Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings: Ansel Adams Wilderness

It's photo time again! Back in July my husband, Eldest Son, and I spent a week backpacking in the Ansel Adams Wilderness (in the Sierra Nevada mountains just south of Yosemite). Here are some highlights.

Day One:
We drove from SF to LeeVining on Day Zero, so that the first day of our hike we had only to pick up our permit at the Mono Lake ranger station/Visitor's Center and drive a short distance to the trailhead. By 10ish, we were on our way, climbing the rather formidable rampart into the wilderness.
You can see the tramway in this photo. A series of lakes, dammed in the 1930s, plagued this approach to the wilderness.
Finally getting above the lakes, we encountered the idyllic waters of Rush Creek. Having hiked far enough and climbed more than enough, we found a camp and settled in, with plenty of afternoon left for exploring, bathing, and sitting around camp reading.

Day Two: Leaving civilization behind. We woke early, and after breakfast hit the trail, eager to get into the high country. We were dismayed to find that Waugh Lake, the 3rd in the series and well inside the Wilderness Area, was also dammed. But there were great views from along the shores.
Eldest Son has always been fond of high perches.
Our route took us through subalpine forest and up past alpine meadows.
Some kind of fungus on the forest floor.
The first alpine meadow gave us a look at the iconic flower for the trip, the Indian Paintbrush.
An impressive final climb took us to Marie Lake at over 10,000', where the breezes blew a little briskly, but the view from our room was top-notch.

Day Three: A short cross-country ramble. We could have done it all by trail, but chose instead to walk cross-country from Marie Lake, past Rogers Lakes, and over a low ridge to the Davis Lakes. The route proved easy, with only one spot that required a little route-finding, and the meadows were idyllic (with a few mosquitoes).
Crossing a meadow near Rogers Lakes.
Tadpoles were growing as fast as they could, to reach maturity in the short alpine summer.
The Davis Lakes brought more fields of paintbrush and stunning alpine backdrops.

The short mileage gave us extra time for photos, more reading, and some time to sit in camp and talk with our son. We did an after-dinner ramble to see what the evening light would give us, as well.
Davis Lake and Mt. Davis
White bark pine? Gnarled branches warmed by the evening sun.
Low light and a good spot to brace the camera (or a tripod, which I didn't have), allow for slow-shutter smooth-water photos.
Day Four.
We touched the trail this time for only a mile or so, but the trail was the PCT/John Muir Trail, and we saw a number of parties. Though predictable, the crowds came as a bit of a shock, as until then we'd seen only a handful of people the whole trip, and none for two days. We stopped on the trail for the iconic views of Banner Peak from Islands Pass.

We weren't the only ones enjoying the setting.
Marmot. I have no doubt he was hoping for a chance to eat my salty pack straps or boots.
We left the trail at Islands Pass, heading in a more direct line for North Glacier Pass, the access to climbing routes on Banner and Ritter Peaks. For a time, the walking was easy.
Eldest Son and the Spouse head toward the pass.
Later, the going got a great deal more challenging, and over the next two days we spent far too much time among boulders like these.
Actually, most of the boulders were bigger, and often less stable than I like.
Despite everything, we found a place to camp, and settled in for two nights, to allow for a climb.
Not even a few icebergs will keep us from our afternoon baths!
Our camp spot, just below the outlet from Lake Catherine, gave us beautiful evenings.
Sunset on Banner Peak
Evening at the edge of the world
Day 5. Next morning saw us heading off early up the peak of our choice. We'd had thoughts of climbing Banner, but the approach was awkward from where we'd camped, and Mt. Davis was closer and lower. We opted for the easier climb.

Late snowfields melt into "sun cups" and make for tricky walking
Banner and Ritter from the summit of Mt. Davis, 12,303'
Day 6: Down again.
Our 6th morning saw us retracing our painful scrambling steps around Lake Catherine and over North Glacier Pass, but the descent from there was better than our climb, as we found and stuck with the well-worn use trail we had missed on the way up. This was a very short day, as we only dropped to 1000 Island Lake, and located a campsite along the south shore, well away from the other campers.
Approaching 1000 Island Lake from above. Eldest Son did some counting from the summit of Davis, and spotted at least 60 "islands"--many of them just hunks of rock.

Our camp above the lake shore was chosen for this view of Banner Peak--and proximity to a beautiful cove with a beach of coarse sand, where we were able to take a real swim.
The reflective blanket on the tent is helping to keep it cool inside during the mid-day sun and heat.
A lack of clouds had dashed most sunset hopes, but this final night we had a bit of cirrus cloud--and more smoke, from the large fire that broke out near Big Sur that morning.
Day 7.  Hiking out. We had sort of expected the final day to be nothing but a slog, but we took a different route than the way in, and found that we kept getting stunning views of the high peaks even as we left. That gave us lots of excuses to stop, turn around, and take photos.

Eventually, however, there was nothing left but the 3000' drop to the car, down a canyon too steep and abrupt to photograph.
That's Mono Lake you can see in the flats.
Only one vital stop left:
At the Mono Cone in Lee Vining. Cash only, but good shakes, burgers, and fries.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!


  1. Oh, so many comments! I love doing your hikes from the comfort of my workchair :)

    There are photos of different lakes and peaks that look like you've cheated (David Lake, Day 4 and Day 7); I would love that infinity pool (last on Day 4); what's the scale of the sun cups, and the 3000 ft drop at the end is a dead ringer for the picture I need to do of Dylan's escape from Vexstein in Book 8 :D

    So glad you had a great time - and a great sunset, and the marmot, and all the rest!

    1. Those sun cups ranged from maybe 12" to almost hip-deep on me. I don't like them. My spouse and kid balance well and could just stride from ridge to ridge, but I'm much more likely to fall in and hurt myself :p

      The little lake at nights 4 & 5 was just beautiful. Such a stark landscape, but so lovely. And you'd think there wasn't a plant for miles, then in a little sheltered spot...some beautiful flower.

      You're welcome to use the photo for your picture--or I think the spouse has a better I can share with you.

  2. Looks brilliant, Rebecca. We're getting excited here .... heading to the Canadian Rockies the week after next. It'll be the first time our kids have ever seen mountains, and hopefully a little snow (maybe).

    1. Wow! Hard to imagine not having seen mountains...though come to think of it we had an 18-year-old visitor last May who'd never seen mountains or ocean. You'll have a great time in the Rockies--check out my photos of that area, too, for inspiration!

  3. So pretty, but so brrr... You make me miss my youthful days of hiking the mountains and backpacking and spelunking and repelling. They'd all kick my trash now, but I could almost smell the fresh air and feel the energy from your pictures. Awesome.

    1. Despite the snow in some of the lakes, temps were all too warm. First time I've ever been in the Sierra and found my 32-degree bag too warm!

      As I age, the hiking gets harder. I just slow down and shorten the mileage, because I'm not giving up those trips until I can't crawl down the trail. Keeps me sane (well, as sane as I am).

  4. Awesome I am totally jealous of you being able to visit such beautiful paces like that

    1. And I envy you your ancient villages and antique churches! That's why they invented airplanes, you know :)


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