I put in a couple of long days at work on Wednesday and Thursday so I could leave work at noon on Friday and drive to Rock Creek and get there before dark. I had a very uneventful and pleasant drive to Rock Creek and arrived at 6:15 p.m. at site number 9 at the French Campground. My buddies, T. and C. had already been at the site for a couple of days and were not there when I arrived. I got my tent set up and loaded all my food into the bear locker and then set off to figure out where the restrooms were located, where the dumpster was located, and where the water was located. When I got back I sat down and read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets until my friends arrived back from their day of hiking. They kindly fed me a nice dish of gnocchi, red peppers, basil, and a red sauce and left out the chick peas at my request. I felt very spoiled and very content to be out in the woods with friends. After dinner we chatted about the next day's plans. C. decided to go exploring on his own as the hike T. and I wanted to do was a bit tough for him. T. and I planned to hike from the Little Lakes trail head at Rock Creek to Mono Pass. After the plans were firmed up we all headed to our tents around 9:30 p.m.
We were up shortly after dawn and I cooked myself some oatmeal and had some General Foods instant mocha. It was a bit weak. Next time I need to add more heaping teaspoons than four! T. and I then loaded up our day packs with food, water, extra layers, a small first aid kit, and some bug repellent and then put away our other food in the bear locker and headed to Little Lakes trailhead. Before we got there we stopped at the Rock Creek lodge in the hopes of having some of their famous pie. We arrived there at 8:30 a.m. way before they serve their pies. The pie service doesn't start till 10:30 a.m. and ends when the pies run out or at 3:30 p.m. I did a little shopping at the general store and got some much needed lip balm for the weekend. After our short stop we drove to the trail head and the main parking lot was already full by 9ish. We did find parking at the first overflow parking lot which was lucky. It added maybe a quarter mile to our trip. We hiked to the trailhead restrooms, put on sun screen, packed away our wallets/keys in a safe place in our day packs or pockets, and headed off to Mono Pass.
The first half mile was on the very popular Little Lakes trail and went up mildly but my heart started beating fast. The trail head started at high altitude, 10,200 feet! I managed to keep a steady pace while my heart beat fast and there were enough little flat spots to give me a chance to get my breath back and for my heart rate to slow down a bit. When we felt uncomfortable we just stopped and the view filled us with energy! The view of the lakes and mountains was incredible.
T. is in great shape and she never seemed to need to stop because of being out of breath but she did need to stop to eat more often than me. After a half mile, we turned off on to the Mono pass trail. For about a mile or so it was a steady up with flat spots to rest at and wonderful views of the Little Lakes valley. We met other folks as we slowly made our way up to the pass. Everyone was really friendly and in a good mood. The typical greeting was “where are you heading today?” Some were day hiking to Mono pass like us and some were backpacking futher into the mountains. We reached the Ruby Lake turnoff junction at 11,200 feet and that is where the steeper part of the Mono Pass trail starts.
We hiked up switch backs for a good while. We got passed by a horse led burro train taking supplies up to the mountains for someone. Finally we turned into the rather narrow pass. Big old granite walls rose up around us spectacularly. I had to rest lots on this section as we approached our destination at 12,000 feet. The air was getting thinner and thinner! But stopping was nice as it gave us time to gape at the views and neither of us were in a great hurry. We finally reached the top after a last bit of hiking on snow. The really late rains and snows in California have made conditions in August more like those found in July. However the snow trail was well trodden and easy to follow. We had lunch near the top and after lunch hiked a tiny bit to Summit Lake and then turned around to head back.
On our way down, a fellow caught up with us and we offered to let him pass but he declined. He looked like a sherpa from Nepal and much to our surprise he was a sherpa from Nepal on vacation in California. He looked as if he was talking a walk in a park up there. He told us he lives at a place higher than Mono Pass. He lives at 4000 meters (~13123 feet) and his Father is a sherpa on Mt. Everest. He was very nimble on the snow. He was with another man who we never got close enough to talk to. He left us when he saw that his buddy had gotten ahead of us. Quite amazing the people you meet while you are hiking.
The rest of the way down was so much easier for me. I wasn't gasping for air hardly at all and my knees were just fine. I have always had pretty healthy knees and they hold up well going downhill. On really long downhills I will start to notice some knee soreness but this 3 mile descent did not cause me any knee soreness. I was happy though to have done all that uphill hiking to start getting my body used to hiking uphill at high altitudes. The Whitney hike starts at ~8400 feet and goes to ~14,500 feet.
