June / July 2017
Dmitriy and I decided to go to the Sierras for the long weekend. We wanted to stay at a campsite in the June Lakes Loop and then do a one night backpacking trip up Rush Creek (where we did a day hike with Nica a couple years ago). To ensure we got a spot, I headed up by myself right after lab meeting on Thursday morning. I drove 5 1/2 hours to the campground and realized everything was completely full. I checked all the campsites on the June Lakes Loop and the campsite in Lee Vining where we stayed with Nica last time we were there. I ended up having to back-track along highway 108 for 2 1/2 hours until I found a spot at Baker Campground in Stanislaus National Forest. It was very stressful and miserable.
Stanislaus is a forest area North of the Emigrant Wilderness and Yosemite.
Once I had camp set up, I went to the “general store” (~small dep) in Kennedy Meadows, which was about a 10 min drive away. I got a shrimp ramen noodle cup for dinner, which was pretty much the tastiest thing I’ve ever eaten. I also realized that Dmitriy always is in charge of setting of the Primus and I didn’t really know how to do it.
My original plan (when I thought we’d be staying on the June Lake Loop) had been to climb Mt Dana on my day alone. Mt Dana is a 13, 053 ft summit with a great view, and I’ve wanted to do it for a couple of years now. I decided to stick with the plan.
The same blog that recommended the Rae Lakes Loop (which was amazing) said Mt Dana was one of the top ten hikes they’d done in the Sierras. I also figured it would be a good hike because according to the internet, it is quite popular/busy and not too hard, both of which were appealing to me since I was going to be hiking solo. Both were not true at all, at least under the current conditions. The trail was largely covered in snow so almost nobody else was up there (saw two other groups over the whole day, and I’m not sure the second group was actually going up), and since I couldn’t find the trail most of the time I ended up spending most of my day scrambling over unstable scree.
It was a long drive down from Stanislaus and I got to the trailhead around 10:30 am. It was hard to find since it isn’t on Google Maps and it also isn’t marked with a trailhead sign. I had to ask the Rangers at the Tioga Pass Entrance Station for help. It turns out the trailhead starts about 10 ft over from the station.
Here is a view of Mt Dana from Tioga Lake.
And here is another view from the start of the trail. This was about 3 min into the hike, and as you can see, the trail is non-existent already. I probably only spent 5% of the time on the trail on the way up, and about 40% on the way down. Luckily one of the Rangers pointed out the general ascent route to me when he was showing me where the trailhead was, so I knew the general direction I should head and eventually did reconnect with the trail much higher up.
Most of the time up I was scrambling over scree, but there were also large icy patches.
Near the top, there were purple wildflowers and yellow-green and orange lichen on the rocks.
Here I am at the top! It took me about 4 hours to get up. It probably would have taken less time if I had been on the path.
One on side there was a view of the Mono Basin and Mono Lake. On the other side was a view of Tuolomne Meadows and Yosemite.
I was surprised by how much snow there still was. Dmitriy and I have been up to Tuolomne in July twice before and there was no trace of snow. Apparently there was a heavy snow pack this year, so I guess it just hasn’t melted yet.
On the way down I finally found the path! I had assumed it just didn’t even exist at the top. I wiped out pretty hard several times on the way down, sometimes on scree, sometimes on steep ice, and once on dead grass. The best part was “skiing” down the steep snow pack in my sneakers.
Once I got down to the tree cover again, I lost the path once and for all. I picked the biggest mountain around and tried to measure how far away my car was from the peak so that I could try to navigate towards my car even though I couldn’t see anything except rare glimpses of the mountain from the forest. The arrow indicates the approximate point at which I lost the trail. It was impossible to get too lost, because no matter what the path down from Dana crosses the highway, but near the end of my hike I was starting to feel pretty unhappy. I wasn’t sure how far away from my car I’d end up and my legs were all shaky. A few times the snow broke and I went through into stream water.
I could not believe it when I finally hit the highway and peeked up. Look how close Jane is! I am very proud of my navigation skills.
I ended the hike around 4:30. It was an excellent day hike, albeit one that should probably not be done solo when there is still snow.
Dmitriy left Palo Alto right after work and got to Baker Campground around 10:30 pm.
