2012 really was the best summer in many ways. We did so many awesome things! This winter of 2017 is…less awesome. We are, to date, doing fewer things. Oh well. This should get better with time. However, again, five and a half years ago, Joe and Nathan and I drove up to Mammoth to go on a backpacking trip…
In which we are somewhere beautiful
Oh me oh my. As so many of these trips begin, we headed up the eastern side of the Sierras. All three of us drove up together, and we must have headed out fairly early , as I have a pic taken right by Mt. Whitney at about 8.30 AM. We stopped in at the visitor’s center, and took a gander at Mt. Whitney, and stretched our legs, and then continued on our way. We got to Mammoth Lakes and went to the Forest Service center there and picked up our permit and a little bit on bonus map info. We quickly piled back into the car after that, and headed west and then a bit south and west , past Lake Mary, to the trailhead at Coldwater Creek. We got all of our stuff together, put ourselves together, and set out on the Duck Pass Trail.
Hello Mt. Whitney, as always not looking like the tallest one (it’s to the right, next to the two needles)
The first good bit of the trail just winds through the woods. There are a few bits where you peep out of the trees and start to get some view, but mostly under trees until you do a short bit up a hill, and start walking directly up the valley. At that point, the trail levels out a bit, though still of course going up, and you start getting some views when you hit meadows. There are several lakes along this route, though some you just glimpse off the side through the trees. The trail then comes out at the head of the valley right by Red and Barney Lakes, and we stopped to take even some more pictures before picking our way up the rock slope in front of us. As you head forward, the trail is actually rather well hidden, though it’s wide and easy to see once you’re upon it. As you look down, you can see the switchbacks cut into the rocks, but from the bottom, well, not so much.
we love entering the wilderness
So, up and up and up, as switchbacks tend to do, and every time you turn around the views are just getting better and better, making you actually feel like it might be worth it. Seeing all the lakes in a row , blue sparkles down the valley was in fact worth the price of admission. And finally, then…up and over the pass! At which point, alas, the elevation started getting to me. We had been considering going on further, but at that point, I needed to drop some elevation…stupid elevation sicky-feeling. However, why turn back? We instead went down the other side, towards Duck and Pika Lakes (both easily visible right down the slope). The trail quick-drops towards Duck Lake, then turns the northeast end of the lake, through some amazing flower fields, then cuts south along the east shore, and the amazing colored water, passing by a small (abandoned? storage?) shack built amongst the rocks, through some picture perfect singletrack, until we got over to the quick cutover to Pika Lake.
Looking back the way we came at the string of lakes.
At this point I was basically a wreck, and just wanted to sit for a bit, so we all dropped our gear (oh, that feeling when you drop your backpack after a day’s walk…so good) and the gentlemen went to scope out a camp site while I sat on a rock on the tributary from Pika Lake to Duck Lake. There was plenty of growth around, but the rock palisade surrounding Pika Lake was craggy and steep – the perfect mix of Sierra grays and greens and blues. Shortly thereafter, Joe and Nathan returned, having found a pleasant campsite just a tiny bit away, and we went and set up camp. As evening came on, we put on a few more layers, and then went and hung out by the lake and waited for sunset to arrive, lighting up the crags around us. After a pleasant dinner, and the minor ignominy of Joe ripping his pants twice on the same rock, we settled in for the evening.
Go! Go hunt us a place to sleep!
The next day we got up and, after breakfast, headed out the way we had come in, but rather than going back towards the trailhead, we headed out along Duck Lake. It was almost an astonishing shade of blue, and the sun was so bright and all the colors were almost bafflingly strong and vibrant. It was amazing, if a bit hot. We got around to the southern end of Duck Lake, and stopped for some lunch, and then some splashing and cooling off in the water at the edge of the lake. It’s always *always* surprising how cold the water remains up there, even on hot days. We then kept on the trail to the short ridge on the southern edge of the lake, and I really enjoyed being able to see the glacial polish on the rock over there. The trail then cuts down and around as it winds down into the valley just below the outlet from Duck Lake. There is a cool little falls that tumbles down into the valley below, and another campsite in that area, and we ducked down into the meadow down there, and then took that as our turnaround point – this is where the trail meets up with the PCT, and while we originally wanted to go a bit along, to Purple Lake (a bit to the south), we decided against it at that point, and were pretty happy to at least meet up with the PCT at all 🙂 We headed back, and had some more foot cooling, and a nice conversation with another hiker at the southern end of Duck Lake, and then mostly just moseyed back to Pika Lake.
looking back over the lake from the southern edge
Once back, we just kind of relaxed. We watched some people out on their little fishing floats on Pika Lake, looking very very tiny against the granite wall backdrop. I took off for a
walk around Pike Lake to a tiny little offshoot on the other side, while Joe and Nathan hung out, and soaked their feet. I enjoyed walking around to the other side of the lake, then up and over to see this other tiny area next to it. It’s funny to say this, in some ways, but it was really nice to have a half hour really just to myself – not so far from where I knew people and possessions were, but still out of sight. I played around there a bit, then came back to find Joe and Nathan skipping rocks. They skipped rocks so much that they had sore shoulders the next day! It was still pretty fun, and I tried a few as well. Nathan was really trying to get a many jumper; he did pretty well. One thing that wasn’t really lacking around there was rocks, though finding just the right size and shape of rocks was a bit more of a challenge.
Do not stir hot pots with plastic not designed for it – expert advice!
Sunset that night was even more photo-worthy. Some of our neighbors at the lake were set up with their tripods, and we got several good images taken as well. I then realized we were all wearing our Patagonia puffy jackets, so took the opportunity to take our Patagonia ad photo, and then just relax, breathe, and enjoy being in the woods in a beautiful place on a beautiful day, with good friends.
Slightly better alpenglow shot
The next morning was the standard – eat breakfast, pack up, and start heading out. As usual, the closer you get to being down (well, that was a typo for done, but I think it stands), the more you are just really focussed on getting to the end. We made it up and over the pass, certainly enjoying the views of another beautiful day as we headed out, but I have basically no images at all from the top of the pass to getting back to the car 🙂 As usual, the last mile or so was just me chanting under my breath ready to be done already…which doesn’t in any way really diminish the fact that it was an amazing trip! After we got back to the car, we very very happily changed into our fresh spare clothes, and headed into town for some pizza and beer before heading out on the drive home….a satisfactory adventure all in all.
The trip totaled about 10.5 miles RT to pika + duck lake
Picking their way downhill