TR: Agnew Meadow to YNP, 9/11-14 2019

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torpified
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TR: Agnew Meadow to YNP, 9/11-14 2019

Post by torpified » Thu Sep 19, 2019 4:27 pm

Background and overview: Most of my backpacking trips are solo because, although I do have friends, the ones who like to walk also tend to love furniture (especially beds and toilets) and/or to break out into acrophobic sweats whenever we get some place with a decent view. An exception is my friend K, who instigated this trip. An experienced backcountry skier and (west coast of the Americas) mountaineer, her first idea was to follow the SHR from Devil’s Postpile to Tuolumne. I’m an elderly midwesterner who thus far has only ventured off trial to find places to camp where I don’t have to talk to strangers. I bargained her down to the following plan: on trail from Agnew Meadow to Ediza Lake. Cross-country from there to Thousand Island Lake. Then on trail past Waugh Lake and over Gem, Koip Peak, and Parker passes, through country we’d both been meaning to see, to the Tioga Pass road.

Some recent births and deaths have altered K’s risk assessment calculus in ways she only began to fully appreciate while we were out on our walk. We stayed on trail. And the trail---especially the trail North of Gem Pass---was splendid!

Sept 10: We meet in Mammoth, collect our permit, discover to our delight that all our food fits in my bear canister, and engage in extended deliberation about which tents/stove/pot to carry.

Sept 11: Agnew Meadow to Ediza Lake + side trip to Iceberg Lake. 9.5 m/+2100’/-1200’ (sez CalTopo)

After positioning K’s car at the Mono/Parker Pass TH in YNP, we make our way to Agnew Meadow, which we wander ergodically in search of the River Trail. In a mostly-deserted campground, we encounter a chap, clad like a Antifa activist/duck hunter hybrid, buzzing around on a moped with POLICE emblazoned in block capitals across its trunk rack. (Somehow this seemed much less unusual at the time than it does now.) Eventually we intersect the River Trail and head up it. It's doing booming business and its clientele are in good spirits.

When leave the valley to cut left along Shadow Creek, we break into the open, and start seeing Minarets. (I should confess that I never got straight exactly which pointy rocks were Minarets, so I’m using “Minarets” generically for pointy rocks that could be part of the Ritter Range.) We reach Ediza Lake just as 5 planes in tight formation fly over. I hope they’re military, because I don’t know who else practices enough to get away with that kind of thing. Making our way dry-footed around the S side of the lake to the land of legal campsites is no problem. We drop our packs to scout, and discover dozens of parties already ensconced. I barge into a large encampment set up by a packer-supported group of Bay Area retirees. They have multiple bear lockers and are drinking cans of beer nestled in insulated sleeves. Two of them are kind enough to offer me a real estate tour, during which they point out their companion Leo, 86, who had declined a mule ride in order to walk in himself. We set up in a legal, level, quiet place somewhat above and beyond Leo, and scurry off to have a look at Iceberg Lake.
iceberg lake sm.jpg
“Iceberg” is an exaggeration of the same scale as “Thousand Island”. But there is a lunch-box sized chunk of ice floating on it, and Minarets floating above, and it’s transporting to gaze on in the late afternoon light.

Sept 12: Ediza Lake to Waugh “Lake”. 12.5 m/+2400’/-2200’.

We backtrack toward the JMT. Ediza is almost a looking glass.
lake ediza sm.jpg
The Shadow Lake trail is busy. About a mile from Ediza, parties with canine members converge from opposite directions, and something like a dog park breaks out. The JMT is much quieter, at first. On the walk up to the inflection point S of Garnet Lake that somehow doesn’t deserve to be called a pass, we wonder what an inflection point in the Sierra has to do to deserve to be called a pass. Just past the inflection point, an older fellow headed S asks me to take his picture, with Garnet and Banner in the background. He is like an elfin Werner Herzog, and delivers all his lines in perfectly grammatical but heavily accented tones of lugubrious wonderment. I ask him where he’s headed, and he explains he means to exit at Mammoth, due to repeated nosebleeds. “Also,” he continues. “I left all my energy down at Garnet Lake. But that is OK: it is biological.”

Although I want to follow him S, we continue N, past Emerald and Ruby and a slew of people headed S. I thought we’d see no more Minarets after dropping toward Garnet. Where I’m from, if something disappears beyond the horizon, you can’t get it to reappear by walking FARTHER away from it. But we see them again from the ridges separating the lakes.

