Ansel Adams Wilderness 2019

Slab Lake

All photos -> HERE

I was looking forward to a week long work trip into the Ansel Adams Wilderness. This time we were going west of where I had ventured from my 2016 trip. This time we were going to cover a lot of ground in the western most side of the Ansel Adams. Like two years ago, we staged at Clover Meadow camping area.

Wednesday, September 4

Sunset at Clover Meadow

The truck was loaded the morning of my departure. I would put in half a day at the office and then begin the 2 to 3 hour drive up to Clover Meadow. I learned to start earlier this time around. I would grab an early dinner in North Fork. From drove up the Scenic Byway (4S81) towards Mammoth Pool. The road is entirely paved, which is nice, and only the last two miles are a typical dirt road. Upon arriving I parked up in the administrative use area. About 20 minutes later the rest of the crew arrived. I set up the tent and soon prepared some dinner. We stayed out until it was dark and soon were off to bed. It was going to be a long day tomorrow.

Thursday, September 5

Our camping site at sunrise.

Sunrise began the day for everyone. We soon were all up and getting ready to start our day. Morning breakfast was the usual backpacking meal of oatmeal and coffee for me. As soon as that was finished, it was time to break camp and get all the gear over to the mules to carry in. This was only further down the road about 500 feet.

Deb and Micki were getting the mules their breakfast and bringing them out to pack. The others, including myself, helped unload and stage the gear. We needed to weigh roughly weigh the gear in the saddle bags and mule packs to get an even distribution. Otherwise as the gear is moving along on the mule, it could tilt over to one side and then you have a “wreck” on the trail. This took some time, as it always does, but we eventually got all the gear packed. The local marmots watched curiously as we did it too.

As the gear was finally all loaded, there was just a few things left to do. Since some of us were walking we drove to the trailhead. This was going to save us about a mile of walking behind the mules. The drive was about 10 minutes to get there. I was excited to explore and to be back on the trail!

Our hike begins at the Walton Trailhead.

Our hike was going to be approximately 7 to 8 miles that day. Our destination was going to be Fernandez Meadow. Apparently the trail used to go by the area but was rerouted years ago. Since then, unless you know what to look for, you’ll never see it. The army used to patrol it years ago before there were National Forests are Parks in the area (late 1800s). Anyway, we were told to stop about a mile out from our destination and meet back up with those coming in on horse.

The hike was nice and at a steady pace. The overcast sky kept the temps down, but the humidity was up. Overall the hike was a pleasant one. There were several spots to enjoy views of the Ansel Adams too. In fact we could see Banner and Mt. Ritter at some points. Even the Minarets were visible too. Soon though we would be arriving at the boundary to the wilderness. However, before getting there, we did get chased out by some bees as we tried moving a log soon after the panoramic views. Gary was stung a couple of times.

The boundary to the Ansel Adams Wilderness provided a great vista spot and additionally a snack area. It was on a ridge line providing 360 views. I grabbed a photo at the sign and took out Bobo Bar for my snack. It was the Peach flavored one and it was very good. We cooled down a bit and soon Gary and I were on our way down the trail. This was the steepest downhill we were going to do all day. At the bottom we were going to cross our first creek.

Being that it was September, the creek was very easy to cross. It was shallow and a couple steps and one hop to cross. The flow was going well for early September. The snow pack was definitely keeping the area moist from months prior. Thankfully no real issue with mosquitoes. Shortly after there was a volcanic rock outcropping to the right of the trail.

Columnar Joint Volcanics just within the wilderness boundary.

I noticed the basalt colored rocks to the right and soon was surprised to see it was an outcropping of columnar basalt. It was similar to what one sees at Devil’s Postpile National Monument. However, these are more at a 60 degree angle versus a near 90. I did not know about this nor expect it so I was quite surprised. We kept moving though as we still has several miles to our destination.

Heading right on the Fernandez Trail.

The volcanic rock came and went as quickly as we arrived. Once out of sight there was a trail junction. We were going to head right. The hike was still easy going at this point, but the weather was getting warmer. The clouds were still there too which meant the humidity was leaving any time soon. Conversations were on and off as we hiked. My stomach was wanting lunch, so I asked Gary if he was up for it. He thought it was a great idea and looked for a down tree off the trail to eat at. We inspected for bees and it was all clear. Soon we sat down to devour our lunch and chat about different things. It was a nice break and we still had not seen the rest of the crew on horses yet. This was a good thing for us because we were staying ahead of them. Some other hikers past by and soon we too were on our way.

Our bellies were full and or hike was a little slower to let things fully digest. Soon our pace was back to where it was not too long ago and further up the trail we went. As we gained some elevation and the terrain changed, the trees became more sparse. Rock was more evident everywhere, which made for a nice change of scenery.

