Monday, August 8, 2022

The Mammoth Area Sierra Nevada – August 2022

please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version & highlighted text are links to additional information


A Half Ass Adventure 


In a previous adventure narrative I mentioned that mules were proof it was good to be half ass. Once again, we were invited by our buddies with mules to tag along on a camping and riding trip, this time to the Ansel Adams Wilderness west of Mammoth Lakes. Reservations were made for the Agnew Meadow Equestrian Camp. We aren’t much into visiting the very accessible, heavily visited, Sierra areas, so this would be a treat for us. Equestrian Camps are usually much quieter and distanced from the crowded and overrun family campgrounds.


We rendezvoused with our friends early Monday morning to travel together enroute to Mammoth. If by chance, you break down with large animals, it is good to have help along. Our drive was problem free and we were set up and comfortable in camp by midafternoon. The Lady and I hiked before dinner to get oriented to the area and trails. We got hit with rain – a recurring theme of this trip – prior to returning to camp.


It was a rodeo the next morning as the muleers readied the animals for the trail. These animals love to work and were anxious to get going. Patience was lacking.


Our friends, the Barking Spiders (Barking and Ma) were our connection to this group. Barking would be riding his wonder mule, Amos. Ma would be hiking with us and we had strict orders, “Don’t ruin her.”


Tuesday morning, we started out before the mules with the plan to hike down the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River past Minaret Falls and on to Devils Postpile National Monument. It was a short walk to the Wilderness boundary.




It was quite a drop from Agnew Meadows down to the San Joaquin River hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail.




Here’s a view in the opposite direction, north, up the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River canyon.




As we descended down to the river, the trail a narrow corridor through tobacco brush, I heard someone approach behind me and I felt a gentle nudge on my pack. I expected to see a trail runner behind me wanting by. No, it was a four-point buck. I was going too slow and he wanted to pass. I stopped.




I moved to the side but, when he saw my two companions in front of me, he decided it would be too much of a bother to pass all of us and he moved down through the thick brush off the trail. Did you notice the two fat ticks on his left eyelid? We hate ticks. He probably does too.


We reached the river and the Lady, as is her good habit, insisted we “stay found” by confirming our location on her map.




“We are about a quarter mile upstream from where the trail crosses the river. That will confirm our location.” She reported.


Here’s the happy buddies hiking in California’s magnificent Sierra Nevada Mountains. And, they knew exactly where they were.






We met our group on mules at Minaret Falls for lunch together. Ms. Cindy & DeeDee and Barking & Amos were happy to strike a pose for the camera.






A young man and woman stopped near us, also for a lunch break. Upon leaving, the woman was a little apprehensive about passing by the mules. I put her at ease. “The mules,” I said, “With a soft voice tell them that you love them, you can then do anything you want with them.”


The Lady and I explored the falls.






Including a friction experiment on water polished granite. Yes, she is still a kid.




Ma Spider, the Lady, and I continued south and entered the National Monument where we felt we were now in some sort of “mystery spot” where everything is out of plumb or an optical illusion.




The Middle Fork of the San Joaquin is a beautiful meadow stream as in flows through Devils Postpile. And you can see the storm clouds are building in the early afternoon.




We boarded the Valley Shuttle Bus – more on that later – at the Monument Headquarters and got off at the trailhead for Rainbow Falls. Now we were surrounded by people on the trail visiting this main attraction. My goodness, this was a busy spot.




A woman we spoke with recommended continuing down to the lower falls. We had the place to ourselves. Thank you, ma’am.








Thunder echoing about the surrounding peaks signaled our departure time. Rain engulfed the Minarets.




We ran to catch the shuttle bus at Reds Meadow Resort and rode the 6 miles back to Agnew Meadow. Rain wetted us down as we made the short hike into camp. It cleared after dinner in classic Sierra style.




A note, our area’s mule community is small and tight knit. After their ride, the muleers drove down to Reds Meadow where they met a couple of buddies. One was Lee Roeser, a legendary Forest Service packer with a long career working in the Sierra Nevada backcountry. Here is a link to an essay on Lee – Born to Pack. Another compelling story is Lee’s wife, Jen, who owns and operates the McGee Creek Packstation. Story here – Jen Roeser & the McGee Creek Station.

