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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Sierra Nevada Backpacking Trip

DAY 1
"I had 100 yards of visibility and hiked in my KN-95 mask.  There was ash falling at Rae Lakes where I was stationed.  They're pulling out all the rangers now."

The ranger's words were not encouraging.  Only two miles into our trip and it sounded more than likely that our 7 day trip from Kearsarge Pass to Bishop Pass was going to be cut short.  The bright blue skies overhead were clearly a bit misleading.

Just a few days earlier much of the Sierra Nevada east of Sequoia National Park was under heavy smoke from the KNP Complex.  The temporary break from the smoke was brought on by northeast winds which were forecast to last until Wednesday.  That gave us three clear days.  Hopefully.

The ranger recommended that we head into Kearsarge Lakes, day hike, then head back over Kearsarge Pass to avoid getting stuck in the smoke.  We had planned 6 nights in the Sierra Nevada, so two days with packs and a day hike sounded like a bit of a letdown.  Too much of a letdown.

We decided to hike north as quickly as possible.  We would forgo all the off trail detours we'd considered and follow the John Muir Trail (JMT) until we were close to Bishop Pass.  Once we were within a day's hike of Bishop Pass, we would slow down, head off trail, and explore, provided the smoke was tolerable. If not, we'd head out.

The east side of Kearsarge Pass


Jacob on the gentle switchbacks leading up to Kearsarge Pass

Mom ahead, Jacob and Libbi on the switchback below

Jacob and Libbi above Big Pothole Lake

Big Pothole Lake

Looking west from Kearsarge Pass

The race was on.  At the time, we had not added up all the mileage yet, but we'd need to cover 65 miles to reach our car at South Lake on the east side of Bishop Pass.  Most of that mileage would need to be covered in three days.  Hiking 20 miles a day with a pack is tough.  Especially in the Sierra Nevada with a weeks worth of food on your back.  But covering most of the 65 miles in three days would allow us to camp near Bishop Pass and head out early Thursday morning if the smoke took a turn for the worse after Wednesday.

"We don't drop below the 10,800 foot contour," I informed Dad as we hiked from Kearsarge Pass to the JMT.  After Kearsarge Pass, we would climb our second pass of the day, Glen Pass.  Glen Pass is just over 11,900 feet, so staying above 10,800 feet meant we had just over 1000 feet of climbing to reach the pass.  A small pass by Sierra Nevada standards.

The afternoon heat and high elevation were taking its toll on our group and our progress toward Glen Pass was slow.  The first day is always hard: You are not used to the altitude or your pack.  Your pack is the heaviest it will be all trip.  The drive to the trailhead means you get a late start so its already heating up when you step out of the car.

At the foot of Glen Pass we stopped at some small lakes and filled with water.  The afternoon heat had built up and with minimal smoke in the air there was not much desire to keep pressing on to the north.  If we stopped short of the pass, we'd have covered 9 or 10 miles which would be a great first day for a weeklong trip.

The rangers words stuck in my mind.  Just a few days earlier he had ash falling on him and 100 yards of visibility.  I insisted we go on.  If we stopped here, we'd have no chance of making it to Bishop Pass in three days.  I couldn't help but admit that it seemed rather unlikely we need to reach Bishop Pass in a hurry at all.  The sky was blue except for a little haze to the west.  Maybe the fire was under control.



Charlotte Lake


Glen Pass

Haze to the west

Jacob on the north side of Glen Pass

The Painted Lady in the foreground right of center

Descending toward Rae Lakes

Rae Lakes

Rae Lakes

Looking south at Glen Pass
DAY 2

"Go make sure Jacob and Libbi and getting up."  Last night, Mom and Dad had decided we should rise at 6.  Jacob and Libbi, sleeping in their own tent, hadn't heard, so it was time to make sure they were awake.  

We were on the trail just after 8 with brilliant blue skies above.  As we hiked along Rae Lakes, Jacob and I fell behind as Jacob kept stopping to take more pictures.  I heard a lot about "ideal lighting", but we finally decided we'd better get a move on so the three ahead of us didn't stop and wait.

"How long have you been waiting?"  Fortunately, Mom, Dad, and Libbi had only been waiting for 5 minutes once Jacob and I caught back up.  We planned to cross Pinchot Pass, 14 miles from Rae Lakes, then descend a couple more miles to find a camping spot, so we didn't want to waste too much time sitting around.