We stop for lunch at TI Lake. More dogs are there, with their trail-running humans. So are a trio of PCT-ers skinny-dipping within a few feet of a trail down which are coursing dozens of people who might have been their mothers. I can tell that they’re PCT-ers because they are repeatedly bellowing a small set of profanity-laced inanities indicating as much. We carry on. This is my second time through the jewel lake segment of the JMT, and neither time, despite the post-card perfect settings of the lakes and the fun of popping up and over the ridges dividing them, does that stretch of the trail resonate with me. I can’t tell how much of this is a reaction to the physical setting and how much a reaction to the social one.

The climb to Island Pass is close to imperceptible. Why does it get to be a pass? Maybe because there’s an abrupt transition in the natural surroundings there---- grey granite and blue water cede way to sandy slopes and green trees. Trees will abound until we reach Gem Pass tomorrow morning.

We peel off the JMT and walk east toward Waugh Lake, our destination for the night. It is aptly named. It is aptly named because when we get to a ridge burgeoning with good campsites overlooking it, we go “WHA?” We go “WHA?” because there’s no lake there. The Rush Meadows Dam, which interrupts Rush Creek to cause the lake, is under repair. The lake is drained, leaving behind what is essentially Rush Creek meandering forlornly through a dry lake bed. Lacking any better ideas, we camp there anyway.
WHALake.jpg
Sept 13: Waugh Lake to Upper Alger Lake. 8.5 m/+2300’/-900’.

We get to the dam causing Waugh Lake, when there is a Waugh Lake, pretty quickly, and I am unreasonably interested in it. In a separate event, I’ve been thinking about size effects in concrete fracturing, and dams have a way of making such matters dramatic. Downstream from the dormant dam, K jollies me along an undisrupted Rush Creek. It discloses the way things were beautiful before there were dams.

No one – not the ranger who issued our permits or the rangers who had checked them twice in the field---had given away that Waugh Lake wasn’t so lake-like anymore. With mixed feelings, we tell the people heading up the Rush Creek Trail, only if they ask, that Waugh Lake had suffered a sad change in circumstances. It is with some relief we leave the Rush Creek trail for the trek up to Gem Pass, where there are fewer people to disappoint.

As we approach Gem Pass, gaps appear in the trees. Through them, we can see … Ritter and the Minarets! K snaps pictures and I am too paralyzed by astonishment to react.
Minarets en route to Gem Pass sm.jpg
Gem Pass deserves to be a pass both on the grounds that you need to go uphill to reach it and on the grounds that it marks an arresting transition in what the grounds look like. The pass itself is still mildly forested, and we spend some time there searching around for boulders or easily-scaled trees from which we might have a slightly better view of the Ritter range. Due north, the trees disappear, making way for dramatic views east down the Alger Creek drainage to Silver Lake, and the Owens Valley beyond.
trail N of gem pass sm.jpg
There is cell phone reception here, and we download our messages. This is a seriously mixed bag. The trail remains unencumbered by trees, and spectacular, to Alger Lakes, a glacial chain ornamenting a valley pointing straight at the White Mountain range. We set up camp on the other side of a mini ridge from the trail, about 100’ above the highest Alger Lake.
highest Alger Lake sm.jpg
Coyotes yip. Returning to my tent after an extended chore during which I leave the door unsecured, I worry that I’ll find one curled up on my therma-rest. We each take a new picture of the lower Alger Lakes every time there’s an incremental alteration in the lighting conditions.
sunset over lower Alger Lakes sm.jpg
Sept 14: Upper Alger Lake to Mono/Parker Pass TH in YNP. 11 m/ +2100 ‘/ - 3100’

