CA – Eastern Sierra, Green Creek Trail to Hoover Lakes . . . goodbye fall

Prior to going to McGee Creek, I’d stopped by the ranger station in Bishop where they recommended McGee and Green as hot spots for color. Well since McGee met my WOW factor and beyond, it was time to see if I’d find the same at Green or if I’d be in for a big disappointment.

I sort of expected to find more leaves on the ground than on the trees.

With reasonable expectations going in, I wasn’t disappointed.

I found other gifts.

On this day I chose to head toward East and Green Lakes.

Green Lake

East Lake

Nutter Lake

Gilman Lake

One of the Hoover Lakes

There was a sheen of ice on an upper Hoover Lake.

With another big climb beyond Hoover Lakes I sadly had to turn around before reaching the pass, where I might have been able to see Summit Lake. It was great though to see these lakes and hike a good portion of this end of the Green Creek Trail after hiking the other end starting at Virginia Lakes and ending with an overview of this canyon.

Signs continue to signal my time in the Eastern Sierra is about over for this season.

It’s nearing hibernation time.

Don’t you want to be there?

But the reality is that fall has fallen and winter is just around the corner.

It was time to say goodbye to the Eastern Sierra and my fall jaunt. I had grown tired of the frigid night temperatures, which even sleeping in my car were dropping well below freezing.

The days were growing shorter and I was finding it harder to get out early with outside temperatures in the teens. How many cups of coffee can I drink while waiting?

Even my socks were saying it’s time. Every pair developed a hole in the big toe.

I even wore through my Darn Tough socks. It was time to replace, repair and restock.

Adventure Date(s):

  • October 18, 2019

Hike Details:Tips:

  • You can pick up a fall colors map and guide at many visitor centers and ranger stations along Highway 395. There are also several online sites offering current conditions; this is one I used and recommend (link).

Resources:

Links:

CA – Eastern Sierra, McGee Creek Trail . . . fall colors be perfect

I’d pretty much decided that I’d outlasted the best of fall foliage. The cold mornings in the teens were not very motivating. On this day I got a late start after hanging at a coffee shop in Mammoth Lakes waiting for temps to warm. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do the planned miles but decided oh well I’d at least be outside and getting some exercise. Ha, the joke was on me. I found the best yet display of color complimented by my kind of amazing geology.

Approaching the trailhead provided this tease of the WOW to follow.

Each step I took offered more color and optimism. You may recall an earlier post where I described how leaf peeping is rated. Well this was definitely a GO NOW status.

I would have been excited by the shapes, colors and textures of the mountains with the colors, but I was happy to feast my eyes upon both.

Horsetail Falls

These cold nights were quickly turning waterways to ice.

This was a fun bridge to cross. Yes I tested for possible slipper wood first since it was at a serious downhill slant.

Looking back from where I’d come you can see where the wind had ripped the leaves from many of the aspen trees.

I loved seeing the hillsides painted in color.

The colors popped among the granite.

It was hard to focus on making forward progress with so much visual stimulation.

The tapestry of what once was . . .

Nature’s stencil

Seasons be a changing

This was by far my biggest WOW fall colors hike this season. It may have taken 11 hikes over 14 days to catch peak color, but success was golden and I felt like I’d struck it rich.

Adventure Date(s):

  • October 16, 2019

Hike Details:Tips:

  • Mammoth Lakes is a great place to catch up on chores, eat some good grub, etc. Starbucks had better WiFi than Looney Beans. WiFi in general seemed to be harder to find at restaurants etc. Mammoth Mountain RV Park was a good option for a shower.
  • Adding stickers to your computer can make for an easy conversation starter. I met a cool guy at the Mammoth Lakes Starbucks sporting a PA’LANTE sticker which led me to ask him about it since I know one of the creators. Small world, yep they hiked the PCT.
  • Since I was taking a day off, I took time to explore around Mammoth Lakes eventually enjoying lunch at Lake George.
  • Nearby in Owens Valley is Hot Creek Geologic Site with these off-limit hot springs, but there are others nearby as well as plenty of dispersed camping options.
  • Convict Lake is another nearby POI worthy of a stop. One of these days my timing will be right to explore those canyons.
  • You can pick up a fall colors map and guide at many visitor centers and ranger stations along Highway 395. There are also several online sites offering current conditions; this is one I used and recommend (link).

Resources:

Links:

CA – Eastern Sierra, Little Lakes Valley Trail . . . fall colors be gone

In a continued quest to chase fall foliage, this was the next trailhead on my list. In late May when Nancy and I visited, the road was blocked at Rock Creek Pack Station but we hiked through the snow to the trailhead sign. I was excited to see what lay beyond and the plan was to follow Little Lakes Valley Trail so Mono Pass would need to await another day.