Rocky terrain

I enjoy the more rocky terrain as it feels more open and spacious to me. I can see around me a lot better too. We were both glad for the cloud cover as the trail is quite exposed at this point. Gary mentioned how his last trip in here was hot as the sun beat down on him and the crew. Another right at a trail junction and we came near our first meadow. It too was at another trail junction and I saw where I would be possibly coming down in the days ahead.

Proceeding to the right, the trail began to climb at a steeper pitch. not too bad, but it was a change. We were also within the last couple of miles so I think we were looking forward to being at camp. Still no signs of the stock behind us so we kept moving on to our stop at Fernandez Creek. We were asked to wait here for the crew to show up. Prior to arriving the trail was going contour to the slope and then downhill. It was a nice break to relax the muscles we had been using for most of the day too.

Fernandez Creek was a great sight to see. We were tired at this point and needed a good break. We removed our backpacks and other gear, sat down on a rock seat, and relaxed. Unfortunately it was short lived as the rest of the crew caught up with us about 5 minutes later. We didn’t say anything to one another, but our looks were saying another 10 minutes would have been great. We greeted everyone, discussed how the trip was so far briefly, and how long we were waiting. Now we had to hike another mile to our destination. it was going to be half uphill and half downhill. Not bad at all, really. I just needed to re-energize myself by thinking 20 more minutes for a full break. I was needing one since it was mid afternoon already.

Going off trail to our destination.

Our backpacks were on and the hike continued. The first few hundred feet were flat then it was uphill. It was the stepper climb for the day, but consistent. This makes it easier to find a groove and go with it….except we were trying to keep up with horses. We didn’t want to lose them so we kept up. Soon Deb found the spot we needed to go off trail and down we went. It didn’t take long at all weaving in and around trees. She mentioned this was more for the pack string as the old trail is over grown and could knock off the gear. We made our way and soon found an old campfire ring.

Our camping area.

The backpacks were off upon arrival. It was nice to have it off once again. Soon the mules were tied up as well as the horses. We started to unload all the gear. A down tree had fallen into the fire pit, so soon the cross cut saw was set up and the blade began to sing. With the log out of the way and branches limbed, we could safely have a camp fire. There was plenty of firewood around. I went to setup my tent at this point.

We were all in camp and glad to be there. Most of it was fully set up at this point. We just need to organize a cooking area, hang up a tarp over the kitchen and gear, in case of rain, and we were set. This didn’t take too long to accomplish. I believe we were all done by 4:30 PM. I went out to the meadow nearby to survey it before dinner.

Fernandez Meadow near camp.

My survey took about 30 minutes to an hour. I had plenty of time, so I took advantage of the sunlight. I found several springs in the meadow. The water was crystal clear and full of tree frog tadpoles. There were hundreds of them. The meadow itself was vibrant with vegetation and water as a result. One had to be careful were they stepped. Thankfully waterproof boots were handy and some down trees to walk along. The survey was soon complete and now it was time for dinner!

Dinner was wonderful. I had about two to three servings of food. The bread was homemade and so was our desert. We ate like royalty out there. Everyone was full of energy and enjoyed our time around the camp fire. Our discussions were all over the place regarding topics. Nothing like a campfire to get to know one another. Around 9 PM we all went to bed.

Friday, September 6

Once the sun had broke the silence of the night, I was up and out of my tent. I was the first one up that morning. It had rained on and off through the night. It was quite pleasant actually and everything in my tent was perfectly dry too. I boiled some water for my oatmeal, made some coffee, talked about the day with others as they awoke and was soon off and up the trail. I was going to put in about 8 to 10 miles today and it included going off trail and “short cutting” to save time.

The hike began by going uphill. My first destination was Rutherford Lake. The hike up to the trail was quick. The air was crisp and fresh thanks to last nights rain. The trail was perfect. There was just enough moisture to keep the dust in check but not wet enough to cause mud to form. It was extremely quite and peaceful. I could hear the faint sounds of my boots crunching down on the earth and the warmth from the sun’s rays piercing through the dense forest. The trail camp up out of the “hole” it was in and presented a great vista point.

It was a view back down south where I had come from. The puffy white clouds made their way as I could now feel a breeze keeping me cool. It was wonderful, but I had to keep going. The first trail junction was coming up, which meant I was getting really close to my first stop of the day.

The trail stop climbing and dropped down just a bit to present at trail junction. I veered right towards Rutherford Lake and proceeded up the trail. It was not long and another sign appeared. It was a turn off for Rutherford Lake (left) and Anne Lake (right). No camp fires were permitted beyond this point too. The trail use was less at this point so I had to keep an eye on the treat a little more than usual. I climbed further uphill and could see the lake was coming into view. The terrain and trees were changing by “opening up”. I was soon excited to arrive at Rutherford Lake.

