Dan's Outside

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

What I've been doing – August 2009

I hate to start a post with an apology for how little I’ve posted – but that’s what I’m going to do. Although I’ve been posting regularly at my photography web site (where you’ll be able to find photos of the trips I’ll describe below as I post them), I’ve managed to neglect this site for weeks!

So, some reports on recent Sierra backpack trips….

Young Lakes

Near the beginning of August I spent four days doing photography at Young Lakes in the Yosemite high country out of Tuolumne Meadows. I’ve been to Young Lakes several times in the past and I thought it was about time to devote some significant time to photography at this location.

The weather was, uh, “interesting” – but that is actually better for photography. I’d rather have some spectacular clouds, occasional soft filtered light, rain, and interesting sunset conditions than have a week of typical Sierra summer perfect blue skies! By the time I arrived at Tuolumne Meadows to start my trip I knew that the weather was going to be special. I stopped at the Meadow Grill just after noon to grab lunch before hitting the trail, and while I was inside there was quite a downpour of hail. With the precipitation starting so early, it was apparent that the weather would be an issue, so I decided to swap out my bivy sack and take a small one-person tent instead. Not only would that be better in real rain, but since I was going to base camp in one location for three nights the luxury of the small tent would be welcome.

I headed up the trail past Lembert Dome in light sprinkles that continued off and on throughout the afternoon and evening. Given concerns about the weather and my somewhat late start I did little photography on the hike to lower Young Lake. This turned out to be a decent decision since it rained harder as I approached the lake and in the end it was after 7:00 p.m. when I finally arrived – leaving just time to set up the tent and make dinner before night fall.

I was lazy the next morning, but for the rest of the trip I managed to get up early for morning photography, find myself in interesting places for late photography, and even do the cross-country walk out to Roosevelt Lake, which I’ve wanted to visit for some time. This is a bit of a different walk than the cross-country hikes I tend to prefer. While my favorite cross-country routes are at or above timberline – where you can go pretty much where you want to go – the first half of this hike from Lower Young Lake to Roosevelt travels through some fairly thick (for the Sierra) forest. The basic idea is that you keep a point just to the left of Conness peak in mind as your goal, and you triangulate back to Ragged Peak and the ridge it sits on behind you. Then you try not to lose/gain too much elevation as you travel through the forest area, dodging large drop-offs and other obstacles and generally following a slight loop to the right of what would be the straight line between the start and end points. Eventually I came to a meadow and creek at the base of a climb to the saddle leading to the valley holding the lake. I climbed this, keeping to the right of the creek, and finally entered to open country in this high valley. From here the path to the high, barren lake is fairly straightforward – with great views of the west face of Mount Conness all along the way.

While this walk was great fun, it was not a great photographic opportunity given the midday time frame. I had better photography luck with early morning photography of the forest around the lower Young Lake and with evening photography at this lake and (especially!) at the more open and alpine upper Young Lake.

Sabrina Basin

My next trip (with my talusdancers buddies) was to have been a weeklong adventure in the upper Kern drainage. It would have taken us in via Kearsarge and Forester Passes and then out by way of formidable Shepard Pass.

But that didn’t happen.

A variety of things interfered with the original plan. Several people had to cancel at the last minute. I had a dental problem at the last minute. And on and on… So, we improvised and came up with a less aggressive alternative trip – a four day/three night basecamp trip up high into the Sabrina Basin in the eastern Sierra above Bishop.

I almost didn’t make this trip either! The night before the trip, literally as I was finishing my packing, I cracked a tooth! Fortunately, I was essentially packed and my dentist saw me the next morning. By noon I had a temporary crown on the tooth and I was making last minute arrangements to meet my friends in the eastern Sierra. I was on the road at 2:30 and arrived at Four Jeffrey campground at about 9:00 p.m. Whew!

The next morning we grabbed a real breakfast at the little lodge in Aspendell (recommended!) before driving up the road a bit, parking near Sabrina Lake, and heading up the trail to Blue Lake. The conditions were a bit strange for early June. An unusual fall-type weather system was scheduled to pass across the northern Sierra and there was even talk of the possibility of snow as low as 9500′. (We would be camped above 10,000′ for the whole time.) While the cool weather certainly makes for much more pleasant hiking, especially on climbs from east side trailheads, the evening was very cold and windy the first night at Blue Lake – and this continued more or less throughout the trip. (We never did get snow, or even rain – but it was cold enough to freeze our water on several nights.)

On the second day we moved up higher into the basin, finally ending up at Topsy Turvy Lake. This is a wonderful rock-filled lake at the base of a talus slope in country that is heavily affected by glaciation. Nearby are a bunch of interesting lakes: Midnight, Moonlight, Sailor, Hungry Packer, and more. The terrain above is my favorite in the Sierra, beginning with open meadows with small clumps of trees interspersed with lots of glaciated granite and much running water. We managed to visit most of these high lakes and I had opportunities to wander about wtih camera and tripod and photograph this wonderful terrain.

On the final morning we go up relatively early – some earlier that others. Ernie was up and on the trail a bit after 6:00; I was on the trail perhaps an hour or so later; while Owen had a lazier morning. We all hiked the mostly descending trail back to our cars below Sabrina Lake by about noon – just in time to head down to Bishop for lunch pizza.

Next up?

I know I’ll be going back up to the Sierra soon, but I don’t have any firm plans just yet. I’d like to do one more short August trip – perhaps next week and perhaps 10 Lakes? It is my tradition to do at least one post-Labor Day trip to enjoy the quiet and changing colors of early fall in the Sierra and my friends and I frequently manage to squeeze in one late September or early October trip if the weather cooperates. I may also try to get to Cathedral Lakes on the last weekend of September for some photography. And then… there are the aspens… they call me to the east side at the start of October every year. :-)


August 16, 2009 - Posted by | Commentary, Trails, Trips


  1. Those are two of my favorite spots also … Roosevelt Lake and Sabrina Basin. Roosevelt Lake is a great base camp for dayhikes. I remember going up to the pass on the north side of the lake, where you can see down to Upper McCabe Lake, or scramble up North Peak to your right. At Sabrina I plan to go back and see Echo Lake, behind Moonlight Lake.

    Comment by credit | September 29, 2009

  2. Those are two of my favorite spots also … Roosevelt Lake and Sabrina Basin. Roosevelt Lake is a great base camp for dayhikes. I remember going up to the pass on the north side of the lake, where you can see down to Upper McCabe Lake, or scramble up North Peak to your right. At Sabrina I plan to go back and see Echo Lake, behind Moonlight Lake.

    Comment by Memory Foam | September 29, 2009

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