WOW not even a hint of color.

The trail name of Little Lakes Basin was fitting as we passed lake upon lake upon lake.

The plan was to hike to both the pass and the lake.

Time to start climbing through the rocks. We were a little concerned as there was a sign at the trailhead indicating a couple damaged sections.

My hiking partners for the day, Holly and Jasmine with Upper Morgan Lake in the background above Morgan Pass. Tip: you need to scramble up on the rocks to obtain this view.

As with the rest of my day hikes on this fall jaunt, descending from the pass will need to wait for a longer backpack trip.

The view from Morgan Pass looking back from where we’d come.

Heading toward Gem Lakes. You can see a couple of the lakes from this vantage point (surrounded by brown grass).

One of the Gem Lakes.

Another of the Gem Lakes.

Holly captured this action shot of me as we exited Gem Lakes in search of our next destination, Chickenfoot Lake.

Chickenfoot Lake (when you look at the map, the shape looks like a bird’s foot).

There is still plentiful water near the trail in mid October. Can you imagine in early summer when the mosquitoes are hungry? The campground at the trailhead is called Mosquito Flat, does that give you a hint?

Adventure Date(s):

  • October 14, 2019

Hike Details:Tips:

  • Be prepared for chilly fall temperatures in the Eastern Sierra. This is the temperature gauge I use in my car showing 25F overnight low. My car outside gauge registered 16F at 7am. It was 31F when we began our hike around 9am.
  • Tom’s Place was a good place to refuel after the hike.
  • Bishop is a great place to catch up on chores, eat some good grub, etc. If you need a shower go to the hostel. I don’t recommend the one at the laundromat as it was dirty and disgusting. Check online reviews of laundromats. If I remember correctly there are three in town.  You can use your Safeway ID for shopping at Vons; get your gas discount. Looney Bean was my favorite for coffee, eats and WiFi.
  • You can pick up a fall colors map and guide at many visitor centers and ranger stations along Highway 395. There are also several online sites offering current conditions; this is one I used and recommend (link).

Resources:

Links:

CA – Eastern Sierra, Crowley Lake Columns . . . a unique geology feature

After California’s Crowley Lake reservoir was completed in 1941, strange column-like formations were spotted on the water body’s eastern shore. They appear to be related to a large volcanic explosion that took place about 760,000 years ago. Researchers believe that falling snow melted on top of the tuff rock deposits left after the eruption. This still-heated porous material caused the melted snow to boil, which created the even spaces between the columns that exist today. Source: Lake Scientist 11/19/15 article

Researchers have determined that the columns were created by cold water percolating down into — and steam rising up out of — hot volcanic ash spewed by a cataclysmic explosion 760,000 years ago. Source: Geology In

This is one of those POIs that made my list thanks to social media. However research indicated it might be a bit beyond the capability of my car and one worthy of a partner. With Holly’s beefier 4×4 and her adventurous spirit, we decided to give it a go. You need to do some detective work to figure out where the columns are and how to reach them. You’d never know there was something so cool viewing the lake from the road.

It takes some work to arrive at the shoreline and even then there isn’t any hint of the treasure.

For those determined you might just be lucky enough to find these columns.

You can capture some interesting images.

There was a variety of formations.

When the reservoir is high, you can’t easily access all the columns. There are also some caves.

I found these smaller sections particularly interesting.

This image shows how the segments on the columns break off and are the most likely explanation for those in the sand as shown above.

Looking across Crowley Lake. I recently saw photos of an ice skater which implies the lake is shallower than I’d have guessed.

If you look closely at this photo, you’ll find the columns.

My crew and I celebrating our successful adventure. Whew there were a few stressful moments.

Dispersed camping is available nearby where you can catch some incredible sunsets.

I was excited to capture the full moon setting the next morning.

Adventure Date(s):

  • October 13, 2019

Links:

 

CA – Eastern Sierra, Lake Sabrina to Dingleberry and Midnight Lakes . . . fall colors be waning

I’d been to Lake Sabrina a little over a week ago and conditions weren’t quite peak for fall colors. There had been a few windy nights since then so I could only wonder about current conditions. First impressions were impressive.

One major change was the amount of ice in the creeks.

Blue Lake looking a little green on this day.

I visited Donkey and Baboon Lakes on my previous trip, so this time with friend Holly we’d be heading toward Dingleberry Lake.

