Saturday, August 13, 2011

Rock Creek (June 2011)

Not long after JY and I started planning our trip to Havasupai, JY got a 20 person campground at the Rock Creek campground. This canyon is in the eastern Sierras near Tom's Place, and the canyon turns into Little Lakes Valley and one of the trails leads to Mono Pass. I first heard about this area from a posting I saw on Everytrail (here and here) and I've been wanting to go there for awhile. The campground is close to 10,000 ft elevation and the hiking trails can reach 12,000 ft. This would be a great area to hike to see how my body handles elevation. We booked the trip for early June, hoping we might see the start of the spring wild flowers and a few patches of snow. JY was able to quickly fill all of our camping spots, so we'd have a pretty big crew of campers.

We've had a very long winter this year in the California Mountains, so as our trip was looming closer, we realized the hike was going to be snow covered, but the campground itself would not be, even at 10,000 ft elevation. Typically Tioga Pass Rd through Yosemite opens on Memorial Day, but because of the late winter, it remained closed for this trip. Because of the weather, road closures, and other factors, our group of 20 campers became 6. I was actually a bit excited by the road closures, since it would force me to drive hwy 50 to South Lake Tahoe, then work my way down to Owen's Valley via hwy 89. This is an incredibly scenic drive and it was my first time to drive it. I was the last person to arrive at the campground at around 6pm on Friday evening. I quickly set up my tent away from everyone else and close to the river so I could listen to it at night.

Mono Lake and Mammoth Mountain on the drive to Rock Creek.

Heading to the campground.

My tent set up alongside Rock Creek.

Once all the campers made our introductions, it was suggested we drive down to Owen's Valley and find a hot spring to spend the evening in. Nice. I forgot my swim trunks so a pair of shorts would have to do. We ended up going to a hot spring near Lake Crowley. I think it was the Whitmore Hot Springs. They weren't super hot, but quite pleasant, though getting back out after the sun was down was really cold! And I didn't have a towel to dry off with, either!

Me getting ready to get in the hot spring with the Sierras as a backdrop. (photo by JY)

The next morning I got up early and had my first views of the mountains near the campground.

Mt. Morgan in the morning as seen from our campsite.
We hopped in a couple of cars and headed up to the trailhead. After a few miles the road was closed due to snow and we would have to hike an extra mile or two just to get to the trailhead. At this point, the entire hike was in deep snow. I brought snowshoes, but they weren't really needed. My body was quickly reacting to the altitude and I think I ate too much for breakfast and felt nauseous for the first hour and it was a real struggle. Most of the group shot off ahead and formed their own group and JY hung back hiked with me. Our plan was to hike up to Mono Pass and we soon discovered the group ahead of us missed the trail branch heading up the mountain to Mono Pass. JY and I headed up on our own and missed the trail in numerous places. The hike was difficult in the snow, but quite fun! Eventually we reached a section that was impassible due to the snow. Our snow shoes couldn't get us through the deep drifts on the side of the mountain. and it was time to turn back.

Rock Creek Lake

Near the trailhead.

Clouds and snowfall approach as we start the ascent to Mono Pass.

JY trying to get through the deep snow. The trail is about 6 feet underneath the snow somewhere. Just to the left of the shot is a nice 500 ft drop, so you don't want to slip in this snow!
Photo of me as we prepare to head back down. (Photo by JY)

The weather was progressively getting worse as we hiked and by the time we turned around and started to head back down, it was snowing moderately. We hadn't seen any hikers all day and as we were coming down the mountain we saw two hikers in the distance and yelled at them to wait up for us, as we thought they were part of our group that had headed the other way down the valley. Once we reached the two hikers we realized we didn't know them. But after chatting a bit we found out they worked in an office across the street from JY and I back in Novato. Small world! We swapped contact info. (I'm writing this a few months later and we have a future hike planned and these two will be joining us.)

As we approached the trailhead, the rest of our group did catch back up to us so we didn't have to have wait at the trailhead for long. After heading back to camp for a bit, we all headed back down to Owen's Valley. In the short 10 to 15 mile section of the drive, the temperature rose from around 30 degrees to about 75 degrees. We found another hot spring south of Bishop and spent the afternoon warming up after our snow hiking. On the way back to camp, we stopped in Bishop for a buffet dinner.

The next morning we woke up to snow covered tents. We had all considered a short hike Sunday morning before driving home, but a few people needed to be home early for work, so we ended up breaking camp and we all headed home early. I was back in the Bay Area by noon.

Additional photos on SmugMug.

GPS track on Everytrail.

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