Rutherford Lake

Rutherford Lake was very big. I looked around and saw a fire ring from some time ago. Nobody had traveled up here ahead of me either as there were no foot tracks anywhere. I circled around the eastern side of the lake grabbing additional photos as I went. I was looking for the outlet of the lake to do my work.

What surprised me most was the dam on the outlet side of the lake. I recall being told we had man made dams in the Ansel Adams, but it did not occur to me I would see one of them on the trip. I walked out on the dam to grab another photo before getting my work done. Once completed I looked on a map to see that Anne Lake was just below me. I could save a lot of time and some mileage by just dropping down and following the outlet flow. I looked down the side of the mountain carefully and started planning out my route.

For the most part it looked a lot harder then it actually was on the way down. It is one of those if you look at the whole stretch, it was steep. However, going down rock and ledge at a time it wasn’t bad at all. I followed the creek as it cascaded down the rocks with ease. Wildflowers were out and enjoying the water sprinkling on them from the crashing of the water. The journey seemed quick and I was soon on flatter ground. I couldn’t see my destination anymore, but the topography map showed it flowing into Anne Lake. I just stayed by flow until I arrived at my destination. Coincidentally, I found a user trail that tied back into the main trail from the junction an hour or so ago.

Anne Lake

I arrived on the eastern side of the lake, which was perfect. After completing my task at hand, I made sure to eat my first snack and enjoy the view. It was a perfect scene with still waters, patchy cloud cover, and the sun illuminating the background. With the last bite done and the final photo snapped, it was time to make my way to an unnamed meadow. There was no trail there, but the route was on plenty of exposed and smooth bedrock. The hiking was easy and soon I round the riparian area I needed to check out. It just happened to be by another small lake or pond actually. Compared to the other lakes, this was a pond I had stumbled on. It was teaming with aquatic life, which was mainly tree frog tadpoles.

The outlet of the lake was dry, so whatever water was here was slowly drying up. I didn’t see a spring or an inlet, so hopefully the tadpoles experienced metamorphosis rather quickly before the place iced over. Now it was time to head back and rejoin the trail. This was going to create a “U” shape to get to my next destination and meet up with folks working on the trail. However, I decided to see if I could take another shortcut.

I began by going in a southern direction to find a narrow gap along the ridge. According to the map there was one there, which I was confident I would find. However, how steep was it on the other side was to be determined. I soon arrived at the small gap, or actually saddle, along the ridge. Now it was the moment of truth. What was in store for me if I descended down the other side?

Part of the view on the other side of the saddle.

The shortcut attempt was definitely going to be worth the trouble getting there. The way down was easier then going from Rutherford Lake to Anne Lake. The view was spectacular too. I was coming into a small valley that I needed to arrive at and then to towards the headwaters. According to the map there was an unnamed lake down from where I was standing. It just happened to be along the way to my next destination spot; Slab Lake.

I quickly made my way down and was presented with another great photo point. I of course took advantage of the landscape shot as well as a close up of some wildflowers. Soon I crossed over a maze of flowing water and found what looked like the trail on the eastern side of this area. It was here that I enjoyed lunch. It was a mixture of food I had brought and some left over Chinese Chicken Salad from the night before. Man was it good!

Lunch spot!

I found a spot in the shade to remain cool and dry out while I ate my lunch. I decided to grab another selfie at this point for the family at home. It was a nice break with a nice view. I found a rock to prop my legs up on to rest them while I rested.

Panoramic view of the lunch spot.

Once I cooled down, finished eating, and dried out a bit, it was time to make my way up to Slab Lake. I checked the time, planned accordingly, and loaded up my gear to move out. I checked the area for any micro-trash that may have escaped before moving on. The trail was gone at this point, but I knew the general direction. Just go up the valley.

I found a user trail eventually. It weaved in and around the terrain a bit. When the trail was gone, I only had to look so far to find a stacked set of rocks to guide me from point to point. Eventually that went away. However, I did noticed some old blaze marks in trees and continued my way up till I found Slab Lake.

Slab Lake

Slab Lake was beautiful. I was getting to the elevation where the vegetation was receding and mostly rock was in view. It is one of my favorite parts about backpacking into a wilderness area in the Sierra. Getting above most, if not all, of the tree line to where only the rocks are. Nothing beats sleeping at this elevation for star gazing. Anyway, I grabbed some photos and samples as usual before proceeding completely off trail once more.

I hopped across the outlet of Slab Lake and proceeded through the low lying vegetation. Up ahead I saw a string of vegetation I was planning to follow. I also knew from the past that folks with inflatable rafts and gear went up here for research. Surely if they could get up there with all this gear I could safely find a way too, right?

Looking back down onto Slab Lake.

