Sunday, August 28, 2016

Leave The Sierra National Forest Alone

Dale Matson

The background on my response can be found here:

There is recent advocacy to designate the Sierra National Forest as a “Monument”. Deanna Wulff has been the spokesperson behind this idea but the Sierra Club is also involved and favors monument status. The Fresno Bee is also sympathetic to the idea and provided a rather biased platform for Ms Wulff in their article. I sent a 200-word letter to the editor opposing the monument status for the Sierra National Forest and it was not printed so I now am expanding on my concerns here.

Let me begin by correcting some inaccuracies in the article. There is closer to 50 miles of the PCT not 20 miles contained in the Sierra National Forest. The endangered sheep are the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep not the California Bighorn Sheep. Additionally, The map shown in the Bee article lists only two wilderness areas in the Sierra National Forest John Muir and Ansel Adams Wilderness. There is also the Dinkey Lakes and the Kaiser Wilderness.

First there is the politics of the decision. There has always been a rivalry between the U.S. Forest Service that views forests as resources to be harvested and sources of recreation, and the National Park Service with its “hands off” limited access perspectives.  Advocates of the monument status would really rather see the National Park Service manage the forest and monument status could change federal oversight to the National Park Service. One commenter referred to them as the “Gold Standard”. Ask folks who live near Yellowstone Park who lived through one of the worst forest fires in park history because of the “let burn” policy that got out of control by the National Park Service.

Second, Most of the Sierra National Forest is designated “Wilderness”. The spirit of the Wilderness act of 1964 was to “Leave No Trace”. I don’t know what one could accomplish in the way of preservation by adding National Monument status to the Sierra National Forest. One more layer of “protection” only adds to the confusion. As someone who has traveled thousands of miles on trails hiking and backpacking, I have had to reserve wilderness permits to travel on those trails if I intended to stay overnight. Access is limited on each trailhead in the Sierra National Forest each day for those wishing to stay overnight. The trails in the Sierra National Forest are disappearing. We need more access not less access.

Third, in the article Kevin Elliot the supervisor for the Sequoia National Forest and Monument stated, ““Some folks thought by designating the monument, surely that will bring some additional funding to address those objects of interest, and that didn’t happen and I don’t see that happening, to be honest,” Elliott says.

Fourth, I don’t see controlled burns as the answer to thinning forests.
As a Central Valley Resident, we already breathe some of the worst air in the U.S.

The Bee is portraying this as a “grassroots campaign” when in fact it is strongly supported by the Sierra Club which recently had one of it’s founding members Joseph LeConte name removed from the LeConte Memorial in Yosemite because he had made racist remarks. Are they also going to propose that the topographical maps have all references to his name removed also?

Ms Wulff is well intended but misguided in thinking that more protection will not mean less access. It is the same mentality that advocated for “protected’ status for the mountain lion when the lion was not an endangered or even threatened species. Now the mountain lion, an apex predator, with no population control is expanding beyond traditional boundaries and what is referred to, as “human encroachment” is actually mountain lion encroachment. The mountain lion has become the single biggest threat to the reestablishment of the truly endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep in their historic Sierra range.

The biggest argument against making the Sierra National Forest a monument is the example of the Sequoia National Monument where nothing really changed for the better.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Over Mono Pass From The Mosquito Flat Trailhead

Dale Matson

(Note: This is not the Mono Pass in Yosemite)

Click On Photographs To Enlarge

Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. In this case, the disappointment of losing the trail to Fourth Recess Lake is offset by some of the most beautiful Eastern Sierra Nevada scenery I have seen yet. I am not the best off trail navigator and have only myself to blame.  As you can see by the topographical map, I got off the trail to Fourth Recess Lake, navigated to the main trail thinking it was the spur trail and walked for quite a distance west on the main trail before realizing I was not on the spur trail to Fourth Recess Lake.
The milage for this two day hike was about 20 miles.

I had plenty of water and just decided to make camp for the night along the trail and head back the following morning. The irony is that I could see Mt. Mills, the glacier below it and the steep wall above Fourth Recess Lake from the main trail.