The other buddy was Bobby Tanner who owns and operates the Reds Meadow and Agnew Meadow pack stations. Bobby is another legend in the mule world. His father, Bob Tanner, founded the annual Mule Days event in Bishop, California. A few years back, in early November with the Spiders, we met Bobby and his wife and son as they were returning the 20 mule team Borax wagons to Laws Museum after the Death Valley 49ers event.

Here’s three links to information on Bobby Tanner –

Bobby Tanner

Muleskinner Bobby Tanner

Borax 20 Mule Team Replica Wagons


Our hike the next day was up to and past Shadow Lake – a classic Ansel Adams Wilderness hike. The mules and muleers had a big day planned – the 22-mile loop to Thousand Island Lake and back. The morning was glorious and crystal clear when we started out.




The gap in the ridge (just left of center) is the route up to Shadow Lake.




We passed a well done arborglyph on an aspen along the river trail.




The mules passed us just before our turn off up to Shadow Lake.








It is a wonderful climb up the cleft to Shadow Lake. The trailwork with many sets of granite stairways is remarkable.










The soaring granite was spellbinding.




We were quickly at the outlet of Shadow Lake.








Large cruising rainbow trout got my fly casting arm twitching and my mind contemplating fly selections.






Our initial plan was to continue past Shadow and hike up to Ediza Lake. Our read of the sky said we did not have enough time before thunderstorms would develop.  Instead, we decided to make the shorter climb up to Rosalie Lake via the John Muir Trail. We circled the east end of Shadow Lake and then climbed up the 22 switchbacks to Rosalie Lake.








Darkening skies and scattered raindrops greeted us as we had lunch at Rosalie.




Please note the classic glacial chatter marks in the lower right corner of the photo above.


We departed Rosalie Lake, climbed back to the saddle and back down the 22 switchbacks to Shadow Lake. Raindrops and darkening clouds kept pace with us.








The girls were thrilled to find gentian wildflowers along the outlet of Shadow Lake.




Big raindrops splashed down on us as we descended the granite staircases. I put the camera in my pack and packcovers went on. Raindrops continued as we hiked along the San Joaquin River but the storm really hit hard as we climbed back up to our camp at Agnew Meadow. We were caught in heavy rain and hail with lightning strikes within a half mile. It was exciting and we were sure happy to have nice dry campers to climb into and take refuge. The storm pounded us until 1930 hrs. We pulled off wet clothes, dried off, I beat the Lady in a game of Scramble (276 to 243), and we enjoyed a warm dinner. It’s at times like this we really love our small, simple, cozy, home away from home.


Note – the mules and riders returned to camp from their 22-mile ride just before the storm hit. It was amazing how calm the mules were in the corrals with lightning flashes and crashing thunder all around. It’s good to be half ass.


With this weather, unfortunately, there was very little evening social time with the other members of the group.


The mules did the shorter ride up to Shadow Lake on the next day. We took advantage of the early sun in the morning and dried boots, pack harnesses and hip belts, and other items while we had the chance. Our plan was to return to Devils Postpile. Clouds began to show up by midmorning.




The Red Meadow Shuttle Bus is very convenient and free once you are in the valley. You can drive into the valley – as we did – if you have camping reservations. Otherwise, you ride the bus. Here’s info on – Reds Meadow Shuttle

We walked out to the bus stop and took the shuttle bus to  Devils Postpile.




We enjoyed the morning walking the loop trail.






The girls still loved to pose.




The top of the basalt columns was smoothed by glacial ice.




This is a land of impressive geology.









We hiked from the National Monument over to Reds Meadow and treated ourselves to ice cream, milkshakes, and malts. Oh boy. Ma received a phone call from Barking Spider that the mules and riders were back in camp and had decided to end our trip early. The weather forecast was continued storms with rain overnight and into the morning. The decision was to pack up now when it was dry instead of packing up wet in the morning, our original planned departure. A shuttle ride back to Agnew Meadow, a quick pack up for us, and we exited the valley together after calling the kiosk at the top to request holding traffic – the route up is narrow, curvy, and steep – for our group’s 4 long horse trailers to come up.


We were pounded with rain several times on our drive home. It also rained here at home. This was a great quick trip and a big thank you to our mule friends for the very kind invitation for us to join them. Ma Spider, we hope we didn’t “ruin” you too badly. It sure was fun having you hike with us.