Ansel Adams Wilderness area is located in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It extends to the west within the Sierra National Forest and to the east side with the Inyo National Forest. The trip undertaken was to Stevenson Meadow; a 13 mile journey. Base camp would be established in Stevenson Meadow and work completed from there. Total mileage for the trip is about 39 miles.
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Day 1 – August 2, 2016
The previous night we arrived at Clover Meadow. By staging our trip at the meadow the night before, we would be able to acclimated a bit and get an early start. It was time to get up at 530 AM to begin the journey. We camped behind one of the cabins in a small enclosed area. Kept the horse from saying high to us at night.
My gear was packed and ready to go by 620 AM. Breakfast consisted of oatmeal and was also consumed by that time. The crew I was going with was going to take stock (horses and mules) to our destination. Since I was walking, they let me get an early start. I told them I would see them at Stevenson Meadow and drove to the Iceberg Trailhead. It was about a 10 minute drive from Clover Meadow on a rocky dirt road.
My backpack was on and I was energized to see what the trail would bring. I checked out the trail sign and read the kiosk showing different parts of the trip. I then walked back the way I came, on the dirt road, until I found the start of the trail. It was only a few hundred feet from the parking area.
The trail was at a slight grade, which was a perfect warm up. I started hiking around 650 AM. The air was cool and the trail shaded by the trees. The trail itself was very sandy and beaten down by the foot and horse traffic it receives. Reminded me of certain parts of the Golden Trout Wilderness. I was glad to be hiking early on as the sand tends to radiate the heat.
After about 20 minutes the trail became steeper. At this point I took off my long sleeve shirt. It was a perfect spot to grab my first swig of water. Thankfully my muscles were ready to climb and so I began my accent to a place on the map they call The Niche. I whistled and spoke out loud a few times where it was harder to see the trail. I had experienced a bear sleeping on the trail in the past and didn’t want to repeat that instance. Before I knew it though, I was up to a clearing where the trail began contouring to The Niche.
Honestly it was nice to be out of the trees. I could see several mountain ranges and take photos of the views. The trail shifted from the typical forest and dirt to larger rocks, less trees, and rocky portions of tread. No matter, it was a nice change of scenery and I was soon at The Niche.
I had arrived. I was at The Niche as well as the wilderness boundary. This was my first time setting foot in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. As usually I had to grab a photo of me at the wilderness sign before proceeding any further.
The wind howled for a few minutes as I made my way further along the trail. It felt great as it was cooling me down. A group of 12 people were camped out across the creek that ran beside the trail. They were from Azusa Pacific University. I would later learn about their trip and why they came to wilderness. I waved and proceeded for another 5 minutes before I took my first snack break. It was about 8:09 AM and the break was nice. I dried off some more, drank water, and enjoyed my Snickers bar.
Snack completed I continued down the trail for about 30 seconds to my first trail sign. I was heading to Hemlock Crossing so across the nearly dry creek and into a riparian area. The mosquitoes welcomed me and, not wanting to stay long, I increased my pace. I thought it would only last for a short while, but I was wrong.
As I arrived at the next sign, I slowed only to be the host of a mosquito party. Quickly knowing I had to go right again, I proceeded onward. Swatting only seemed to help when I killed one of them, but soon several replaced it. Fortunately, there was a dry spot, in the sun, and out of the riparian vegetation that I found peace. My legs ached and I started to snack again. I was not expecting to have to move so quickly but, with my bag off my shoulders and drying out, it was a nice 10 minute break. I looked at the map to see if that was Buggy Meadow I had walked through. Apparently it was not and wondered what was in store for me.
Buggy Meadow was not too bad after all. Maybe I was getting used to the humming by now, but I proceeded onward and the trail started to climb. There was a small aspen tree stand to walk through and the trail was becoming rocky. It was a steady climb and no mosquitoes. I could take my time and find my pace. Once near the top I turned back around and snagged a nice panoramic shot of where I had come from. I would soon be surprised in another 5 minutes of uphill hiking.
