Roundtrip from Crabtree to Emigrant Lake and back: 52km
Net elevation gain: ~807m (with lots of ups and downs on the trail)
Day 1 – Santa Cruz to Crabtree Trailhead
On Friday night we drove out to the Emigrant Wilderness, departing straight from the VA at 5pm. Dmitriy spent the day doing some shopping, including trips ranging from Costco to Bed, Bath, & Beyond. We had dinner at a Mongolian BBQ place and then went to a shopping store to buy food for the trip. As usual, Dmitriy wanted to buy tons of food and I wanted to buy none. It’s a good balance – I would probably starve without him, and he would bring 1,000,000 lbs of food).
We got in pretty late, so by the time we got to the range station in Mi Wuk to pick up our back country permit they were closed. This meant we couldn’t buy a map, which was highly unfortunate. Instead we both download topo maps to our phones and turned them off to conserve batteries.
We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the trailhead because they had one-night campsites! We set up camp and made a fire.
Day 2 – Crabtree Trailhead to Upper Buck Lakes
We woke up and immediately packed up. Breakfast was very minimal. Here is Dmitriy packing up.
We started off on the Crabtree trailhead. There are two parallel routes to get up to Emigrant Lake. We didn’t originally have a concrete plan for where to camp at night, but decided to shoot for Emigrant Lake and see where we got. Along the way we met several people who seemed very skeptical that we could get to Emigrant Lake (or even Wood Lake), which extra motivated us to do it. Here was the routes we ended up following.
We stopped for lunch at a stream. We saw a water snake, which was pretty cool. Dmitriy took advantage of his brand new unzippable pant-shorts and we had peanut butter sandwiches and soaked our already sore feet.
Here are a few photos from along the way:
We took that second photo with a big tripod that Dmitriy brought along (I also had a small one). We chatted with some backpackers coming down from Wood Lake who were on their 2nd ever backpacking trip. They had a very sweet dog! Our new mid-way goal became Wood Lake, where we decided we would stop for a break.
On the way, we found snow!
We finally got to Wood Lake, after ~18 km. Our feet were very blistered and achy, although muscle-wise we were both doing very well.
We dipped our feet and ate granola bars and fruit snacks. We also refilled our water bottles. We planned to only stop for 10-15 min, but ended up staying for about an hour (much to our surprise). When we took our feet out of the water they had gotten all soft and extra sensitive and it was incredibly painful even just walking over to our shoes, let alone putting them back on.
There were tons and tons of these blue damselflies, all over the place.
We continued along and got a bit lost. The tails in the Emigrant Wilderness are not very well marked (or just flat out not marked) and sometimes there are equal-sized paths that split off from one another. In this particular case, one path continued ahead nicely (but eventually petered out) whereas the real path went through a swamp and was submerged. After going the wrong way, we back-tracked, saw somebody fording the swamp, and realized we had to go that way. Here is Dmitriy crossing. We didn’t have a proper map, which didn’t help.
We reached a lake-filled part, which had lots of islands. We were too tired at this point to explore and really appreciate it, but if we ever go back I’d like to spend more time in this region.
When we got to the Buck Lakes area, we got lost again. We were looking for a land bridge that allowed you to cross to the other side of the lakes, but there were so many islands and outcroppings that it was really hard to find. We finally ran into another camper who pointed us in the right direction. As we started crossing, we decided that it was so beautiful that we mays well just camp there since we were unlikely to find another spot as nice. We were also experiencing some pretty intense foot pain and it was around 6pm so we figured this way we could enjoy the last of the sunlight and go for a swim! There was a totally naked guy running around, which was pretty funny.
We found a campsite on a rocky ledge on the land bride. We pitched the tent, threw a rock in it so it wouldn’t blow away (which it would have – when we came back it was on it’s side), and went for a swim. The lake is from meltwater and was quite cold, but it felt so good after being covered in sweat, dirt, and mosquito bites. We tried climbing up on some of the islands, but the bottoms of our feet hurt so much that we didn’t do much exploring.