"I think we camped here when we did the JMT."  It took me a minute to recognize the spot, but Mom was right.  I distinctly recalled the fence by the creek.  Most of our 2013 trip along the JMT seems like a blur, but there are a few spots that I remember well.  The creek was a convenient water source, so we stopped along it again, this time to fill our bottles and eat a quick snack.

Morning sunlight coming over the mountains

Rae Lakes

Fin Dome

Dad along Rae Lakes

The Painted Lady behind Rae Lakes

Fin Dome - much of our 2013 JMT hike is a blur, but I distinctly remember Fin Dome.

Jacob hiking along Rae Lakes

Fin Dome

Fin Dome reflected in Rae Lakes

Glen Pass is the low point a little ways left of center

Morning reflections

Fin Dome - clearly it made a lasting impression on me

The JMT



One last view of Fin Dome

Mom and Libbi hiking along Dollar Lake


Mom and Libbi descending toward Woods Creek.  On the horizon is Pinchot Pass which we hoped to cross today.


Dad taking the lead on the descent to Woods Creek

"We're never going to make it over Pinchot Pass today."  Sitting along the trail just above Woods Creek, Dad was convinced we had no chance.  We had come about 8 miles in 4 hours, but that was all downhill and in the cool of the day.  Uphill was always a lot slower.  Pinchot Pass was 7.7 miles away and 3600 feet above.  It was already noon.  1.5 miles an hour would put us at the pass at 5.  That was with no breaks and we had to descend a couple more miles to reach lakes on the other side.  It wasn't adding up.

The climb went slow.  Dad and Libbi weren't enjoying the heat of the day and soon it was apparent that we had no chance of crossing Pinchot Pass that afternoon.  That seemed okay.  We could hike up to the highest lake below the pass and camp there.  That'd be close to 14 miles for the day.  Next day we could tackle Pinchot Pass in the morning cool and cross Muir Pass 10 miles down the trail before descending into the Palisade Lakes.  But that would mean it'd take us 5 days to reach the car at South Lake.

"I can feel it in my throat."  As we continued the climb toward Pinchot Pass, the smoke rolled in.  Libbi was the one to voice what we all where thinking: the smoke was getting bad.  We pressed on hoping to climb above the smoke, but the air was taking a turn for the worse.

Hiking past one small lake, Jacob asked me if we should stop.  "There's plenty of lakes up ahead," I told him as we pressed on.  Half an hour later, I saw Jacob running back to the trail across a dried up lake bed.  I had slowed up to wait for Dad, but the complete lack of water in all the open meadows had me a little worried.  Usually there is an abundance of small lakes and tarns in the Sierra Nevada.

"There's a pool of water in the trees," Jacob informed us as he got back.  We decided to stop there.  There were more lakes on the map, but the land seemed so parched that we weren't sure if there'd be more water higher up.  We didn't want to backtrack, the smoke was getting worse, and it was already after 5.  We headed cross country to Jacob's pool and pitched the tents.  Mom handed out KN-95 masks which made a big difference.  We planned to hike in masks tomorrow.

A granite waterslide

Climbing along Woods Creek toward Pinchot Pass

Refreshingly cool, but no time to stop today




Afternoon smoke arriving

Not looking good at all

Before bed we all crowded in the big tent to play a game of Froggy Farkel.  Then we made a plan for the next day.  The smoke was getting bad, and it was likely going to get worse.  Even though the day started with brilliant blue skies, the air now was terrible.  The car was 25 miles away, but that was too far for us to hike in one day.  At least, for all of us to hike.

Looking at the map, we saw that there was two ways for us to head out of the Sierra Nevada.  We could go out over Taboose Pass or over Sawmill Pass.  Taboose was 17.5 miles, Sawmill just over 15.  We decided that Jacob and I could hike fast back over Kearsarge Pass, get the car, and drive to the bottom of Sawmill Pass while Mom, Dad, and Libbi hiked out over Sawmill Pass.

With a plan in place we headed to bed.  All of us had hopes of a crystal clear morning and no need to hurry out, but it seemed more than likely that we'd need to get out the next day.

Some time in the middle of the night Libbi woke up coughing.  The tents weren't far apart so I heard her clearly.  Despite having an inhaler and prednisone for her asthma, the smoke clearly wasn't doing her any favors.  Hearing her coughing in the middle of the night made up my mind: we were going out tomorrow, no matter what.  We could easily hike back in further north if the smoke improved.

