Friday, August 25, 2017

Virginia Lakes - Eastern Sierra Nevada - August 2017

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Keeping an eye on the sky.

"Can we go somewhere?" the Lady excitedly asked. She looked like she was ready to dash for the truck even before my answer. It was mid afternoon Friday and the concrete guy had left after finishing the forms, rebar, and gravel and scheduling the inspection by the County next week. We could get away. Should I enjoy the moment, that pregnant pause as she waited for my answer? Her eyes were on me like a kid, watching for any hint of body language. She loves to play this way.

Duffel bags, packs, boots, and food made it into the camper in less than 10 minutes.

"Make sure the water tank is full!" She was now barking out orders.

"I filled it at lunch," I replied. "Just in case."

"Let's check out the Trumbull Lake Campground to see if there's an open campsite. That way we can hike from camp and leave everything set up. I want to see Burro Lake and I want to see Moat Lake!" She kept up the monologue as we drove toward the massive billowing thunderhead just a short distance from home.

"What about the weather?" I asked.

"We can handle it; make do," she said, her eyes taking in everything she could outside the truck. "We'll keep an eye on the sky."

A burst of hail pounded us as we passed Kirkwood. By Carson Pass it was rain, a full on cloud burst with an icy downdraft. The east side down 395 was on the storm's edge. The guy at the bug station just south of Topaz Lake wanted to chat, asking questions about our personalized license plate. A skinny kid ran up to the inspector and handed him a large container filled with cherry pits. "Okay, you can go," he said and the kid ran off to a rented motor home. "They're from Deutschland, Germany you know," the guy quickly switched gears in our conversation. "They had cherries from Seattle. They did not know they couldn't bring them into California. Instead of throwing them out, we said it was okay if they sat over there and ate them all."

"My god!" the Lady blurted. "They ate all those cherries in one sitting! Did you give them a list of where to find bathrooms? They are going to explode!" The Lady was remembering her past bingeing on cherries.

"It could get ugly," I agreed.

We had an early dinner at Walker Burger. Both Avery and Theresa are back, hard at work running the place. We were again under dark clouds in Bridgeport. We were surprised to find several available sites in the campground when we reached Virginia Lakes. We settled in and the folks behind us turned on their sound system. Alcohol was involved. This group of adults, sharing a double site were obviously here to socialize. "The Loud People," was the name they quickly earned. The "RV Superstore" was across from us. How in the world did he get that huge diesel pusher into that space?" These poor folks were chained to their generator. None of life's chores could be accomplished without it.

The best thing about campgrounds? We can walk away into a completely different world. Campers were glued to their campfires. We were free in a quiet world away. It was a enchanting evening. It sprinkled a bit, but this was all ours.

It was dark when we returned. The "RV Superstore" generator went off, we expect, when the favorite TV show had ended. The "Loud People" quieted as the energy for another trip to the ice chest waned.

The next morning the Lady, carrying our mugs of coffee, found me watching dawn come to Trumbull Lake.

We walked across the road and down to Little Virginia Lake. The serious old guys, flyfishers, were launching their float tubes in search of the first rise.

It was a beautiful morning.

We have hiked the trail into the Hoover Wilderness and up to the pass many times, passing the chain of lakes.

The Lady, of course, kept us "found" on her maps.

Avalanche debris in the form of broken trees with the tops downhill littered the runout zones of avalanche paths.

We spotted the young man from the Virginia Lakes Pack Station taking in two pack mules with empty panniers, going in to pack out someone's gear.

We spoke with the gal and guy from the Pack Station last Sunday below West Lake and they told us they had just dug out the snow here allowing them to get stock to Summit Lake from Virginia Lakes.

The views and wildflowers were grand.

We topped out on the pass and enjoyed the high vistas.

A high powered biplane came in low from the north.

The pilot disregarded this request about flying over designated Wilderness and National Parks -

b. Pilots are requested to maintain a minimum altitude of 2,000 feet above the surface of the following: National Parks, Monuments, Seashores, Lakeshores, Recreation Areas and Scenic Riverways administered by the National Park Service, National Wildlife Refuges, Big Game Refuges, Game Ranges and Wildlife Ranges administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Wilderness and Primitive areas administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

We traversed north off trail and found a high spot with a view. Summit Lake and Virginia Peak were to the northwest.

East Lake was to the north.

An hour before the sky was almost cloudless. This was changing rapidly.

The clouds and shadows added drama to the vistas.

All of our mountain experience - years of keeping an eye on the sky - told us we had less than an hour. We would not make it to Burro Lake but we could climb to the ridge line and look into the hanging cirque below the east face of Excelsior Mountain.

Burro Lake lies right at the edge of the drop off into Lundy Canyon. We had to climb to a higher point to look down on it.

The water color was breathtaking.

We moved off the high point and took a quick break and plotted the fastest way down to the pass and back into the lower basin. The first crash of distant thunder was in the middle of recording this video, at 11:09 am.

The low angle snowfield was the express route down. We took it.

A few moments later and we were back on the trail at the pass.

One storm was building behind us around Excelsior Mountain. Another was coming in from the northeast behind Dunderberg Peak.

It was time to get lower. People were still hiking up into the danger.

"Keep an eye on the sky!" the Lady warned.

Two strong young men replied, "We've come up this far, we have to see the top."

Enough said.

