Sunday, September 1

Chicken Spring Lake Backpacking - Eastern Sierra Mts

The mighty Range of Light is a testament of challenging wonders that will reveal itself to those that choose to walk it's paths, deep into it's heart, while exploring their own.

Stephanie & I spontaneously decided to go for a weekend backpacking trip, but skipped the usual local San Gabes & went straight for the big stuff, Eastern Sierra's. Deciding originally on a loop trip, up over Cottonwood Pass to Lower Soldier Lake, then back over New Army Pass & through the Cottonwood Lakes region...... Mother Nature had other intentions.

Driving to Lone Pine, it was raining. We got dinner & our hotel, it was raining. We woke, snagged permits & ate breakfast, it was still raining. Feeling confident, we drove up to the trail head, maybe it'd look different at 10,000ft? After navigating the fifteen some odd rock slides on the road we made it to our parking spot, turned the Jeep off... it was still raining. 

| Near Cottonwood Pass, looking into Horseshoe Meadow |

All gear packed accordingly, about to set foot on the trail & the rain stopped, we couldn't believe it. Walking with smiles only lasted about thirty five minutes, the rain returned while we were climbing the switchbacks to Cottonwood Pass. The views down both sides were beautiful, cloaked in thick dark clouds all around us. 

| Chicken Spring Lake - Elevation 11,242ft |

Moving on now, we had spent some time in the rain & still felt good about it. Crossing into the 11,000ft range of elevation we started to encounter hail more than rain. The situation was changing rapidly. We were getting closer to Chicken Spring Lake, so we opted for an afternoon break there. 

The rock basin was stunning upon arrival, the hail continuing to grow stronger, covering the forest floor with a thin layer of white. That's when the thunder began. Rolling heavy & loud all throughout the mountains around us. What a magnificent display. 

By now we had decided to alter our route & call this lake home for the night. When the storm waned a bit, we put up the tent & unpacked gear, all still dry as a bone, things were looking up. Steph knocked out while I sat & giddly listening to every thunder clap for several hours. Lighting never showed up to the party fortunately, just lots of earth shaking noise. Props to Big Agnes, superior ultra light tents, this is the fourth trip with multi-hour storms with no problems what so ever.

| Inyo National Forest |

After showing off her power, Mother Nature decided to show us her softer side & opened up the skies for a majestic sunset that will live with me for a long time. Walking the shoreline & then finding a nice high point to see the last rays of light fall over these granite peaks was all the reassurance I needed that this is where we belong.

Retreating to make a tortellini dinner & snack furiously before sleep was all that had to be done now. Life was good, the stars were out & displaying all their allure. The next morning we still had some clear skies so plans were made to explore more before packing up.

| Chicken Spring Lake, Big Whitney Meadow |

Heading up the boulder section on the eastern side of the lake, we gained a ridgline that looked far down into Big Whitney Meadow. A most expansive & encompassing view. The rocks were interesting & warn along the top of the ridge from wind constantly eroding them away over time. Clouds slowly began to gather & we knew it was time to get walking. 

Gear was secured & slung over our shoulders, made it back to Cottonwood Pass with easy, but we could hear thunder & see the rain in the distance, right where we needed to go. Only about five minutes passed & were we in the thick of a shower & thunder roared again. However, today was different, for every 5 or 6 thunder claps we heard, a bolt of lighting would streak across the sky.

The lower section of the trail through the Horseshoe Meadow area is a mix of dense trees & large open & exposed trail sections. While Steph & I walked one of these open/exposed trail sections a bolt a lighting crashed down from the sky & struck the group in front of us in the same open area we were walking through! The sound was so incredibly loud we both jumped out of shear fright, leaving our skin on the trail behind us. Never had I seen or experienced anything like that in my whole life. Needless to say, hearts racing, we picked up the pace & made it to the car as more hail began to fall from the sky.

| Horseshoe Meadow |

The adventure didn't stop there, while driving out we experience a lighting strike, arc hundreds of feet tall, over our car, hitting the ground on both sides of Luken Canyon Road. Later on the Hwy 395, traffic came to a grinding halt due to a large flash flood mud slide that covered to highway (see video). Everyone stood around on the highway cursing obscenities... I was just thinking about the next trip to the High Sierra's.

Big Tujunga Narrows Group Swim - San Gabriel Mts

As summer comes to a close (only on the calendar), there are several hikes that I did not want to slide by me again. The Big Tujunga Narrows is a summer only hike that absolutely blows 90% of all the others we have done out of the water (no pun intended).

The Big Tujunga Narrows is a wonderland of rock pools & high canyon walls, closing into 15 feet apart at some sections. It's also wonderful b/c it is a non-technical canyoning trip, there are some ropes in place to help assist travelers down steep rock slopes, but nothing terribly challenging.

