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Yosemite – North Country (the second trip)

September, 2005 | 5 Comments
Spotted Fawn Lake

Spotted Fawn Lake

This was an epic trip that I have many fond memories of. Ten days of off trail adventure in the Northern part of Yosemite Park.

I had ventured into some of the areas on this trip two years previously. That trip was is July and I had some major rain at times. This one was planned for September and I wasn’t really sure what I was in for. I planned on hitting some of the lakes that I remembered from before. That trip started from the Emigrant wilderness but this was planned to leave out of the Kibbie Lake trailhead in the Northwest corner of Yosemite Park. I left on labor day weekend and amazingly saw not a soul the whole trip and hardly a boot print the whole way too.

The trip really only had about two miles of actual trail hiking, it saw plenty of granite and of course the usual scrub tangles. Route finding, I think, adds a whole other level to cross-country travel in country that can be brushy and rugged. Picking a good route by only visually siting and using the map can be quite a challenge.

Peninsula Lake

Peninsula Lake

The first night was camped on the way to Flora Lake as it was a late start. The second camp was at the southern edge of Spotted Fawn Lake. A good sized lake and very pretty, also probably one of the more popular lakes that I hit, as it’s one of the closest to the trailhead and a couple of miles from a major trail. But I saw no one here and had the lake all to myself.

Weather was near perfect for the first 6 days. Clear skies, without a cloud and very good visibility. This gave the sky the deep blue color you get at altitude when you get no haze. Days were warm, nights weren’t cold, but it did cool once the sun set and was chilly until it rose from behind the ridges.

The next day was a fairly easy route out of Spotted Fawn Lake and on to the Inferno Lakes. I was back in familiar territory now. I’d been to Inferno Lakes two years ago. A beautiful set of lakes set about 8000′ near the northern border of Yosemite park.  I camped on the lower lake and not much had changed in two years except for a small lightning fire across from my camp – probably sometime during the summer. I had spent two nights here in ’03 and could easily spend many more, but only stayed one night this trip.

View from Haystack Peak

View from Haystack Peak

Next day was a long one. Out of Inferno Lakes I took a route I had found in ’03 that took me past the upper lake and up about 600′ onto the northern ridge above Kendrick creek. A real gem of a route that isn’t too strenuous, leading through a notch in the ridge and one of the few easy ways to get into this stretch of Kendrick creek. Previously, I had headed east above the creek after passing the notch and onto a bench that paralleled the creek, finally meeting up with the canyon bottom farther along. But this time I was trying to shorten the route to my next camp. So from the notch it was down – steep – to the creek bottom and then a good 1200′ gain up the next ridge to get to a lake basin I had my eye on.

This was kind of risky, since there was no guarantee – either visually or on the map – that I could cross over the ridge without some serious scrambling/rock climbing – as this cirque got steeper toward the top and about 50′ foot of cliff at the top.

As it turned out, there was a small ledge leading through the cliff that wasn’t too difficult, but that was about it for options. This led into a beautiful lake basin with about six alpine lakes fairly close together. I had day hiked past one of them – Bear lake – in ’03 and found the area very nice – even with the 30 minute downpour I was in. I spent two nights here along Big Island lake. Weather was perfect – clear, warm, excellent sunsets to the west.

Hidden lake

Hidden lake

Not a lot of traffic here… judging from the fire rings – which are few. Very unspoiled country. This lake – Big Island Lake – is alpine in character, set around 9000′ elevation, with several small tarns set around it. This whole lake basin is stunning and certainly a high point of the trip.

The fifth day was a layover day – no packing – so I decided to take it easy and climb Haystack peak for views above Peninsula Lake.  I visited the lake in ’03 and it was one of the reasons I came back to this area. An awesome lake – if it wasn’t so far in, I’d do many more trips here.

I almost climbed to the top of  Haystack back then, but the weather was iffy at best that day… and I was glad I didn’t as it turned pretty snotty with some major downpours. But not this day… perfect. The route to the top took me past upper Peninsula lake and a scramble up the cirque behind that lake. Once you make the ridge at 9,800′ pretty easy up along the ridge to the peak.

Bearup Lake

Bearup Lake

The next day, I climbed the ridge above Big Island lake and entered the Frog Creek watershed. The hike wasn’t far, but past several nice little high alpine lakes. I decided this day, to not push onto Otter lake – which I had thought of camping at, but to stay at one of the un-named lakes because they were so nice.  That night I listened to some coyote howl at my presence – my camp, I think, being along a route between several upper lakes areas – and in their way.

The Otter Lakes… A fairly open set of lakes amid lots of granite. Very interesting terrain with many islands and peninsulas and interlocked lakelets about. I have seen otter in Peninsula lake – on my last trip – so I imagine there might be otter here also.

I came down frog creek toward Bearup Lake from the camp near Otter lake. A fairly rough stretch down canyon… I got pretty good at spotting animal trails around the obstacles… they always pick the best route. I camped here one night.

Bearup is set in a fairly narrow canyon and the lake is about a mile long by a quarter mile wide. It was somewhat windy in the afternoon, with the clouds piling up – but no rain. The next morning the lake was glass… This lake is a long trek in from any location (even the easy way – up canyon)… but worth the trip.

From Bearup Lake, it was down Frog creek to a low section of the ridge above the creek that led back into the Kendrick creek watershed. This put me on the ridge above Edith Lake. It was only a couple hundred foot climb out of Frog creek, but a good 1500′ descent to Edith. The descent was steep and tricky trying to work around the cliff drop offs and brush jungles that clogged the easy routes along the drainages. All the while trying not to get into a situation of slipping and sliding down a steep granite slope with a pack on.

Going into Edith Lake

Going into Edith Lake

Edith was a bitch to get to – and a brushy mother in spots – and one of the most difficult places I went. But it was stunning. With Nance peak towering 2000′ above lake level, I could never capture the whole scene on film – my lens just wasn’t wide enough. The lake is rugged all around with steep granite at lake edge almost everywhere and only a few beach access areas. The few established camps (fire rings if you will), were all in poor locations away from the lake. I initially was going to camp near a willow flat near lake edge, but judging from the bear tracks in and around that area, thought better of it. And glad I didn’t as I found the best site on the lake – a small sandy flat area above the lake with its own private beach. It couldn’t be better.

I had day hiked to Edith in ’03 from Inferno Lakes and came down from up canyon. The route was tricky and steep leading into the lake and for some reason I wasn’t that impressed at the time with the location. Maybe it was too hot that day, but it did lead through a beautiful section of Kendrick creek above the lake,  that just seemed untouched by anyone. This lake is a reward for anyone willing to put the effort in… but it’s a good effort.

Edith is below the 6000′ foot level – so amid the oak, sugar pine, and incense cedar – and oak brush I might add. I had nearly hiked up to Edith from Eleanor lake on an earlier occasion and thought the trip not too tough, but with the pack I found some sections tricky and the brush in sections thick – water was also a little higher this trip. This all made going down Kendrick creek slow and strenuous. Spotted my only bear on the trip. A smallish black bear who quickly scurried off.

Edith Lake

Edith Lake

I had wanted to exit Kendrick creek canyon and head back to the trailhead rather than hike out through the canyon via Eleanor lake, but wasn’t sure if that was even feasible. The north wall is steep and in spots impossible to get up. I had thought of heading out at Bartlett creek which showed on the map as a steep 600′ to a bench and then another steep 600′ feet to where I wanted to be. After getting thoroughly frustrated with the brush and terrain of the creek bottom, I decided to give it a go – even though I couldn’t actually see a route up this canyon because of the thick brush… but I found a brilliant route up the first 600′ by following faint animal trails up a very steep and twisty section leading to the bench.

The next section I was not so lucky. It took two hours of effort to make it through a poorly chosen section of 600′ vertical of the thickest brush I’d been in. So thick and steep it made it impossible to visually pick a route through, as you couldn’t see above. Grueling.

After this – I was pretty much spent and camped at the canyon rim – my last night. It also got cold with a good frost that night… fall is coming.

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5 Comments on “Yosemite – North Country (the second trip)”

  1. Wes says:

    Wow. Great trip. Thanks for sharing – makes me want to get out there.

  2. Martin says:

    Love your trip description and photos. Going for the first time this coming spring. was wondering if there are any fish in the Kendrick creek lakes?

    • steepTrails says:

      I can’t attest to the fishing there… but I have read on the web of people fishing Edith with success.

      • Anonymous says:

        If you hear of any good blogs on the area please don’t hesitate to share, especially if there is any info on the fishing there.

  3. Jim Powell says:

    Thanks for this report and photos. I spent nine days in the Haystack Peak area exploring the area. Bear Lake and Big Island were favorites — also Lower Twin lower down. A heavenly place. Bearup from Little Otter Lake, two miles down canyon, was extremely enticing but too out of our way. Glad to hear it’s as beautiful close up as it looked from there.