DAY 3

"The smoke looks terrible toward Kearsarge."  There was no arguing that.  The air was a bit clearer in the morning, but heavy smoke had descended into the Woods Creek drainage and everything to the south looked terrible.  Our plan of hiking back to Kearsarge Pass seemed like an easy solution yesterday, but now it didn't look like such great idea.

I took off at 7:11.  Mom, Dad, Jacob, and Libbi were going to head out over Taboose Pass.  I was going to hike to South Lake unless the smoke got too thick.  In that case, I would turn back and head over Taboose Pass where we'd hope to get a ride.

My pack was light.  Jacob was loaded down like a pack mule.  Mom and Dad took a bit more weight too.  At Pinchot Pass I had climbed above most of the smoke, but in the drainage between me and Mather Pass, the smoke was thick.

Passing Bench Lake, I descended toward the South Fork of the Kings River; the smoke was heavy.  I had been wearing my KN-95 mask all day, but I didn't want to spend too much time in the smoke regardless.  Looking up, the sun was shining brightly.  I could not see my shadow, but at least the sun hadn't turned red.  Maybe the air was clear higher up.

"Definitely not worse," I thought as I looked over the Palisades from the top of Mather Pass.  There was a smoky haze above the Palisade Lakes, but it looked no worse than to the south of Mather Pass.  Actually, it looked better, but I didn't want to get my hopes up.  After the Palisade Lakes, the JMT descends 2,500 feet along Palisade Creek into LeConte Canyon.  I was worried the smoke would be thick.

By the lower Palisade Lake, the smoke was decided better than it had been all day.  That wasn't saying too much, but I was optimistic that LeConte Canyon would at least be tolerable.  The report I got from a couple hikers was that the smoke was much worse in LeConte Canyon that morning.  I hoped it would clear out before I reached the bottom of the canyon, but I wasn't sure how that was going to happen.

Hiking along Palisade Creek, below the Golden Staircase, I kept my mask on.  I was going to be in enough smoke that I wasn't going planning to take my mask off unless the air was clear.  And certainly not on a downhill.  Still, the smoke was dissipating.  In the bottom of LeConte Canyon where I feared the smoke would be thickest, I was hiking into the best conditions of the day.

Memories of our 2016 trip came to mind as I hiked along LeConte Canyon.  Oddly, we did not hike this section on our 2016 trip, but there terrain was very similar to the trail a few miles ahead which we did hike.

My thoughts turned to Mom, Dad, Jacob, and Libbi.  I had been going over 7 hours; they should have been hiking for 6 hours.  I calculated they would take 6 hours to crest Taboose Pass and 5 hours to descend to the trailhead.  Hopefully they were heading down now.

We told Libbi that the trip would be relaxed, 10 miles per day, lots of time to stop and look around.  The trip had not been living up to that and today was going to be the longest day yet.  At 17.5 miles it was going to be close to Libbi's longest day ever.  Oh well, not much I could do about that right now.

He stared back at me.  I was surprised.  In the wilderness, deer typically take off before you see them.  All you catch is a glimpse of them bounding away.  This big mule deer, with three points on his right antler and four points on his left, was happy to stand stock still, 50 feet away.

Bishop Pass.  All downhill to South Lake.  Hopefully I can beat darkness.  It was getting dark around 7:30, I think.  Maybe it'll hang on a little later than that.  7:15, light on, drink of water, pack back on.  The last miles will be in the dark.

As the day wound to a close, I approached the only part of the journey I was worried about: the drive.  Yeah, it might sound dumb, but I had good reasons.  One, my wallet was in the other car which meant if I got pulled over I'd be in a jam.  It's pretty easy to follow the speed limit, but I was worried I'd get rear-ended or have some incident outside my control where I'd need to present the license I didn't have with me.  Reason two, I didn't know where the road to Taboose Pass trailhead was.

That's right.  I didn't really know where I was going.  Our backpacking map showed road 11S04 led to Taboose Pass trailhead.  And it showed that the road went through Taboose Creek campground.  But it didn't show where the road left US 395 and that's what I needed to know.

Ten miles out of Big Pine, I saw the sign for Taboose Creek campground.  Phew, I didn't think there was going to be a sign.  I wasn't sure what I'd do if there wasn't a sign though.  The Prius map doesn't have many backroads and that's all I had outside the backpacking map.  Plus, it was dark so I couldn't even try to find the right road based on the landscape.

I got surprise as I turned off the highway.  Mom, Dad, Jacob, and Libbi were already there.  Once they reached the bottom of Taboose Pass, they started hiking down the road toward the highway.  Three miles later, they miraculously got a ride to the highway from a woman working for the Fish and Wildlife who had decided to head out early because the smoke.