One thing about the hike up is any time I needed to stop, there was a great view right behind me of Slab Lake. I made several stops to either take a break, recalculate my next step, or to just simply see what else I could see on my way to the top. The climb wasn’t bad and the air was very cool, so no worries of heating up too quickly. I did make sure to look back once more when the terrain became flatter and I was actually getting out of view.

The hike was much easier from this point onward. I didn’t see any stacked rocks, so I assumed not a lot of people tend to come up here. I made my way along the rocks and eventually found a small creek. It was flowing under the rocks I was walking on. I soon realized this had to be the outlet for Frying Pan lake. Hence I just followed up the creek and watched my map until my arrival.

Looking towards the outlet of Frying Pan Lake

Frying Pan Lake was the smallest one I had visited so far today. However, the water was crystal clear. You could see all the way down the bottom. The water was very cold too. I made my way around the eastern side by going up and down natural “rock walls.” As I was doing so I began to hear a familiar sound. A chirping or high pitch “bark”. I guess the marmots knew I was around, which is fine. They have never bothered me and I enjoy their barks. Good warning systems :).

Walton Lake

At last I made it to the upper most lake for my hike today. It was Walton Lake. This lake was about 3 to 4 time the size of Frying Pan Lake. The water too was icy cold. I was tempted to get in to wash off a bit, but decided against it. I did however do a sudo “sponge bath” by dipping my head in, washing off my chest, legs, and arms. It felt refreshing, very cold, but satisfying all at the same time. The wind was blowing constantly so I was drying and cooling down rather quickly. I ended up in my down jacket at one point while I ate a snack and enjoyed the view.

Playing with the telephoto lens. Peak zoomed in from previous panoramic photo above.

While I rested a bit and let my food digest, I took some photos and videos of the area. One of those was a zoomed in shot at the peak nearby. I really enjoy the telephoto lens out in wilderness. Once that was done it was time to go. It never lasts long enough for me when I visit these places. However, I had to check in with the trail crew members. They were going to meet me at Slab Lake.

I made my way back and the Marmots were very happy. They had not stopped barking at me for the last hour or so. Once I was past the outlet, the noise ceased. The view was great as most of the cloud cover was breaking up even more. I could see for miles all around. Now I just needed to retrace my steps back down and wait at Slab Lake.

As I was making my way down I heard them on my radio. They said they could see me coming down and told me where they were. I grabbed a selfie for a reference point of where I was and then zoomed in with my other lens to show where they were. If you look carefully in the right photo, you’ll see two people. One is almost dead center on the white outcrop of rock, just to the right of the two pine trees. The other person is further to the right. Anyway, I caught up with them and we chatted a bit. Talked about what we did and what we saw. They were going to finish up around the lake and it was time for me to head back to camp. This time using the trail system the whole way.

The trek back was mostly going to be downhill, which was fine. As long as there was some flatter areas in between, then it wouldn’t be so bad on the knees. I enjoyed seeing the wildflowers, butterflies, and some of the birds who stopped nearby. It was a peaceful afternoon and I had about 2 hours of hiking to go.

At first I could not see the trail, but recognized places I had been. I did see more stacked rocks with the higher vantage point, so my pace through the area was faster than early in the day. I followed my map and eventually found the well beaten path that would take me back down to Fernandez Meadow.

I believe with all the snow, it created moist areas for a long time. I had never seen so many random mushrooms throughout the National Forest. They were very colorful, so I had to take some photos. The trail went through a lot of riparian vegetation, which I suspect was also because of the abundance of water. The creek was beside the trail at times and I could see plenty of small fish enjoying the afternoon. Still the bugs were minimal. I eventually turned one corner to find a surprise.

One of four doe crossed my path.

Initially I was spooked. Deer always seem to do that to me when I don’t expect to see them. Four doe ran across the trail and into the trees. I didn’t move for a moment in hopes they would slow down, if not stop. Sure enough they stopped to look back. I too spooked them and they were curious. I did my best to grab some photos before they eventually moved on.

It was not long and I was back in camp from the deer moment. I stopped at another meadow to check it out before I arrived. Once in camp it was time to filter water and help with meal preparation. I believe dinner was burritos that night and they were so good. This time around there were no clouds so I tried to capture the night sky before going to bed. What a day!

Saturday, September 7

Retracing my steps.

I slept better this night. I think the up and down of cross country hiking was helping. Maybe I was getting used to being outside and on a sleeping pad or maybe the combination of both was helping. As usual, I was one of the first ones up and said good morning to Deb. I fixed breakfast, talked about my plans for the day with others, and then was soon off to get my next circuit done. I was going to put in more miles today than yesterday, but I was ready!

I made my way uphill through the forest and found the Fernandez Trail from yesterday. Here I hiked up and back on familiar ground. Familiar overlooks and switchbacks greeted me in the early morning hours again. It was quiet and peaceful. This time the trail had foot traffic. Maybe I would see someone today?