Emerald Lake

Dingleberry Lake; I can’t help but wonder the story behind the name.

Midnight Lake

Quintessential sierra image.

One more view of Lake Sabrina.

Adventure Date(s):

  • October 12, 2019

Hike Details:Tips:

  • Although tempting to park at the boat launch area which includes restrooms, just don’t! Hiking across the dam is all fine and dandy until you reach the end where it’s a lot of unnecessary scampering. It’s one of those long short cuts you’d never recommend. Trust me.
  • Bishop is a great place to catch up on chores, eat some good grub, etc. If you need a shower go to the hostel. I don’t recommend the one at the laundromat as it was dirty and disgusting. Check online reviews of laundromats. If I remember correctly there are three in town.  You can use your Safeway ID for shopping at Vons; get your gas discount. Looney Bean was my favorite for coffee, eats and WiFi. The Bishop Burger Barn is worth a visit.
  • You can pick up a fall colors map and guide at many visitor centers and ranger stations along Highway 395. There are also several online sites offering current conditions; this is one I used and recommend (link).

Resources:

Links:

CA – Eastern Sierra, North Lake Piute Pass Trail . . . it’s an autumnal palette

My trip the previous day from South Lake to Bishop Pass exceeded expectations in terms of fall foliage, geology and views. Will North Lake to Piute Pass be another winner? First impressions at North Lake were that color had peaked.

It was 29F degrees when I arrived at the trailhead. So while I was adding layers and trying to find my hiking mojo, I watched these packers head out. I later met a couple of hunters who’d hired this crew to carry gear and supplies to and from their camp.

Sun was out, it was time to go.

It wasn’t long before I was smiling.

This is the view looking back toward the trailhead. There’s a popular backpacking loop using North and South Lakes as beginning and ending points. After hiking both, I’d choose to start at South Lake where the climb to Bishop Pass is much more gradual than going from North Lake to Piute Pass.

Loch Leven

This view made my heart go pitter patter.

Piute Lake

Stairs to more sierra goodness.

First views of Piute Pass.

Nice little tarn.

I’ve come to expect a lot of false summits in the sierra. Will this be the top of the pass?

Nope, not quite.

And then there I was looking down on Summit Lake (not the same one near Green Creek Trail). As has become custom on this series of day trips, I’d dream of someday visiting Humphrey’s Basin.

There wasn’t a cool sign marking the pass but I did find this benchmark survey marker.

I could only wonder about these signs or markers.

Looking down toward Piute Lake and Loch Leven, flanked by Mount Emererson.

On the way back to the trailhead, the lighting was much better for enjoying the colorful geology.

Talk about perfect fall hiking weather. I couldn’t believe I was gifted another week. I’m not quite sure why I was being a baby about overnighting but whatever, I was just glad to be out and about experiencing such amazing wonders crowd and bug free. Oh where oh where shall I go next? There sure isn’t a shortage of choices.

Adventure Date(s):

  • October 10, 2019

Hike Details:

Tips:

  • Take extra precautions in selecting your parking site. I’m guessing it’s quite busy in the summer with lots of tickets issued.
  • Bishop is a great place to catch up on chores, eat some good grub, etc. If you need a shower I recommend The Hostel California rather than the one at the laundromat as it was dirty and disgusting. Check online reviews of laundromats. If I remember correctly there are three in town.  You can use your Safeway ID for shopping at Vons; get your gas discount. Looney Bean was my favorite for coffee, eats and WiFi. Astorgia’s is a fab mexican food option.
  • You can pick up a fall colors map and guide at many visitor centers and ranger stations along Highway 395. There are also several online sites offering current conditions; this is one I used and recommend (link).

Resources:

Links:

CA – Eastern Sierra, South Lake Bishop Pass Trail . . . a day of giddiness

After hiking from the Big Pine Creek Trailhead both North Fork and South Fork, I returned to Bishop before chasing another lead for peak fall colors. As I drove toward South Lake, I was excited to finally see the colors I’d been seeking for the past week.

I began to wonder if I’d ever make it to the trailhead. I was beyond happy with the visual eye candy.

The tapestry of colors along the mountains was especially eye catching.

But alas, I finally arrived!

South Lake

On this day I decided to follow the trail to Bishop Pass.

Long Lake was a beauty.

This is Chocolate Peak. My plan was to hike the loop to Chocolate Lakes on my return trip.

As the trail continues, I continue to smile while trying to guess the location of Bishop Pass.

There were a few patches of this red vegetation which really popped among the gray granite boulders.

Hello my friend, is it nearing hibernation time?

