon bought new Levi 505 jeans size 30x30, at that time which I began to wear around home to loosen up. Also a Sigma 56mm F1.4 lens that would be replacing my 7 year old 60mm F2.8 lens that had accumulated considerable dust on its internal glass elements apparently through the rear camera mount structure opening. J had also bought a new high quality Nemo goose down sleeping bag. Note I had bought the same brand during the winter that I used at Kibbie Lake. As I performed final repacking 2 days before, I also rebuilt my Excel gear checklist by re-weighing everything with both my tenth gram or hundredth gram digital scales. That showed my carrying weight would be about 61 pounds that is about 10 pounds below my typical carrying weight a decade earlier when I was still hefting 4x5 view camera gear. Notably that included 2 pounds of fishing gear I normally don't bring on solo trips.
On a warm Tuesday July 13, each of us drove down to brother S's residence in Tracy where at 5:15pm, J moved his gear into my Forester and we drove off east on I205, then SR120 across Yosemite, south down to US395, to Tom's Place and up the Rock Creek Road to about 10k at 10:30pm where we would overnight hoping to acclimate to the altitude a few hours. Although we were excited about the trip, we were not looking forward to the strenuous first day that required about 2000 feet uphill over 5.5 miles.
About 5:30am Wednesday July 14, 2021, as dawn lightened the skies, I opened my Forester door and woke a sleeping J who was outside laying cowboy style on the ground. Although I had managed 5 or 6 hours sleep, J who normally sleeps easily did not get much so was drowsy. We tossed gear back into the car and I drove off to the Mosquito Flat trailhead at 10265 feet where half the parking spots were not occupied. By early morning all those spots would fill by the many car camping groups day hiking up Little Lakes Valley. At 5:55am PDT we waddled off in sunny calm mid 40F temperatures up the familiar heavily used trail. My strategy was in the early cool air to reach the Ruby Lake junction at 1.9 miles 1k feet up vertical to eat some food and rest for an hour before continuing towards Mono Pass at 12050 feet. Alternatively if we were truly exhausted, we could choose to camp at Ruby Lake the first night though that would impact the rest of our itinerary. The first 2 miles of the heavily used stock trail had an abundance of smelly fly swarmed horse apples. The waterless trail has many rock step ups I tend to tediously avoid by stepping on side rocks. Along the trail I noted a few decent flat spots one might make an evening camp on future trips. Stopping frequently on any convenient trailside boulders as is my style, at 8am or 2 hours along, we reached the Ruby Lake spur trail junction. Both of us were doing ok but already weary enough we definitely needed to stop before challenging the pass.
A bit before 9am in bright sun, we resumed our effort that requires hiking up through 12 switchbacks in bright direct sun. There would be no available water till Summit Lake. An hour later we reached the 11700 foot level on the well graded coarse granite sand trail with few unpleasant step up rocks. At that 3 mile point the trail doglegs north through a short deep narrow canyon of mostly barren granite rock and coarse sand towards the pass. At 11800 we took a longer break in the only shade of that route. Upon continuing the final 250 feet to the pass through 3 benches, we were so low oxygen altitude weary in the soft sand that we increasingly stopped musical chairs style on any trailside boulder and in fact only reached the 12050 foot pass at the 3.4 mile point at 12pm noon, 6 hours after starting. A few patches of snow remained on the south side of the often very windy pass that during winter might reach 20 to 30 foot depths. At that point we thought the worst was over this day. Heck we just had another 2.2 miles about 1k feet mostly across level sand or downhill.
Continuing on, we increasingly wobbled pushing through the soft sand that was highly dug up by all the stock hooves. At Summit Lake 3.7 miles along, we stopped again in the bright white granite landscape for a half hour before trudging ahead. Although I had carefully sized up the cross country route down to our off trail Golden Lake destination, it had been a few weeks since I worked on that and in my weary state was confused as to which of 3 routes I had settled on. Accordingly took the wrong choice down a talus filled ravine where boulders were covered with loose ball bearing coarse granite sand making each step downhill dangerous given our heavy packs. Note the magenta line on above image. The better route I forgot about that avoided the talus was an easy path down a large sandy slope to the west. We didn't reach Golden Lake's inlet zone at 11990 feet at 5.5 miles until about 2pm. A strong gusty wind blew across the beautiful deep lake waters. I was physically more spent than I've been in years and that left me rather tent bound the rest of the afternoon in a weary funk. Well, I tented under shady whitebark pines, took a dip in the chilly lake, and with an unpleasant feeling in my gut lacking any appetite, ate just a small amount of granola and nuts. At least I managed to sleep well that is often not the case in such a state. During the night, the wind eased to an intermittent breeze.