When they got into the car and we began our drive back to Big Pine, I had a surprise for them.  On the dash of the car at South Lake was a note from our friend Andrew Meigs.  He had been in Bishop teaching, headed out for an early morning hike at South Lake, and, recognizing our car, left a note saying hi.  Small world.

INTERLUDE

After a night in the Bristlecone Motel, we headed up to Lake Sabrina, not far from South Lake.  The skies were clear when I finished hiking the day before, I did not wear a mask for the last 4 hours, so we hoped that we'd be able to find clear skies again.

We were lucky; there was only slight haze to the west.  Our plan was to do "just a little hike" by Lake Sabrina, but Millers don't do "just a little" very well.  We pressed on to Blue Lake which had great views, but was a bit more than Libbi bargained for.  After covering 25 miles in the first 2 days, she hiked over 20 miles on day 3 which was the furthest she'd ever gone in one day.  And she did it with a pack!  Good thing she's tough.

The Lake Sabrina Basin

Libbi along Lake Sabrina

Mom near the head end of Lake Sabrina

Lake Sabrina


Lake Sabrina

After our hike up to Blue Lake and dinner at a Mexican restaurant, we headed back to the hotel.  Our plan was that Mom, Dad, and I would head back into the Sierra Nevada over Bishop Pass.  Jacob and Libbi would spend another day or two at the foot of the Sierra Nevada then head back to Salt Lake City.

TRIP 2

DAY 1

The hike up to Bishop Pass was cool.  After climbing passes in the heat of the afternoon, the 8 o'clock start in 39 degree temperatures was a nice change.  We made it to the top of Bishop Pass quickly and proceeded to descend into Dusy Basin before taking a break and planning out the remainder of the day.

Mid-afternoon found us climbing another pass in the heat of the day.  This time it was Knapsack Pass, an off-trail route which leads from Dusy Basin to Barrett Lakes.  We had climbed this pass back in 2016 and had contemplated using this route if our 7-day trip had gone as planned.  For now, it offered a great way to leave the main trail behind and find a bit more solitude at the foot of the Palisades.

South Lake

South Lake

Climbing toward Bishop Pass

Looking back toward South Lake

Looking west from Bishop Pass

The west side Bishop Pass

Dusy Basin

Mt. Agassiz, Mt. Winchell, Thunderbolt Peak, and the North Palisade

Dusy Basin

Dusy Basin

Mom and Dad heading cross-country out of Dusy Basin

Fortunately not much talus on the climb up to Knapsack Pass

Smoke to the west, clear to the east


Mom and Dad climbing Knapsack Pass

The top of Knapsack Pass

Mom and Dad at the pass

"There's a little green tent out on that point."  Along the middle Barrett Lake, a small green tent was perched on a rocky mound.  Finding signs of other people in this basin was a little bit of a surprise; we had not expected to see anyone.  I wondered if they were climbing either Thunderbolt Peak or the North Palisade as their tent was already set up even though it was only mid-afternoon.  Perhaps the group was, right now, somewhere on the jagged walls looming above us to the west.

After descending to the Barrett Lakes, I suggested we climb up to the largest lake.  At 11,500 feet, the lake was the highest amongst the Barrett Lakes and closest to the Palisades.

"Do you see anywhere we can pitch the tent?"  Unfortunately I did not.  Finding a place to pitch the tent is often a challenge when traveling cross-country in the Sierra Nevada.  The rocky terrain and lack of established sites makes it hard to find a place to sleep.  Especially when you are packing a four-person tent.

As we approached the lake, we kept looking.  At the west end of the lake, there was one promising spot, but we were hoping for something closer.  Fortunately we found a small, flat meadow that was big enough to put the tent in.  Perfect.




Smoke to the west

Clear to the east


The North Palisade

The lower Barrett Lake

Isosceles Peak

The upper Barrett Lake


The upper Barrett Lake




DAY 2

"The one book says Mt. Sill has the best view in the Sierra Nevada!"  To me, that was plenty of reason to try to climb it.  The book also said the climb was class 2 to 3 which might prove too difficult for us, but I thought it was worth a try.  Mom and Dad were not nearly as enthusiastic as I, but we decided that would be our plan for the day.

