2009 Sierra Trip
Ansel Adams Wilderness
Day One (half day of hiking): Wednesday, 9/9/09From Agnew Meadows to the Lake Ediza Trail
avg ~0.9 mph
8070' to 8670' elevation
By the time our 2009 Sierra backpacking trip rolled around in September, only 3 of our intended party of 6 could actually make it. So my brother, DH, and I decided to forgo the original route we had planned and save it instead for next Spring (when hopefully we can all make it).
Instead, my brother came up with a nice little (we thought) 11-mi loop out of Agnew Meadows. By following the River Trail northwest, we could cruise by Lake Olaine to the trail to Shadow Lake, then catch the John Muir Trail to the trail to Lake Ediza (~9300 ' elevation). After hanging out at Lake Ediza, we could take a footpath south up to Iceberg Lake (~9800 ' elevation). At Iceberg, we could go south cross-country up to Cecile Lake (10,300'), then over a ridge (also cross-country) to the southeast to Minaret Lake (~9800'). From there, we could pick up the Minaret Lake trail all the way back to the Ranger Station at Devil's Postpile. No backtracking!
Click on images to see larger version.
A mural map outside the store shows our intended route.
Agnew Meadows is in the lower right.
(North is NOT straight up in this mural!)
Agnew Meadows is in the lower right.
(North is NOT straight up in this mural!)
We had established a base camp at one of the campgrounds the night before. Still, we took our time in the morning, gathering our gear and then heading to the store for fishing licenses around noon. After that, it was one final stop at the Ranger Station for our wilderness permits, one last pit stop at flush toilets, and then we were off to Agnew Meadows. Obviously we prefer the leisurely start to the alpine one!
Signs were in abundance, so we had no trouble locating the trailhead and its parking. By 1:40 pm, we were officially on our backpacking adventure.
The very first thing, we had to cross a creek! Fortunately, it was September and not as buggy as July would have been. I was also pleased to see lupine poking out from a pine tree right away; apparently we weren't too late for wildflowers! We settled into an easy gait through meadow and forest.
Soon a gorge opened up to our left where the middle fork of the San Joaquin River cuts through. The sun was really beating down on us, and we stopped to admire the view and rest a brief moment or two. A couple tugs of water, and we resumed the trail. Now we were clambering over rock high above the river's side. Even in the middle of the rocky wall, penstemmon still persisted, adding brilliant color.
The trail curved away from the riverside once again, and we found ourselves in wildflowers and cedar trees once again. We seemed to be making good time, and before long we were catching sight of Lake Olaine. We opted not to stop, though, other than long enough for me to snap a few shots. We were trying to push on to take a break at Shadow Lake.
By 3:15 pm, we all needed a snack stop. We shucked our packs, sat on some logs alongside the trail, and ate some homemade jerky while resting our feet. My brother checked his GPS; 2.5 mi so far. We didn't dally there long; we had wanted to get to Shadow Lake before we took a break, and we still weren't there yet.
We hoisted our packs back on and set out again. We soon met the intersection where we crossed the San Joaquin River, leaving it and the River Trail, to head to Shadow Lake and on to Lake Ediza. Thankfully, there was a nice bridge for us to cross the river and pick up the Shadow Lake Trail. We stopped briefly to snap a picture of the San Joaquin River, more a creek this close to its headwaters, then headed on the next leg of trail for our trip.
As we climbed up the switchbacks over the rock, we were treated to a great view behind us of Mammoth Mountain, and a ridge in the foreground that DH thought looked like a location in The Lord of the Rings. To the right of us and high above the valley through which the San Joaquin flows, I could see where rock was fractured in columns similar to the Devil's Postpile.
I stayed busy snapping pictures as we wound our way up and over the rocks. DH and my brother pointed out shots for me to take.
"Guess I'm your photographer," I told my brother. "Glad you could do some hikingforhope."
"Looks to me more like we're your support staff," he countered. Yep, they were carrying all my food and the community equipment like stoves and water purifiers. Where I'm able to go ultralight (figure 15-20 pounds with my water), they were each carrying about 45 pounds. Support staff? Touche. They keep me out here; I'll shut up and take the pictures.
Finally the trail over the rock curved away from the side of the valley through which the San Joaquin flows and back toward the west, where we could see the Shadow Creek snaking down in the distance. Soon my brother was feeling every bit of the 45 pounds and had to stop to rest on the rock.
"I'm starting to feel the altitude," he explained as he caught his breath. Our training was paying off; we weren't feeling the altitude yet at all. But my feet were sure feeling the rocks, and a rest was just fine with me!
As we drew closer to the creek, I could see green shimmering on the mountainside in the now late-afternoon light. At first, I thought it might be where moss or algae or lichen had taken up residence, fed by spray from the falling water. But as the trail brought us to just across the river from the rock wall, I could see the green shimmer was IN the rock. Olivine! Made by volcanic activity, you know its gemstone by the name peridot. How beautiful! The shimmer reminded me of the dust that would gather on my legs from green sand beaches...
Shadow River waterfalls give away the lake's location.
The sight and sound of the waterfalls kept me entertained as we made the tedious climb up the natural rock dam wall that contains Shadow Lake. Boy, was I ready for that break! Even though we'd taken one earlier, I still wanted to just "chill" lakeside for a bit. That first view of Shadow Lake was a happy sight!
The water was a gorgeous color, and so clear. Ahead of me, I could hear people splashing, shrieking, and laughing. Before long, a couple came into view, swimming to the shore.
"Come on in, the water's warm!" they joked, then laughed and scrambled out. "No thanks; I'll skip it for now." Gotta keep pushing on!
I spied some cool rock formations stretching out into the lake by where our trail was taking us to the river feeding the lake, and headed for them. (Our common pattern on this trip is to follow the river exiting the lake up to the lake itself, then find the water flowing into the lake and follow it up to the next higher lake.) It felt good to drop my pack and poles and head out to the end of the rocks. I peered into the water. A beautiful rainbow trout swam a mere two feet away. "I LOVE IT!!!!" I decided to sit down and watch awhile. DH joined me as I snapped pictures and we looked at the darkening forest in the direction we were headed. Uh, better not tarry too long!
We hoisted the packs back on and picked up our poles. I stopped long enough to snap a few wildflower pictures as we left the meadow and headed further into the forest, following the inlet water.
Almost immediately, we met with the junction of the John Muir Trail. We figured out which way to go, turned right, and headed up the JMT toward the junction with the Lake Ediza trail.
These portions of our trail kept us alongside the river, which constantly appealed to us with its everchanging beauty. We could tell we were climbing higher and higher in elevation, as the water beside us was always tumbling down waterfalls.
We found our turnoff to Lake Ediza and left the JMT. The shadows were getting longer and longer, and the tips of the peaks were all that were still getting direct sunlight. I wasn't sure we could make it all the way to Lake Ediza before dark. Sure, we have headlamps, but I didn't want to miss the scenery! We continued scrambling over the rock trail as fast as we could. We were averaging 0.9 mi/hr; not bad.
If there was a marked junction to Cabin Lake, we must've missed it. There was one little footpath that might have been it; it was impossible to tell. So I had no idea how much further we had to go to Lake Ediza. We were still climbing up, and the water was still falling down.
We left the riverside, but were still closeby. The ground was softer here, and meadow surrounded us. Finally my feet could take it no more. I'd only promised my brother 5 mi each day, and Lake Ediza was further away from Agnew Meadows than that! "ENOUGH!" I called. "Let's find a place to camp. We're in a nice meadow area, and my feet have HAD IT."
The valley we were in was already in deep shadow, and we were close enough to the river for water yet far enough away to avoid mosquitoes. To continue on to Lake Ediza not only meant tromping on tired feet, it also would mean going in the dark and missing the sights. It also meant we would have to tramp all the way around to the far side of the lake to camp, as camping is limited to certain areas. We all saw the sense in stopping, and picked a good spot far enough off the trail to set up our little camp.
My brother checked his GPS; 5.02 mi. Told ya my feet didn't want to do more than 5 mi a day any more! It was almost 7:00 pm, and we were somewhere between the JMT and Lake Ediza at an elevation of 8670'. DH and I weren't even feeling the elevation yet, although my brother (who lives back East) did.
We boiled some water and enjoyed a delicious dinner of Cream of Chicken soup, jerky, salami, and macaroni and cheese. We ate as I watched the last of the light behind the now-just-visible Minarets. Tomorrow we would have a short hike, then a whole day to enjoy Lake Ediza. Life is good!
DH and my brother headed down to the river to filter fresh, cold water for our absinthe. I saw their headlights coming back...then going past. "Hey, where are you going?" I hollered. I need the water for the absinthe!
La louche was especially good with the cold fresh Sierra water, and we all enjoyed it. Afterward, my brother headed to his tent. We topped off with some hot cocoa, then lay down on our pads to stargaze and sleep. I saw one satellite before cloud cover obscured my view, and I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
And that ends our first day on the trail.