We were back in the beautiful Sierra Nevada for a 4-day backpacking trip in the Ansel Adams Wilderness in Fall 2007. We travelled cross country through a fantastic area with lots of beautiful alpine lakes, High Sierra forests and granite terrain, and scenic views up close to the Clark Range, Cathedral Range, and Ritter Range. This was just to the southeast of the boundaries of Yosemite National Park and within the Sierra National Forest, and we actually briefly hopped the border into Yosemite between passes. The mountains and basins here are the headwaters of the San Joaquin River.
The three of us had a great time and I think we may have been in some of the best shape of any of our trips. I say this because of the all the tough ground we covered, most of the trail was above 8,000 ft, and it even included looping on the same bit of trail three times in one place and having to backtrack (not sure how I’ll count that in the mileage). This was also one of our most remote feeling trips as we only saw a group of fisherman at Lillian Lake early on the second day and nobody else the entire route!
- Area: Clover Meadow, Rainbow Lake, Post Peak, Sadler Lake, Timber Creek
- Duration: 4 days/3 nights backpacking, Sep 4-7
- Estimated Distance: 31 miles
- High Points: Post Peak Pass 10,750 ft, Isberg Pass 10,600 ft. Low Point: Clover Meadow trailhead 7,000 ft,
- Hikers: Jason, Mike, Tom
We drove Tom’s recently acquired extended cab long bed truck out to the Clover Meadow campground at the east end of the Sierra Scenic Byway. The road was over some rugged landscape and there were some nice views along the way. Despite the remoteness, the roadway was decent and it was paved most of the way, unpaved for a couple miles at the end. We got a look at the somewhat ugly Mammoth Pool Reservoir scarring the valley with its low water level, and beyond that were Jackass Rock, Balloon Dome, and Mt. Ritter among the Ritter Range. We passed some wild mountain cows, as we like to call them, and they were quite spry bounding off the road and down the hill when they saw us coming.
When we got to Clover Meadow campground, we found out that Tom had forgotten the bowls and silverware! I had brought my two spoons just in case but we still didn’t have anything for bowls. I prepared spaghetti for supper that evening by boiling water on our fire. We sent Jason to go talk to the neighbors and see if they had extra bowls and silverware, maybe plastic or disposable stuff people might bring on a camping trip. He talked to the single guy on one side of our campsite and then to the boisterous group on the other side.
I fashioned a bowl out of the bottom of a Gatorade bottle that probably would have worked ok, just a little tough to clean. Tom fashioned an impressive wooden spoon from a stick that looked pretty good actually. We heard Jason laughing it up with the neighbors and he was taking forever (our food was done) so we headed over to check out what was going on. Those guys were backpackers too, pretty cool. They said they were in the animated film industry, one was a sound guy or something. They had about 10 years on us and knew their stuff. I went over the map with their trip planner guy. They had bugged Jason a bit because they asked where we were going and Jason didn’t really know. Those guys were hitting the sauce a bit too, and they offered us some but we wisely turned it down. They gave us some Frescas instead 🙂 They had cooked a big roast or something that looked really good but we went back to our spaghetti which wasn’t bad.
The stars were incredible that night above us in camp and the trees sparse enough we had no problem seeing them. In the morning the Forest Service ranger came by and actually lent us some plastic bowls and steel silverware. We just took three bowls and a spoon I think. He was a great guy and we talked with him briefly again before heading out. We got going off to the trailhead around 10am, driving back the way we came a little and then north on a dirt road to a different trailhead – Fernandez Trailhead. It wasn’t far. The trailhead sign read Fernandez Trail System, Lillian Lake Loop Trail, Timber Creek Trail, Post Peak Pass Trail, and Yosemite National Park. We wrapped up the truck thoroughly with a huge tarp Tom had brought so we had less chance of marmot surprises when we got back. Tom didn’t want to take chances after our Sequoia-Mineral King trip. Then we got going pretty quickly.
There were several trail junctions early on but we followed the signs for the Vandeberg Lake and that kept us going the right direction. It said “Vandeberg” on the sign and on my map but I see it as “Vanderburgh” now, so maybe the name was corrected. We took the westerly route closer to the lakes and mountains – Madera Peak, Sing Peak, Gale Peak, Vanderburgh Lake, Chittenden Lake, Staniford Lakes (says Stanford on my map, another inconsistency), and Lillian Lake. Our trail would meet back up with the eastern route after Lillian Lake.
