Monday, July 15, 2013

Back to Leavitt Lake – July 2013

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“How are you guys doing this morning?” the Lady asked as we approached the group. They were taking a rest after crossing a snow field on the Pacific Crest Trail south of Sonora Pass.

“I’m wonderful!” a young man answered. “How can I not be? This is the most spectacular and beautiful area I’ve been in yet! This is just awesome!” His excitement and joy was infectious. He was with a group of four. A fifth person was just starting across the snow field.
“Where did you start from?” the Lady asked. I assumed she was asking about their starting spot this morning.
“Mexico,” was the young man’s answer.
“You guys are all through hikers, this is great!" The Lady continued. “When did you start?”
“May 12th
“And where are you all from?”
“D.C.” the one with the huge grin answered.
The other fellow said, “Saint Louis”
“I’m from Oregon,” a woman answered.
“How ‘bout you, the quiet one?” the Lady directed her question to the young lady shaded under an umbrella.
“Oh, I’m from D.C. too.”
“So you really like the lava cap over the granite in this part of the Sierra?” I asked
“Yeah! There’s just something about the vistas here, how far you can see. This is just a beautiful morning! This, I think is the most beautiful stretch of the PCT thus far and my favorite.”
We chatted for a few more minutes and then said goodbye to this group of adventurous young people.

They headed north toward Sonora Pass.

We headed south…………………………….

Our last trip to Leavitt Lake had been unplanned. This trip was different. We were fitting in a quick trip to do some exploring of the area that had piqued our interest on the previous trips. And, what a difference a year makes. Last year we came here so the Lady could ice her knee in cold alpine lake water after surgery. And we escaped here last year to wrap our minds around a biopsy indicating melanoma and deciding on suggested courses of action for me. The Lady’s knee has recovered well and a subsequent lymph node biopsy indicated no spread of cancer for me. So, we were back to relax and take a little closer look around.

We arrived around 7:30 Thursday evening. There was another pop-up camper on a Toyota pickup set up in a popular spot near the shore. We found our favorite spot – a bit more secluded and much less likely to have vehicles driving by – empty.

We took a walk as night fell. We watched the crescent moon drop below the ridge line.

Two vehicles drove in after dark, one arriving a bit earlier than the second. In the still of the night, many folks must not understand how well noises and voices carry. The first vehicle sat with its headlights on and directed at the other popup truck camper. More than a bit rude. The other vehicle joined them and they drove on to set up elsewhere.

A steady light to moderate wind blew all night. It was not diminished at dawn.

First light hit the other camper near the shore.

We had plans for the day and got an early start.

Our hiking route for today was to take the use trail to Koenig Lake and then climb cross country to the northwest to intersect the Pacific Crest Trail north of Latopie Lake.

There was evidence that a recent hard thunderstorm rain had caused a lot of runoff down the volcanic mountainsides. This influx of muddy water may be the cause of the greenish look to Koenig Lake.

We continued our climb.

We were soon above Latopie Lake.

We intersected the PCT and heard voices ahead. This is where we spotted the Pacific Crest Trail through hikers crossing the snowfield. After our conversation with them, we headed south.

The Lady is looking up at our next objective for the morning, to the top of Leavitt Peak.

We headed in the right direction – up.

The Sonora Pass area is mostly volcanic rock that overlays the Sierra granite. Leavitt Peak, at the crest, is comprised of numerous lava flows.

The young man was absolutely right; the views in this area are incredible. The Pacific Crest Trail, far below now, stretches to the south.

Soon we were on the summit. The Lady is looking west across the Kennedy Creek Canyon at the granite peaks of the Emigrant Wilderness beyond. Kennedy Creek is one of the head water streams of the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River drainage.

The drop off the north face is wonderful. The exposed granite beyond is along Deadman Creek, the route of highway 108 west of Sonora Pass.

The large flat summit of Leavitt Peak is 11,569 feet elevation. We relaxed.

The wind was absent at the summit having been already diverted through the many lower passes and saddles.

We dropped off of Leavitt Peak, hit the Pacific Crest Trail, and crossed the Pacific Crest – boundary between the Great Basin and the Pacific Ocean drainages. We stopped and talked with three more young men, also PCT through hikers. The Lady quickly labeled them, “Vermont”, “Atlanta”, and “Virginia”.

The PCT remains high here, just below the crest. We took a look back to the north and Leavitt Peak’s summit on the left.

Another granite outcropping is in one of the side drainages into Kennedy Creek. Lost Lake sits right in the high pass above.

A mule deer doe was unconcerned as we approached.

I was curious what her defense response would be as we drew closer. Would she run? No, she just stepped into an opening in the krummholz white bark pines. She was quickly out of sight in her refuge, an interesting response here at tree line.

The PCT continued to wind its way south just below the crest of the cliffs above Leavitt Lake to the east.

We climbed up into one of the notches to get a view down to Leavitt Lake.

At the pass between the two Kennedy Creeks – yes the creek on the east side is also Kennedy Creek– the PCT drops down into Kennedy Canyon on the east and into the West Fork of the Walker River drainage. We climbed to the east on the spur trail back to the Wilderness trailhead at Leavitt Lake.

We topped the pass and moseyed back down to our camp at Leavitt Lake.

If you stay at Leavitt Lake, we would suggest you hike this trail up to the pass. Take in the views; see if you agree with the young man. Is this the most beautiful section of the Pacific Crest Trail?

