Hadn’t been up to the Sierras in a while, so over the 4th of July weekend I took a three day backpacking trip to Cottonwood Lakes near Lone Pine, California. Camp was set up between lakes number Two and Three. On the second day I hiked to Long Lake and High Lake before turning around at the base of New Army Pass. The weather was perfect the whole time but the mosquitoes were out in full force. A full set of photos can be found here.
I had never been to Mount Waterman so I wanted to check it out. We left early Sunday morning to knock this hike out before noon. It was a little confusing as to where the trailhead was exactly, since it is not clearly marked, but we eventually figured it was the trail that had all the blank wilderness signs next to it.
The first part of the hike is a gradual incline that meanders through the woods.
After about a mile you come to a saddle with a nice view to the south.
After the saddle, the trail continues to gradually climb towards the summit.
After a few miles you finally reach a large cluster of rocks which is the summit block. Climbing atop we were able to find a small tin-can summit register.
Below is the map of our hike. All of the photos can be found here.
We left our car parked outside the Mammoth Mountain Inn where we had stayed the night before and boarded the Red’s Meadow shuttle bus. Moments after being dropped off at the Agnew Meadows shuttle stop we were already getting attacked by mosquitoes despite drenching ourselves in DEET.
We set off down the road, pass the pack station, to where the High Trail of the PCT started. There were some short steep switchbacks in the beginning, but after that the trail leveled out and was pretty straight.
Out of all the days we decided to hike this mostly exposed trail, it had to be during a heatwave. To say the least, it was not cool outside as we hiked but the views from the trail were great.
After about 8 miles we came to Thousand Island Lake which was to be the location of our first night’s camp. Due to camping restrictions around the lake we had to hike about another mile further to find a camping spot, however, many people were ignoring the restriction.
We opted to go for the less popular south side and found a somewhat flat spot up on the side of a hill. The mosquitoes were still pretty bad even being up and away from the lake so we retired to the tent and spent most of the day laying in there resting.
The next day we headed south on the John Muir Trail and passed by Emerald Lake and Ruby Lake, finally coming to the large Garnet Lake.
There was a nice footbridge over the large outflow at Garnet Lake where a lot of people were hanging out and getting water. We too stopped here to check out the view and collect water for our hike.
After passing over the footbridge we did a little uphill but then peaked out and started heading downward towards Shadow Lake. For some reason I had in my head that this was what most of the day was going to be like, until we reached the east end of Shadow Lake and I met the switchbacks from hell. I think these may have been the most intense group of switchbacks I have ever gone up. Maybe it was because I had a pack on, or because I was still tired from the hike yesterday, but either way they made me miserable. Alas I knew it was just after these switchbacks and we’d be at Rosalie Lake which was our planned 2nd night camp. And we needed to get there since the weather was starting to turn. Just as we finished setting up our tent it began to rain, but just a little bit. We crawled inside to rest as the skies opened up a little more and the wind got more blustery. I think being in a tent when it’s raining outside is one of my favorite things. We rested in the tent most of the later half of the day until the weather let up and the skies cleared again. I took this opportunity to get out and walk around Rosalie Lake a bit.
I felt like this lake had a lot of good spots for setting up tents, unlike a lot of the other lakes we had passed by earlier on the trip. The mosquitoes were also not as bad here, but they were still enough to be a nuisance. I cooked some soup for dinner on our Esbit stove which I finally started getting a hang of, then crawled back into the tent to eat and call it a night.
Back on the trail in the morning after a quick breakfast of trail bars we quickly passed Glady’s Lake, but didn’t stop long due the barrage of mosquitos.
The trail this day was almost all downhill so it went by quickly. It actually went by a lot more quickly than we anticipated. We were planning on spending our next night around Johnston Lake but we got there so early in the day we decided to just keep going.
Not much further past Johnston Lake we entered into the Devils Postpile Monument.
It was still another mile or so until we came across what actually looked like an established area. Our first sign we were getting back to civilization was the footbridge over the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River.
At this point we had to figure out where we were gonna stay for the night. We had a couple options; A: We could catch a shuttle bus from the Devils Postpile back to where we left our car at the Mammoth Mountain Inn and try and find a hotel, or B: See if we could get a campground at Red’s Meadow or the Devils Postpile. We decided to go with the later option and see if we could just find a campsite in the area, that way we could wake up the next morning and check out the postpile before the tourist crowds rolled in. We made our way to the “ranger” station near the Devils Postpile shuttle stop to ask about the campgrounds. The woman working there looked at me as if I was speaking a different language when I asked about the availability of campsites. All she could offer me was, “you can go check.” Last time I checked rangers were supposed to know about these things, but oh well. We walked over to the campground to find that there were a few spots left, but alas, we had no cash with us to pay for a site!
We figured maybe at Red’s Meadow Resort we could get some cash, so we hopped on the valley Shuttle and cruised over there. While there we grabbed some sub-par food at the restaurant, some beer and snacks from the store, which also gave us cash back!
We rode back to the campground on the shuttle, nabbed a spot, paid for it, and then basked in our accomplishments of the day.
The next morning we got up as planned to go check out the Devils Postpile which was very close to our campsite. Just a short walk and we were among the first people there that day.
We took the trail to the top of the postpile as well. It was nice being able to check out the whole area with almost no one else around.
We had a little more time left before we had to be out of our campsite so we headed on over to Rainbow Falls. We took the shuttle to the trailhead and did the short hike, but we only had enough time to check it out from above and had to head back to pack up our camp.