We arrived back at the trailhead at 3:15 p.m. and were hoping we could make it to the Rock Creek lodge for pie by 3:30 p.m. We did make it to the lodge by 3:30 p.m. But alas, the pies had been sold out since 1:30 p.m. Instead we bought ourselves something to drink (I got gaterade) and then drove down the Rock Creek road in search of a nice spot on the creek to sit down and soak our feet. We found a wonderful spot with a comfy spot of green grass to sit on right next to the creek and even better it turned out to be mosquito free too! We soaked our feet for 15 minutes. It was marvelous to be sitting together with our feet in the ice cold water, drinking our drinks, chatting, and to boot we head this section of creek all to ourselves.
After the soak, we headed back to camp and spent some time doing our own thing. I read more of my Harry Potter book. We would not start dinner till C. got back from his day of hiking. He returned around 6:15 and told us stories of his day at Convict lake and we told him about our hike. T. cooked a dinner of ravioli with roasted red pepper sauce. I volunteered to help and was put in charge heating up the store bought roasted red pepper sauce to mix with the ravioli. It was a delicious dinner. Somehow food at a campground tastes better than it would if cooked at home. Its probably because we were exerting ourselves all day and were hungry and would have liked almost anything. After dinner T. and C. got busy packing as they had to leave at o-dark-hundred the next day. T. had an appointment in the SF bay area at 3:30. They left at 5 a.m. I heard them taking the tents down and just turned over and fell back asleep for another hour.
I was up at 6 a.m. In typical camping fashion what got me up was I had to use the restroom. When I came back from the restroom I felt fully awake so I decided to have a small cold breakfast and then pack up my gear and head back to the Little Lakes trail head and hike on the Little Lakes valley trail for an hour and then turn around and hike back. While shaking out my tent, I saw what I thought was a bug on the ground but on closer examination it turned out to be a scorpion. I was sort of glad I slept in a zipped up tent so the scorpion could not crawl on me! I soon finished packing and I got to the trailhead at 7:10 a.m. and this time I got a parking spot there and did not have to go to the overflow parking.
I made a quick stop at the restroom and then put on sun screen and headed off on the Little Lake Valley trail. It was gorgeous. I was happy to be giving my body another taste of high altitude hiking albeit a more mellow taste than the day before. I passed by Mack, Marsh, Heart, Box, and Long Lake. At Long Lake I reached my one hour turn around time and started heading back.
It was a wonderful solitary hike on the way to Long Lake. I did pass one backpacking couple but they were so quiet that it felt as if I had the trail to myself the whole way. It was a different story on the way back as I ran into more and more people. I got back to the trail head at 9:20 and the lot was full and folks were hiking up the road from overflow parking. I got in my car and headed to the Rock Creek lodge to have a more substantial breakfast. I was too early for pie but the cook at the lodge made a mean short stack of pancakes. I filled up on 2 huge pancakes and had a freshly brewed cup of coffee. While I was at the counter a Dad and his two small sons were there also. The sons were delightful to talk to. They were friendly and so excited to tell me all about their fishing trip with their Dad. Dad was there too but he was more quiet. He would just speak up to add bits to the stories his sons were telling. They also wanted to see a bear but not get eaten by a bear. It made for a nice breakfast to have their company. I finished up at 10 a.m. And started on my long trip home.
On my way home I did something very unusual for me. I was turning off of highway 395 at Lee Vining and there was a young man hitch hiking with a brown card board sign saying Yosemite and a big backpack. He looked friendly and I decided to risk it and give him a ride to Yosemite since my drive was on 120 which goes right through Yosemite (the Tuolumne Meadows part of Yosemite). I almost never pick up hitch hikers for fear I'll pick up a lunatic hitch hiker and get attacked or something but I decided to risk it for this guy. I picked him up and he was excited to have gotten a ride. Before we started up the climb on 120 to Tuolumne Meadows, I stopped at the Mobile station to get some gas. As we drove up 120, I found out he was from Brazil and had 7 days left in his vacation in the U.S. and wanted to spend it exploring Yosmite. He told me his name and I had trouble pronouncing it. I'm not sure how to spell it. It sounded like “hanough”. He works as a computer technician and was impressed that I write software. We had fun chatting as we waited in the long line to get into Yosemite at the top of the pass. I dropped him off at the visitor center in Tuolumne meadows after we finally got through the wait to get in.
The rest of my drive home was more ordinary. I stopped at Oakdale to have a late lunch at McDonalds. There was a Starbucks right door so after lunch, I got a iced mocha to go. I sipped it as I made my way to Manteca. At Manteca I had the last sip. At Manteca, it was back to freeway driving and no stunning mountain views anymore. I got home at 5 pm so the drive took 7 hours. All in all it was a great weekend of hiking and camping. I hope next weekends trip to June Lake in the Eastern Sierras goes as well although it will be a solo trip. It will be fun to spend the week planning the hikes I will do from June Lake.