We drove down to the Lee Vining / June Lake area for the day.
On the way down, we drove through the Toiyabe National Forest. We stopped at a roaring river and ran around on some cool flat rocks.
We saw some cool wildlife. Dmitriy got quite close to a marmot-like thing. I want to know what the butterfly-esque thing is.
When we got to Lee Vining, we got lunch at Epic Cafe, which has a beautiful backyard with flowers all over. It was really hot and we felt super lazy. We drove up to June Lake and spent a couple hours on a rocky bit of beach we found. I went for a swim and we had some maple syrup in honour of Canada Day. The water was a vibrant blue and ice cold.
We went down to Mono Lake, where Dmitriy had a dip. Then we drove back up to the June Lakes Loop and had a dip in Grant Lake so he could wash off. Grant Lake is downstream of three other popular lakes, and I feel like you could tell from the poor water quality. There was a serious phytoplankton bloom and the water was a deep green.
This is the same lake where we went swimming with Dmitriy’s family in 2015 and the difference in water levels is amazing. Check out the 2015 levels here.
We had dinner in Lee Vining. I liked this board:
Usually I have trouble sleeping when camping, so this time around I brought ear plugs to block out all the little noises that keep me awake. I think they helped a lot, but there was a pretty serious downside. Around 6:45 am I was dreaming that I was eating pizza. The crust was just so good. Suddenly I jerked awake because my mouth tasted AWFUL, just like you might think a whole mouthful of earwax would taste. Then I realized that I was mid-chew through one of my ear plugs. There was no going back to sleep after that.
Day 4 was Sonora Peak day. The start of our hike was along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The red arrow is pointing at Sonora Peak.
Again there was some difficulty finding the trail sometimes since it was covered it snow.
The snow was all pitted. It was tough going.
Jk! The pits were only about 1-2 ft deep most of the time, although there were some places where they were about as deep as my legs are long.
At one point, we went very much the wrong way and ended up having to do a bit of rock climbing to get back to the real trail, which we could see on the other side of a gulch.
Down on the trail again, we met a group doing the PCT. One of them took a picture for us.
Here is the chunk of snow that had been covering the trail. We were on top of it on our detour and had briefly considered trying to slide down the edge before seeing how steep it was.
Here is Wolf Lake Saddle. We stopped for lunch (tomatoes and chip sandwiches).
This is where we branched off from the PCT and started going up Sonora Peak. There was no trail indicated on the map, but after a few minutes hiking we stumbled across a small path. It would often petter out on easy bits and later reappear on hard parts. It looked like somebody made it but it hasn’t been maintained.
At the summit:
At the very top there is a rock shelter. It was very windy so the shelter was much appreciated. We hung out in there and had some summit skittles and read the log book.
Here are some of my favourite pages from the log book.
What a tough daschund!
Apparently somebody did, indeed, build the trail. Although I didn’t see any stairs.
We probably hung out on the peak for an hour or so. Instead of going back down by the trail, we decided to go down the face of Sonora Peak. We “sneaker skied” down almost the whole thing, and we must have made it down in under 30 min.
Afterwards we went home and got creative cooking dinner. Check out the tortilla-egg!
My first order of business for the day was making sure that I still had both my ear plugs and that they were in a fully un-chewed and un-digested state. Once satisfied that this was the case, I made french toast. I had two approaches: 1) cooking the toast in a make-shift aluminum tray, 2) cooking the toast in-between two tortillas and then scraping them off. It was super fun. We even had left over maple syrup from Canada Day.
After breakfast we drove down to Leavitt Meadows.
We hiked along the path to Secret Lake for a bit, then cut down an went to the river. We found some shade under a bush and hung out, read, and ate lunch. We were lazy that morning when packing and all we had was one tomato each.
Then we went to Secret Lake. We jumped off the side of some rocks. I went first and it took me a really long time to work up the nerve to go, even though it wasn’t that high up, but Dmitriy just took off without a moment’s hesitation.
After our swim we warmed up on some sunny rocks and headed back to the trailhead.
For dinner Dmitriy made a ramen-hot dog-cheese pie. I am so impressed by how well it turned out (unlike my French toast). Everything he cooks tastes good. How does he work this magic?!?!?