We were back at camp at 2:00 pm. We relaxed with popcorn for a snack. There were a few day use vehicles at the lake. We were surprised there were not more overnight campers coming in for the weekend. It looked like it would be a quiet night at Leavitt Lake – and then the shooting started.

Late afternoon a newer red Ram crew cab pickup drove in. There is a day use parking area prior to the stream crossing. They pulled into the empty parking area and a couple of adults – we didn’t pay that much attention – exited along with several small children. A couple of the kids were quickly outfitted with fishing poles but they were mostly interested in running around being kids. Soon shots rang out in rapid succession. I figured one of those .22 cal semi auto rifles made to look like a military assault rifle. Other small caliber weapons were fired. They were shooting down the use trail around the lake. There is no adequate backstop for safe firing into. In their line of fire was also the use trail coming down from Koenig Lake. What got our attention were the ricocheted bullets zinging above the trees around us.  We took refuge behind our truck. It was late in the day. We figured their onslaught would be short and it would soon be time for them to leave. I would confront them if our truck was damaged. They did not stay long. We were not hit nor were any of the children. The depth of these people’s carelessness was staggering. The peace had been shattered with no respect for anyone else in the area.

I try to put things into perspective; see the bigger picture. I’ve given this some thought. In the broader context I came up with this. These people probably vote so I now have a greater understanding of why many of our representatives win election and reelection to Congress.

There were only three overnight camps this Friday evening. After the shooting spree, it was a quiet and nice evening. We enjoyed our dinner. We took an evening hike to watch the coming night.

The next morning we wandered with our mugs of coffee, waiting for morning sun to hit our camp.

I did some research prior to this trip about the trout species planted in the surrounding lakes. One website I found said that Leavitt held Brook Trout and Kamloops Rainbows. Koenig had Rainbow Golden hybrids. Latopie Lake and Ski Lake were planted with Golden Trout. I did not expect this information to be accurate. Who trusts what they read on the Internet?

“What do you want to do today before we have to head home?, the Lady asked as we lay in bed before dawn.
“Let’s wander up to Ski Lake with the fly rod.”
"I hoped you would say that!"

In the early morning there were trout cruising the edge of the shallows. The surface was littered with dead adult midges. The trout were not taking these. Occasionally there would be an aggressive take of a surface insect with a bubble in the ring. There was no sign of taking any emerging insects. The wind was much calmer up in this sheltered basin but we still got hit with sporadic gusts. I tied on a small caddis dry. These were very wary trout and they did not look or act like brookies. I had refusal after refusal. I moved down the shore and stayed low. A trout was coming at me. I saw it accelerate toward a bug on the surface. It gulped it down. I had my fly carefully on the surface right on its line. It took it. It was a small trout but it could fight. It pulled short pieces of line off my reel. I could see its color. I called the Lady over with the camera. She held the beautiful Golden Trout, a female in bright spawning color, as I took a photo.

The information was correct. These trout were wonderfully hard to catch, a good challenge, and fun to fish for. After this initial success, I was greeted with refusal after refusal. I tried several different flies, a black ant, a size 22 midge, other dries. I switched to nymphs. Every fly was examined, but inevitably refused. There were grasshoppers along the shore but I saw none on the water. I tied on my favorite hopper pattern. Refused. I had to figure this out. The sun was getting higher in the sky. The wind was dying down. The surface was crystal clear. This was not going to be easy.

We returned to where our packs were stashed and snacked.
“You’re thinking. The Lady observed.
“You can tell?”
“Let me feel your head.” She put her hand to the top of my head.
“Yup, it’s getting warm. The gears are grinding. What are you going to do?”
“Well, there are caddis flies about”

“And I did get the one golden on a caddis dry.” I continued. “My tippet is getting too short because I’ve been tying on new flies. I need to change it so I’m going to switch to 7X and put on at least 6 feet; nice and long and fine. And this is a very realistic caddis pattern. Do you like the monofilament antennae?”
I finished fussing with my set up. I was ready. “Let’s see what this does.”
The Lady followed with the camera. She loves to see beautiful trout and see them carefully released. Many times she will take a high spot and look for trout. She is getting darn good. We walked over to the opposite side of the lake. There were dwarf willows along the shore.

First I watched, spotting trout and looking at their cruising patterns. Some were still. The water was smooth and clear. My casts had to be gentle and not on top of fish. One nice trout was slowly working the edge of the shelf. It was moving away. I put the fly inside of the shelf edge and stayed hidden and still. It turned, working its pattern and spotted the fly. It moved in. It stopped with the fly two inches from its nose. It checked it out and then carefully sipped it in. It was fooled.

I caught two more in a similar fashion in these demanding conditions. They moved in, stopped dead, checked out the fly, and carefully sipped it in. This was fun. These goldens were strong for being only 10 and 11 inches. I did see larger trout maybe 12 and 13 inches. This was a wonderful way to finish off our trip.

The Lady cooled off as we snacked and relaxed.

This alpine environment has so many things to catch your eye and learn about.

The trail called us home.


  1. another great story to add to your journal..thank you for sharing it..


  2. From your perspective on the pct before Leavitt peak is it possible to down climb to kennedy lake? Also would the climb up the next day be doable? Want to car camp at leavitt and backpack up and over to fish Kennedy lake and stream and camp?

    1. sorry. Great blog BTW