The surprise was none other than a grand view of the North Fork San Joaquin drainage. I recalled this vista point was called “Surprise Saddle” and I could see why. I spent another few minutes just taking in the view and grabbing a photo of me on the rocks overlooking the area. I then proceeded onward as the day was warming up.
This part of the trail provided some additional view points and more photos were taken. I was now up in the red firs so the brush was not as prevalent. I walked another couple of miles and stopped for another snack. It was here that the trail made its descent down to Hemlock Crossing. I stretched and relaxed for 15 minutes before proceeding. It was getting close to 11 AM and going down only meant the temps were going to get hotter.
Hiking downhill is nice at first, but would rather be climbing. I met a person coming up the trail and moved out of his way. You don’t want to stop someone who has found their pace. He stopped on his own accord, said hi, shared some info, and proceeded on. I was not far from a flatter, meadow like area, and continued down the trail. I did arrive at the “flatter” area and my legs thanked me. It was not buggy either, but pleasant. Ferns were everywhere and covered portions of the trail. Streams were dry and, once again, the trail climbed up.
I made it to the top of a knoll and behold another vista point. I could now hear a waterfall and knew I was close to my lunch spot destination. I had been told prior to starting the day that there was a nice waterfall on the other side of the bridge.
Once across the bridge, I went up stream to where a sign was placed on a log. I now needed to continue in the direction I was going to Stevenson Meadow. However, it was time for lunch and seeing a nice area to rest nearby I took the opportunity to rest for about an hour near the waterfall. Nobody came by the whole time and soaking my feet in the cool water was refreshing.
Lunch was over and it was time to make the final 2 mile trek up the trail to Stevenson Meadow. It was very warm and I was not looking forward to hiking in the middle of the day. However, I decided to take it slow and steady. This ended up being a good decision as the trail became rocky. I didn’t want to twist my ankle.
Continuing on I eventually crossed Slide Creek. It was properly named as you could see debris terraces of rock on either side of the stream. Here I found some shade within the firs as I continued to walk on. Some riparian areas were located alongside the trail and I snapped a photo of the flowering plants. An unnamed stream was near the trail and I found a small pool full of fish. I zoomed in for a photo before soon realizing I had made it to the southern end of Stevenson Meadow. I was surprised and happy to have made it. About mid way, I found a nice juniper and rested there for the rest of the party. It was a nice 2 hour break.
Around 3:15 PM they rest of the crew had arrived. Their ride went well without any major issues. Camp was going to be on the opposite side of the meadow, but they needed to go to the top and wrap around. Most of the meadow is very boggy and they didn’t want to cause problems for the stock crossing through. We found an old trail from the 1960’s still there and proceeded that way to our camping spot.
The rest of the afternoon was spent setting up camp and getting the stock all set for the evening. This took us all a few hours to do. Soon dinner was prepared and served around 7 PM. It was Chinese Chicken Salad and boy was it good. There was a lot of it and I enjoyed 3 plates full. Eventually being full of food and sunset was just about gone, I quickly tried to do some night photography. I was learning a new technique and, unfortunately, missed one setting for the first night. I would do better the next day when I woke up and saw the button I needed.
Day 2 – August 3, 2016
First nights sleep was not so great and it usually is not for me. I woke up at 530 AM, which is typical too. I always have enjoyed first light while in the back country. I got dressed and made my way out to start breakfast; oatmeal and coffee.
Well soon it was time to get to work and survey the meadow. Here we spent the entire day looking at the hydrology and botany of the meadow. I learned quite a bit about plants and shared my knowledge on hydrology and meadow systems.
We finished late afternoon and didn’t have to walk far to get back to camp. Dinner would soon be served and it was Chili Relleno. The appetizer was guacamole with chips. Very delicious and we all enjoyed it. Of course the evening sunset I had to take advantage of with my camera. Time to do my first attempt at HDR photography.
Once several sets of photos were taken, I went to getting the fire started for the evening. We sat around and shared stories. It was another great evening around the fire and getting to know everyone better. Before long, it was completely dark and the sky was lit up with the stars and milky way. A few shooting stars went flying across the sky too. I found the settings I needed this time and tried to get some star photography done before going to bed.
Day 3 – August 4, 2016
5:30 AM came again and it was time to get up. It was time to do another survey, but this time I was really excited about seeing portions of the drainage further to the north. Getting ready go sooner, I skipped the coffee and headed north on the trail towards the headwaters of the North Fork San Joaquin River.
Once north of Stevenson Meadow, the landscape changes rather quickly. Riparian stretches are surrounded by rock and sage brush. The trees start to shrink back while bare rock protrudes out. I was already surprised to see the change within ten minutes of my hike and it just kept getting better with each passing minute.
The sun was still rising as I pressed on up and around a small ridge. I wondered why the trail made such a detour and soon would see why. The white thorn and talis is unstable all the way up through a saddle. It would cut off about 0.5 to 0.75 miles, but that wasn’t going to happen. As I rounded the corner of the ridge and hiked for another 5 minutes, I was greeted with a cascading waterfall. It was peaceful and a sight to see at about 7:10 AM. The trail continued to climb uphill at a steady pace and away from the river. You could still hear the sound of rushing water.
Once again the trail takes you back by the river and through a short meadow. Trees are trying to encroach, but their progress is slowed. The trail becomes narrow through these stretches where you pretty much are putting one foot in lined with the other. Passing the first small meadow you are greeted with a perfect swimming pol and small cascading water.
Getting closer to tree line, the trees were going away and more brush and grasses were seen. This also allowed for better views of the valley I was hiking up into. The peaks and ridge lines were jagged and rugged rock towering above. A cool down canyon breeze spurred me onward. A mix of song birds added to the great morning I was having.
Wildflowers were still along portions of the trail. Getting above 9,000 feet now, they were still hanging around. I made sure to stop and grabbed some photos. As I arrived below the first waterfall to the west, which ended up being the lower Twin Island Lakes, I ran into two gentlemen. They told me they were from Azusa Pacific University and their students were scattered above ahead doing some 48 hours of solo time. The professors were going to enjoy some fishing during this time. They also told me the falls I was seeing across the way was the lower lake. It was an easy climb up. I thanked them for the information, but could not go their suggested route. My itinerary left with my coworkers said I would go a different route and, though tempted, I stuck with my itinerary. I would get to the lower lake from the north.
The trail was fading in and out at this point. I had to follow cairns for the last mile of my hike. I was actually expecting this to occur at some point. The trail was already narrowing down and, going over a lot of rock now, it was a matter of time. A lovely waterfall was ahead and to the east side of the valley. It was coming down from Charlotte Lake.
When I arrived almost parallel to the falls, I crossed the North Fork San Joaquin River. It was flowing rather well to my surprise. It was here I saw one of the students grabbing some water. I said hello and proceeded onward as to not disturb their time. The trail was completely gone, but with about 1000 feet left on the map I wasn’t worried. It was time to do the last bit cross country. However, it was going to be a steep pull uphill.
It was rocky and steep. Steeper than expected based off of topo maps. However, I made my way and slowly progressed through talis and vegetation. There was a flat spot at the top I would take a longer break at. For now it was just making sure I didn’t slip and insured I had some good foot placement on my way.
I had made it to the first flat spot or “bench” for a spot to catch my breath. Being a ways up, I decided to turn around and look east. Wow it was beautiful. I grabbed a panoramic shot knowing it would not come out great due to the sun still rising and cloud cover (e.g. sky is washed out). It was a nice view in person and this view further spurred me on to make the final push up to Twin Island Lakes.
It was now time to eat my Clif Bar as I had crest and arrived at the upper Twin Island Lakes. The water was like glass and a deep dark blue. Nobody else was around. No animals or even birds were hear. Only a breeze at the small pass I walked over was the only noise. It was peaceful, relaxing, and hard to leave. I enjoyed my snack as well as the views. I arrived at 9:10 AM.
