TR: Duck, Pika, Purple, Ram and Virginia Lakes

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Wandering Daisy
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TR: Duck, Pika, Purple, Ram and Virginia Lakes

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Jul 23, 2019 4:32 pm

My one-way from Duck Pass TH to McGee Creek TH was nixed when the Caltopo showed a snowy McGee Pass and frozen Tully Lake. So I did a loop, staying north of Tully Hole. On the drive, I picked up two PCT hikers at Echo Summit and took them into Tahoe. I then took the road that directly drops to Minden, which was longer than my usual route over Luther Pass, but in addition to helping out the PCT hikers, I filled up with much cheaper gas! At Mono Visitor Center I got my permit plus a lecture on why I had to move my food from the Ursack to the bear can and ill-advise that crampons were not needed. Overall it was a mixed-bag trip- not my normal backpacking style, but a pleasant mix of backpacking, day-hiking, pondering each night what I would do next and a mixed of solitude and crowds. But as they say, any day backpacking beats a day scrubbing floors.

7/17. Emerald Lake TH to Pika Lake. 4.3 miles, 4 hours, 1720 feet gain.

I had a difficult time finding the trailhead, having to wait for an open parking space. I then just took the first trail south (not aware that I was on the Emerald Lake trail), lost the trail in snow, veered left and picked up a use trail which then ran into a much larger trail just below the Arrowhead Lake junction. Other than mud and a few snow patches, I quickly made it to Barney Lake early enough to continue over the pass. There were snow patches, but all could be detoured or walked on when not steep.
0607_Duck Pass_Small.jpg
On top of the pass I met a couple who had turned back, saying that the snow gully on north side of Duck Lake was very dangerous and impassable. I headed to Pika Lake, where I found a great campsite up on the ridge between the two lakes. Just as I arrived, so did three young fellows, who had twice crossed the snow gully, once inbound and now outbound. They said it was short but scary; a “fall-you-die” thing. Evidently getting onto the footprints from the melted out sides was the most difficult. After setting up I tried fishing Pika Lake (not even sure there are fish in Pika Lake). After dinner and evening photographs I was tired and went in the tent. Thankfully there were no mosquitoes.
469-71_Pika Lk_small.jpg
0475_Pika Lake_small.jpg

7/18. Pika Lake to Ram Lake. 7.1 miles, 6 hours, 1950 feet gain (plus about an hour fishing/hiking).


I awoke early and fished Duck Lake for about half an hour, not getting a bite, but saw a fish trapped in a little pool on the shore. There was a light frost on the grass down by Duck Lake, which may explain why there were no bugs; which may explain why fish were not feeding on the surface of the lake.
483-84_Pika Lk_small.jpg
I packed up and left at 9AM deciding to try to detour the snow gully. At the high point of the trail, I hiked off-trail easily traversing and went over the buttress for only a 175-foot extra gain. There were snowfields on the final climb but I could scramble up talus and then traverse the nearly flat snow on top, with only sun cups being tedious. A nice easy drop down a grassy valley ended in a 150-foot steep drop the last tenth mile to intersect the trail.

Crossing the outlet of Duck Lake, I met two fellows who said the fishing at Purple Lake was “hot”. The PCT was in great shape and full of JMT and PCT hikers. I reached Purple Lake early enough that I decided to go up to Ram Lakes. Passing a small side creek to Purple Lake there were tons of fat fish, evidently spawning.

Once off the PCT, I was alone. The Ram Lakes trail was in better condition than in 2010, but the two creek crossings required wading and to my surprise, I was swarmed by horrible biting blackflies. There were a few snow patches and lots of muddy and swampy sections, but overall it was easy to follow. I was becoming tired, regretting I had not just taken the PCT to Lake Virginia. Oh well, here I was. The last bit to the upper Ram Lake was tricky, over lots of little cliffs. But I pretty much followed a faint use-trail. The three Ram Lakes are not like what is shown on the map! The upper two lakes are connected and a creek with a waterfall connects the middle and lower lake. The metric contours do not show all the little cliffs.
0506_Lower Ram Lake_small.jpg
After much indecision, I finally settled on a nice sheltered campsite at the western edge of the upper lake. At 3PM I set up camp, took a bucket bath in the lake that still had a large snowfield floating on the water (brrr!) and washed clothes. There were a few baby mosquitoes but they did not bite. I walked around taking photos and fishing the remainder of the afternoon. I only saw one small fish between the lower and middle lake and caught nothing. But it was a beautiful setting and weather was perfect.
498-99_Ram Lake_small.jpg
0492_Ram Lake_small.jpg
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Re: TR: Duck, Pika, Purple, Ram and Virginia Lakes