Nice view back at Saddlerock and Bishop Lakes with Hurd Peak rising to the left.

Time for some climbing.

This is a good view looking down at the switchbacks with a hiker descending.

An example of some serious trail building involved in creating all these switchbacks.

Looking back at the upper tarns and lakes reminding me of how many places there are to explore in this giant playground.

Nearing the final push.

The Bishop Pass sign is in the distance.

The views were incredible. This was the trail descending into Dusy Basin, another one marked on my list for a future visit.

Once again my Peak Finder app was so helpful in identifying the various mountains.

After spending some time gawking at maps and views, it was time to descend enjoying incredible views along the way. You can even see Chocolate Mountain peeking out in the far distance.

View of Ruwau Lake from Bishop Pass Trail.

Ruwau Lake from the Chocolate Lakes Loop trail. I met this hiker coming from the opposite direction who gave me a bit of intel on this secondary most unmaintained trail.

When you don’t do your research, you might find yourself climbing. I was beginning to get a bit nervous about running out of time. It was already after 4pm when I reached this viewpoint above Ruwau Lake.

Ut oh, I really wasn’t anticipating rocky route finding. The looming question, is it time to turn back?

Around 5pm, I found the first of the Chocolate Lakes.

The backside of Chocolate Peak with Chocolate Lake in the foreground.

Whew made it back on the main trail by 6pm. This day became my favorite of this fall jaunt second only to Virginia Lakes.

Adventure Date(s):

  • October 9, 2019

Hike Details:Tips:

  • Bishop is a great place to catch up on chores, eat some good grub, etc. If you need a shower I recommend The Hostel California rather than the one at the laundromat as it was dirty and disgusting. Check online reviews of laundromats. If I remember correctly there are three in town.  You can use your Safeway ID for shopping at Vons; get your gas discount. Looney Bean was my favorite for coffee, eats and WiFi.
  • You can pick up a fall colors map and guide at many visitor centers and ranger stations along Highway 395. There are also several online sites offering current conditions; this is one I used and recommend (link).

Resources:

Links:

CA – Eastern Sierra, Big Pine Creek South Fork . . . finding Brainerd Lake

By now you know I prefer to hike more drive less. With two trails at the same trailhead, my choice for the day was easy. Yesterday it was North Fork, today South Fork.

Expectations for fall foliage was low but I was excited none the less to see what I might find in this canyon.

I spied some color along the creek.

That was a crafty bridge.

Favorite kind of trail.

Looking back down toward the trailhead. Soon this canyon will be filled with colorful oranges and yellows.

Now were talking. WOW WOW WOW! I was in heaven.

Choices, choices . . . on this day Brainerd won.

This view of Willow Lake confirmed I’d might the right choice.

Finding snow this late in the season must mean I’m at significant elevation.

Brainerd Lake proved challenging to photograph in mid-day bright sunlight.

Looking down into the Brainerd Lake cirque.

This was a first. Loved this cute little guy, a woolly bear caterpillar. According to Farmers Almanac, this caterpillar “has the reputation of being able to forecast the coming winter weather. The wider the rusty brown sections, the milder the coming winter will be. The more black there is, the more severe the winter.”

Adventure Date(s):

  • October 7, 2019

Hike Details:

Tips:

  • The old South Fork trailhead that shows on many maps no longer exists.
  • Bishop is a great place to catch up on chores, eat some good grub, etc. If you need a shower go to the hostel. I don’t recommend the one at the laundromat as it was dirty and disgusting. Check online reviews of laundromats. If I remember correctly there are three in town.  You can use your Safeway ID for shopping at Vons; get your gas discount. Looney Bean was my favorite for coffee, eats and WiFi.
  • You can pick up a fall colors map and guide at many visitor centers and ranger stations along Highway 395. There are also several online sites offering current conditions; this is one I used and recommend (link).

Resources:

Links:

CA – Eastern Sierra, Big Pine Creek North Fork . . . fall color or bust?

Since Sabrina Lake basin seemed to be past peak, I decided to go a bit further south. You’d think since color change is affected by colder temperatures, elevation would determine progress but I’ve found that not to be a general rule. I found reports of current conditions a bit like weather forecasts; sometimes right, sometimes wrong. This is the rating system.

0-10% – Just Starting
10-50% – Patchy
50-75% – Near Peak (Go Now!)
75-100% – Peaking (GO NOW!)
Past Peak – (You Missed It)

I hiked a section of this trail in late May, but due to conditions only made it to the waterfalls so was looking forward to seeing some of the lakes.

On this day I’d be hiking the North Fork.

I found the welcome committee.