We took the shuttle back to camp, packed up, then took the shuttle back out to Mammoth Mountain Inn where we had left our car. Below is a map of our route.
More pictures from this tip can be found here.
Our goal was to head up to Highway 2 and park along the road and take a snow chute up to the Little Jimmy Campground and then move onto the summit of Mt. Islip, however when we got to Vincent Gap we found the road closed there despite what the CalTrans website reported on our drive up. It was a semi-overcast morning and there were signs of fresh snow that had dusted the area overnight.
We debated our options now that we were parked at Vincent Gap, where the trailheads to the Big Horn Mine, Miner Vincent’s Cabin, and Mt. Baden-Powell are all located. We decided on the more challenging hike which was up Mt. Baden-Powell. There was ice in the parking lot and snow all around, but we were prepared for this, so we geared up and headed out.
We made our way up the first few switchbacks fairly easily; the snow was not that deep yet and the trail was still easy to follow. It was actually turning out to be a beautiful day with sun peaking though snow covered trees and casting shadows on the snow covered trail.
As we trudged further up the mountain the snow started getting deeper and the trail became less apparent. Eventually we just started cutting upwards through the snow.
Before we got to the beginning of the summit ridge a group of snowboarders and skiers passed us on their way up. I was impressed at how they charged up the mountain but then also realized that they are probably more accustom to the high altitude than our group was.
At the beginning of the summit ridge my hands started getting extra cold, and I debated on turning back. It was cold and windy with small amounts of snow coming down. I was worried that maybe the two pairs of gloves I was wearing just weren’t enough, but the more I kept moving the better my hands felt. In the end I was glad I didn’t turn back, but I couldn’t help but to be cautious.
When we made it to the summit the group of skiers that had passed us earlier were about to head down and we watched them quickly slide away down the mountain. Were we jealous? Yeah, maybe a little.
The views at the top weren’t as impressive as compared to a clear day, but when the clouds would part for a minute we could get a glimpse out towards the Lancaster area, but that was it.
As we made our way off the summit we got a light dusting of snow which was kind of cool now that we were on our way down. We shot straight down the snow which cut a lot of distance off the descent, but even if we wanted to take the trail we couldn’t see half of it. When we got lower down the mountain and the snow was less deep we were able to get back on the trail and follow it out for the last mile or so.
This was my first real winter hike, and by that I mean hiking in real winter conditions which included being snowed on and traversing all through snow. I was glad I had the proper gear for this hike but I don’t think I’ve ever been that cold on a hike before. After the incident with my fingers getting painfully cold I am definitely in the market for some better snow gloves.
While looking at various maps of Joshua Tree National Park, I noticed a little place called “Pine Spring” which wasn’t too far away from a place called Pine City which I had been before. I figured it might be worth checking out since a spring in the desert might be an interesting thing to see. Friday night we cruised into the dirt parking lot at the Pine City Backcountry registration board and hiked out into the night and camped.
In the morning we made breakfast and headed out in the direction I thought the spring was. I ended up taking us in the wrong direction at first but was able to get us back on track using the GPS app (EveryTrail) on my iPhone. There was no trail to follow so we were just using our best judgement based on a printed topo map and the GPS app to guide us to where the spring was.
After climbing up a small hill we found a large rock formation at the top that had a cave in it. It was a nice spot to take a break and enjoy the view.
We descended from this point and came down to an area which had a man-made rock pile. We thought this was strange because there was no trail or any other markings around leading to this spot. Not sure who made it or for what reason. At least we could use it as a marker if we decided to come back this way.
We climbed up from where the strange marker was to the top of another hill. From there it seemed like we just had to go straight down a small rocky gulch. We negotiated our way past boulders and desert shrubs, slowly scaling our way down the gulch, which was somewhat steep in some places. As we came down the gulch we could see some sort of structure in the distance below and figured it must have something to do with the spring since we knew we were getting close.
The gulch finally bottomed out into a wash and we walked a little further to where the structure was. As we got closer we could see the structure was just a large sloped plane of corrugated steel. There was also a large steel holding tank half buried in the ground. It turns out that the structure was a rain catch which directed water into the holding tank; a little less spectacular than finding a spring but still kind of interesting. The reason for this being at this particular location still remains a mystery to me. My best guess is that it is used to supply water to wildlife somehow.
We took a break at the “spring” and had a snack. It seemed that there was another trail that lead here from the oposite direction from which we came. Not sure where it started from. We were able to find a much shorter route back to camp which followed part of the Pine City Trail.
Back at camp we hung out, drank beer, ate snacks, and waited for more of our friends to show up. That night for dinner I made something I had been wanting to try and make in the backcountry for a while: PIZZA! After a while of eating the same stuff you start wanting to get creative with your camp meals. I bought a pack of pre-made pizza crusts, some pesto which I put in a plastic bag, mozzarella cheese slices, a can of sliced black olives, diced green pepper, and a pack of sun dried tomatoes. We heated the crust up on our camp pan, put all the toppings on, then covered the pan with foil. The pizza didn’t get thoroughly cooked but it still tasted great anyway. I mean, how often do you get to have pizza when you’re in the backcountry?
When we were driving out of the park from the trailhead the car decided to break down on the dirt road, but that’s another story. I think we ended up making it back home to Orange County at around 10pm at night.
More pictures from this trip can be found here.