SHR Day 16 – Blue Lake (26)

Twin Island Lakes to Lyle Fork

We wake with tents and sleeping bags wet with condensation, making for a slower than usual start. We climb up and around the higher Twin Island Lake, to the outlet. We head southwest around a steep ridge, then head northwest, trying to gain elevation towards an unnamed lake. The steepness of the side slope and required gain is more than I expected. I can feel myself struggling. Today just might not be my day.

Bench towards Blue Lakes Pass

Bench towards Blue Lake Pass

After a snack and break at the lake, we have another massive side slope, where we target a notch on the ridge. It is a mindless talus and scree traverse. The views down into Bench Canyon are spectacular, with one problem; we have to figure out how to get down there. The GPS waypoints make it look like a straight shot, but it isn’t.  We zig zag down loose talus to the bench. Down like this is not the long gentle down you feel like you earned after a grueling up. This was a grueling down.

The bench is relatively flat, so we enjoy a reasonable stroll through beautiful country. The creek is fairly dry, and big trout are trapped in short runs and shallow pools. Kevin again is sure we should give them purpose by eating them.

Blue Lakes from Blue Lakes Pass

Blue Lake from Blue Lake Pass

We then hump it up a much steeper incline to Blue Lake. Black clouds are again forming in the classic Sierra thunderstorm manner. I would love to rest at the lake longer, but we push forward to avoid being caught in lightning, on the treeless pass, holding metal trekking poles. Roper describes this pass as “remarkably easy,” which we seriously doubt staring at it. The boulder hopping and granite slabs seem straight up. Within a half hour, however, we are standing at the top, remarking, if only to give Roper his due.

Talus below Blue Lakes Pass

Talus below Blue Lake Pass

As we scramble down from Blue Lake Pass, it begins to rain. Talus boulders are hard enough to hop dry, but when wet, the fun really begins. We now hear thunder, and the rain thickens, then hardens into out right hail. At the bottom is a small lake and a couple of good sized granite blocks. We set up a temporary refuge under the rocks. We keep our packs and clothes relatively dry, as we make a tortilla wrap lunch. Birds keep flying to our rock shelter entrance, then squawking when they see us. This must normally be their thunderstorm shelter. The thunder and hail are strong enough to keep us hunkered in place for about an hour. This is not helping us with my aggressive mile schedule for the day.

We repack all our gear in plastic compactor trash bags, put on rain pants and jackets, and head out in it. The sky has lightened where we are, but where we are headed it looks like all hell is breaking loose. We plow along a broad plateau, above a very steep cliff line. We push forward, knowing at some point we have to drop down. Kevin, who is well ahead of me, startles what he thinks is a large dog, but I am sure is a small bear. There is, after all, a lot of bear scat around.

We give up on finding a logical way down, and begin illogically plowing down a steep covered forest. Half walking and half falling, we make it to a valley floor. We are suppose to cross the faint Isberg Pass Trail. My GPS shows us right on it, but we never see it. We search wide in both directions, far beyond what we assume is the margin of error. We then track via GPS to the top of the chute where the trail should be, but still can’t find it. Skurka warns us not to go off the trail, which only adds insult to injury. We follow various social trails in multiple directions, but none make sense. Standing on a cliff edge, Kevin sees a clear trail far below, but how to get there is unclear. We have to go back up, and do some serious traversing to finally reach it. By the time we zig zag down the now totally easy trail, we are spent. Far shorter on miles than we had hoped, we find ourselves at a reasonable flat spot near water. It is camp.

Tomorrow we will have to do some serious trail miles to make it across to and over Vogelsang, and down to Tuolumne.