This tree caught my eye on my initial visit and again on this day.

What a difference a few months makes.

I wouldn’t rate this as near peak foliage, nope. Foiled again! I’m 1 for 4, not such great averages.

I guess you could rate it as patchy color.

Mountain Mahogany

The naming hat must have been worn out by the time it reached this trail. This is First Lake, which is the first in a chain of seven, all named by their number. Temple Crag is the monolith in the background.

First Lake as viewed from the opposite shore.

Second Lake

Third Lake

I decided to jump off the lakes trail and head towards Temple Crags on the Glacier Trail.

This is not a maintained trail but it wasn’t difficult to follow. One of the gifts I found along the way was this ice fall.

This cirque would be my end point as I was not interested in doing a solo rock scramble.

I even found a late bloomer.

And another ice fall.

That’s were I would have needed to scramble up to the viewpoint.

I was hoping for better views but this view into I believe Third Lake was about the best I got.

The mesa to the right is Temple Crag View where I would have landed had I attempted the scramble.

Hiking in the fall may be devoid of mosquitoes and black flies, but there are still some critters out and about.

Then it was back down into the foliage with promises of more color to come.

Hardly a better way to end than with my favorite tree.

Adventure Date(s):

  • October 6, 2019

Hike Details:Tips:

  • Bishop is a great place to catch up on chores, eat some good grub, etc. If you need a shower go to the hostel. I don’t recommend the one at the laundromat as it was dirty and disgusting. Check online reviews of laundromats. If I remember correctly there are three in town.  You can use your Safeway ID for shopping at Vons; get your gas discount. Looney Bean was my favorite for coffee, eats and WiFi.
  • You can pick up a fall colors map and guide at many visitor centers and ranger stations along Highway 395. There are also several online sites offering current conditions; this is one I used and recommend (link).

Resources:

Links:

CA – Eastern Sierra, Lake Sabrina to Donkey and Baboon Lakes . . . chasing fall color rumors

Although my plans were to slowly make my way south on 395, visiting each trailhead along the way, my desire to experience the changing colors of aspen had me driving further south. I met a few hikers on my hike in Lundy Canyon who said Sabrina Lake was the place to find color. FYI the correct pronunciation is Sa-BRINE-a.

I got an early morning start, feeling the chill as I hiked along the lake in the early morning shadows.

The area looked much more hiking friendly than it did during my initial visit in late May.

My previous two hikes on this fall tour were in Hoover Wilderness.

The details of the changing colors intrigue me.

Once again I was reminded as to why I was day hiking and not overnight in the backcountry. It’s been plenty cold sleeping in my car at lower elevation.

Once again my peak finder app helps me learn the names of these mountains, this one bordering Sabrina Lake.

Granite staircases are a consistent find in the sierra. Oh how I love the trail builders!

This is Blue Lake, an all too common name. Being a short distance from the trailhead means excessive day and overnight use. I met a few campers and although a little jealous still not ready for those frigid overnight temps.

Looking back at Blue Lake and Mount Emerson.

This junction appears at about the 3-mile mark. On this trip I chose to take the trail toward Donkey Lake.

Donkey Lake

The maintained trail ends at Donkey Lake but if you’re up for some cross country and self navigation, you can create a loop to include Baboon Lakes. Tip: the navigation might be slightly easier going counterclockwise rather than the direction I followed.

Looking back at Donkey and Blue Lakes.

I found a few route cairns along the way.

First peek of Baboon Lakes with Mount Thompson in the background.

I could imagine myself overnight at Baboon Lakes.

It took me quite some time to pick my way around the Baboon Lakes basin.

I found a great Lake Sabrina viewpoint..

On my return trip, the color along Lake Sabrina was popping with much better light for photography.

Adventure Date(s):

  • October 4, 2019

Hike Details:

Tips:

  • Although tempting to park at the boat launch area which includes restrooms, just don’t! Hiking across the dam is all fine and dandy until you reach the end where it’s a lot of unnecessary scampering. It’s one of those long short cuts you’d never recommend. Trust me.
  • Bishop is a great place to catch up on chores, eat some good grub, etc. If you need a shower go to the hostel. I don’t recommend the one at the laundromat as it was dirty and disgusting. Check online reviews of laundromats. If I remember correctly there are three in town.  You can use your Safeway ID for shopping at Vons; get your gas discount. Looney Bean was my favorite for coffee, eats and WiFi.
  • You can pick up a fall colors map and guide at many visitor centers and ranger stations along Highway 395. There are also several online sites offering current conditions; this is one I used and recommend (link).

Resources:

Links: