Emigrant Wilderness ◆ 8 Days ◆ 45.4 Miles
This years planning seesawed between 2 different itineraries that we did not finalize until just a few weeks before our start date. Fortunately, the Kennedy Meadows staff was flexible and accommodated our gyrations. Our goal was to visit as many new lakes that the eight days would allow and we ended up with 5 more notches on our belts.
Snow Lake was our first destination after being dropped off at Emigrant Meadow Lake, returning two years after our first stay. A quick 2 mile downhill walk turned into an up and down affair going cross country after we ended up zig'ng when we should have zag'd. Oh well it was worth the effort. Snow Lake greeted us with a lazy afternoon and gorgeous sundown. Our next day was a 6 mile day hike that took us past Bigelow and Black Bear Lakes, as well as an attempt to climb Bigelow Peak. A valiant effort was made, but we came up short and vowed to return and find a better route to the top.
Bigelow Peak is one of the major metamorphic pendants in the Emigrant wilderness. These are remnants of metamorphosed sea bottom alluvial rocks containing marble, gneiss, schist and quartzite that the Sierra granites intruded into. Tungsten is found near the contact zones of metamorphic and granite rock and were the target of W.W.II mining efforts that altered the Emigrant landscape. Most of the impact has been removed, but you can still find traces of Tungsten's legacy.
Sunday had us up early to beat the sun and heat on our way to Maxwell Lake. This had been a desire of mine every since I saw the picture that graces Ben Schifrin's Emigrant Wilderness bible. We both jumped into the cool waters after a scorching hike in. Morning broke under clear skies and up we scaled up Sachse Monument to breathtaking vistas and a view of 4 hawks playing in the drafts above Cherry Creek and the deserted mine countless feet below. George ran the ridge and we scrambled back to our camp for our quick hike to the next destination, or so we thought.
The map indicated about 2 miles. However our reference materials did not mention an alternate cross-country route from Maxwell to Lertoria, which seemed to be a glaring omission. We spied a route from Sachse ridge and decided to try it. All went well for the first mile or so. Stumbling upon a small set of lakes, pulling out our maps and checking the altimeter, confidence rose that we had found Frog Lakes and were just a few steps from Lertoria. After a couple of ridge hikes to orient ourselves, we found we were about 500 feet above our target point and needed to retrace our steps to get back on track. With that completed, we stumbled on to Lertoria Lake about 7 hours later. A grueling hike that we look back at and describe as one of the worst-and-best hikes we have been on. What made it magical in our eyes is that we were traversing territory that is rarely traveled and was the domain of Black Bears, as we surmised from the numerous scat samples we stumbled across. The scat disappeared when we arrived at our lake destination.
Lertoria Lake took us in with its beauty, remoteness and tranquility. As we woke up the following morning, the decision was quick and swift to extend our stay here and compress the remaining days of hiking. Two full days of hiking, ridge and peak climbing was order up and off we went. The terrain is rough and keeps your average hiker away, but to those that wish to tackle that small inconvenience it is well worth the effort. We discovered a granite amphitheater, numerous small jewel lakes, vistas of Huckleberry Lake and the surrounding Emigrant wilderness that will last a lifetime. George bagged Peak 8767 and we saw some wonderful examples of exfoliation at the base of this peak. Lunch was had on a ledge with a twisted Juniper and views of Yosemite's Tower and Haystack peaks. But the most inspiring scene was the almost 180 degrees of Emigrant Basin that was stretched out before us. No pictures, no descriptions can bring this living body to life better than standing on a small granite shelf and breathing in all that surrounds you.
Now we are off on the last two days of our hike, compressed from 3. An early morning start treats us to footprints on our trial that would have been covered by prior hikers. A majestic Mountain Lion had wandered down our path earlier and I wondered what went through the mind of this elusive cat when it traveled on roads made by men. Did it wonder why we had to carve these pathetic and twisting routes when it was so much easier to bound from boulder to boulder in a straight line to get your pray???? Down to Cow Meadow Lake and reliving our 12 hours of torrential downpour the last time we ventured here, and then back up to catch the ridge on to Wood Lake. To call this body of water a lake is a bit of a misnomer. There are actually three distinct parts, Little Wood, Wood Canal and the largest portion, Wood Lake. These bodies of waters fluctuate based on releases from Lower Buck Lake and the trial that meanders in and around the lake is a peaceful, shaded trek.
That night we made Deer Lake and camped along it's eastern shores away from the large camp sites on the Northern side. It had been a hot trudge in and we relaxed the afternoon away under the shade of a tall Lodgepole. Dinner was done and the night sky was shaping up to be a colorful display, so we hoofed up to a scenic ridge to watch the sun set and take in our last drink to quench the thirst of the Emigrant ridge line.
Sun up and we were on our way out which was to be accomplished in two phases. Packs on until we made Spring Meadow, where with a little bit of faith in our arrangements, we left our packs to be picked up by Kennedy Meadows and then walk out the remaining 14 miles. We met the packer on our way out and were reasonably sure he would find our gear, and in any event we really did not have any other choice. It was a long, hot and brisk walk that allowed us to spend the prior night deep in the heart of Emigrant and still make the trailhead in one day. The only apprehension was waiting for our packer to show amidst some good hearted joking from the Kennedy Meadows staff on the reliability of the chosen cowboy. But he showed in plenty of time as we waited under the cool branches of Jeffery Pines lining the pack trial.
May our paths & errands meet
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