The morning alpenglow over the highest Alger Lake is sufficient reward for rising at the crack of dawn.
sunrise alger sm.jpg
Our mission for the day is to get up (+1400’), over, and off (-1100’) Koip Peak Pass, and then cruise to the TH. When we’d interrogated one of the few parties we met yesterday about trail conditions, we were told that both sides of KPP were an interminable grind over loose scree. Not for the first time, I wished I had an app that translated other people’s trail condition reports into my own vernacular. On both sides, the trail is merciful switchbacks, almost always with impeccable footing (although I doubt the same could be said about the scree fields it is switchbacking through). The climb up is virtually painless, other than learning from K when I catch up with her---I’d gone down to the highest Alger Lake to fetch water while she set out---that she’s seen both a coyote and a group of boulder-hopping deer while I’ve been running errands. Compared to the effort, the aesthetic awards of the ascent are vast.
looking back at Alger Lakes sm.jpg
As we climb higher, the views S make me pity my former self for being impressed by the views I had last night, and a few hundred feet lower. And the pass itself is ridiculous. Joining the crew to the S, just barely visible over aptly-named Blacktop Peak are [wait for it] the Minarets!
Blacktop Peak from KPP sm.jpg
Due N, over Parker Pass, are alabaster waves of Yosemite granite.
Parker Pass and waves of granite sm.jpg
And E, where the trail headed in a high traverse over snowfields it would be ill-advised to descend directly, is Mono Lake, with its 3 trillion brine shrimp, and its distressingly youthful (600 and 900 years old respectively) volcanic islands.
Leaving KPP sm.jpg
I feel like everybody we meet on the way out are superheroes. A youngish (compared to me) transplant to the Bay Area from France chugging up the N side of Koip Peak Pass has plans to visit Koip and Kuna Peaks on a dayhike, one of many he’s taken in the area since starting to visit YNP fortnightly. Not one but two parties of experienced people out for dayhikes ask where we came from, and beam when we say, “Alger Lakes”---because they’ve been there too, and understand.

We reach the TH, regret not having stashed a cornucopia of wet wipes there, and begin a complicated project of car recovery. On the way back to Agnew Meadow, I insist on visiting Minaret Vista. I surmise that we can see at least the first part of our walk from there, and use its “Key to the Peaks” to situate the path we travelled with respect to publicly recognized landmarks. Only two Old Sierra Hands are also at the vista point, narrating their (sometimes decades-old) exploits to one another. One of them is striking a full Captain Morgan, with his uppermost foot directly over the Key to the Peaks. While I feel that it’s not impossible for me to peer at the Key in order to extract the information---for instance, exactly which of these is Minarets??---I’m after, I also feel like it would be socially unacceptable to do so. After shouting things to one another, such as “were we behind that? What do you think it is called?”, without triggering the desired re-organization of the Old Sierra Hands, we give up, and begin in earnest our process of returning to the real world.
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mckee80
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Re: TR: Agnew Meadow to YNP, 9/11-14 2019

Post by mckee80 » Thu Sep 19, 2019 5:30 pm

Haha. Thanks for the report and pictures. It was fun to read.

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Rockyroad
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Re: TR: Agnew Meadow to YNP, 9/11-14 2019

Post by Rockyroad » Thu Sep 19, 2019 9:16 pm

Thanks for an entertaining report. Your amusing humor is consistent with your profile pic.

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c9h13no3
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Re: TR: Agnew Meadow to YNP, 9/11-14 2019

Post by c9h13no3 » Thu Sep 19, 2019 9:29 pm

Great read :)

New plan: you will write my trip reports. Now I just need to find a photographer to take my pictures, and mine might actually be okay O_o
"Adventure is just bad planning." - Roald Amundsen
Also, I have a blog no one reads. Please do not click here.

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Re: TR: Agnew Meadow to YNP, 9/11-14 2019

Post by The Other Tom » Fri Sep 20, 2019 4:21 am

I enjoyed reading your report and looking at your pics. You really have a way with words..."alabaster waves of Yosemite granite"....great description!

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torpified
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Re: TR: Agnew Meadow to YNP, 9/11-14 2019

Post by torpified » Fri Sep 20, 2019 3:36 pm

I really wanted an image of the Methuselah Tree, an ancient and gnarly redwood that lives down the street from me this year, to be my profile picture. Only I couldn't figure out how to outwit the forum's constraints to make it so. (I seriously spent like an hour trying one night.) The present picture was the almost inevitable result of asking myself, "Does ANY image conform to these constraints?"

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Re: TR: Agnew Meadow to YNP, 9/11-14 2019

Post by wildhiker » Sun Sep 22, 2019 10:45 pm

Very fun trip report. You capture the excitement of seeing new mountain vistas. I've been over Koip Peak Pass twice (most recently just two weeks before you) and I agree that it is a well-made trail with great views. The north side in particular is a trail engineering marvel, in my opinion, with its numerous evenly-graded switchbacks gently ascending (or in your case, descending) a steep scree and rubble slope that would be very difficult to traverse without the trail. And as I ascended, I marveled: why haven't snow avalanches wiped out this trail? The tread is in perfect shape. Perhaps there are no avalanches, despite the steep slope, or perhaps they just pass harmlessly over the trail.
-Phil

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Re: TR: Agnew Meadow to YNP, 9/11-14 2019

Post by Lumbergh21 » Tue Sep 24, 2019 11:35 pm

Thanks for another entertaining trip report.

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