Dan's Outside

I go, I see, I do, I walk, I think, I like…

Twenty Lakes Basin 2006

About this time every year I join Talusdancers friends for our traditional Last Pack Trip of the Season, which is often a 2-3 day trip in the Tuolumne Meadows area on the last weekend before the Park Service no longer allows overnight parking on Tioga Pass Road. We have frequently gone to Fletcher Lake (and interesting nearby areas), though weather has occasionally forced a change in plans, as can happen during the Sierra autumn, and we have ended up at Cathedral Lakes or even day-hiked.

This time my friend Owen and I were the only participants as others backed out for a variety of entirely reasonable causes. We had decided on a Fletcher Lake trip. Since I had only two days, we would go to Fletcher on Saturday and then do some sort of cross-country hike on Sunday before I hiked out and Owen remained for one additional day.

I planned to leave after work on Friday but life intervened and I decided to instead leave very early on Saturday. Owen went to a concert in the City and drove up to Evergreen Road (just outside the park) to “car bivy,” arriving there at 3:30 a.m., a half hour before I got up to leave from the South Bay.

A small snow storm had dropped an inch or two of snow in spots, causing the Park Service to close Hiway 120 across the park on Friday night, and we arrived at the Tuolumne Grove to find the road still temporarily blocked. Shortly the road opened and the many waiting visitors headed up the hiway. Owen and I finally met up at the Tuolumne permit station where we got our permits for Fletcher Lake. Since Owen had missed breakfast while waiting for the road to open we decide to visit the Tioga Pass Resort before hiking. As we had breakfast and talked things over we decided that it might be interesting to visit 20 Lakes Basin (above Saddlebag Lake) instead, so we got another set of permits and headed off in that direction instead.

We arrived at the Saddlebag Lakes trailhead… to find it snowing lightly. We waited it out in our cars and finally got on the trial in the early afternoon, hiking through partly cloudy and windy weather around the lake and then to Cascade Lake below North Peak where we set up camp in the shelter of a short granite wall. We got a few more shots of very light snow, and the weather stayed cold and windy.

This time of year can be quite nice, but it can also be cold and a bit stormy. The combination of clouds, slight precipitation, winds, and cold temperatures pushed the conditions on this trip a bit further in the winter direction than usual. We managed to stay out of our shelters (Owen in a ultralight tarp setup and me in my bivy sack) until 7:00 p.m. (and after a spectacular sunset) but finally it was getting too cold to hang around outside. Fortunately, we were both a bit sleep deprived from our attempts to get packed and to the mountains after work, and getting to sleep early was no problem.

It was cold. I began the night wondering if it would be one of those on which I stayed about 10 degrees too cold, dealing with cold feet all night long. The wind was contributing to this effect as was the fact that we had hung out so late into the evening. Finally I began to warm up later in the evening and when I woke up a few times during the night I was treated to a beautiful sight of the full moon illuminating the basin and surround peaks which were ringed with fog.

Morning was cold. I peaked out enough to see that my bivy was covered with a thick layer of frost… and decided to hang out in this relatively warm cocoon until the sun came up. I finally got up around 7:00 or 7:30 and shot a few early morning photographs of our frost-covered surroundings before grabbing a very quick and basic breakfast. After drying out and packing up we finally got on the trail around mid-morning and headed down toward Lundy Canyon to complete a loop around more of the lakes and return to Saddlebag.

It was again fairly cold, never getting above the mid-forties, but that can seem fairly comfortable once you are used to it and when you are on the move. We stopped frequently for photos and eventually climbed up a long gully to come across the top of a ridge where we could see the descent back to Saddlebag. We soon reached this lake and followed the longer left shore route back to our cars.

It being lunch time and the last day of the season at Tioga Pass Resort, we succumbed to temptation and went back there for a meal before heading our separate ways: Owen toward Mammoth to stay the night, and I to Lee Vining Canyon, Virginia Lakes, and Conway Summit for photograph aspens.

Thus ends the 2006 backpacking season. Unlike some of the last few years, there was no single big trip this year. (In 2005 the Talusdancers put together a 2-week trip, and the year before several of us were out on a 9 day trip.) I did take several short trips, with the longest being a 5 day adventure into the Big Pine Creek area below the Palisades.
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October 10, 2006 - Posted by | Commentary

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