Instead of moving the tent, we planned to camp again at Barrett Lakes.  We would climb over "inconspicuous saddle" then over Potluck Pass leaving us at the foot of Mt. Sill.  Well, almost 2,500 feet below Mt. Sill, but I figured that climb would be a lot easier now that we weren't carrying packs.

Cresting Potluck Pass, we looked down on the lakes below.  We had no trouble getting over "inconspicuous saddle" and no trouble climbing up Potluck Pass, but descending down the other side looked a little more difficult.

"This way," said Dad as we moved to the far east end of the pass.  There were a couple granite slabs here which we would traverse, then descend down steep scree to the lakes below.  This descent now became familiar as I followed Mom and Dad down the faint trail through the scree.  Back in 2016 we had crossed this pass going the other direction.

Morning frost

Knapsack Pass above the upper Barrett Lake

Clear reflections

A rock marmot

Same rock marmot

Mom and Dad at the edge of the upper Barrett Lake




Looking up at the North Palisade


Barrett Lakes




Smoke to the west

Looking up toward Polemonium Peak

Dad with Potluck Pass to the left

Mt. Jepson and the Palisade Crest

Smoke to the west


Dad at Potluck Pass

Mom descending Potluck Pass

"What do you guys think?" I asked as we took a short break in the talus.  From the lakes below, we were able to follow grassy gullies and granite slabs toward Mt. Sill, but now we were greeted with a massive talus field.  In the half hour we had been hiking through the talus we had not come very far.

"Well, it's not very fast, is it?" Dad replied.  Mom chimed in saying she was fine to keep going, but she was just not very fast on this kind of terrain.  What they didn't say was that they were not having much fun, but that was pretty clear.  Making less than a half mile and hour through the talus isn't exactly thrilling, especially when there is no end of the talus in sight.

"How about we turn back here, pack up the tent, and head back into Dusy Basin?"


Looking back up at Potluck Pass

Mom and Dad

The talus heap leading toward Mt. Sill


Taking a break from the talus hop

Talus - not terribly fast terrain, but abundant in the Sierra Nevada

A first class talus heap

Mom and Dad emerging from the talus


The North Palisade to the left

White stuff on the rocks - not sure what it was



Indian paintbrush



We saw Thunderbolt Pass in a brief description from Voge and Smatko's "Mountaineer's Guide to the High Sierra" the night before.  In the book the pass was not named, but the description was of a second route from Barrett Lakes to Dusy Basin.  Unlike Knapsack Pass, this route crossed east of Columbine Peak at the foot of the Palisade wall.  We decided to give it a try.

"That didn't take long," Dad said as we stood at the top of the pass looking back down on the Barrett Lakes.  The night before I eyed the route over Thunderbolt Pass and it looked like we'd be able to follow a grassy gully for most of the climb.  The footing ended up being very good and we were able to ascend the pass in about an hour.

The north side of the pass looked more difficult.  There was a lot of talus between us and the nearest lake in Dusy Basin or at least that's how it appeared from the pass.  Still, many of the off-trail passes in the Sierra Nevada have a relatively easy route which winds through seemingly impassable terrain.  I wasn't too concerned.  After all, I could already see a series of granite slabs which would provide easy walking as we started down from the pass.

Thunderbolt pass is the low point on the ridge at the foot of the Palisades


Climbing toward the pass

Weeds at 11,000+ feet


Dad and Mom with the Barrett Lakes in the background

Looks like a talus hop down to Dusy Basin

Thunderbolt Peak

Mom and Dad in the talus

Mom

"Halfway," I informed Dad as he asked me how far we had come from the pass.  We had to cross a lot of big talus which made hiking slow.  We had been descending for an hour and the sun had now passed behind the ridge to our left.  It was 6 o'clock and we knew it would be dark shortly after 7.  We didn't have a lot of extra time and the route below us looked just as tough as the terrain we had already crossed.

"No big steps," Dad told me as I led our way down toward the lake.  I was doing my best to pick an easy route through the talus, but sometimes there was no easy way.

The longer the step, the harder it is.  Especially for Mom.  She's the shortest one by a few inches so sometimes she can barely make some of the steps through the talus.  I was trying to pick an easy way, but I could only see 30 or 40 feet ahead before the potential route became obscured as it dropped off the backside of a rock.  Perhaps there would be an easy way down.  Maybe a big step.  Maybe no way down and we'd have to backtrack.  You just don't know.

I led us up over a small knob.  We had been following the gully on the way down and I said we should divert from the gully and cross the knob, even if it was a little harder to get to.  Dad didn't seem too hot on the idea.  He said there was no way to know if it was going to be any easier or not.

