Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Dade Lake Loop (Eastern Sierras) - 9/7/17

Dade Lake

Rock Creek in Little Lakes Valley

Talus Field Descent to Gem Lakes

Little Lakes Valley Trail
Dade Lake sits at the base of Mt. Dade and to the right of Bear Creek Spire that rise at the top end of Little Lakes Valley of the John Muir Wilderness. The wilderness is located in the Inyo National Forest in the Eastern Sierras and the trailhead, found at the end of Rock Creek Road out of Tom's Place, is named Mosquito Flat Trailhead. Dade Lake is not a normal terminus of a hike up into the valley but requires a very strenuous scramble up and down large boulder sized talus fields. That said, the hike is one ten club hikers will never forget!

Rock Creek passing through Heart Lake
Again, we arrived early at the Mosquito Flat parking lot and easily found a space.

Heart Lake
We climbed the initial stepped trail and passed the Mono Pass Trail junction.

Box Lake

Crossing Small Creek
Here, large lakes began appearing on the left side of the trail. First was Mack Lake, then Marsh Lake. Both of these were set back from the trail with a lot of very green grass growing in their shallows. The trail had become quite flat and we hiked without much effort. After these lakes, Heart Lake spread widely on the left with Rock Creek pouring into the lake from the top end and emptying out on the end above Marsh Lake. We stopped for a few watery photos then crossed the creek on a wooden bridge.

Hiking Little Lakes Valley Trail
We saw Bear Creek Spire in the distance for most of the hike up.

Arriving at Long Lake
We crossed the creek again without the aid of a bridge. We were becoming pretty good at crossing water on protruding rocks.

View from Long Lake Meadow

A short walk through a meadow area brought us to Long Lake, the first lake on the right side of the trail. As we walked along the rock wall next to the lake, we saw several beautiful columbines and a new flower named Ranger Buttons! American Paintbrush was also prevalent in the mountains here. We were surprised that there were still so many flowers blooming this late in the summer. We meandered along Long Lake then regathered at the far end where a small unsigned trail turned off to the right. We followed it and immediately were inundated with bird-sized mosquitos!

Talus Field for Ascent to Treasure Lakes
We covered up and used bug spray then followed the small trail that forked to the left. (The right fork probably circumvented Long Lake.)

Climbing Talus Field
Our trail began climbing up through a small canyon ravine ... or draw.

View Back at Midpoint

Gathering at Talus Field Midpoint
In the distance, we saw the boulder-sized talus field climbing up to the next shelf. Yep! That was our route! When we neared the field, we began our climb, boulder hopping up and up. Eventually, we found that a "trail" lies in part on the right side of the field. That's where we naturally ended up so, probably, that's where everyone naturally ends up! We stopped to regather about midway then continued up. Early on, we realized that there was quite a lot of water flow underneath our feet and the boulders we stood on. It was a weird feeling!

Arriving at Treasure Lakes
Finally at the top of the boulders, we came to a large lake as seen in the photo above. This was only one of four lakes in the immediate area.

Four Treasure Lakes from Above
From this point, we crossed the boulders to the left side of the lake and began climbing the hill. A faint cairned trail led the way.

Gem Lake and Descent Talus Field

Climbing up to Small Knoll
As we reached the opposite side of the hill, we came to an overlook of Gem Lake. We would eventually descend another boulder field that tumbled right down to the edge of this lake. But, for now, we continued our climb up the knoll weaving among more boulders. At the top of the knoll, we could see two lakes. The small lake in front of us was unnamed. The lake that was further away and to the right was Dade Lake. To get there, more bouldering was required. At last, we hiked down into a sunken area and came to the edge of the iceberg-filled lake. Mt. Dade was behind it to the right.

Dropping to Dade Lake (Still on Talus)
We took our break here and thought that our descent would be easier than the ascent with the use of a trail. Au contraire!

Arriving at Dade Lake
So, we left Dade Lake exiting stage left. We had to cross a dirty snow field then start bouldering again. We had to walk on top of the big boulders because there were so many that we couldn't even see the ground underneath.

The Group taking a Break at Dade Lake

Crossing Snow to Loop Around
We passed that other lake then proceeded to stay high on the left. Finally, we had to come down and this small descent was quite steep ... on boulders! While waiting to regather again, we enjoyed our surroundings of a large snow patch and the boulder field precipice. Then, down we went. We picked our own path but there really wasn't an easier way for most of the descent. The "trail" seemed to follow the middle ridge for a short distance. Luckily, all ten hikers were capable of the descent and everyone made it down without serious injury.

Downclimb on Talus
We arrived at Gem Lake at the bottom of the talus field. A real trail down never materialized.

Jerry arrives at Gathering Spot First
The general consensus was that that was enough scrambling for at least a month!

Tim stands at Talus Precipice

Individual Descents
From Gem Lake, we followed the spur trail back out to the Morgan Pass Trail and turned to the left. We passed the spur trail leading out to Chickenfoot Lake then descended down to the top end of Long Lake where our loop was completed. From here, we retraced our steps past Long Lake, Box Lake, Heart Lake, Marsh Lake, and Mack Lake. The Mono Pass Trail junction was next, then the stepped trail back to the cars. It had been quite a long day but worth the fun and effort. This route is only recommended for experienced hikers and is quite the workout!

10 miles; 1850 feet elevation gain; 7.5 hours

Gem Lake

Hiking over to Morgan Pass Trail

Returning on Little Lakes Valley Trail

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