Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Virginia Pass & Mono Diggings - October 2016 - Part One

please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version

"I want to go for a nice hike the weekend of my birthday!" This was the Lady's announcement.

"Where?" I asked.

"Let's see if we can get to Virginia Pass above Green Lake. I want to go there."

A winter storm came through the weekend before. Fall colors are just about done. Deer season has ended in the X zones on the east side. It should be quiet in the Green Creek area and make for a pleasant weekend. This would be a nice place to celebrate the Lady's sixtieth birthday, just the two of us.

We pulled into our favorite dispersed campsite at the base of the big rock just at dark. Several water puddles stretched across the road on our drive in. We stopped several times for deer crossing the road. The recent snow had started the migration down to winter ranges. It was a warm night, above freezing, as we walked with the star filled sky above.

We slept like death and were up well before dawn on Saturday morning.

Up on the big rock was a perfect place to savor that first cup of Peets coffee. We took our time.

Packs were ready, boots were on, and it was time to head out on the trail to Green Lake and beyond, to make good on the Lady's birthday wish. Most of the groves of aspens were now ghosts of fall blanketing the lower slopes of Green Creek Canyon.

In short order we were hiking around Green Lake.

A use trail leads around the north side of Green Lake and crosses the stream that drops steeply down from West Lake tucked away in the hanging  valley above. Aspens leaves littered the ground and water.

We stopped for a break at the west end of Green Lake.

Virginia Pass - on the Sierra crest and the boundary between the Hoover Wilderness and Yosemite National Park - is named on the 7.5 minute USGS Dunderburg Peak topo map. A trail is shown climbing to the pass from the western, Yosemite, side but no trail is shown climbing Glines Canyon from Green Lake to the pass. But, we knew a use trail existed.

We found and followed the trail up the canyon. In some places the trail was very faint. This was an absolutely beautiful day and it appeared we were alone. There were no vehicles at the trailhead when we started out  (or any when we returned) or boot tracks left by other people on the trail.

We came upon historic mining equipment.

A big thank you to our friend Aaron - Western Mining History - for finding information on this very unique stamp mill. Aaron - aka DirtyDog - was also the founder and original owner of the Wander the West website.

This stamp mill carried US Patent Number 634417A

Here is a link to another's visit to this site - A unique 8 Stamp Mill

Here is a short article on the mine found in the December 1, 1899 issue of The Mining And Metallurgical Journal.


With the snow cover, the trail was now indiscernible for us, especially since the USGS quad was no help as to its route. We discovered a short piece of trail that led to a cabin above the mill site.

We continued up canyon picking our own route up and over the terrain. The new snow told wonderful stories about the area's wildlife. Coyotes and fox were around as was one large bighorn sheep. I believe the tracks were sheep because of the size and a bit more rounding of the front of the hooves. There are Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep in the canyons to the south that are monitored. Two lions were interested in following the sheep.

We continued our trek up the canyon.

The first snow on the dwarf willows made the going difficult. A couple of times I broke through the willows underlying the snow into a void below. We moved carefully.

"I'm going to follow this bear!" the Lady said as she continued the climb.

"I'm going to follow this cat!" the Lady said as she climbed around a rock outcrop.

The Lady loves to route find and climb as she led the way. This was her birthday weekend, remember.

We stopped on a small knob to locate ourselves on the map.

The crest soared above us.

A down slope wind was howling as I took a video of our surroundings.

We estimated the winds would be blowing through the gap of Virginia Pass at 50 to 60 miles per hour. We glassed the slopes around us and above for any sign of the trail without success. This made a great stopping point for us. We relaxed, stretched out - staying low out of the wind - and felt like part of this special place. I didn't even bother wandering over - this is a telephoto shot - to the tracks left by a large bipedal creature with huge feet and a long stride that sunk into the snow far deeper than we did.

The Lady led the way back down the mountain, since we decided not to follow the bigfoot - we'll leave that to those fun characters on the cable TV channels.

We enjoyed another break at Green Lake.

We'll come back again and make the trip over Virginia Pass, either in the spring with solid snow cover or in the summer. The trail up Glines Canyon is visible on Google Earth. A day hike over Virginia Pass to Summit Lake and then back down past the Hoover Lakes would made a nice loop hike.

The wind in the aspens, the rush of the cascading creek, and the last leaves of Fall were our companions on our hike out.

Back at camp we had only a few moments of direct sunlight left to set the boots in.

We climbed back up atop the big rock and quietly took in the end of a wonderful day.

Sunday was ahead for us - a birthday, incredible history, and something I've never done before.

Our adventure continues in Part Two - Please Click Here.


  1. Nice trip Julie (Happy Birthday!) and Monte. Nice photos, in particular the downed aspen leaves caught my attention.

  2. Happy birthday Julie (hope this gets you closer to retirement).
    Nice trip for your day.

  3. Happy Birthday Julie
    Couldn't have asked for a better present than that.....hope we can see you guys sometime.