We hiked in beautiful forest with some pretty big red fir trees and smaller lodgepole and western white pines, steadily gaining altitude. We got some great views north and east as we rounded a little ridge early on and then headed west to Vanderburgh Lake. We passed by a wonderful meadow standing right below the cliff coming off of Madera Peak, and then it really opened up as we climbed up over some open granite. We descended down to the dry streambed that was the outlet of Vanderburgh Lake and a minute later we were standing at the shore. It was a great spot to take a break for lunch.
When we continued on, we hiked up over some more shoulders from Madera and Sing Peaks. We caught more views to the massive Mt. Ritter looming far to the northeast. We passed the spur trail junction to Lady Lake and then the one for Chittenden Lake, with a few small lakes along the trail also. The trees were thin here at about 9,000 ft but they got even thinner as we climbed up to Lillian Lake. Here the trail was outlined with placed rocks. It took us just over an hour to get from Vanderburgh Lake to the stone dam of Lillian Lake.
We had decided to take a shot at some cross country travel to get up to Rainbow and Flat Lakes. It looked like maybe 400 ft elevation to get over the hump directly north of Lillian Lake so we did our best mountain goat impressions hiking sideways on the granite slabs. We found use trails up there as well and hoped they would help out. After about an hour of mountain-goating, we came out at a lake which was either Flat Lake or Rainbow Lake. We might have hit the trail to Rainbow Lake and that was it. Since we had plenty of afternoon left, we wanted to continue and try to get up to Fernandez Lakes with a little more off-trail. We headed back up to the trails we were on above Lillian Lake, hoping we could contour back around. But after an hour or so more of hiking, we weren’t getting the route we wanted at all so we just went back to the lake we had been at before to make camp. It was really a beautiful spot.
The next morning, being mindful of the restriction on camping at Rainbow Lake, and not being quite sure what lake we were at, we were careful to thoroughly remove signs of our fire. I believe we were at Flat Lake now checking it after the fact, but we left no trace anyway. We tried again at going off-trail and I seem to remember us being on the same trail for the third time. It ended up being just a big waste of time again. I recall looking through photos on my camera to find we had the same view of Lillian Lake to prove to Tom that we were on the same trail we had been on the evening before. I’m not sure what exactly we were thinking and why we didn’t just try to go straight in the direction we needed. I think there were some granite walls in the way. At this point we decided to call it quits and just go back to the trail near Lillian Lake to get out of this twilight zone of trails. We basically descended really steeply and quickly there and got back on track with about one more hour wasted. We saw a few fishermen at Lillian Lake – the guys we had seen in the Clover Meadow campground on our first night.
The scenery in this part of the trail was very cool as we passed over some nice small streams and by a couple small ponds with neat vegetation. We took lunch near one of those, a marshy pond with reeds everywhere. Most of our distance that day was covered after lunch. The next landmark we hit was the junction with the trail to Fernandez Pass and Rutherford Lake. We had been on Fernandez Trail but here we diverged toward Post Peak Pass and continued passing some streams and ponds with a couple rather large ponds looking almost all dried up. Here we began seeing the “T” blazes marked on trees. I read this section of trail was built in 1905 by the 4th Cavalry under the direction of the acting superintendent of Yosemite, Captain H. C. Benson and the “T” blazes can still be seen on the old lodgepole pine.
After passing the mostly dry Post Creek, we were in for a climb and wanted to get up closer to Post Peak Pass before stopping for the night. We climbed through the trees and had made it most of the way we wanted to in about an hour from Post Creek. But after a break we decided to go a little further and in another hour or so we were above treeline in a wonderful grassy spot with a small rivulet of water running by that was big enough to filter from. Our camp was at about 9,600 ft and right at the base of Post Peak.
In the morning, it was crisp and there was frost on our stuff, but it looked to be a beautiful day. We warmed up quickly enough in our shorts and t-shirts as we started up, and the temp warmed as well. We climbed up the exposed landscape and really got into granite-land now. We had great views back the way we had came. We stopped for a group shot, and with the self-timer going Tom sneezed a couple rapid fire sneezes just as the camera finished. Miraculously he had just finished his sneezes in time and we were all grinning in the photo.