It was now 9:30 AM and I had about 1.5 hours to look around. I told my group I would start heading back by 11 AM. The clouds to the east were getting darker and larger, so I tried to find my way around the upper lake to the lower one. Since there is no trail at this point, I scrambled over a rocky ridge (very carefully) only to almost discover I could not get down on the other side. The edge looked like a straight drop off, but when getting closer the ridge had large “steps” to go down. I proceeded onward and very carefully. I was provided another great view of where the upper lake drains down the valley. Grabbing that photo I could see a small green patch near the outlet and headed there.
Now that I was at the outlet, it was time to figure out how to cross. The falls was the “narrow” spot, but extremely dangerous (15 foot vertical drop). The calmer waters was wider, so I went this route. Taking off my shoes and putting to feet in the rocks were way to slippery. I was going to fall in and get completely soaked. Bummed and not wanting to risk it, I decided that this would be as far as I could go. The water did feel good on my feet, so I soaked them for a time while enjoying the views. I did have a hot spot developing, so the cool water and some moleskin later remedied the situation. It had taken me awhile to get to where I was at unfortunately. When break was over it was time to head back.
Finding my way back was a lot easier this time. From the green shoreline, there was a human made path to a rock talis. I followed it and found going up the talis, which I avoided before, was the way to go. I summited the ridge again and took a 180 degree panoramic photo. The clouds were receding so my initial “hurry” was no longer there. This in mind I just took in the views one more time and said my goodbyes. However, the way down provided some better photo opportunities due to the suns location this late in the morning.
I decided to go a different way down from the upper lake to the valley below. At the flat bench I had found, I decided to go north a little bit. Here I was greeted with a pool of water. Inside there were hundreds of tadpoles swimming about. Another great spot for some photos of the scenery too. Continuing downhill a bird landed and watched me for a bit. Some of the wildflowers also provided a splash of color that made me smile.
Now in the valley portion I met a couple of the students from Azusa Pacific again. One was Brook who seemed to be enjoying her time out there. She had some questions about bears and I hoped I was helpful calming her nerves a bit. The other person was Aaron who was closer to the creek. He seemed at peace and was definitely enjoying his time alone. I proceeded onward and kept snagging shots of the valley. It was nice to have a sky in my photos once again.
The trek was pretty much all downhill at this point. It was warmer in the valley and the wind was now blowing up canyon. The cool air was long gone, so I needed to switch into shorts to keep cooler. I found a nice spot to switch out on the trail and it was in the shade too.
Another break complete, I trekked along enjoying the views once more and some of the wildflowers. It was surprising to me how the trail could change so much every few minutes. You would be walking through a nice meadow, then a dry rocky, almost void of any vegetation path, then back to a forested portion with wildflowers. It definitely kept your senses going.
While walking down I made sure to turn around a look back from where I came. The sky was a deep blue so it made for improved photos compared to the early morning shots. Paintbrush flowers were along small streams coming from the valley walls too. As I made my way down I saw one of the instructors fishing at the base of a pool. He was very quiet and only caught two since we last met. I proceeded onward and returned to the cascading waterfall. Instead of photos of the falls, I did a panorama of the valley where Bench Valley came into play with the North Fork San Joaquin.
A great view to take in for a few minutes before continuing on. There were definitely more trees coming back into the view now and less rock. I only had about 2 miles or less to go and then I would be back at camp. Shortly after leaving I ran into a group of 4. They were going to Twin Island Lakes. Only 1 of them had been there before, so it was going to be a nice surprise for the others. They were all “bright eyed and bushy tailed” as we parted ways. About 5 minutes later I met two of my coworkers coming up the trail. I shared some photos of what I had seen and told them to check out some of the spots just a mile up the trail. They said they planned to and would meet me back at camp.