Going straight ahead this time.

I arrived at my first trail junction rather quickly. Yesterday I had taken a right. Today I was going straight towards Fernandez Pass. I wanted to circle up this way and drop down into Blackie Lake. On the topography map it looked doable. One doesn’t know though until they arrive. The hiked continued onward and new vista presented themselves and changes in vegetation.

Trees starting to recede.

The hike this time was warmer than yesterday. The cloud cover was not there and being in direct sunlight was not helping. The forest was silent and no movement felt in the air as I proceeded up the trail.

The trail brought me to a nice flat bench. It was a large shallow meadow. Lodgepole Pines were growing in and around it. The creeks were dried up at this point up here. The trail was well defined and started to climb up in the rock. I was now starting to leave most of the vegetation behind as my elevation continued to climb.

Switch backs in the rocks.

Now the meadow was behind me and the trail was going up its first set of steps. Every time I see these rock steps on any trail, I cannot help but imagine the crews who were out here some time ago putting installing them. Many of which still hold since they were first placed there. I could see a person using a rockbar to place a piece while another person was digging out the dirt to place another. Anyway, the breeze was now coming in but ever so slightly. No complaints here!

Hiking further up the trail I wonder if I would see any wildlife. An occasional bird would fly over head. I saw a squirrel run by and eventually heard a bark. Not the bark of a dog, but of a marmot. I was not quick enough with the camera at this point, but maybe I could get a snapshot of one on the other side.

A view and listening to the “barking” below.

The switch backs were more frequent and the trail weaved in and around rocks. It was time to climb higher now. As I turned around one corner and looked back, I was provided with a nice view. The ridgeline I was heading towards was in view. Behind it was my first lake destination. It wasn’t looking too “easy” but I was not there yet. Beyond I could see most of the Sierra National Forest. It was a great sight and I knew the higher I went the better the views would be so onward!

The straight shot up and to Fernandez Pass.

The trail started to head in a more direct path to Fernandez Pass. I was excited to see the results and my paced quicken. The trail was actually muddy at this point, which surprised me being so high up the mountain. I saw some old boot tracks from some days back. Not sure who came over, but it was an older track. Pin holes were everywhere from trekking poles too. The breeze was getting stronger, which was wonderful. It kept me cool and I kept on moving.

At last I had made it. I reached Fernandez Pass. It is a boundary entry point between Yosemite National Park and the Sierra National Forest. There was the National Forest sign showing one had entered the Ansel Adams Wilderness. The Park had two signs there for people to check out.

I made sure to snap photos of each sign. I knew Jaden would like to see them back at home. Once that was done I looked down the trail to see if there was any vista spot. Nothing was in view. I turned to my left and headed east. Now this was the spot to be.

View to the east of Fernandez Pass.

When looking out east it was clear to see that “rugged” Ansel Adams Wilderness view. The sky was blue with a valley below. There was snow still hanging around. In the far off distance the Minarets and Mt. Ritter could be seen. Iron Mountain was also in view, which behind that was Mammoth (not visible). I made sure to get some photos, eat a snack, and check out the map for my way down before departing this prime spot.

I looked at the map and then the ridge to my right (south). There was no way I was going to be able to drop into Blackie Lake from my location. It would not be safe at all, so I unfortunately had to back track a bit. However, I was not disappointed. I could actually see more of what I missed while hiking uphill. Maybe I would get a close up of the marmot who barked at me?

I made my way down to the small flat area I had heard the marmot barking at me before. Sure enough I spotted him sunning on a large boulder. He acted as though I wasn’t there. At first I used my lens to zoom way in. As I walked further down the trail and approached ever so much closer, he noticed me. However, he didn’t dash away but watched me for a bit. I eventually hit a threshold and down he went. I was thankful for the photos and short video I took. No longer worried about making noise, I moved past the boulder and headed down the trail. I decided to take one more look back behind me to see if he was going to be curious. Sure enough, he resurfaced and was watching me. I took a few more photos and said goodbye. I think he was happy about me keeping my distance. He didn’t bark at all this time.

The journey back down was a pleasant one. I was able to get photos of the barking marmot and enjoy some scenic views. There was nobody else on the trail yet, so I had the whole place to myself. I kept track of where I was and knew I would have to go off trail for most of my trip. There were no official trails to Blackie, Fernandez, and Ruth Lake, but that was not a problem. I was up for it and knew I would likely have a lower chance of coming into contact with other people.

I arrived at my designated spot to venture south off the trail. This mean going down another ledge and steep terrain. Taking my time I made my way down and found some succulents growing on the rocks as well as a spring seeping out of ground. Birds were singing and I was trying to mimic them as I made my way down. Some minor rock slides happened, but nothing to worry about. Soon I was near the bottom and at the upper extent of Fernandez Meadow. One could even call it Upper Fernandez Meadow. I crossed over and started to climb a little. I found a pond and headed east. I eventually dropped back in the meadow and saw something rather interesting stacked in front of me.

Larger pile of stacked rocks.

I saw some stacked rocks, which isn’t normally an issue. I have seen small stacks, like two to three rocks tall, that simply show a way to a location. However, these rocks were rather large and there were several of them in the pile. I had not seen this before and looked around. Sure enough there were more. Someone had taken these from outside of the meadow and stacked them in the middle of it. I had to go that same direction so I follow.

The stacked rocks just kept going. They were all about the same height, same style, and same amount of rocks. The markers led outside of the meadow and further downstream. I needed to go south and not east, but I was very curious where they led. Other questions like, “who put these here” and “how long ago was this done” came to mind. I know the army patrolled and used to move down where I was, but these couldn’t be that old, could they?

I made my way south and, looking at the map, it was time for me to gain some elevation. I needed to go up a few hundred feet in elevation in order meet up with Blackie Lake. I found what looked like a natural path and eventually it was the outlet of the lake. It was dry, but the vegetation was as green as ever. I knew I was going to come up into that “grand view” any moment now.

Blackie Lake

Blackie Lake was beautiful. The water was shallow for quite a ways out. I could see the bottom and all the tadpoles. Hundreds of them were swimming about. I made sure to get some photos before settling down for lunch. I was getting hungry and figured why not. I need to dry out, take my shoes off, and relax. The location was great to relax in and, yet again, nobody was here. I didn’t see any signs of anyone. As I ate I also noticed another bowl behind the lake. I wanted to explore up there, but didn’t have the time. I still had to go to Fernandez Lakes, Ruth, Rainbow, Monument, and Flat lakes.

While I was sitting there a bi-plane kept flying over in a grid like pattern. Just before arriving till when I left the plane never stopped. I didn’t hear any traffic on the radio. I double check my Garmin InReach Mini to make sure it didn’t some how trigger. Negative on those two so I have no idea. Eventually the plane left. Maybe they were just flying over the wilderness touring or something. I had no idea.

Going down to Fernandez Lakes

I packed up my food, put on my boots, and took more last look at Blackie Lake. It never seems long enough. I know I say that often, but that is how I feel when I leave all the lakes I visit. There is just something about them in the Sierra’s. Anyway, I started back down the outlet and then baled over the edge down to Fernandez Lakes. It was a slow process for about 10 minutes. I was rewarded with a birthday balloon at the bottom. I stuffed it into my pocket and proceeded onward. This was the 7 balloon I had found this summer that drifted in from the central valley. I think they should make them biodegradable.

Upper Fernandez Lake

Fernandez Lakes consist of two large lakes. Looking on a topography map it is simply “Fernandez Lakes.” I decided to call one Upper and the other Lower Fernandez Lake. Easier to keep track that way. I went clockwise around the upper lake and was halted by a wall of solid rock. My two options were to backtrack and climb up to get around or go swimming. Swimming sounded really nice, but wet gear not so much. Up and around I went to the outlet of the lake. I soon followed what looked like an old trail or possibly a game trail down to the lower lake.

Lower Fernandez Lake

At this point the clouds were really moving into the area. I was not worried about rain, but rather it was going to kill the photo moments. Still I grabbed a photo of the lower lake as best as I could. It is a rather long and skinnier lake. Panoramic photos were hard to capture it accurately. Once I was done with my survey, I went back up the way I came for a quarter of a mile then veered off to the left. This path would take me to Ruth Lake over a lot of bedrock slabs. No complaints there!

A little bit of climbing in the beginning and it was rather smooth sailing across the rock. No marmots here though. Just some squirrels playing around with each other. I didn’t see any birds either. It was a peaceful and easy hike on the rock. Nature’s tiled floor.

A dragon in the root.

I made my last little pull up a small ridge and it was time to descend down into Ruth Lake. I could see Rainbow Lake down and to my left. First though it was Ruth. Along the way I passed an old tree with exposed roots. Once I arrived at the otherside of the root-wad I looked back at it. I thought the colors were very cool and then realized it looked like a dragon to me. I thought of Jaden and grabbed a photo to show him. I then arrived at Ruth Lake.

Ruth Lake

As I came up near the outlet of the lake, the ground began to sink below my boots. Looking down I realized the area was quite saturated. Hence, I was slowly sinking as I waited. Naturally I moved back and around to a more stable area. The outlet was close by so I grabbed a nice photo of the blue waters and then did my work. Soon it was time to head down to Rainbow Lake that I saw just moments back. This was going to be the easiest descent of any hike I had done between lakes without some sort of trail.