Half way back we enjoyed a short sit down break. Thunder echoed to the north and south but we had a bit of clear sky above.

We knew it would last for only minutes.

We stopped just below Cooney Lake to stash the camera and to put the rainflys on our packs.

We were on the edge of the storm the remainder of our descent. Occasional big wet raindrops hit us. Back at camp we figured we had just enough time outside to eat a bowl of freshly popped corn. We finished the last handful in the camper as rain exploded on the roof.  Up in the bunk, we took a two hour nap and woke a little before four. It was quiet outside, evidence the rain had subsided, and our neighbors had not yet noticed.

Ah, campground living. The site across filled during our hike. "Gomer and Goober" had taken residence. "Gomer" announced his presence by lifting the hood on his beat up Jeep Cherokee, starting the engine with a broken exhaust, and tinkered away. "Goober" yelled at us from across the road, proud that he figured out the personalized plate. He turned and walked down the road, open hard liquor bottle in his hand that he occasionally raised to the sky and guzzled down a sip or two. I cannot remember the last time I'd seen something like this. We live sheltered lives.

A man from the "Loud People" camp, beer in hand and dog at his feet, wandered to the edge of our camp. He was lost. "Sir," I politely said, "Your camp is right over there." His eyes followed my pointing hand. He looked at his camp for several moments and then slowly walked toward it. He never said a word.

We took a long wake up walk. The rain washed air and smell of wet soil and mule ears enveloped us and took us to the world we love.

I made dinner for us. I heard the familiar chirps of osprey overhead. The Lady grabbed her see mores and announced each time they appeared overhead.

It was dreary skies above as we walked in the evening but as I looked to the sky something told me it would change. The Lady walked down to Little Virginia Lake as I returned to the camper to retrieve the camera. She ran up to meet me from the lake.

"The ospreys are flying all around the basin." There was joy in her voice. "They are just playing, having so much fun. They come low over the lake and brush against each other! It is so neat! They'll be back. I'll show you!"

The osprey's dance and the vibrant light of sunset in the mountains were of what dreams are made of.

It was a nice Saturday night. The "RV Superstore" didn't watch late night TV and the generator quieted. "The Loud People" were in a stupor, quiet, stuck in their chairs. The "Gomer and Goober" group switched to marijuana and all tipped over early. All of their campfires smoldered.

Sunday morning came.

We packed up after our simple breakfast and drove up to the trailhead. A woman was out in her kayak. A thermos and fly rod, evidence of her planned morning.

We had seen fish in one of the Wilderness lakes we passed on our Saturday hike. Our Sunday was planned.

Brook trout - non native char from the east - cruised the shore sipping flies from the surface. The water was crystal clear, difficult conditions. I hid behind a lodgepole pine on shore. I hugged it.

"One's coming in from deeper water," the Lady directed from her perch. The brookie exploded toward the fly I presented.

Voices were above us on the trail. A couple were returning from an overnight backpacking trip with their two kids, a daughter 2 years old and a son 5. They had watched our fly fishing activity below them, including the quick departure of the released fish. The Lady chatted with the young mother with her daughter and complemented them on getting their children outside and into the wild. It was a highpoint of our day.

There was this one large brook trout, maybe 12 to 14 inches. Wary, it had refused all of my previous presentations. It was time for a very long 7x tippet and a size 20 delicate midge pattern.  I sat down to make the change. The Lady joined me.

"Not much build yet today," she said, eyes on the sky. "If it comes, it's going to be later. Think we'll have time for us to make the climb for me to see Moat Lake?"

That large brookie would have to wait, my strategy would go untested.

Moat Lake sits in a high bowl just below Dunderberg Peak. We knew a use trail led up but we not yet hiked it.

The trail is steep. It gets right with the program. The grade lessened as we neared Moat Lake.

The Lady had a garbage bag strapped to her pack containing the trash we picked up at our fishing spot. People are still this rude or uncaring? Taking beer cans up into the Wilderness and leaving the empties behind? Yup. And, people still buy bottles of Zeke's Power Bait (and leave the most filled bottle behind to roast in the sun). Unbelievable.

Moat Lake and we were alone. The trail showed no recent use.

We climbed above for a view down to the trailhead.

The Lady confirmed our location.

We drove north after returning to the trailhead and into the latest round of thunderstorms. In the late afternoon we stopped for an early dinner at Mountain View BBQ in Walker. It had cleared enough to eat outside. The food was good.

We wanted one more night out. Monitor Pass would do if it the storms were passing. We found our often used spot empty and settled in. We walked after our showers and again kept our eyes on the sky. It did not disappoint.

Dark enshrouded us as we returned to our so cozy small refuge. The earth's smell was rich. The wind blew gently through our open windows. High mountains, alpine lakes, wildflowers, snowfields, and critters roamed our dreams this night. It was how it should be.


  1. Thanks Monte.
    It's a shame how people treat our/their wild places.
    Don't know if it has increased due to the present WH person
    and the attitude he shows,but it sure is sad to see how our home in space it treated.
    Oh well enough of the soap box.
    Thanks for the hike what a wonderful area.

  2. "I filled up at lunch" what a guy. Glad you are getting out and sharing it with us.

  3. Enjoyed this trip. Great photos of places to find quiet (I do not understand generators in this day and age except in emergency) Rob aka Buckland

  4. Great photos, especially those sunsets -- thanks for posting!