Monday, May 6, 2013

Ebbetts Pass – May 2013

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It was late Friday night, well late for us at least. We were in bed. It was warm, all the windows were open. “Want to go somewhere this weekend?” the Lady asked. “We can’t go away next weekend. You are cooking a big dinner for Mom for Mother’s Day.”
“Is that the way to think about Mother’s Day, it gets in the way of camping?” I smiled but I got the look nevertheless.
“You know what I mean,” she went on. “Where can we go? I love just spending the night away in the camper.”
“Ebbetts Pass is open. It’s been years since we’ve been up there. There are a couple of things I want to check out for fly fishing and exploration and there was build over the Sierra Crest to the south of us today. We could catch a thunderstorm. Don’t know much about dispersed camping or if any of the side roads up high are open. They may be snow covered.”
“We’ll find out!” the Lady said. “Let’s just pack the truck after breakfast in the morning and go!”
That was settled.

Up at the Lady’s usual wakeup time, coffee, breakfast, check the packs, add a little food to the camper – the water tank was already full – and we were on our way a little after six. The early morning was clear and beautiful. We topped off the gas tank in Markleeville, just to be on the safe side, and headed up the East Fork of the Carson River. The river was higher than last weekend and the usual spring rafting trips from Hangman’s Bridge down to 395 are on. It was hard not to turn left for Monitor Pass – habit – as we headed up Highway 4.

The Flintstone Cabin near the top was quiet, our friends were not home. Kinney Reservoir was still snow covered as was the Pacific Crest Trailhead parking area. At Ebbetts Pass we were greeted with the familiar view of Folger Peak to the southwest. Snow cover was much more spotty on the sunny, windward west side of the pass.

Just down from the pass is the turn off for Highland Lakes. We headed in and were soon stopped by a deep snow bank. It had been plowed through once by a large truck. The sun exposed sections were clear, the road dropped in elevation, but the shaded areas in timber needed to be checked out. Although paved, the road is narrow and turning around with the truck could be difficult and involve a lot of backing up. We parked the truck and walked. There were a few more snow banks that looked passable and we were evaluating based on if we could get back up the road. We were surprised we could make it to the bottom at the North Fork of the Mokelumne River. The Lady continued walking and I went back and got the truck.

The small Bloomfield Campground sits on the edge of the Mokelumne. It was mostly covered with snow but two sites looked usable. We kept this in mind as a possible spot for the night. Highlands Lake Road was now completely snow covered and impassable.

We walked up and explored along the Mokelumne River. Just above is Bloomfield Meadow. This area of the North Fork of the Mokelumne River is mentioned in Bill Sunderland’s Fly Fishing the Sierra Nevada and was one of my objectives for this recon trip.

It was around midmorning. We explored the area hiking and then headed further west on Highway 4. We returned around mid afternoon.

The North Fork and area was very nice and we were alone.

Bloomfield looks to an upcountry campground where the water system is turned off for the winter. The campground is not locked up and a fee is not charged in the off season. You are required to pack out trash year round.

Although we usually prefer dispersed spots, this was the only open area. It would do nicely and we figured we’d have no company. We were right.

The clouds built in the sky but there were no indications it would turn into an afternoon thunderstorm. As we explored Bloomfield Meadow, shafts of sunlight would break through the clouds.

After dinner we found an unmarked use trail that took us down into the gorge below camp. We found wonderful cascades.

The afternoon thunderstorm never materialized. We turned in after dark, the sound of the river lulling us into deep sleep………………………..until 2 am. The blinding flash woke both of us. The clash of thunder rocked the truck and echoed down the canyon before we even had a chance to think to count the seconds between lightning and thunder. The storm we had hoped for was right on top of us. All strikes were within a mile. After an initial burst of rain pounded the roof and then a lull in the electrical display, we made a quick trip outside while we could. A dusting of snow had fallen. Back safely in our new fleece sheets, the storm wound up again and unleashed its fury. The night was black with the thick cloud cover. The flashes of lightning were blinding and the thunder deafening as it rolled across the Sierra Crest. It was marvelous. We did not sleep.

The storm must have abated just before dawn and we drifted into a deep sleep. We were surprised by the morning light outside our windows, a bit later than our usual wake up. The trees were dripping. There was an inch of large hail on the ground. Clouds still filled the sky. It was cold (33°) and wet.

This was a morning for buckwheat pancakes with fresh strawberries. Our chairs were along the river, low clouds, an occasional snow flake, olive-sided flycatchers and mountain chickadees, were our companions.

We broke camp and drove down highway 4 a short distance to Hermit Valley.

During gold rush times Calaveras County tried to entice emigrants off of the Carson Route of the California Trail at Hope Valley to head south on this new route and come directly to their Mother Lode towns. The route did have historic significance as the probable route taken by Jedediah Smith in 1827 in crossing the Sierra Nevada west to east. An excellent (albeit scholarly) book on early transportation across the Sierra Nevada is the University of California Press’ Sierra Crossing: First Roads to California.

This morning the clouds hung low over Hermit Valley and the North Fork of the Mokelumne River.

Our objective was the trailhead into the Mokelumne Wilderness.

A short way down the trail is an older sign.

With the recent (and continuing) storm, all was wet and clean.

The trail travels along the river as it flows into its deepening canyon. We hiked and watched the sun break through the clouds.

We had made a quick trip with the camper. We had a wonderful night of solitude. We had experienced another mountain storm. We had reacquainted ourselves with close by treasures. And, even with a return to cold spring weather in the mountains, aquatic insects were stirring. A few small stone flies took wing along with a tiny mayfly. This is an area we could disappear into.


  1. Wow,Ski& Lady.That is some of our favorite area,since our cabin is west at Dorrington we spend a lot of time all along this pass.It never gets old.Haven't gone back to Highlands lakes for a couple years.
    There are Golden trout in the first lake,very hard to catch though.
    Enjoyed your pictures.We were just up at Hermits Meadow week end before last.The water is not very high seems like about the same level as last October when I fished it.
    Thanks for the pictures.

  2. Sounds like a wonderful sierra get-away. Love those granite lined streams. Looking forward to getting back up into the mountains... soon. Envious of your mid night storm, or maybe not ;-) Exciting and a bit scary?