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Jul 23, 2019 4:44 pm

7/19. Ram Lake to Purple Lake+ day-hike to Lake Virginia. 7.4 miles, 6.4 hours, 1070 feet gain


As I packed up I pondered what to do next. It was not easy to get up to Franklin Lakes with the steep snow plastered to the northeast hillside that I had previously taken, the creek crossing would be difficult and early morning sun was not optimum for photographs. All that added to the purported “hot fishing” at Purple Lake, I decided to just return, fish and day-hike to Lake Virginia.
532-33_Purple Lk_small.jpg
I returned the same route, this time the creek crossings were lower being early morning. Unfortunately the black flies were still bad and mosquitoes also started to appear. I quickly set up down by the little inlet stream with all the fish, took a quick dip plagued by blackflies, set up my fishing rod for later and then quickly left on a day-hike to Lake Virginia. There are still a number of snow patches on the PCT but the trail was overall in great shape. I roamed around the north shore and inlet area before returning. Lake Virginia was much more open and breezy with significantly less bugs; I regretted not camping there.
537-38_Purple Lake_small.jpg
Back at Purple Lake, fishing efforts netted nothing! The fish were spawning and not interested in biting. The blackflies were so bad I packed up and moved to the top of the hill above me, hoping for a bit of a breeze. Then I fished the outlet, seeing many fish rising out of my casting range. The few that were rising within range were not interested in eating! Needless to say, dinner was a bug-fest, continually walking while eating to avoid the bugs. This was the low point of the trip. I retreated to the tent, listened to music and again, pondered “where next?”

7/20. Purple Lake to Lake Virginia; day-hike to Franklin Lk at 11,100; fish and photograph. 10.7 miles, 7.6 hours, 2265 feet gain

I must say this was the best day of the trip! After a 5AM bug-free breakfast, I decided to return to Lake Virginia and day-hike from there to the Franklin Lakes. A bug-free, cool shady hour and quarter and I reached a nice camping area on top of a hill, 50 feet up and northwest of the outlet with a nice little creek for water, a great view of peaks, a beautiful little pond below and a nice breeze. Although hidden from the PCT, I could still hear all the noisy PCT hikers.
0542_Virginia-Glen valley view_small.jpg
After an inordinate amount of time taken to select my exact campsite (there were too many good ones) I finally set up and took off for Franklin Lakes. I was familiar with the beautiful little valley to the northeast that leads to the pass to the Glen-Glennette Lakes valley; it was lovely as ever, easy walking, lush green, full of little ponds and no bugs! Once over the pass the northeast-facing side of the next valley was almost solid snow, but the center and southwest facing sides were snow free and all the little ponds and lakes were open water.
543-544_Glen-Glennette Valley_small.jpg
I crossed the valley and climbed up the ridge with a view north to Ram Lakes (I could see my previous campsite!). I then dropped down a steep sun-cup loaded snowfield and up to the next ridge where I could look down on lakes between Franklin Lake and Ram Lakes. I then dropped to the lake at 11,100 feet. I am not sure if this is considered the lowest Franklin Lake or the uppermost Ram Lake. It is a smaller lake below the larger Franklin Lake. There were many tiny almost translucent baby fish in the lake and a steep snowfield that reached out into the lake. I had hit my turn-around time and the soft snow, steep slopes and huge crotch deep sun cups precluded going farther into the upper basin. I did not see a single person on this hike.
0546_Ram Lakes_small.jpg
0556_LowerFranklin Lk_small.jpg
0559_LFranklinLk_small.jpg

Next I walked the JMT to the switchback for a view down to Tully Hole I knew the trail crossing at Lake Virginia was flooded so I took my crocks but for easier photographing I did not take trekking poles. The trail was thigh deep, and to stay on the rocks to the side was mid-calf, but without trekking poles, a bit tricky balancing. The PCT was a mix of snow patches, flooded trail, and dry dusty sand and a busy place. Trees block expansive views so I photographed bits and pieces. The route to Hortense is quite a climb! Returning to Lake Virginia, it seems to be the standard “strip naked and jump into the lake” rest stop, with plenty of whoops and screams! I had a quieter and less public bath at my campsite.
0568_Tully Hole View_small.jpg
I fished and photographed from 4:30 to 6:30. Fish were spawning up the small meandering inlet stream. Someone had caught one because there were salmon-colored eggs lying on the ground. I did not even get a bite; photographing along the north shore was more productive. My campsite was sheltered in timber so I moved out a spot with a better view for dinner watching the late lighting and shadows. At 8PM I retreated to the tent. According to my Garmin watch I had done 34,000 steps- about 15 miles! Unlike street walking, backpacking “steps” include lots of little steps such as camp chores but my feet felt like 15 miles.
0581_northshore_LkVirgina_small.jpg
583-85_northshore_LkVirginia_small.jpg
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Re: TR: Duck, Pika, Purple, Ram and Virginia Lakes