After dropping almost straight down from an unmarked turn out on the highway, we met the first two rope sections, with large groups it allows for resting, hoots & hollers & anticipation to build. Fun stuff all around.

We all hopped a section of shoreline boulders & within the first 5 minutes we came to our jump in point. Everybody in the pool! The next half hour of travel, brings us to several open rock basins that we would have to swim across to continue down the canyon. Saw a Garter Snake swimming with us in one pool & a soaked bat at another.

It had grown to a warm day, being constantly soaked was a welcome respite from the large day time star. A bit before the halfway point we came to the best obstacle on the trip, a curving waterfall slide. There is only one way to get past this point.... slide! There is potential to rock jump off the sides, but the water levels are a bit on the medium side here, maybe 5ft at deepest, moving to 3 ft on the shallow side.

The hike continues through several more pools & spectacularly perplexing canyon sections. At times, the rock curving overhead like a massive wave. Much of the last forty minutes of hike was directly in the creek, while avoiding mossy areas & vegetation. 

The hardest part about this hike (in my opinion) is finding the exit route if you don't know where it is, we had no trouble, but others said they would have had no clue where to go. An ancient forest service road that is now a trail meets the canyon floor & winds up to the highway in a very exposed, slow & sunny 1.5 miles. The trail is no visible until one is basically standing right on top of it. Search Fall Creek Falls hike for more details on this exit trail, & if you're lucky, a seldom visited 5 tier waterfall in the winter & spring seasons.

Tuesday, June 25

Iva Bell Hot Springs 5 Day Backpacking - Eastern High Sierra's

It was 2am & it was blustery in Mammoth Lakes. The guy at the front desk of our cheap motel seemed  to want company, taking extra long. Suddenly the morning alarms were ringing, permits were acquired & breakfast was had.

| Collin heading towards Duck Pass |

Second checking all items included, Collin, Carlos & I made sure between the three of us we would have what we needed make it through the next five days & 35+ miles of High Sierra backcountry.

Leaving Duck Pass Trailhead was an easy climb past several smaller lakes & catching glimpses of the pass we would be climbing. After saying Hello to a few day hikers & others angling in the creeks abound, we eventually popping out at Barney Lake for a rest & a chance to marvel at where only 3 miles of trail can take you.

 | Duck Lake & two travelers |

We had been eyeing Duck Pass (elv 10,814ft) from the lake below & could see some significant snow fields, but nothing that would obstruct our way. Climbing now higher above the rocky basin we were getting our first grand views & a small taste of what lay ahead.

| The Silver Divide |

Crossing a few snow sections & a steady uphill climb to Duck Pass rewarded us three with our first "accomplishment" of the trip... & hours ahead of what we planned? It wasn't even lunch time & we were over Duck Pass. Decision making time, being ahead of schedule should we press on, or just saunter to Pika Lake & relax all day?

| Off trail towards Ram Lakes |

We waved goodbye to the last person we would see for a couple days at the pass & voted to keep on to Ram Lake, skipping the first nights destination. Moving on now, the trail shows you a stunningly power waterfall connected to the Duck Lake outlet, then skirting the ridge, the trail overflowed with water from all areas of the mountain. It was hiker heaven...

| Ram Lake Sunset |

Moving west now high above Cascade Valley the vistas of the Silver Divide were incredible! I was really in love with our first day of hiking. For about a mile the trail is perched a thousand feet above the valley, allowing hearty travelers views of the snow capped peaks in all directions & rambling Fish Creek far below.
| Ram Lake Sunset |

 | Ram Lake Morning |

I had begun to fall behind due to my photography addiction/problem, but also a week or so before this trip I had nursed a sore knee back to health, that was already beginning to come back & give me a bit of agitation... more on that front later. 

| Ram Lake Basin |

Now at the junction for Ram Lake & the PCT/JMT, he headed off around the edge of Purple Lake towards the upper granite basin. I knew from last years trip to the Sierra's, this was going to be more work than it looks from afar (didn't hike this trail, just similar). Somewhere around a mile & a half (past Purple Lake) the Ram Lakes trail becomes discernibly harder to follow.

| Smooth granite |

After some time & a few creek crossings we followed a use trail & had a grand ol' time going the wrong direction that many previous travelers obviously had done as well, but still allowing us passage to Ram Lakes (elv. 10,800ft).

| Fish Creek Trail into Cascade Valley |

The magnitude of vast open spaces was really felt at this lake side. As the evening progressed the stars show brightly & our efforts were rewarded for a hard first days work.
| Near junction for Minnow Creek Trail |