I did know it was easier.  As we trekked through the talus above I kept looking below us, all the way down to the lake, scoping out the easiest route.  Not just the next few steps, but the best way to get us all the way down to the lake.  And from above I saw the backside of the knob would offer a few hundred feet of easy walking.  After that the talus wasn't as steep and there was a granite slab in the left side of the main drainage.  There is typically a little dirt and grass at the foot of granite slabs which is much faster hiking than talus.

7 o'clock.  "Do you think we can pitch the tent here?"  I was shocked.  We were now at the edge of the lake and Dad was suggesting we pitch the tent on a lumpy, rocky, barely level spot.  For years Dad has insisted we find a perfectly flat, smooth spot for the tent.  We've even got up in the middle of the night once to move the tent, although Dad says that was because the dust at our site was too bad.

"No, there's going to be a much better spot just a little way around the lake," I said.  We were in Dusy Basin after all, less than a mile from the trail.  I could see a promising meadowy area just a few hundred feet away.  Why not hike another minute or two and find a good site.  I was sure that someone had camped there before as we were not far from Bishop Pass.  Fortunately my prediction turned out right and we found a spot and pitched the tent just before we needed to get out the headlights.

DAY 3

"Up between those two rocks," Dad guided us.  I wasn't too sure about this.  To me it seemed like it would be a lot easier to follow the edge of the lake.  There was no talus along the east side of the lake, most of it was grassy, and the far end of the lake was going to be the closest point to the trail, much closer than here.

After a while it hit me; we're going straight to Bishop Pass.  No need to catch the trail before then.  We'll just hike the granite slabs and grassy meadows between here and the pass, then get on the trail there.  This was a far better idea than what I had in mind.  The trail from Bishop Pass to Dusy Basin is in rough shape from the mule trains.  The mules' hooves have chopped up the trail, turning the trail into miles of deep dust.

Black Giant reflected in the far end of the lake

Same shot with a touch more sunlight


Indian paintbrush

Dusy Basin

Dad looking over Dusy Basin



Mom on our off-trail traverse to Bishop Pass


Mt. Agassiz

Lichen

Dad on the horizon

A small tarn just south of Bishop Pass

Same small tarn


"That's the trail already?"  It had only taken us an hour and half to reach the trail at Bishop Pass and now we began the descent down to South Lake.  The night before we decided we should try to climb Chocolate Peak on the hike out, so we looked down the valley trying to catch a glimpse of it.

I looked back down the steep dirt slope to make sure Mom and Dad were following.  We had dropped the packs a little ways off the trail and were now climbing up toward Chocolate Peak.  The peak was listed as Class 1 and looked like it should be easy.

We followed the right side of a creek drainage for a while, the crossed to the left side and made our way toward the ridge.  In here we crossed what appeared to be a faint trail which I guessed might lead to Ruwau Lake.  It didn't take long to gain the ridge and soon we were picking our way through diminutive fir trees on our way to the top.  After a little more hiking we were greeted with a view of 16 lakes from the top of Chocolate Peak.

Instead of following our footsteps on the way back, we headed down the faint trail I spied on the way up.  Around the next turn, the trail became much more defined and I was convinced it was the trail to Ruwau Lake.  We followed the trail for roughly 5 minutes, then decided we needed to leave the trail in order to get back to our packs.  It was an easy off-trail scramble back to the packs, but if you want to climb Chocolate Peak, the easiest way would certainly be to follow the Ruwau Lake trail.

Mom on the trail to South Lake



Chocolate Peak


On our way up to Chocolate Peak



Ruwau Lake

The ridge leading to the summit of Chocolate Peak

On top of Chocolate Peak

Chocolate Lakes

Dad on top


Chocolate Peak from the trail

South Lake

A couple hours later we arrived at the South Lake parking lot.  Our well planned 7-day trip ended up being a haphazard adventure.  In hindsight, we probably should have investigated the smoke more thoroughly before heading to the Sierra Nevada in the first place.  As it was, we didn't really think about the smoke until a few days before the trip when a friend told us that the AQI was not looking good.

In the few days before the trip, we did look into the Sawtooths in Idaho, but that would have ended up being a cold choice.  The rain that had fallen in Corvallis a few days before we headed into the Sierra Nevada ended up dumping snow in Idaho.  We looked into the Wallowas in eastern Oregon, but as we already had a permit and plans for the Sierra Nevada, we decided to head south and do as much as the smoke allowed.