After a 20 year hiatus, my dad and I finally got back into the Sierra to rekindle an old father and son tradition.
Mileage: 24 miles
Day(s) Hiked: 9/7/12 > 9/10/12
Dog Friendly: Yes
Red Tape: Overnight camping requires a permit from Inyo NF
As a new father, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the formative experiences of my childhood. Growing up in Northern California, I was fortunate to have access to the Sierra Nevada at an early age. My dad and I made frequent trips up to Yosemite as I grew up, and it was always something I looked forward to. My first backcountry experience was at the Sunrise High Sierra camp when I was about 10 years old. We bagged Cloud’s Rest as a dayhike, and the view of Yosemite Valley from up above cemented in my brain where life’s biggest treasures are found.
It goes without saying that I owe a lot of my love for the mountains to my father, and before I begin to pay it forward to my son, I wanted to get my dad into the Sierra backcountry to share this glorious place together another time. Despite experiencing so many great Yosemite trips together back in my childhood, it had been about 20 years since our last one. The trip up to the Sunrise camp had been the end of an era. Meanwhile, my passion for the outdoors has continued to develop and I try to get into the Sierra backcountry as much as possible. As I planned out the 2012 backpacking season, I decided that it was time to get pops back out there.
The location for the trip turned out to be an easy decision. Dad had never been to the Mammoth Lakes area, and the accessibility and sheer beauty of the mountains there made it a no brainer. I loaded up my trusty pack dog and headed up before dawn on a Friday morning in September, ready for 4 days in the mountains to cap off a great summer of backpacking. My dad was waiting for me in Mammoth when I arrived, having taken advantage of some precious acclimation time that I always seem to neglect. We grabbed some breakfast, organized our stuff, and hit the trailhead. The shuttle had stopped running only a couple of days previously, so we were lucky enough to be able to drive straight to Agnew Meadows.
The first day was up the river trail, past Shadow Lake, to Lake Ediza. It is a short hike without a ton of elevation gain, perfect for my dad’s old bones. Whenever one of us would act tired, Callie was there to cheer us on. This was her first backpacking trip with someone other than just me, and she relished in the opportunity to help herd the pack up the trail.
We ended up camping close to the creek below Lake Ediza, since the good campsites on the lake had already been taken. This is a very popular lake and the majority of the lake shore prohibits camping, so it can sometimes be a bit of a pain to find a site here unless you are willing to get off the beaten path a bit.
The following morning we awoke before sunrise and headed up to the lake to catch the alpenglow on the Minarets. Conditions did not disappoint, and soon enough the ridge was lit ablaze in a deep orange. The lake surface was nearly still and the beautiful scene reflected in almost perfect symmetry.
After the splendid sunrise, we retreated back to our camp, had some breakfast, and then packed up stuff for a dayhike up to Iceberg Lake. The trail up to Iceberg is a short stretch that ascends about 500 feet. There are great views of Ediza present for almost the entire stretch.
Iceberg Lake has a much different feel from Ediza. It is right at the tree line on a bench below the Minarets, and as a result it feels much more exposed and barren. On the opposite side of the lake, the Minarets tower well over a thousand feet above. What a breathtaking view!
We tried to linger and enjoy the spot, but our solitude was shortlived. After arriving to the lake and having it to ourselves, no more than 10 minutes later a flood of people began to arrive. Many people were backpackers that were passing through on their way to Cecile Lake. Some others were dayhikers like us who had reached their destination. There wasn’t enough room to spread out away from these people, so we decided to head back down to Ediza and take a break in the warm sun away from the crowds.
The original plan gave us the option to move up to Nydiver Lake to set up camp for night 2, or stay at Ediza if we weren’t feeling it. Dad was feeling tired, and I wasn’t sure that he would enjoy the offtrail travel anyways, so we decided to forego it and just relax at the lake for the rest of the day with our books. There are definitely many worse ways to spend a sunny afternoon.
I made my way back up to the lake for sunset and was rewarded with a great view. The clouds over the ridge line lit up as if there was a fire blazing on the other side of the mountains. The Eastern Sierra is usually best for sunrise but every once in awhile the conditions arise for a breathtaking sunset like this one.
The following morning I got up early and headed up the trail towards Iceberg Lake. I wanted to shoot another sunrise, and since I was content with my Lake Ediza shots it was time to try a new location. Upon reaching Iceberg, I was saddened to see that the winds had made the lake surface extremely choppy. With no wildflowers in bloom I struggled to find an interesting foreground, so I decided to try something different. I ascended the hill on the side of the lake opposite the minarets, and after ascending a few hundred feet I set up my tripod. The view that I ended up with was a different take than I had seen on Iceberg Lake before, and the Minarets were featured prominently, so the sunrise wasn’t a total bust.
Callie and I quickly retraced our steps and met up with my Dad who was relaxing at the campsite. Today’s goal was Thousand Island Lake, and we packed up our stuff and set out on the trail. In order to make things more pleasant for my dad, Callie and I were carrying the vast majority of the gear. This had Callie’s pack at close to 15 pounds, which is quite heavy for a 40 pound dog. Callie is no normal dog though, and you would never even know the pack weighed anything at all if you saw her on the trail.
She cooled her paws in every river that we passed,
and she curiously examined every furry creature that scampered around the trail.
It’s pretty amazing how packed with scenery this area is, because after only a couple of miles on the JMT we were at Garnet Lake, another one of my favorite places in the Sierra. We enjoyed some cheese and crackers along the lake shore and then continued along towards Thousand Island. Storm clouds built around us and it lightly drizzled as we circumnavigated the lake. Fortunately, the rain was intermittent and light and we didn’t even need to put on our raincoats.
The trail between Garnet and Thousand Island has a couple of lakes replete with typical Sierra beauty.
We arrived at Thousand Island and grabbed a site up on the hill about a hundred yards from the lake where we enjoyed a marvelous view on our final night.
The following morning I awoke to clouds over Banner Peak. It was the makings of a great sunrise so I sprang to action. The light never quite broke through the clouds though so it was tough to get the shot I was attempting.
Back at the camp, we made sure to get one last group portrait to commemorate the occasion.
It was time to go home, and we started heading down the high trail back to Agnew Meadows. The High Trail does not disappoint with views. As hiked along the Pacific Crest, Mount Ritter and the Minarets were seen popping up from behind the ridge line across the river valley.
The volcanic landscape of Mammoth Mountain dominated the view in front of us for the rest of the day, and all around us the foliage showed signs of the coming Fall. It was an incredible way to finish the hike. After all these years, we had pulled off our most memorable Sierra trip yet.