Thursday, September 22, 2016

Agnew Pass - September 2016

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It was a mistake. Our original plan was a mistake. What were we thinking?

As I've mentioned in past posts, we have not visited many of the High Sierra classics close to home. We've been trying to make amends but we do not like the crowds. We just are not accustomed to having neighbors. It was the weekend after Labor Day and the summer onslaught ought to be waning. We did our homework. Silver Lake Campground on the June Lake Loop had switched off of reservations for campsites, a sign the season is winding down. It was now first come. It has showers available for campers. It is across the street from the Rush Creek Trailhead. We could leave the camper set up for two nights, do our hike, get a shower; it would be convenient. 

Pulling in late Friday afternoon was a shock. The campground road had a barricade, "Campground Full." We found every facility in the June Lake area full. It was bumper to bumper cars coming in from the south off of 395. What a mistake.

Our plan B - you knew we had one - was a few minutes away. The sun was over the horizon. The half moon was bright overhead. We had a simple late dinner. We were completely alone. It was quiet.

The Rush Creek Trailhead parking lot was already full when we arrived early Saturday morning. We parked out on the road and started up the trail. So many people crammed into this June Lake Loop area was unimaginable to us.

A few hundred yards up the trail and solitude.

We were on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Range. What did we want to see today? The San Joaquin River. The Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River cuts its way through the Sierra and begins its life on the east side of the Ritter Range. We had never hiked in this area. We had never looked down into the beginnings of the San Joaquin River canyon. We could do that from Agnew Pass.

The trail climbs quickly.

Early on the Rush Creek drainage was exploited for hydroelectric power production. Between 1916 and 1925 dams were constructed creating Agnew, Gem, and Waugh reservoirs.


The old cable tramway up the  mountainside is still in operation.

We took a break just above the dam on Agnew Reservoir and checked out the geology around us - the complicated rock above........................

....................and the glacial striations at our feet.

The Lady focused in on the late season bloom of gentians along the trail.

We took the unmarked trail along the southern side of Agnew Reservoir that climbs up a shorter but much much steeper route to Agnew Pass.  It does not waste any time gaining elevation.

We were soon above the dam on Gem Reservoir.

And we kept climbing. Mono Lake was far below in the distance.

As we crested into the hanging valley that holds Spooky Meadow we crossed into the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

The coming of Autumn was evident in Spooky Meadow.

The trail continued its climb and we entered the basin above Spooky Meadow.

In a little over three and a half miles from the trailhead we had gained 2900 feet in elevation.

This is the trail's high point.  Agnew Pass is still ahead, to the south, and a bit lower in elevation than this high point.  Here we had a wonderful late morning view west of the Sierra Crest up the Rush Creek drainage.

Kuna Glacier, where we were the previous Saturday is on the north side of Kuna and Koip peaks - on the right in the panorama above.

A few glacial tarns dot the crest. At least one mallard complied when the Lady said, "Butts up!"

A mile and a half or so further on and we arrived at Agnew Pass.

South of the pass is Summit Lake with Banner Peak and Mount Ritter behind to the southwest.

We continued a short distance south and intersected with the Pacific Crest Trail. We sat, snacked, and took in the views. Below is looking south down the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River toward Devils Postpile and Reds Meadow.

This was mid day with hazy light, not the best time for photographs. The view west was still marvelous and classic. The North Fork of the San Joaquin River headwaters are on the west slopes of Banner and Ritter.

Autumn's showy colors are beginning in the high country.

We thought about Ansel Adams on this, our first journey into his namesake Wilderness, here among these soaring peaks. Although nothing close to an Adams photograph, I was inspired to work a bit with the Black & White style.

Clouds were moving in as we decided to take the long way back to the  trailhead. It would add three miles or more to the distance today, but we'd get to see more new country. We passed by Clark Lake again. We could easily get addicted to the classic Sierra granite beyond. We probably already are.

The day grew dark and muted with the cloud cover but splashes of color in the aspen brightened up our hike in the afternoon.

It was close to rain when we arrived at the dam on Gem Reservoir.

On the drop down to Agnew Reservoir we looked across at the trail we had hiked up in the morning, that steep diagonal cut across the talus on its way to the basin holding Spooky Meadow.

The sky was clear off to the east.

The canyon walls above Silver Lake soar and Rush Creek's drop to the bottom is spectacular.

We had a wonderful day of hiking, exploring, and taking in classic Sierra Nevada vistas. It had been a great day for us. We celebrated with dinner out at the Whoa Nellie Deli

and then headed to a favorite spot of ours north of Mono Lake. We were hit with a short downpour of rain enroute.

With the camper's top popped up we took care of chores and dinner and then we relaxed.

The temperature and weather was absolutely perfect for sitting out and enjoying the coming night.

It was well worth it to stay up past our usual bedtime. We slept like death but were anxious to see what the morning light would bring.

The Lady enjoyed her special Sunday morning breakfast put together by her own personal chef and we started slowly homeward. We ventured up Green Creek. We found it relativity quiet with few people. The leaves have just started to turn. After coming over Monitor Pass we stopped for lunch along the East Carson and then were soon safely home.

Yet another fine weekend!


  1. For what appeared to be a disappointing start, your Plan B turned it into a delight! Thanks for taking us with you.

  2. Thanks Ski.Always enjoy your trips.
    Boy that's a lot of "mongo" campers at the trail head.
    Like what we ran into on the Alaskan trip.
    Us little guys are few and far between.