The five-hour drive to Bishop to pick up my reserved trail permit was uneventful and I parked at the Mosquito Flat Trailhead (elevation 10,300’) at the end of Rock Creek Road. I was on the trail by 10:00am and the temperature was already climbing. I have hiked out the Little Lakes Valley trail over Morgan Pass before but this time I took the fork to the Mono Pass Trailhead. This is more of a climb with Mono Pass being over 12,000’. The mountains and Little Lakes Valley are in view much of the climb. The switchbacks are civilized as you climb above Ruby Lake. There is a cutoff trail to Ruby Lake, which is mostly used by day hikers. I thought about adding this and then thought better of it.

Once you arrive at the pass (there is no sign) the view south is just wonderful. The initial view north is a snowfield and Summit Lake, which is in stark contrast to the barren surroundings. As I looked to the north, the sky looked threatening. I thought to myself, “I’d better get lower ASAP. It began to rain and sleet with lightning and thunder all around. I put on my rain gear, covered my pack and cameras and continued on. The varied sky made for wonderful views to the north. The immense canyon separating the Mono and Silver Divides came into view with Red and White Mountain, Mount Crocker, Mount Hopkins and North Mount Stanford in the background.

The trip down to Trail Lake was steep on legs that were beginning to tire. I went down by the lake to resupply water and had to find my way through a maze of campsite use trails back to the main trail, which runs, above the north shore.
Now the trail to Golden Creek (Downstream it becomes Mono Creek) from this point it would be possible to reach the boat landing at Edison Lake in an additional day. Some folks take this as a trans-Sierra route. The trail became steep and slow for me. Once across the creek. 

I headed west toward the junction with the trail to Fourth Recess Lake. At the signed junction I begun heading south knowing I would have to cross the creek once again. Shortly after this the trail just seemed to disappear.

I slept fairly well that night and broke camp by 7am. The sun had returned and I did pretty well climbing back up to the pass. Another nice thing about an out and back is the scenery you missed outbound. After the climb a couple of nurses I had kept pace with dropped me like a bad habit on the descent. I was glad to see the trail sign for the John Muir Wilderness once again knowing my return hike was almost over. I drove back to Bishop and got the last room available at the Comfort Inn. The following morning I drove back to Fresno.
Some of my photos are out of sequence since I used two different Sony Cameras.

 Little Lakes Valley Below

 Ruby Lake
 Near The Pass Looking South

 If You Can't Be At The Place You Love, Love The Place You're At
 Fourth Recess From The Main Trail
 Mono-Sliver Divide
 Summit Lake Looking South

 Mount Morgan With Lakes Below
 Rock Creek

 Mule Train

 Threatening Sky
 Summit Lake Storm Coming

 Trail Lake Outbound
 Crossing Golden Creek
 Trail Lake 

 Keeping Pace With The Ladies

Ruby Lake Zeiss Batis 18mm f2.8

There is a YouTube video slideshow with addition graphics here.   

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Courtright to Red Mountain Basin

Dale Matson

Click On Photographs To Enlarge

Hike Route
This hike was three days and two nights covering 39 miles with an overall elevation gain of about 5,000’.

Many of my backpacking trip ideas come from day hikes. Last year I reported on a day hike to Hobler Lake out of the Maxson Trailhead at Courtright Reservoir.

Looking at the map after the hike I thought it would be interesting to stay on the Blackcap Basin Trail until the Hell For Shure Pass Trail and follow it northeast. The nice thing about a preliminary day hike is the familiarization with the driving, parking, and initial part of a trail. Plan “A” was a three-day 2-night hike. I hoped to hike to Hell For Shure Lake the first day, do a day hike to Martha Lake in Goddard Canyon and return to Hell For Shure Lake for the second night. Then I would hike back to Courtright the following day. My plan “B” was better suited to my advanced age and this is the story of plan “B”