Dawn Thursday July 15, 2021, we were up and about with a plan for J to do some fishing and I photography. Skies were again clear and the breeze reached a null for a short while the lake was still shadowed. I was feeling much better without any gut issues so made a Mountain House freeze dried stroganoff and beef meal that I hoped would provide some needed nutrition after eating little Wednesday. Small golden trout were active on the lake surface. Because the lake is just west of a steep section of the Sierra Crest rising 500 feet, lake waters even on its west shore remain shadowed until after 8am. Upon considering only modest photography subjects and given an increasing breeze, I decided to forgo photos while J had just hooked up some small fish.
Thus at 8:15am with an interest in reaching our Pioneer Basin lake 10862 destination we would base camp at 3 nights, we set off around the west side of the lake that has a section of large talus to cross per second image above. Tiring class 2 with much hand grabbing monkeying effort, that I moved through slow and unsteadily. Fifteen minutes later we arrived at the beautiful turfy green outlet zone per above image. We noted the outlet would be better camping and fishing versus the inlet should we return in the future. Also note there is a much higher route above the talus in coarse sand.
The above is the due west view down the Mono Creek canyon. Moving down the east side of the small stream I grabbed a whitebark pine branch to swing off some bedrock and down through a few feet of willow and tall grass. J following, suddenly let out a painful yell after apparently stepping on a hidden loose small rock that caused him to collapse bending his left knee awkwardly. J related he felt a pop as though a tendon or ligament had snapped. Everything about the trip would be different from this point forward. Getting J back to the trailhead was now the prime directive. Familiar with the topo, I looked down canyon and saw a forested bench I knew was just above the Mono Creek Trail at 10500 feet, 6/10 a mile further. I had viewed that willow seep meadow along the trail during my 2013 trip that was an obvious choice for this aborted day where we would be near a trail upon initiating our return while far enough from the trail for privacy. Upon cellular injury, a complex inflammation sequence occurs. It was important for us to reach the area quickly before swelling and pain peaked so he could stabilize. For the most part, he could move around stiff legged without much pain as long as he didn't move his left leg in various ways he was slowly discovering. Descending, we began talking about ways to wrap up his leg inhibiting movement.
For stability continuing, I gave J my big Oben tripod, legs extended, that weighs 3.4 pounds. J did a good job of slowly moving down a faint intermittent use trail. We reached the bench before 10am where we settled into to a rarely used tenting area below large shading whitebark pines with nice views down to the meadow below. After setting up our tents and gear with a bit of rest, we visited Golden Creek where the small all year stream flows through bedrock. A surprising number of pan sized golden trout inhabited the stream as we watched 3 fish for about a relaxing hour making the most of the day.
J had much to worry about as we were about 1600 feet of uphill and 3 miles from Mono Pass and 6.3 miles from the trailhead. I suggested we base camp at our location for 2 nights to allow the knee inflammation process to peak and then subside before starting our return on our fourth morning. J found a most excellent walking stick that he would continue to use the rest of the trip. Note neither of us carry hiking poles so popular in this era. As an elite recreational bump skier, I have plenty of skill using poles if I decided to. Increasingly J worried about delaying more than a day in part because it would impact his sole proprietor service business and he increasingly wished to understand his injury only a doctor would satisfy. There was also no longer much of anything he could do for enjoyment in the wilderness, especially fishing, as every thinking moment was now in a depressed mode. Thus he might as well return home and get a doctor's appointment to find out what was injured and move on. It would be his call when we would start the return. During the day J developed an excellent way to stabilize his leg with his sleeping pad.
I quite enjoyed the rest of my own day as there was plenty of amusements for my interests. The adjacent willow meadow was probably the most flowery area of this zone and panoramic views just required a bit of climbing up above camp. Given the breeze, I put off any flower photography until early the following morning when I expected calm conditions. Instead of fishing, I spent some time sneaking up on stream pools, camera capturing trout in the stream. Although I would miss not visiting areas we planned on, in any case I was not too enthused about doing so during this very droughty summer as landscapes aesthetics were mediocre for this time of year, not as green and flowery with very little snow on peaks and a generally hazy atmosphere. I have seen enough of the Sierra Nevada over my lifetime that this trip was of minor importance. We'll return during a summer with better conditions.
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Friday July 16, 2021, I was up at sunrise. Another sunny day with brief morning calm, I grabbed my camera gear and set out to find a columbine subject in the nearby talus. For the above Coville's columbine, aqualegia pubescens, I used my new 56mm lens with a 10mm extension tube a focus stack of 10 shots.
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The above shows a section of a seep stream near camp with turf, moss, Pierson's paintbrush, monkeyflower, and willow. Dark red heads of gone to seed white heather, yet to bloom little elephants head, and wilted alpine aster, complement the dry stunted paintbrush reflecting the dry conditions even in such wet areas. During the early morning I worked a few other modest subjects. By 9am I was back at camp. J had already packed up his gear so his decision to move up to the Trail lakes, 800 feet higher was evident. I packed up gear then looked at a perspective above our meadow before joining J about 11am on the nearby Mono Pass Trail.
This image above shows how J wrapped up his leg with his Thermarest sleeping pad. Two wide Velcro straps tightened around his leg. He optimized the amount of air in the slow leaking pad and strap tightness for adequate rigidity without being so tight blood flow was too constricted. I also always carry a modest amount of 2 inch width Gorilla tape wrapped around a tripod leg and maybe 70 feet of 3mm utility cord we might have used. J only used the pad on his leg while hiking the trail, not while at or near camp that shows he was able to generally move about with just support from the walking stick. Note I have been carrying the popular Thermarest Z-Lite folding foam pad we might have used. I've owned several air pads however switched back to foam because although all functioned fine for at least a year, they all eventually developed slow annoying leaks which I would repeatedly patch only to increasingly see the same failures. I also prefer how the bump surface prevents an even pressure against my body.
Swelling had indeed peaked overnight and was now a wee improved more flexible. After our return, J's appointment with a Kaiser doctor pointed to a bicep femoris tendon injury and not the lateral collateral ligament aka LCL I suspected though they did no MRI and prescribed a self healing recovery that might take 4 to 6 weeks. The bicep femoris muscle attaches to the head of the fibula bone along with 4 ligaments. The trail above Golden Creek to the upper Trail Lake has a significant number of short switchbacks near the spine of a descending divide, not all of which show on the topo. One keeps hoping the next bend will be the last but it never is.
We stopped more than usual and by 2pm had reached the shores of the heavily visited small alpine lakes. Wind stunted whitebark pines provide a bit of camp site shade. Since no others were at the lake, I jumped in the cool water au naturale briefly while filling up my two water containers as a breeze chilled my skin for a bit. During this trip I never filtered water at all including directly filling water from 4 named lakes, just like I did decades ago before water filtering narratives dominated. My main meal this day early afternoon was the delicious Mountain House spaghetti with meat sauce. Afterward was a couple hours of napping and resting.
Later in the day I walked to the opposite southeast side of the lake to capture the back lit image at page top. Note from left to right in the distant background, White Crags, Red and White Mtn, Mt Hopkins, Red Slate, Mt Crocker, and Mt Baldwin. In the enlarged vertical slice view one can see part of a group of gals resting in the shade by the lake shore. Not long afterward they continued their journey down the trail. Near the right frame edge is a small stone snow survey cabin. The next morning looking down from above at Neelle Lake, we also noticed a snow survey pole with an orange flag atop, planes use to aerially measure winter snow depths. In the afternoon J increasingly feeling mobile, caught a few small brook trout in the small lake that has surprisingly good depth. By day's end a couple other groups had made camp.
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Saturday July 17, 2021, we rose about sunrise into the cool crest shadowing morning, packed up, and were on our way by 7am. J was feeling more capable now 2 days after his injury so we were pretty confident we would be reaching our tentative destination at Ruby Lake. As we moved up switchbacks among stunted whitebark pine, the Trail Lake surface was rippled by its abundant stunted brook trout. Near where the trail tops out at 11700 feet before dropping 100 feet, I worked the above shot at 8am of Pioneer Basin with my 56m lens stitching 2 horizontal columns. The air was hazier than my Photoshop processed image appears. I had made a similar image with my 4x5 in 2013, a bit further south on the ridge. In the distance left to right, White Crags, Red and White Mtn, Mt Hopkins, Red Slate Mtn, Mt Crocker, and Mt Baldwin, Mt Morrison. Mud Lake is frame lower center, lake #2 is directly above, while lake 10862 is mid right.
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Nearby at 8:30am, I noted the above nice granitoid graphic in optimal morning shadowing light of the pyramidal erete above Neelle Lake. The feature is also noticeable from Fourth Recess Lake.
After a longer rest at Summit Lake, as we passed the lake a packer on his horse plus 4 mules passed on his way to Third Recess Lake. A mile further along the trail, a group of about a dozen people passed all going to the same Third Recess destination the lead packer was to set up before their arrival. Notice how Summit Lake's water level is several feet below its late spring level when snow was still melting. Like every other group we passed, everyone noticing the pad around J's left leg was curious asking about the injury. Now the weekend, the trail was busy. Several noted the utility of using a sleeping pad to do so given straps. All we backcountry visitors miles from trailheads wonder about how one might extract themselves from such situations without relying on involved expensive SAR rescue with helicopters.
Onward we continued reaching the Ruby area a bit before noon. At the last switchback we moved off trail and stumbled on what was obviously the best camp site in the area for anyone with an interest in privacy. Before settling on our camp spot with a large boulder and shading pines, after dropping my pack I did survey the many camp sites near the lake edge. Most were as heavily used and beaten up as those at upper Trail Lake, often with massive blackened signs of illegal camp fires. Our spot had obviously due to all the whitebark pine branches we had to brush aside, never been used this year, was near the creek for easy water, had great views, no black fire pits, lots of chipmunks and birds, and best was isolated, unlikely any others would venture by us. We set up camp then filled up with water while jumping refreshingly into Ruby Creek. I made a Mountain House Lasagna with meat sauce meal, then enjoyed a pleasant 2 hour nap.
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Later in the day we visited Ruby Lake where I took some modest photos including a video at pipsqueak brook trout jumping for flies. Back at our camp were direct views of Mt Morgan including a bit of rusty metamorphic peak 13440+ behind the ridge with the foreground ridge of Lookout peak pines in shade. This first image above shows 13440+ shot with my 56mm lens, an optimal situation for evaluating the full frame infinity resolution of that new lens.
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Next above from the same tripod location with my 30mm lens showing the full view of 13748 foot Mt Morgan. Despite being east of the Sierra Crest, its altitude is well above the crest west so on clear day sunsets may glow like an electric cherry.
Making the most of our time at Ruby Lake, as dawn sky rose on Sunday July 18, 2021, I hiked out to the bench below Lookout Peak to shoot a 4 column 2 row 12000 by 10000 image of Ruby Lake with Ruby Peak behind that I'll dispense with displaying herein as aesthetics with lack of snow were limited. The Ruby area will be an easy future one night destination with numbers of strong subjects when conditions are better. During our hike out there are a few locations with nice views of Little Lakes Valley that have better light during mid afternoon. The above snapshot shows how the monsoon clouds were moving in from the southeast. Parts of Marsh, Heart, and Box Lakes at frame left with Pyramid, Bear Creek Spire, Dade, Treasure, and Abbot in the distance.
J's Kaiser Permanente doctor was impressed with how well he did under such strenuous circumstances, declaring he is well on the way to likely self healing recovery. And his walking stick?...now prominently a treasured momento in his home.
2021 Trip Chronicles: Contents