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Jul 23, 2019 4:55 pm

more photos from camp at Lake Virginia
579-80_Virgina_CampMeadow_small.jpg
583-85_northshore_LkVirginia_small.jpg
594-5_LkVirginia_pond_reflection_small.jpg


7/21. Lake Virginia to Duck Pass TH. 8.8 miles, 5.7 hours, 1670 feet gain (3095 loss)


The plan was to camp at Barney or Skelton Lake. With an early morning start I stayed in shade much of the walking to Duck Lake. Again, I hiked up over the snow gully reaching Duck Pass in an hour. It was Sunday and the rest of the hike was crawling with day tourists. I got to Skelton Lake at noon and decided I would just walk out.
612-13_Barney Lk_small.jpg
Soon I became concerned that nothing was familiar. At that point I did not realize that I had come up the wrong trail. My memory is getting worse every year, but really! When I reached the trailhead, the parking lot was strange. Then I looked down to the lower parking lot, realizing what I had done. Thank goodness I am not quite ready for the assisted living memory unit.

A few more photos
IMG_0467_Pika Lake camp.jpg
486-88_Ram Lake_small.jpg
0550_Lower Franklin Lk_small.jpg
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Re: TR: Duck, Pika, Purple, Ram and Virginia Lakes

Post by windknot » Tue Jul 23, 2019 8:17 pm

Another great report and photos as usual! Thanks for taking the time to share with us.
You can read a few backcountry reports here: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/

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Re: TR: Duck, Pika, Purple, Ram and Virginia Lakes

Post by SSSdave » Tue Jul 23, 2019 8:52 pm

Especially liked the morning image of Pika Lake with its very nice mixed land/snow reflections. On our upcoming trip we will camp well above the trail at the northeast end of the lake where groups probably never climb up to camp at. The black flies at Purple may have something to do with the very green wet marshy slopes north of the lake. Topography shows it probably receives a deep winter snow pack due to southwest storm winds that stack snow up at the base of those steep slopes. When we visited the basin above Purple in 2016, we base camped lower down at Glen Lake.

Brought up Google Earth to see what you were referring to as a dangerous steep ravine spot along the trail, then went back to older satellite dates that showed where snow lasts longest. Thus now see that spot at ~3235 that I don't seem to recall during our 2015 trip. Quite resourceful climbing up above the buttress, well done. A gamble you after looking at the map no doubt were wondering about was whether you would find that snow field on top continuing down on the other side where it becomes steep again leading back to the trail.

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Re: TR: Duck, Pika, Purple, Ram and Virginia Lakes

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Jul 23, 2019 9:20 pm

The detour was no gamble, because I could have either had to turn back at the snow chute or just turn around if there were snow on the other side. Either way, it would go or not. One can always retreat. I had alternate trips if I were forced to go back to my car. Did not hurt anything to try.

I suspect that the trail will be clear pretty soon so it will be no issue.

It will be a while before the Ram Lakes and Franklin Lakes green up. They are pretty stark right now. Lake Virginia was absolutely lush with grass. I did not notice many flowers; not sure if it was too early or there just are not a lot of flowers there. The Indian Paintbrush along the PCT looked past prime and faded.

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Re: TR: Duck, Pika, Purple, Ram and Virginia Lakes

Post by tlsharb » Wed Jul 24, 2019 8:33 am

Daisy, really surprised at the fishing side of the trip. I thought you'd kill 'em, but seemed kind of slow. I really loved the hike from Purple up to Ram. That is some beautiful country.

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Re: TR: Duck, Pika, Purple, Ram and Virginia Lakes

Post by Wandering Daisy » Wed Jul 24, 2019 9:23 am

I admit that I did not try that hard to catch fish. I had a limited number of flies, none that looked like black flies (which were the dominant flying bugs on the shores). Purple Lake was hard for me to fish, because of lack of open areas for back-casts. I caught a tree or two. I think I would have been more successful if I spin fished instead. Best fishing seems to be early morning, but I am always reluctant to cook fish in the morning. I think a serious good fisherman could have caught plenty of fish.

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Re: TR: Duck, Pika, Purple, Ram and Virginia Lakes

Post by rayfound » Wed Jul 24, 2019 10:41 am

Very nice daisy. I did a similar trip a few years ago and the trek up to RAM was definitely a bit more overgrown and difficult to follow than I'd expected.

We XC trekked from ram directly to Virginia down the chute above Glenette to the ponds above virginia, which worked great actually, then continued down Tully Hole, and back up camping at the base of mcgee pass. I really found ram lakes and tully hole to be scenic - the vistas from Tully hole being some of the most dramatic I have experienced.

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