Looking Down on Rainbow Lake

Rainbow Lake seemed to weave in and out of trees and islands. Getting the samples I needed was easy, but a picture was not going to be possible down along the banks to really capture the view. I once again looked at my map and saw a trail came up to Rainbow Lake. I recalled the sign on the first day of my trip where if I went left it would take me to Rainbow Lake or right to the Fernandez Trail. This was great and I was ready to be on a trail again. Well after 20 minutes of looking for it and hiking around where it should have been, I gave up. I decided then to just bale off the edge once more and get down to Monument Lake. A trail would have been a nice change, but all well.

I went over the edge and moved along the rocks. I could not see the lake from my vantage point initially nor when I arrived at the bottom. The hike down was the steepest and took more time. I was glad to be down at the base and moving along towards the lake. The clouds were breaking up more and I was excited to grab a photo in the late afternoon sun.

Monument Lake

Monument Lake was a hybrid marsh and lake. Tall grass was growing out of some of the parts while others was crystal clear. There were no fish or tadpoles in sight. The water was still and some mosquitoes buzzed. It was a beautiful spot and maybe one to visit overnight when the water is flowing. The water was starting to stagnate near the outlet when I showed up. I grabbed what needed to be done and then proceeded towards the final lake of the day; Flat Lake.

The first half of the hike down to Flat Lake was beautiful. The forest floor was covered in low dense green vegetation. The sun shinning through the trees illuminated and added a variety of green to the area. It was like walking on a green blanket underfoot. I could not help but smile and wish I could have shared the moment with the family. A photo would have to do and soon it ended into a large bedrock slab. Following the gigantic slab let me down to Flat Lake. I could see its waters piercing through the trees. The breeze was picking up now too.

Flat Lake

When I was on the northern shoreline of the lake, it was a great photo spot. I definitely took advantage of it before making my way to the outlet. Something strange happened though. I sensed I was being watched, but I could not for the life of me shake the feeling. I started to talk and make some noise. I continued clockwise until I reached the outlet. The feeling subsided, but it was not totally gone. Grabbing some more photos I continued to look around me but I could not see anything moving. The breeze was still blowing on and off. I soon took my final view of the lake and left. I found an old system trail at the outlet and made my way down to the main trail. About 2 to 3 minutes of leaving the lake the feeling was gone. I checked over my should a few times, but did not see anything.

The trail was easy to follow now and my pace was much faster. Not because of the feeling I had earlier, but it is always easier to hike on a well beaten path. Soon I arrived at the main trail junction. I could see the trail supposedly going up to Rainbow Lake on my right. It didn’t look so good though. To my left was the direction I wanted to go. I radioed in to my coworkers to see where they were at. They were down below me a few miles around Lillian Lake. I told them my work was complete and I was going to head back into camp. They said they were going that direction too and probably catch me in camp about an hour after I arrived. I acknowledge I had received the info and told them I would see them soon. With the radio back in my bag I was now on the trek back.

Unnamed meadow by a trail junction on day 1.

It was not long, maybe 15 minutes of hiking, and I was back to familiar ground. I arrived back at the meadow I saw on day one. The sign stated Rainbow Lake was behind me and Fernandez Trail ahead of me. To the right it would take me back to the truck. That would be for tomorrow, so I proceeded straight ahead and wrapped north around the meadow.

View of the peaks I was so close to on day 2.

The hike back was somewhat quick. I had about 2 miles or so left of hiking. I kept up the pace even with some hunger in my gut. I decided to grab and eat a bar as I walked. It was late afternoon and I didn’t want to be out much longer. There is always things to do back in camp for next day preparation and so forth. Still I had not seen anyone else on my hike so far. The closest was the airplane from earlier and voices from radio traffic.

The trail descended down to Fernandez Creek. To think that two days ago I was sitting down here for just a few minutes and the stock caught up. This reminded me that tomorrow it would be time to hike out. The trip I had so looked forward to doing all year was once again coming to an end. It ends so quickly! Not trying to focus on that now, I made my way across the creek and started the climb up to our turnoff to camp. I found the mark in the tree and departed the system trail to camp.

Stock eating their dinner.

I arrived at camp and the stock was out in the meadow. They were getting some nice fresh green feed in them before calling it a night. I made sure to get water filtered so I could re-hydrate as well as help with dinner. The rest of the crew showed up about an hour later as they had planned. We chatted about our day, what was accomplished, and what we had seen. There were a lot of story telling as we prepared for tomorrow. Then it was time to make dinner. Our final dinner ended up being steak, which was so delicious. We ate as much food as we could that night. Then we all participated in cleaning the dishes before sitting down around the fire for the last night. What a day!

Cleaning up after dinner.

Sunday, September 8

Rinse water frozen.

The last night was probably a better night sleep then I had all week. As I woke though, I knew something was different. The air was moist, but cold. It was definitely colder than yesterday morning by a long shot. After thinking to myself, “goodbye toasty warm sleeping bag,” I made my way out of the tent to have a look around. I didn’t see any signs of frost until I went to the kitchen area where I found our rinse water from last nights dishes. The water was frozen.

