Monday, September 10, 2018

Gem Lakes & Chickenfoot Lake - Little Lakes Valley - Eastern Sierras, California - 9/4/18

Marsh Lake in Little Lakes Valley

Creek Crossing at Gem Lakes

Returning by Long Lake

Reading at the Trailhead
 Twelve hikers in 4 cars, drove 24 miles north on Hwy 395 from Bishop, California. We turned left at Tom's Place and drove to the end of Rock Creek Road. (This includes a mile or two of a one lane road at the end.) We arrived at the Mosquito Flats Trailhead with still plenty of parking available and piled out. This is a nice trailhead with signage, campground, bridge over wide creek, bear boxes, garbage bins and restrooms. Several minutes later, we started up the trail that begins with about a half mile of steps. Soon, we took a group photo at the John Muir Wilderness sign. Then, just after we passed the Mono Pass Trail junction by bearing to the left, we crested out on a hill over Mack Lake. Today, Mack Lake was not very big. It really just looked like a wide area of Rock Creek.

Group Shot at the Wilderness Sign
 From this crest of the trail, we dropped into Little Lakes Valley, a very pleasant hike with little elevation gain and many lakes to enjoy and photograph.

Heading up Little Lakes Valley
 At the bottom of the first little hill, there was a spur trail to the left. We hiked out this trail along Marsh Lake where there was a great reflection in the water of the mountains at the end of the valley. See first photo!

Lots of Steps to Start

California Ground Squirrel
 While we were waiting for everyone to get their photo in the tight space on the trail, we saw this cute little ground squirrel. Fat butt, round ears and short non-bushy tail. Next, our trail crossed a creek on a sturdy old bridge where we got a photo of the group. I'm pretty sure that this creek flows down from Ruby Lake; a lake we would hike to later in the week. The next lake was Heart Lake. You could see the heart design around its border in the grass from the Ruby Lake hike above. Not far from here, we passed Box Lake, the biggest lake so far.

Trail Bridge (Bear Creek Spire Center Right)
 We saw a couple of fishermen at Box Lake away from the trail. Later, we saw that one fisherman had caught a 20" trout from somewhere; maybe not Box Lake, don't know.

Creek running into Heart Lake
 At the end of the valley, Bear Creek Spire, Mt. Dade, Mt. Abbott and Mt. Mills rise up to the 13,700' level. They were in constant view throughout the hike.

Trail to Mountain (Mt. Dade)

Box Lake
Our pace was slow and we were all enjoying the views and photographic opportunities from beginning to end. Hiking 8 miles was new for a few of the club members but everyone did very well. After passing Box Lake, we climbed a little and came to the lower end of Long Lake where we had a second creek crossing. There were big rocks placed in the stream but a few of the rocks were rounded on top. We concentrated and succeeded in not falling in! Then, we started hiking along the shoreline of Long Lake.

Creek Crossing
 The reflection in the water of Long Lake provided beautiful views as seen in the photo below. There was even a little bit of fall color here.

Long Lake (L to R - Bear Creek Spire, Mt. Dade, Mt. Abbott)
 Nearing the top end of Long Lake, we came upon a couple of pikas preparing for the winter. One had a big mouthful of grass which he held onto while scurrying over the shoreline scree. Lettie quickly captured its photo!

Lettie's Pika preparing for Winter

Trail continues up from Long Lake
 Here, the trail begins climbing and the lakes are hidden over the neighboring terrain. We passed the Chickenfoot Lake junction and climbed some more. An old wagon chassis laid next to the trail on this hill. A "Gem Lakes" sign assured us that we were hiking in the right direction, and finally we came to the junction. If you continue straight, the trail climbs to Morgan Pass (this trail is temporarily washed out). We turned right onto the Gem Lakes Trail. The terrain dropped a little into a marshy lakey area as seen two photos below.

Remains of Wagon
 As we hiked along the edge of the marshy lakey Gem Lakes, we enjoyed the serene views.

Lower Portion of Gem Lakes (Mt. Starr to Left)
 Next, the trail took a turn to the right where it came to a creek crossing. This creek connected two of the Gem Lakes with a small waterfall within earshot.

Creek Crossing at Gem Lakes

Bristlecone beside Trail
 The rocks for this crossing were big and flat as seen in the second photo of this entry. There was a small scramble up and over a rock barrier to get to the place where we spent our break viewing the largest and highest Gem Lake. Across from us, there were still a couple of large snow patches that were reflected in the greenish hue of the lake. To the left of the lake from our standpoint, the Dade Lake Loop descent scree field reminded a couple of us of the strenuous hike we had done here one year ago. (See Dade Lake Loop entry!)

Uppermost of Gem Lakes (Dade Lake Loop Scree Field to Left)
 We had a most enjoyable lazy break then had to start our return. There was a 50% chance of monsoonal rain and there were clouds building in the area.

Gem Lakes
 Additionally, we had another lake to visit. Chickenfoot Lake!

Gem Lakes (Mt. Dade)

Taking a Break at Gem Lakes
 We returned down the trail and came to the Chickenfoot Lake Trail junction on our right side. Not sure what we would find here, we bravely made the turn. The lake is found over the hill to the left after climbing a little but we had to figure that out! Anyway, it was a little bit of a disappointment because the shape of the chicken foot cannot be seen from any one viewpoint beside the lake. Perhaps we were just too tired to go scurrying around to find just the right place for a photo. We figured that this lake was used mostly for camping due to the large area where spur trails lead.

Leaving Gem Lakes
 We found a shortcut to get back to the main trail and turned right to go back to the cars.

Clouds build over Mt. Starr
 The clouds were still building but they didn't really appear ominous over our heads. As we hiked, we became less and less worried about them and more and more worried about the three club members we had over on White Mountain.

Chickenfoot Lake

Long Lake
 Nevertheless, this was no time to dilly dally! Just to be sure. We descended back to the cars at a little faster pace. At the top of the many little hills, we stopped and gathered together again. The sky was beautiful in the photos and the light was so different than it was in the morning that we took some of the same photos that we had taken on the way out. Our last gathering spot was at the Ruby Lake/Mono Pass Trail junction then it was down down down the steps. This hike blew us all away! Fantastic start to the Bishop trip!

8 miles; 1200 feet elevation gain; 4.75 hours

Creek Crossing

Box Lake

Gathering at last Half Mile

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