Saturday, June 27, 2015

Mono Pass from Mosquito Flats (and Mt.Starr Attempt)


Hidden from tourists racing down US-395 from Mammoth to Los Angeles, is one of the most reclusive, although easily accessible valleys in the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada; Rock Creek Canyon, which higher in elevation is later called Little Lakes Valley. Nestled between towering Mount Morgan (13,748') on the east, jagged Mount Starr (12,860') on the west, and the iconic peaks such as Bear Creek Spire (13,713') and Mount Abbot (13,711') serving as its headwall to the south, this valley is as beautiful as its features make it sound.  In between these grand surroundings is the floor of the valley; lower in elevation, hot and Chaparral-like, higher, cool and refreshing, rejuvenating and inspiring.  This glacier carved valley is littered with lakes, creeks, springs, meadows and lush forests in its higher reaches before ending at the abrupt faces of the aforementioned peaks comprising this section of the Sierra Crest.  To grab as much as I could of so much grandeur and grace stashed into one place is difficult feat to accomplish; but I think I may have just found the best way to do it--by making this trip up to 12,000' Mono Pass.  

Category: Strenuous  
Miles: 8
Elevation Gain: 2000' (some on the return)
Location: Inyo National Forest, John Muir Wilderness 

The Trail:  From Mosquito Flats Trailhead at the end of the road (10,236'), take the obvious trail southward, walking alongside rushing Rock Creek.  In a few hundred yards you will reached the John Muir Wilderness boundary.  Continue climbing, until in about 0.25 miles from the trailhead you come to a trail split.  Take the path to the right, following signage towards Mono Pass.  The trail steepens and climbs above the valley up the canyon wall, where the views of the lower dales and verdant meadows and higher peaks and clinging glaciers are truly awe-inspiring.  You pass several small washes and one rather quaint pond along you haul up, until you reach a level section, graced with flowers and delicate grasses. with a spur trail heading off to Ruby Lake.  

     Stay on the main trail, and it begins its rather abrupt switchbacks towards Mono Pass, while giving the hiker expanding vies over Ruby Lake and Lookout Peak above it.  The features changes with each step, the grasses are no more, the rocks more pronounced, the air thinner, the trees gnarled and dwarf...the High Passes and peaks calling.  When you round a large bend and turn northward, the treeline commences, and you are now in the full grasp of the High Sierra; sheltered from nothing, exposed to everything-- it is always a powerful moment when you enter that new realm.  Continue ascending to the Pass, joined only by ice and rock, while gazing back at the even higher peaks behind and the steep peaks immediately around.  You will cross a false pass, until you arrive at Mono Pass itself.  Here you will find Summit Lake ahead, the Sierra Crest behind, Mount Starr to the east and Mono Pass Peak to the west. 

  I attempted a climb of Mount Starr, but was turned back due to loosing the use-trail, and poor climbing rock (Class 3, with gravelly sand on the ground, and loose chest sized rocks in every crevasse between the larger boulders for 400' on a 30-40 degree slope).  We tried for about an hour to find a good route up top, but the sun was getting low (we had a late start) and right as we were deciding for the final time whether to continue or not, a large head-sized rock was dislodged, nearly striking us. We turned back at around 12,400'.  I am not used to summit failures, in fact I haven't had one in four years, but I am completely confident we made the right choice that day. And so I guess that really wasn't a failure but another one of those lessons that God teaches us in His First Book, Nature.   Plus, I learned what a "Sierra Slog" is before we turned back!  Return the way you came.  

Hiked 6/25/2015, Inyo and Fresno Counties, CA.  No Permit Required.  

Rock Creek

The beginning 

Wilderness Boundary

First views of the Sierra Crest

Rather uninspiring Mount Morgan, the highest in the area


Lookout Peak and the Sierra Crest

Small meadows at 11,100'

High Altitude Flowers

The thinning Forest

Mount Morgan (13,748')..maybe next year?

Reaching timberline

Ruby Lake

Horse Packers

Steep Chute on the north flank of Mono Pass Peak

In  the High Sierra now

Is this the Himalayas or California? 