We saw ground squirrels fleetingly here and there along the trail. Higher up, the trail had stone stairsteps as if the trail were cut into the rock. Near Porphyry Lake, there were some tremendously large boulders with different colored rocks within them as if they were concreted together. We made it to the top in about an hour and a half. There were incredible views in both directions.
Most of what we saw from up there all around was bare rock. You really got an idea of the immense batholith that is the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. The trees, lakes, meadows and streams are all subsequent works that Mother Nature added in after mountain building. The Minarets were to the northeast, to the right of Mt. Ritter. We took a 30 minute or so break up here to soak it in. We were right next to Post Peak 11,008 ft.
We had another pass and a lot of miles left today however so we got going and boulder hopped down the ridge, not finding the trail until further down. Triple Divide Peak was to the left along with its incredibly massive bare granite “skirt” that fell down to the hidden Turner Lake. The rest of the Clark Range stretched away west. The bright blue glacial tarns Ward Lakes and McClure Lake came into view way down on our right.
It’s here where the trail switchbacked down the ridge west out of Ansel Adams Wilderness and into Yosemite National Park a bit before hitting the junction that could take you further into Yosemite, or to Isberg Pass where we were going. Thankfully it wasn’t a ton of elevation loss before we started climbing again up the side slope and soon we were back on top at Isberg Pass, next to the sign telling us we were going back into Ansel Adams Wilderness.
My map has our trail from Post Peak Pass to Isberg Pass at 1.8 miles (0.6 + 1.2) but Google Earth has it as 1.0 miles (0.4 + 0.6). The Google Earth one is maybe more likely to be correct since it’s newer. Too bad it doesn’t show any trails around the outside of Yosemite. I’ve noticed other people have instead of following the trail here between the passes, contoured around the east side of the little peak between them.
Rocky switchbacks took us down to the first Isberg lake where we cooked lunch, and Jason took a dip. After that it was more descent and in no time we were upon Sadler lake, which impressed me by how broad and flat the lake shore was. After Sadler Lake, lots more descent, and we were solidly in the trees again.
We caught the junction west toward Joe Crane Lake and began climbing some more. We came up to a nice meadow area with the stream that must have come down from Joe Crane Lake. We weren’t headed to Joe Crane Lake though. We wanted to take Timber Creek Trail on my map which ascended straight south, up to a small lake, and then down along Timber Creek back toward Clover Meadow. This showed as a normal trail on my map but the Forest Service ranger did let us know it was a “primitive” use trail.
As we turned a corner and started ascending more, it felt like we were going toward Joe Crane Lake and maybe we had missed the second junction we wanted to take left. We traced back and reasoned that the trail must be nearby, but we couldn’t see it. It passed the stream on the map so we headed that direction and crossed over and continued our search there. We finally found it behind some large bushes. Unfortunately none of us got pictures of this part of the trail but I remember it well. From there it was a steep climb and the trail was barely defined at all. We traced it by constantly looking for tree markings and yelling back and forth to each other.
It seemed to go on for quite a long time and then finally it levelled off. There was a nice little lake up ahead, basically on a high bench hanging over the big valley to the east. The sun was getting low at this point and it was great to have found it, and especially good that the lake had not dried up as it was a pretty small one. We set up camp, started a fire, and got water. We were at about 9,600 ft again and had an amazing dusk view east toward the Minarets and Mt. Ritter. It’s one of the best views I’ve had brushing my teeth 🙂 up there with the view we had at San Jacinto‘s Tahquitz ridge on Day 2.
We had just about 6 or 7 miles left of mostly descending Timber Creek, then some extra to cross over West Fork Granite Creek and Madera Creek, and past several junctions to get back to the trailhead. No problem! Timber Creek Trail was a long steady descent, and this part of it was well-defined in contrast to what we dealt with on the way up. Eventually we crossed over the West Fork of Granite Creek. It was a pretty large creek but barely flowing at this time so we easily hopped rocks. Then we met up with the Walton Trail which is part of the Lillian Lake Loop that we didn’t take on the way out. Then Madera Creek, and we were basically following the signs (with whatever label made sense at the time) to get back to the Fernandez Trailhead.
After getting back to the trailhead, we drove back to Clover Meadow to return the bowls and spoons to the ranger that had loaned them to us.