Unfinished business and a day with three 5:00 o'clocks
We don't much enjoy driving at night these days. Familiar roads that we were on this Friday night - mostly highway 395 along the east side of the Sierra Nevada - are much easier to tolerate; a twisting, climbing, dropping mountain highway where we feel at home. We stopped for dinner at Walker's Mountain View BBQ and unleashed our usually held at bay carnivorous instincts . Our next stop was for a night soak at Travertine Hot Springs. Two vehicles were parked and a distant loud conversation rocked our ears. We went a different direction, away from the noise, walking a well remembered trail with our headlamps on red. These were not really needed under the clear star filled sky, but more a courtesy to let others know of our approach. The Lady led the way. She stopped as she neared the pool. I stopped behind her.
"There is somebody here," she said in the dark. She had seen something that alerted her and then asked, "How many people are here?"
A male voice came out of the dark, "There is just me. You are welcome to join me."
The Lady turned uphill to me. "Do you want to?" she asked.
I thought it best to add a male voice to this conversation in the dark. "We will pass, but thank you for your hospitality."
Neither of us had seen the source of this voice in the night. "I'll be out of here in 10 or 15 minutes," he added.
We headed back up the hill. "Do you want to wait, try again in a while?" the Lady asked me.
"It's getting late," I answered. "Let's go find a place to camp for the night."
The vast majority of people we meet are good people. We will continue being cautious.
We used a campsite we had driven by many times but never used. This quiet night we'd take advantage of its accessibility and level ground. We awoke to a beautiful and familiar landscape.
A few years ago we had spent two days exploring 20 Lakes Basin just to the north of Tioga Pass. A spectacular high alpine basin along the eastern crest of the Sierra Nevada inside the Hoover Wilderness, it is a popular area. Most visitors enter from Saddlebag Lake as we had on our previous visit. But there is another way in, a climb up from Lundy Canyon. We had been on the lower section of the trail a couple of weeks earlier on our fall colors trip. This was unfinished business that left a couple of miles of trail the Lady hadn't traveled and really wanted to see.
Early Saturday morning we were back in Lundy Canyon. With the onset of Fall and Winter, the north facing canyon wall will remain in cold shadow for months.
Most of the aspens are now ghost groves without their leaves. Water tumbled down from a high basin on the sunny south facing wall.
We continued up the canyon above the falls on Mill Creek, the destination for most day hikers up this way. The view down canyon on this cold crisp fall morning was wonderful.
This canyon has an abundance of beaver ponds.
20 Lakes Basin is a hanging valley above Lundy Canyon. The topo map shows the trail as a series of tight switchbacks up a steep chute climbing 1300 vertical feet before reaching the basin's first lake, Lake Helen. We quickly reached the bottom of this chute filled with talus and scree. After one quick switchback, the trail disappeared, victim of continuous movement of loose sliding rock. This is evidently not a maintained trail. Evidence of human use showed that hikers used the rock along the right edge for hand holds like rungs on a ladder to climb this chute.
The rock under foot was loose but the ground underneath was frozen hard. This helped with footing in this first section. The chute steepened dramatically. I would grade this section as Class 3 scramble on loose talus. To our right, Mill Creek fell in a series of falls toward the canyon floor. This should help illustrate the steepness of this route.
The left side of the chute was encrusted in ice. The rain and new snow from mid week on the sunny slopes above had sent melt water down to freeze in the shadows below.
The only relatively safe place to move upward was a narrow band along the right side. Right at the point the chute became impossibly steep the trail reappeared moving to the right onto the rocky ridge. Although now on solid footing, the terrain was awe inspiring with its steepness.
On very exposed ground, now with the addition of packed snow and ice, the trail snaked its way up the rock band until, at last, there was a small sunny bench to take a break and take in the views.
The Lady was in her element, happy, so pleased to be standing here at this moment. The grade lessened but was still a climb. The trail was now well defined but packed hard snow.
We were still climbing along the continuous cascades of Mill Creek.
The view below us was incredible.
All the hard work was worth it as the basin opened up before us.
We were now in the hanging valley. The glacial striations still visible on the rock showed the direction of travel of the deep river of ice that carved out this basin.
Just ahead was Lake Helen, our destination.
We circled the lake and crossed the meadow area above.
Glacial erratics carried down by the glacier from the beautiful granite above littered the slopes around us. The Lady took advantage of one.
Where there was shadow, there was ice.
This marvelous high country is ready, waiting, to become a winter wonderland. The weather forecast was for an approaching winter storm. Winds were to build throughout the day with possible gusts up to 65 mph. We found a lunch spot - sunny, sheltered from the wind, with a nice rock back rest. The Lady surveyed her kingdom.
The more time we spend in the high country, the more we are convinced that air doesn't start getting really good until you hit 10,000 feet. The air was really good here.
In the distance I spotted something out of place in a white bark pine. The Lady investigated.
We would like to see a recycle fee added to the purchase price of this litter. We'd love to get $20 for each one of these we carry out. With all of them that we harvest throughout a year, at 20 bucks a piece, that would cover all of our holiday giving.
There is still an old sign at the trail intersection at Lake Helen. Folks heading down into Lundy Canyon are in for a surprise.
We headed back down, our way marked with glacial erratic boulders...................
........................and deep glacial grooves in the rock.
We started down.
This was an outstanding day for us.
This was terrain and conditions that demanded our attention.
Please pardon my shadow in the photo below. Many times it is difficult for a camera to capture the steepness. This is a pretty good illustration of where the trail ends. We entered and down climbed the chute to the right for several hundred vertical feet staying off the ice. The camera and hiking sticks were added to our packs so hands were free. We stayed together taking it slow and one move at a time. If you are not comfortable on terrain like this, I would not recommend this route. A tumble here would have devastating effect on your day.
A cairn marked the reappearance of the trail at the bottom. We still had a ways to go to move out of the shadow.
We met a young woman on the trail. She asked how far it was to Lake Helen. We briefed her on conditions. Exiting the shadow, we lounged in the warm sun. The woman joined us, returning back down the trail after seeing the route up. She was from Bishop and loved living in the area with all the nearby opportunities for exploring. She was pleasant company as we hiked together back to the trailhead.
Most of the leaves are gone. Winter is coming.
If the predicted winds would allow, we had a spot overlooking Mono Lake we wished to try for the night ahead. It was fairly sheltered and not too difficult to level up the truck. This would do nicely.
Set up chores completed, warm water poured over each other, it was time to investigate the views from nearby high spots.
Just down slope from the truck was a fresh print from a large bear. Perhaps we had booed it out when we drove into the area.
The wind had washed the air clean and the slanting afternoon light was wonderful.
The Lady had a new kingdom to survey.
In our eyes, life does not get any better than this.
Daylight savings time was ending in the wee hours of the next morning. We got a jump on things and turned our clocks back the required hour. "We get another 5:00 o'clock today!" the Lady was genuinely pleased with that statement. We relaxed with a simple dinner, our usual style. As darkness came an hour earlier, we took a walk to watch the stars pop out in the sky above, the sparse traffic on 395 draw white lines of light across pixels, and Lee Vining turn on the lights far below us.
The growing winds were interesting through the night. It would be completely calm and then we would be shaken awake by a sudden hard gust that rocked the truck. Growing clouds added to a wonderful dawn for the first day of November.
We had all day - at least what the coming storm would allow - to do whatever we wanted. We drove up to the Virginia Creek Settlement for breakfast. They are ably filling in the hole and open now for breakfast since the Hays Street Cafe closed in Bridgeport.
Full tummies, a beautiful morning, Yosemite and Tuolumne Meadows called to us. It would be our last chance as the sign at the bottom of Lee Vining Canyon stated, "120 closes 4 PM THIS afternoon." Let's hope it stays closed until mid June with a return to real winters.
The expected clouds were building to the north. It was time to head home.
We filled the truck up with gas at Topaz Lake and admired the new addition of a Tesla Supercharger Station. The future is coming to Nevada.
The cottonwoods here at Topaz were the last, still in full fall colors, maybe standing defiant against the coming winter.
The storm hit us in Gardnerville, NV where we stopped for first of the week groceries. Strong wind fought hard against us as we climbed Carson Pass and found the heavy rain turning to snow.
Unfinished business had been taken care of. We celebrated a day with three 5:00 o'clocks. There are signs winter is coming. We are happy.