It was getting warmer and the trees receded from the trail itself. I was looking forward to resting during the heat of the day for a bit, so this spurred me to walk faster. I fixed a part of the trail about 15 minutes before arriving in camp too. Hopefully others would see the fix and not get lost for a few minutes like I did early that morning (took me a minute or two to relocate the trail).
I went through the same patch of wildflowers to get back to camp. Instead of walking by I snapped a few photos of the flowers and surrounding geology. The lighting was definitely better and the wind was gone. A few minutes later, I was back in camp where I enjoyed a rest for 15 minutes. I than began to air out my feet from the hike and write down all the notes about the trail conditions and meadows. This took some time to do. It was mid afternoon when the two ladies returned to camp who shared with me their experiences and notes.
The remaining portion of the late afternoon was getting camp setup for the leave tomorrow, but most importantly to make dinner. Tonight we were having kabobs and there was plenty of vegetables to go with them. I had about 3 skewers full. I broke out some smores for the group later too, which added to our last night at Stevenson Meadow. Another packer and set of horses and mules came in. Deb knew him and he joined us. He had his own dinner, but offered to share as did we. Once more another good time around the camp fire before bed. What a day full of adventure!
Day 4 – August 5, 2016
We were all up at 530 AM as usual. Breakfast was oatmeal and coffee. I helped take down camp and placed the gear going on the mules on a large tarp. I asked if there was anything else I could do before leaving. They were coming in on horseback again and I was on foot. They said no and wished me a successful hike out. I told them to have a good ride and see them at the end of the trail.
It was a cool morning hiking in the shadow of the mountains. The trip was going to be mostly down hill, but a steep uphill climb out of the valley. It was a great warm up and I marched along. Hiking alone does create plenty of time to think and so that is what I did. Sometimes I would even vocalize a view to myself just to break the silence. Kind of funny looking back on it, but that made the trip more enjoyable.
Once across the bridge the trail didn’t waste time on climbing out of the valley. It was also beginning to warm up a bit too now that the sun was beating down on me. I just took the trail slow and steady, taking full but slow strides. A trick I was taught on my big trip last year (Circle of Solitude). Thanks Brian! Anyway, I chugged along and enjoyed the views along the way.
It took about an hour to pull out of the valley and to what I called a false summit. Sure you made it out and the trail dipped down temporarily to a unnamed creek. I crossed it and immediately began to climb again. This last for about 10 more minutes though. Then the trail began its gradual descent down towards The Niche. I stopped for a snack of gummy bears that Amiee gave me before leaving that morning. What a nice electrolyte and quick energy boost.
I did not stop for more then a minute at Surprise Saddle, but continued on. I was wanting to get done by lunch. It was hot and I also knew what was coming up. Earlier in the week when I was coming into the wilderness, there was a beautiful long stretch of riparian vegetation. Unfortunately the mosquitoes wanted to be a part of my experience, which ultimately sped my pace up to get out of there. This time it would be warmer, but I didn’t want to give them a chance to grab a bite. Oh and it is properly named Buggy Meadow.
Passing a couple of trail junctions I was going through the last stretch of meadow-riparian vegetation. The mosquitoes were there, but because it was warmer I seemed to blend it a little better…at least that is my theory. I did a few “hiking videos” to bring back to the family of me hiking on the trail and stopped recording at the final creek crossing.
Hiking another 10 minutes I was at The Niche where I took my lunch break and aired out my feet. It was nice, cool, and very windy. A perfect combination to cool down and relax for lunch. I had some AT&T cell reception, but could not make a call out. I was going to call home, but new once I returned to Clover Meadow in another hour I could easily call home to let them know I was safe. About 30 minutes went by and it was time to pack up and get going. Of course, I took one more photo by the wilderness sign.
The last leg of the trip was all downhill. It was an easy hike and warm once out of the trees. I met a couple groups going in and a few people were friendly to return my “hello” and “good afternoon” greetings. Otherwise they looked at my strangely or just smiled. Kind of strange but to each his own. Anyway I was at the truck by 1 PM and driving down to Clover Meadow to wait for my group. I made my phone call letting my family know I was out and safe.