California 2009, Part 2

I headed east, and uphill, to the Sierras, which in my opinion, are at its best after Labor Day, as the weather stays stable, the crowds disappear, and the colors start to change on the trees.

The first part of the journey was a slog up the I-80 to Truckee, semi-scenic, and well, the weather didn’t quite cooperate, with rain showers most of the way. I don’t like driving the 80, so the highlight was perhaps the hamburger and pie at Ikeda’s in Auburn. I did turn off before Donner Pass and took the old route past Donner Lake, then south into good old South Lake Tahoe via Emerald Bay. This is a funny, but endearing town, mostly sprawl along the 50, full of cheap motels, average dining, and it’s hard to even get to the lake shore. But I lived there for a few months one winter.

Ikeda's, now and forever.

Ikeda's, now and forever.

I met my friends Anthony and Karen for coffee the next morning, under clear skies, and caught up on things. Hadn’t seen them in a couple years, but it left me pining for the calm relaxed pace of life in Tahoe, with all the outdoor stuff nearby.

Donner Summit, the old U.S. 40

Donner Summit, the old U.S. 40

Lake Tahoe from Kingsbury Grade

Lake Tahoe from Kingsbury Grade

I made my slow way to Mammoth Lakes, via the Walker River Canyon, Bridgeport, and Mono Lake. Mono Lake is one bizarre but beautiful body of water, with the shores covered in this alkali chalk-like substance, a strong sulfur smell, and millions of flies swarming at the shore. It’s extraordinary!

Mono County Courthouse, Bridgeport

Mono County Courthouse, Bridgeport

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

The shore of Mono Lake, a white crust and spongy mud

The shore of Mono Lake, a white crust and spongy mud

So most of this part of the trip was about hiking, and unlike last year, which was a rainout, I got in plenty of awesome scenery and lots of walking. Here we go:

McLeod Lake, around Mammoth- the trail is short and sweet, just over half a mile each way, so a nice little walk to start my morning. I just about froze camping the night before, and somehow the Thermarest doesn’t make for a comfortable night sleeping. The start of the trail at Horseshoe Lake is perhaps the most interesting section, with elevated CO2 levels leading to an area of grayish, dead trees. Despite having a beach, it’s not advisable to be low to the ground, where the CO2 concentration is nearly 90 %. It’s a reminder of the volcanic origins of the area, in fact Mammoth Lakes sits in the middle of the ancient Long Valley Caldera.

Dead trees, Horseshoe Lake

Dead trees, Horseshoe Lake

Pine Lake- I drove south towards Bishop, and turned west on the Pine Creek Canyon Road. This starts in Round Valley, a pretty area of orchards and rangeland, then goes up the very narrow Pine Creek Canyon before reaching a dead end at the pack station and the tungsten mine. Then it was a 4.5 mile hike that climbed steeply out of the canyon, and towards the lake. This is pretty scenic throughout, with nifty striated granite features on the walls of the canyon, and looking eastward, a spectacular view of the canyon and the White Mountains. A nice huffer and puffer to get me back in shape and used to the altitude.

Convict Lake and Mt. Morrison

Convict Lake and Mt. Morrison

Pine Creek Canyon and the White Mountains

Pine Creek Canyon and the White Mountains

Tyee Lakes- Hiked this the next day, the trailhead was a short drive up the 168 from Bishop. I was looking for solitude, I definitely got it, since I didn’t run into anybody on the trail. I’d say that it was not as scenic as Pine Lake, but the last lake was in a pretty gorgeous setting, with a small beach to chill out at. And there was some color change in the canyon, with some trees already yellow. 3.8 miles to the last lake.

Tyee Lakes basin

Tyee Lakes basin

Grüezi aus Zurich, California

Grüezi aus Zurich, California

Kearsarge Pass and Lakes- I camped just uphill from Independence, got the most spectacular star display, and got an early start on this hike. Also, the temperatures were warm, making it a refreshing and comfortable 60 F at the top of the pass. It’s long, 5.8 miles to the pass, and another mile downhill to the lakes. The trail is very well-graded, but the scenery is outstanding all the way, especially as you finally approach the narrow pass. As I was already pretty tired, the steep hike back up to the pass from the lakes was brutal, and the last two miles felt too long, as you see the parking lot, the cars, and the road and somehow never quite get there! At the end of the day, it was a well-deserved dinner at the improbably located, very French Still Life Cafe in Independence, and a real bed in a motel.

Early to bed, early to rise, camping near Independence

Early to bed, early to rise, camping near Independence

Big Pothole Lake and Onion Valley from Kearsarge Pass

Big Pothole Lake and Onion Valley from Kearsarge Pass

Entering Kings Canyon National Park, Bullfrog Lake

Entering Kings Canyon National Park, Bullfrog Lake

Kearsarge Lakes, pinnacles, and the Great Western Divide

Kearsarge Lakes, pinnacles, and the Great Western Divide

And that was it, 3 days of hiking in a row, 33 miles, around 8000 vertical feet, and fabulous scenery. I think it’s the minimalism of the high Sierra that’s so captivating, just granite, lakes, and deep blue skies. But as a final note, I also visited Manzanar War Relocation Center, now Manzanar National Historic Site, which commemorates one of America’s less magnificent historical episodes. Indeed, beautiful places have their ugly sides.

It was time to head back to L.A., but I always have a hard time pulling myself away from such a nice part of the world. But a few meetings and some work-related stuff brought me back there earlier than I would have wanted to.

Manzanar and Mt. Williamson

Manzanar and Mt. Williamson

Cemetery, Manzanar

Cemetery, Manzanar

I’ve been up most of the side roads off of the 395 leading towards the Sierra crest, and have been up many of the passes. But as always, there’s plenty more to explore, and I shall be back!

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