The next morning we saddled up & headed back down the the basin to meet Purple Lake. Stopping alongside, granite spires rose high above the lakes edge, enticing Collin to jump in & take a swim. Crossing another junction onto the Fish Creek Trail now, we dropped down into Cascade Valley. 

| One of many waterfalls in Cascade Valley (hence name) |

It takes some time to get down the long switchbacks, but the second half is much more enjoyable with views out to the Silver Divide. Landing at the bottom, we stopped for lunch along Fish creek in the middle of a green grassy meadow. Gazing up at the granite shelf we had been walking on the previous day high above.

| Night 2 Sunset |

The morning's downhill stretch had worn on my knee a bit more, so my dear friends were kind enough to opted to pass on the Minnow Creek Trail/Lost Keys Lakes & stay steady down Cascade Valley towards Second Crossing. 

| Morning's water filtering in Fish Creek |

This afternoon's section was a nice walk downhill playing hide & seek with Fish Creek & it's five or six LARGE cascading waterfalls. A roaring amongst the trees was always a welcome sign. Though many sites/books had said to be weary of Second Crossing being difficult in early season, there are two large trees fallen across that make an easy bridge. 

| Saddle: Left side is Cascade Valley (where we came from), right is Iva Bell Hot Springs & Fish Valley for the next two days travel |

Our third day was set up for an easy morning hike right into Iva Bell Hot Springs. This also turned up some of my favorite views on the trip. The saddle between Cascade Valley & Fish Valley was a really unique place. Looking along Sharktooth Ridge & down onto the grassy slopes that make up Iva Bell Hot Springs.

| Iva Bell Meadows are full of life |

The next mile & a half of trail took a page out of the local LA mountain handbook... hot, manzanita, open slopes, period. Still the views towards Devils Top & the waterfall pouring out of the Lost Keys area kept me beaming with natural joy no matter how my knee ached.

| Iva Bell Hot Springs (upper) |

The afternoon sun was a bit warm for hot springs upon arrival so time was spent resting, cleaning clothes & organizing the downsizing of packs. As the sun dipped lower we made our way up several hundred feet up the steep grassy & granite slopes to several pools of rock fed, hot natural spring water. Sitting quietly, the birds called softly while the sun set behind the days accomplishments.

 | View of Devils Top from the upper hot springs |

 From this night onward, the tent was only dead weight, the weather was nice enough each eve to sleep out under the stars. Smashing now down Fish Valley on day four, we all were moving at our own paces. The trail life had set in a bit more. Having wrapped my knee & ankle in a make-shift ace bandage (see video), I tailed behind the group, enjoying the solitude my disposition had given me.

| Milky Way |

The switchback climb out of Fish Valley, after Island Crossing, onto the bluffs high above is dramatically beautiful, but this is due to the exposure & lack of shade in the mid-afternoon. You get so sweat & have jaw dropping views. Working harder now than at Duck Pass, the apex of the climb seemed to be elusive.

| Day Four: Heading down Fish Valley |

I should have know better, for such a climb we were rewarded with endless meadows of wildflowers, grand views for miles towards Lion Point & beyond. To top this day off, we hiked across a massive granite face, with the trail chipped into the aged hard surface.

| Large bones near Island Crossing |

Stopping the last night a Crater Canyon Camp, we set ourselves up for a some-what easier hike out in the morning. One last night under the stars, with a morning of frost on the sleeping bag. A couple of meal bars later & we were banging out the last miles of the trail with Devil's Postpile in the distance.

| Upper shelf along the exit of Fish Valley, looking into Middle Fork San Jaquin |

Not necessarily on purpose, but we managed to take the long route to get to the Postpile, though beautiful nonetheless, we arrived excited we made it this far. Snapping some photos & chatting with people from Bristol (UK) we walked off in search of the highway, another mile or so away.

 | Collin walking a stunning section of trail! |

| Looking east towards Devil's Postpile |

Did I mention we had no way to get back to our car, 30 some odd miles on the other side of Mammoth Mountain? The three of us decided at the beginning of the trip we would only worry about the hitch-hike when it come to it.. so here we were at Reds Meadows awaiting some luck. 

 | Near our Crater Canyon |

| Views on Day 5 hiking to Devil's Postpile |

Sprinkle some trail magic & the second truck to came along has Norm behind the wheel & 2 PCTers inside. He offers us the back bed of his truck & a ride all the way back to our car! Check that box off the life list. forty minutes later we are dropped back at the car we left five days before. Many thank yous & well wishes were exchange.

 | Devil's Postpile Monument |


It was on to Mammoth Brewery for a cold drink & a gentle welcome back to society. The funny downside to the rest of the journey was the fact that we had gone five days without music, then the stereo in the car doesn't work the entire five hour drive home to LA... really a null issue at that point though.

 | Hitched a ride back to our car |