Deb was up about the same time too and we quickly went to get a fire ready. The sun was coming up and warming up the grounds slowly. We eventually got a fire roaring away and huddled around it. Soon the rest of the camp awoke and was doing the same. Hot coffee was a brewing and was happily welcomed by all those who drank their cup or two. Soon breakfast was made and we all enjoyed chatting about our adventures out and what was ahead of us. The time came and everyone knew we had to break camp. It was time to say goodbye to the Ansel Adams.

Hiking in the morning light.

After about an hour or so the camp was torn down and packed up. The stock was needing to be fed and the usual loading up of the gear. Soon we were given the go ahead on hiking while they finished up getting the animals fully loaded. After all the horses and mules do walk much faster than we do. Our packs were loaded and we were on our way. Our last mission, besides getting back to the vehicles to head home, was to cut out a fallen tree we saw on the way in. I was looking forward to using the crosscut saw.

The hike out was pretty quiet. It was nice to have blue skies and to see it in a “different light” as it were. Remember on the way in it was overcast the whole time. Now the air was clear and the skies blue. We talked on and off as we walked until we heard some hikers coming up behind us. It was a couple making their way out of the wilderness too. Apparently the guy works on the wilderness crew at work and was out for fun with his girlfriend. They said high and moved on ahead of us. We continued on down the trail.

I know walking the opposite direction looks different, but not having the overcast was throwing me for a loop every once and awhile. I did start seeing some landmarks I recalled from the journey into the wilderness. One of those was the volcanic part of the trip. I could not forget that landmark, which also meant we were close to leaving the wilderness. The boundary marker would soon be up ahead.

Crossing the only creek on our trip out.

Once past the columnar basalt we had to cross a creek. I knew right after the crossing it was going to switch to uphill climbing. Here we saw some older gentlemen coming down the trail. They were heading into the wilderness, but looked rather light on the packs. We found out they had stock bringing in all their gear and they were just bring food and water. They mentioned they were too old for carrying all the weight, but still wanted to get into the wilderness. Once they passed by we continued our uphill climb to the wilderness boundary and a perfect snack spot.

As we stopped for a snack, I wanted to get another photo leaving the wilderness. Gary offered me the crosscut to pose with. I took him up on the offer and held it. He said it made the pictures look better. I think it did ha ha.

Looking back.

Snack was the usual a Bobo Bar and some water. I looked back at where I had come from over the past couple days. I could see some of the peaks I walked by or close too. The trip was getting closer and closer to ending. It is always bitter sweet for me. I look forward to seeing the family once more and being with them, but I also miss the wildernesses I walk out of. Anyway, it was time to go so I loaded up my backpack on my back and proceeded down the trail. We had a tree to cut out!

Going down from the wilderness boundary.

We both knew the down tree had to be close. It would not be too much of a walk and we should find it. The trailed weaved its way through the rocks and into the trees. I think we hiked another 15 to 20 minutes more and then we found it. The down tree we needed to cut out of the trail.

Taking off our bags, we began to put on our safety equipment to cut out a tree. Gary explained some of the rules and guidelines to me. I appreciated that because nobody had ever done so before, so I listened closely. We first prepped the area by removing down branches and limbs. Next we planned out where we wanted the “round” to go when it was fully cut out. The next thing was to stack some limbs so we could roll the round onto them and then off the trail. Once that was staged we began to work. Back and forth we went sawing it out. The “singing” of the blade eventually came as we developed a rhythm. Once the first cut was successful we drank some water. Three more came walking by and thanked us for our work. Once passed, we worked on the last cut. The round fell down and we moved it off the trail. Our job was complete. It was a rewarding feeling to know that we have preserved the trail’s path and made it easier for hikers to pass through.

Hiking out in the warming sun.

Once again our bags were on our backs and we began to walked down the trail. We did eventually catch up to the three we passed. We warned them about the wasp nest we found a few days back. The bees were not there or at least they had not surfaced yet. This was a good thing. They did say thank you and we parted ways.

Once last view.

The trail opens up once more for the final panoramic view. It just happened to be the first one on the way in a few days back. I smiled as I saw familiar peaks in the distance. I recalled my first trip into the Ansel Adams in 2016 was much closer to Mt. Ritter and the Minarets. Soon the trail was swallowed up in the Forest. The shade returned and we made our way back to the trucks. Upon arrival, we found all the bees were hanging around all of the parked vehicles. We had to eventually moves our to a shaded spot. We dried off a little bit and then made our way back to Clover Meadow. The mules arrived within 5 to 10 minutes of us getting there. We helped unload and soon I was heading back down the mountain to the office and then home. What an adventure!