Mono Pass

On the Pass

The Pacific Crest from the Pass

Summit Lake from the Pass

Mount Starr from the Pass

Going up the, at first, obvious use-trail

Looking into Hilton and Mono Watersheads 
Getting Steeper

The views expands as you get higher on Starr

The jumble. 

Red Slate Mountain, Mono, McGee, and Hilton Watersheads

Look at that slop angle. 

Where we stopped. 12,400' Too much for us to to that for another 460'.

View from out highpoint of the day 

Glass Mountain looks a LOT like the Baldy bowl from here

White Mountain (14,246') on the way back

Devil's Postpile National Monument (Postpile and Rainbow Falls)

     I had been wanting to visit Devil's Postpile National Monument, for quite some time, and as I was on vacation with my family that week, the time had finally arrived.  I had seen the grandiose pictures of the volcanic basalt columns of the Postpile, the hexagonal shapes of their tops, and free flowing Rainbow Falls for many year; and ever since then, that area has inspired me.  While no grand summits were attained, no dramatic gorges crossed, no steep gullies and chutes climbed, it was still a very enjoyable trip; perfect for a family day hike, or a relaxing day in nature; both of which were for me.  This monument is small, only about 800 acres in size, and during the summer months a shuttle is required to reach these places, which departs from Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge, on the slopes of the drier Eastern Sierra, over the Pacific Crest, and ends in Red's Meadow Valley (There are 10 stops in total----Tickets are $7/adult, $5/kid), on the water-graced Western Slope of the range.  

Devil's Postpile from Ranger Station Headquarters (Stop 6):  

Category: Easy
Miles: 1
Elevation Gain: 150'
Location: Devil's Postpile National Monument
Directions: (SEE ABOVE LINK)

The Trail:  From the small Ranger Station (water and restrooms), take the trail south over a small meadow, littered with ground squirrels and chipmunks, and into forest.  You get some beautiful views of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River below you.  In a very short time, you will find yourself at the headwall of the magnificent formation, truly a wonder in Design.  Read there how fire, ice, and water shaped this jumbled rockface into the beauty it is today.  To continue this excursion take the spur trail, just before the headwall, 100' to the top of the Postpile.  This section of trail is a bit steep, but is over within a few hundred yard.  Return the way you came.   

Hiked: 6/26/2015, Madera County, CA , Shuttle Fees Required 

Trail signage 

Trail to the top

The view from the top of the cliff 

Rainbow Falls from Stop #10

Category: Easy
Miles: 2.5
Elevation Gain: 300' (all on the return) 
Location: Devil's Postpile National Monument, Inyo National Forest, Ansel Adams Wilderness 
Directions: (See above link) 

The Trail:  After arriving at the trailhead, begin your decent into the lush pine forest around you, and in a quarter mile you cross both the legendary John Muir Trail and the infamous Pacific Crest Trail.  You trip today though, is hardly as daunting.  The elevation continues to decline and soon you will find yourself surround by a toothpick forest, burned vegetation from an 8,000 acre fire in 1992--the extent of the damage and slow recovery of this section testifies to the short growing season in the mountains due to the gripping power of winter.  After passing by this section, you cross into the Ansel Adams Wilderness, a piece of the heavens left on earth, crowned by magnificent glacier carved peaks, rolling meadows, and roaring streams.  Unfortunatly today, you will only be getting a glimpse of the true grandeur of this place, although you will attain some spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada's most picturesque sub-range, the Ritter Ranger, a fixed with Mount Ritter and Banner, along with their glaciers, and the sky-scraping Minarets.  Turning back towards the trail though, after you enter the wilderness it is only a short stroll down to the Waterfall overlook, where the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River can be seen leaping in bounds in the form of 101' Rainbow Falls.   You can continue on down to the base of the falls if you like, but remember it adds another 100' to your 300' coming back.  Return the way you came, just...slower.  

Hiked: 6/26/2015, Madera County, CA , Shuttle Fees Required 

Garter Snake

An evacuation....really on a 2.5 mile trail?! 

The damage

The Ansel Adams Wilderness (my 11th wilderness!)

Looking towrds the Sierra Crest and Mammoth Mtn

Rainbow Falls

The Ritter Range

A quaint grove of Quaking Aspen