June 20, 2014
Mono Lake View from Ansel Adams Wilderness
Total distance: 9.1 miles
The night before my first trip of the year to the high country, I was unable to sleep. Excitement set in and I laid awake in bed like a child on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa. A quick glance at the clock showed that it was just before midnight. I should have been fast asleep by then because I wanted an early start. Instead of sleeping, my mind traced the route I would take. I ran through a mental list of things to add to the backpack; and I worried that my knee would give me problems. Two hours later after tossing, turning and fluffing the pillows, I finally drifted off to sleep.
In an earlier post, I stated that one of my reasons for hiking was to see the views. Although I have hiked this trail to see the mining relics, this time I hiked to observe nature’s sights and sounds–the heart of the wilderness.
The weather was perfect for hiking: 57 degrees at the Mono Pass trailhead in Yosemite National Park, elevation 9,700 feet. Overhead, contrails streaked the sky and the rumble of distant jets sounded like rolling thunder.
The soft trail through the verdant Dana Meadows was flat. Walking briskly, I noticed only a few wildflowers: mostly groundsel, both arrowleaf and single-stemmed.
I stopped before crossing the surging Dana Fork creek and put on my new aqua socks. Walking through the cold, ankle-deep water, my feet began to numb. On the way back I would cross on the log.
After a couple of miles, the dirt trail led uphill and climbed several hundred feet through the subalpine forest where many of the trees exhibited “snow knee”–a bend in the tree formed when the tree is young and is bent over by snow. Eventually the tree grows upward towards the sun, but it retains the bend.
Along the way I noticed century-old cabins, encountered day-hikers and backpackers, heard birds, buzzing insects, rushing water, and saw more wildflowers growing in the sun among the rocks: spreading phlox and mountain pride.
The trail peaked as I came out of the still forest and snow-flecked Kuna Crest came into view.
At a junction, I avoided taking the Parker Pass trail towards Spillway Lake. There, a large group crouched close to the ground inspecting something in the grass. Out in the open I continued forward towards Summit Lake and Mono Pass walking in the intense sun and drying wind.
At this point I was leaving Yosemite National Park and entering the Ansel Adams Wilderness in the Inyo National Forest.
Now on the rocky slopes of the alpine zone, I stepped over and around hundreds of rocks that jutted out of the ground. Veering away from the trail to explore, I sauntered through the hills on the dry, dun-colored grass. Mosquitoes nipped at my arms and legs until the wind came up outsmarting them. I hopped over ephemeral tributaries and climbed onto red, iron oxydized rocks. I made my way around large patches of suncupped snow and back to the trail at Summit Lake where a weathered USGS marker noted the elevation at 10,599 feet.
Walking over Mono Pass toward Sardine Lakes, a distant view of Mono Lake came into sight. It was nearly one o’clock and I still hadn’t had lunch, so I sat on a surprisingly comfortable boulder facing the lake and ate.
After a short rest on the rock, I began the journey back. On the way I watched a large deer graze in the expansive meadow, and pointed a couple of hikers towards the mining relics they were looking for. Back in Dana Meadows I saw hundreds of tiny shooting stars that I had missed seeing earlier. As I bent down to photograph them, I realized how strong my legs and knees felt, even after descending eight hundred feet. There was no need to worry as I had the night before.
Stepping out on the trail alone is a hurdle that I struggle to overcome especially at the first hike of the season. But as John Muir said, “Only by going alone in the silence can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness.”