After swimming we got all wrapped up in our warm clothes, made tea, and started cooking dinner.
Tea and moon cheese (dehydrated cheese, courtesy of Mom). I’m on a big Lady Grey kick these days.
For dinner we had horrible Mac Cheese and a bean / veggie soup, from dehydrated veggies that I got for my birthday. They are really good, and we added dehydrated chicken broth. After dinner we brushed out teeth, packed up the bear canister, and stashed our canister and bags away from the tent.
Here is a photo of our campsite. We decided to leave the tent fly off all night so we could see the stars from the tent. It was a full moon, so at night we could also see the whole lake perfectly well from the tent until around 4am when the moon set (we didn’t sleep very well…).
The sun only set around 9:30 pm, although at that time the mosquitos came out full force so we went into the tent. We were both very tired, and quasi fell asleep but Dmitriy kept having bad semi-dreams about bears and I kept on randomly waking up, so in the end we both slept very badly.
Day 3 – Buck Lakes to Emigrant Lake
We were very tired in the morning, but excited to hike to Emigrant Lake. We had tea and breakfast and set out immediately. We had about a 6km hike to Emigrant Lake, which started off going through a very pretty but buggy meadow. The trail went over the ridge to the left of the mountain in the photo below.
We finally did the last of the elevation gains and got to a meadow before Emigrant Lake. There were lots of wildflower and quite a few deer.
We got to Emigrant and stopped for lunch (PB sandwiches) at the edge of the lake. It was extremely isolated – we didn’t see anybody else higher than Buck Lakes at any point. While sitting eating lunch, we decided it would be fun to climb the mountain across the lake (the one right in the middle of the photo below).
View from a sandy beach, while walking over to the other side of the lake.
There wasn’t really a clear path, so we did lots of climbing over rocks and such.
We got to a small broken bridge/dam. We crossed a little lower down, after taking a few photos!
Some peculiar wildflowers.
Dmitriy takes a nap.
Heading up the mountain.
On top of the first (mini) peak.
At the top of the second peak, which turned out to be just a little bit smaller than the next peak over.
Top of the biggest peak around!
We went back down to our campsite at Upper Buck Lake. I had a swim and Dmitriy came down to the lake and dipped his feet, filled our water bottles, and chatted with me while I swam.
After the swim I got bundled up in warm clothes and we made dinner. We had mac cheese and veggie soup again, with different veggies. The mac cheese was unbelievably disgusting. We braced ourselves for a night of no sleep / bear fear and a day ahead of brutal hiking. At one point in the night, Dmitriy went to the bathroom and had a stare-down with a bear. Even so, I think we both slept better than we did the night before.
Day 4 – Buck Lake to Crabtree Trailhead
We woke up alive and not eaten by bears. Not even slightly chewed! We had oatmeal and tea, packed up, and set off. We set of on a different trail back to Crabtree Trailhead, which was much nicer, passed more lakes, and was a bit shorter. Here is our campsite right before we packed up.
Last glimpse of the lake.
We walked and walked, and took almost no breaks because our blisters / feet hurt so badly that we didn’t want to stop because it was too painful when we started up again. However, we did plan to stop at Camp Lake for lunch and a break, which was only ~2.6 miles from the end of the trail. We found a rock by the lake and had jerky and PB sandwiches. I took out my sleeping mat and we both lounged around in the sun and I read a bit. Then we went for a swim together. Finally in the late afternoon we headed out (I was sad to go).
We got to the trailhead around 6pm. Dmitriy filled up our water and I went to get the car from the overflow parking space (on the side of a road somewhere farther away). It wouldn’t start because the battery had stopped. We had to push the car around to face downhill, and then we tried rolling it down to start it because Dmitriy saw a movie once where that worked. Finally we found somebody around and they gave us a jump, and we were on our way. We had dinner at a place near Mi Wuk, then went to the VA to pick up my computer (and had a brief run in with the VA police), and head home to Santa Cruz.