 Maxson Trailhead Sign
 Maxson Dome
 Trail Leaves Dusy Ershim OHV Route

 Maxson Meadow

 Small Meadow

 Post Coral Creek

 Greg And Gates

 Disappointment Lake
 Small Unnamed Lakes On Way To Hell For Sure Pass
 Hell For Sure Lake With Mt. Hutton
 Red Mountain From Pass
 LeConte Divide
 Horseshoe, Iceberg and Devils Punchbowl Lakes
 Fleming Lake
 Red Mountain Basin
 Disappointment Lake
Heavenly View Of Hell For Sure Lake
 Hell For Sure Pass Without Signage
 Mt. Goddard
 Goddard Canyon From Pass
 LeConte Divide
Fleming Lake

I left Fresno at 4am and arrived at the parking area for the Maxson Trailhead by 6am. It was cool since the trailhead elevation is about 8,200’. Daybreak is a great time to start a hike since the daytime temperatures were in the triple digits in Fresno. The trail from the trailhead is dry down to Post Coral Creek this time of year. The trail initially drops down to and follows the infamous Dusy-Ershim OHV trail for a time and then breaks off. Hiking on the west side of the Sierra Nevada one must be more patient since the trails generally wind through small meadows and timber with no immediate view of the mountains. This is not like traveling on the east side of the Sierra.

The trail then climbs until near the junction with Hobler Lake and unfortunately drops to the starting elevation by the time you get to the Post Coral Creek crossing. It is important to note that at this time of year, this is the first flowing water available before the long climb to Fleming Lake. Soon after you cross the creek there is a sign on your right on a tree indicating the junction of the trail to Blackcap Basin and the trail to Hell For Sure Pass.

And….you guessed it, the trail begins climbing in earnest once again as you head northeast to Fleming Lake. Along the way I met Greg and his seven year old son Gates. They spent the previous night near Post Coral Meadows and were headed to Disappointment Lake. We got to know each other on the difficult 1,500’ 4.5 mile climb to Fleming Lake (elevation 9,700’). Gates led the way and I was happy to find a sitting rock in the shade every time he took a break. When we arrived at Fleming Lake the scenery began to open up. There were several nice campsites on the east side of the trail as it passed by the lake.

It was early afternoon and Greg and I both thought Disappointment Lake was doable. It was another 2.5 miles with a net gain of about 600’. There were times when we crossed smooth granite with Cairns to mark the trail. Many of the topographical maps indicate a split in the trail that rejoins itself between Fleming and Disappointment Lakes. I saw only one trail. Additionally, I saw no evidence of a side trail leading to Disappointment Lake. Once we saw the lake from the trail, we headed down cross-country toward the northeast shore. My Garmin GPS had the distance at over 15 miles, which is my limit. Greg did a wonderful job of teaching and affirming Gates. Greg had been in this area with his father 25 years to the day earlier. There were no sundown photographs for me since I was in my tent by 7pm, exhausted.

I was up at dawn the following day and planned on hiking to Hell For Sure Pass. While this is only about a mile and a half and 1,000’ of gain, I struggled during the steeper part of the climb with a minimal amount of gear and camera equipment. The route was sketchy at best and I was off the trail for about a third of the hike. The low morning sun made trail finding difficult. I absolutely loved Hell For Sure Lake with Mt. Hutton (elevation about 11,900’) directly south of the lake.

Looking east from Hell For Sure Pass (11,286’) one can see the LeConte Divide, Goddard Canyon and the giant Mt. Goddard (13,563’) to the east. When you are at the pass, Red Mountain (nearly 12,000’) is immediately north. Joseph LeConte named many of the features in the Red Mountain Basin. From the climb to the pass, you can see other basin lakes like Horseshoe, Iceberg and Devils Punchbowl.

I returned following the trail and arrived back at camp by noon. It was then I decided that it would be better to move camp down to Fleming Lake for a “shorter” hike out the next morning. I broke camp and said my “good byes” to Greg and Gates who were headed overland to Bench Valley the following morning. I arrived at Fleming Lake about 3pm and made camp. I slept better that night but the trip back to the trailhead was long on tired legs. I ran out of water on the climb from the creek and put a chlorine tablet in a liter bottle that I filled with stagnant creek water and then later transferred to my Katadyn filter cup.

Overall, the weather was good, the insects were few and I should have planned for an additional day to get to Martha Lake in Goddard Canyon.

There is a YouTube video slideshow with additional graphics here: