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TR- Cherry Creeks, Emigrant Wilderness: Granite, Lakes, Birds, Dogs, and Blue Skies! Oct. 10-8 to 10-13-2020

Posted: Mon Oct 26, 2020 5:56 pm
by Harlen

Me and four old friends (2 human - 2 dog), finally got back into the Sierra.  We spent six very nice days in the Emigrant Wilderness, starting from the Crabtree Trailhead, which can be reached from Hwy 108, just east of Pinecrest.  The hiking began in a diverse conifer forest at about 8,600.'  Carleton originally thought to take us along Kibbe Ridge, but that trail would've begun at a much lower elevation, ~5,700.'  We were happily surprised, and grateful to find ourselves under smokeless, bright blue skies for the entire trip.  After being stalled out for months for fear of enduring, rather than enjoying a backpacking trip, we went in where the smoke seemed lightest, and to a place I have long been hearing great things about. The Cherry Creek watershed has lakes strewn with islands, and vast expanses of glacially polished granite!  After studying the maps, I was interested to find that the Cherry Creek tributary of the Tuolumne River drains a fairly central portion of the Tuolumne River watershed, with the Clavey and North Fork tributaries still farther to the west.  This was my first time in the Emigrant, so I still have a lot to learn about this area.  The nature of the granite formation fascinates me, and I wonder if its massive character (ie.,relatively few jointing planes), explains the unbroken sheets of glacially polished stone, and the sheer amount of exposed granite for the relatively low elevation.   The trout fishery is also of interest; apparently some of the lakes have very good size fish, even rumours of "trophy fish," but then one of the big lakes I thought to camp by-- "Long Lake," and another where we did camp-- "Big Lake," are apparently fishless? 


Casting practice at Big Lake-- the lone circle is my hopeless lure hitting the surface.

By our second day we were camped at the inlet end of upper Buck Lake.  The Buck Lakes are in the Buck Meadow Creek drainage, which is part of the West Fork of Cherry Cr.  It is a dog's paradise, with a shallow water area, and wide open meadows to play in.  Bearzy was baffled but fascinated by meadow voles, whose burrows are under the tall sedges-- he would tilt his head listening, then pounce around like a fox, but come up empty.  Bearzy and Carleton's Malinois "Smokey" raced each other, growling and play-fighting, and generally just being ecstatic!  We stayed on for 2 days at Buck Lk. in order to hike up to the local high point-- "Black Hawk Mountain."  We also climbed along a rising granite terrace to the ridge-top  just west of our lake camp.  This gave us a look into the next valley over, which holds the lovely "Long Lake."  The highlight of that hike, especially for the dogs, was the small lake up under Peak 9397, where they could swim and drink to their dog-heart's content.  We came across it unknowingly, having just decided to climb up the terrace on an early morning's caffeinated whim.  Just when we were beginning to suffer from heat and thirst, there it was--the lake!  


When we left Upper Buck Lake, we circled southeast for 6 miles to the upper end of the long and convoluted waterways of "Huckleberry Lake."  We had only seen about 12 other hikers so far, and after Huckleberry Lake, we saw no one else till the car!  Surprising, because we were on well-used trails for half of the time, and the lake and river country from Letora Lake on was spectacularly beautiful!  Okay, I'll now show the trip chronologically with pictures:

Cherry Creeks Trip Oct. 2020.png

Here's the crew, minus Smokey and me.  We got a late start, so only made it 4.5 miles in, to the thin lake, right by the trail.  

There's Smokey with her buddy.   Carleton is an ornithologist, so every bird counts-- we saw a total of 31 species, including some really nice birds, like golden eagles, crossbills, kingfishers, white-headed woodpeckers, red-shafted flickers, and even Canadian geese!

  We were worried about waking up in a pall of smoke, so a sunrise like this was especially nice. 
  Upper Buck Lake.

  We fished from this cliff, with this amazing view!


 Frosty mornings.

Posted: Mon Oct 26, 2020 6:23 pm
by Harlen
Saturday was meant to rain or snow, so we headed up the valley early in hopes of either climbing Black Hawk Mt., or fishing the big Emigrant Lake if the weather packed in.  

Where's our mountain?!  Black Hawk is not exactly a soaring pinnacle; it's the high point on the dark ridge. 

Near the top, the rocks turned from granite to a colorful volcano-clastic formation.  The route up was easy, but long (~4.5 miles each way).  It got windier as we got higher, but the weather held for us.

View north down to Relief Res.  This country drains into the West Fork of the Stanislaus River. 

We had pretty clear views all around.  The view north east showed off Relief Peak and Molo Pinnacle, and left in the distance is Leavitt Peak.

 This view east connects with the previous photo.  Peaks in the distance, left to right are Walker Mtn. Flatiron Butte and Hanna Mtn, Hawksbeak, and then Tower.

Having already made the summit of Black Hawk, we are now attempting the even steeper climb to the western summit; you can see Frank here, fearlessly climbing along the exposed ridge. C. is braced against the rocks, belaying F. with 6 lb. fishing line :nod:

 Black Hawk's lower peak, only made difficult by the wind.

  After being blown off the ridge, we hiked back down through this beautiful high valley, and then the forest below.


 Dark granitic inclusions; strange that they were so concentrated in this small area.

Happy dogs back down in the meadows.    

Re: TR- Cherry Creeks, Emigrant Wilderness: Granite, Lakes, Birds, Dogs, and Blue Skies! Oct. 10-8 to 10-13-2020

Posted: Mon Oct 26, 2020 6:47 pm
by Harlen

 Alone again at our great Buck Lake campsite, looking for squirrels.

 We followed the current no fire-no stove rules, and missed hot food and drinks.  We found that by mixing the powdered milk, coffee and sugar, and then shaking the heck out of it, we could create foamy cold lattes.  At least we got the caffeine in us.

 Frank saw some scat on the trail that I had missed, and later he asked me whose it was.  His rough description lacked the necessary details though, so I told him next time to note the size, shape, and composition, and even the smell if he can, as these are all good indicators...the taste doesn't matter so much because pretty much all scat tastes like shite. ;) This new scat was an enigma to us-- full of fur, and tapered at both ends, but without the characteristic twists of a marten or fox, and fox's tend to be blunt on one end.  It smelled very pungent and foxy-- any experts out there?  We did see a LOT of bear scat-- they were eating sedge, and old acorns, among other things.

Next morning Carleton and I decided to hike up the near ridge to the west, for a view down to Long Lake.  It was a wonderful route mostly on great granite slopes, and ridges.


  The red trail in the forest marks the way to Emigrant lake from the valley above Buck Lakes.  It's just 2.6 miles or so from the top of Buck Lakes to the inlet end of Emigrant Lk.  One could make a longish day hike to fish or explore that big lake area.  I believe I read somewhere that there are restrictions for camping by Emigrant Lk., so this day trip may be a nice way to do it.

Another shot of that magical lake that surprised us up on the ridgetop.

Long Lake below, with the "Three Chimneys" in the upper right. 

We visited the lake again on the way down.

Adiantum, or 5 Fingered Fern."

Lower Buck Lake (?)

Re: TR- Cherry Creeks, Emigrant Wilderness: Granite, Lakes, Birds, Dods, and Blue Skies! Oct. 10-8 to 10-13-2020

Posted: Mon Oct 26, 2020 7:19 pm
by Harlen
The way to Huckleberry Lake, down the east side of Buck Lakes, was very nice to travel, and it became stunningly beautiful when we reached Letora Lake.  The 4 images below are from the west end of that scenic lake: 



Bigelow Peak in the background.


We dreamed of having a canoe here.  We wondered how heavy the lightest blow-up raft would be... and if we could use our dog bowls for paddles?  Frank has an old folding kayak-- had I should say, as it was burnt up with his house; but it was too heavy for long carrys, but there may be super-light models.

Dropping down to Huckleberry Lk. from upper Buck Lk. is an easy 6.5 miles.  Bigelow Peak is on the border of Yosemite, just about 5 miles from the most northerly point in the Park-- correct?

The forested ridge above Huckleberry Lk. is on the YNP - Emigrant border, and the rocky ridge beyond is a couple miles inside the Park.


This is the biggest rainbow trout I've ever caught in the Sierra.  And if I could have held it closer to the camera it would have been twice as big!  The bend in the pole shows the great weight of the fish, which I estimated at somewhere
between 1 lb. and 10 lbs.  ;)

[Smokey] We had no luck seeing the big animals-- not a deer, marten, coyote, fox, ...  We looked and looked for bear, and found lots of fresh bear scat, even bear paw prints in the mud, but only saw one small, reddish-colored bear-- see next photo.

 There he is!  The good thing was that it followed us all around.  Anyhow, for the most part, there are no photos of animals other than our own dogs-- sorry. 

Huckleberry Lake is over 2 miles long

Re: TR- Cherry Creeks, Emigrant Wilderness: Granite, Lakes, Birds, Dogs, and Blue Skies! Oct. 10-8 to 10-13-2020

Posted: Mon Oct 26, 2020 8:05 pm
by Harlen
Our route evolved as we went, and as we all felt fine on the fourth day, we decided to make a longer circular trip of it, and include some off-trail exploring.  So instead of just circling Huckleberry Lk., we hiked 5 miles down the East Fork of Cherry Creek through Lord Meadow, to our lowest elevation of 7,000.'  We went off-trail from there up the creek that flows from Yellowhammer Lake, and that turned into one of our very favorite parts of the trip, walking over that fascinating, polished granite landscape. 

The lower end of Lord Meadow, at the bottom of the North Fork of Cherry Creek, was down to just a few pools, not all of them good for drinking.

We all swam in this one.

Amazing glacial polish!

Are there other places like this in the Sierra?  I used to hold up the glacial polish around the Cascade Lakes in 20 Lakes Basin as the best I'd seen, but this is on another level!

The polished granite in this photo connects with the slope in the photo above, making for a truly vast area of glacially polished stone.

We crossed over the ridge which separates Yellowhammer Lake from Big Lake just before sunset.

Sunrise was beautiful again; we all think that this wonderful lake deserves a better name than "Big Lake," just as "Long Lake" might also have been better named.



A Bear swimming in Pingree Lake.

 We've hiked back up 1,200' here to reach Pingree Lake, yet another very scenic lake which we had to ourselves.  A trail, complete with old horse ****, did come to the lake.  We used it for a mile, and then cut north through a small saddle to descend  to Buck Meadow Creek.  The creek route a half mile west would have been a better and more direct path, but looked steeper on the topo.  We returned via the Bell Meadow Trail, re-entering the forest of giant conifers, and we only retraced 1.3 miles.  

We were so pleased to see the dogs on easy dirt trails in shaded forests, and swimming daily in the lakes, and running through wet meadows.  For once, this was a truly dog-friendly trip.

Reflections on our trip:
We went in simply hoping that we'd find our way around the smoke; and if it was not unhealthily smoky, we figured to at least enjoy some fishing, and playing with the dogs.  We made minimal plans, thinking we needed to be flexible-- ready to retreat high or low to avoid smoke, or to just find the best of the fishing lakes, and hang out there for most of our days.  When we found ourselves in a clear blue paradise, we got to formulate a whole new set of plans.  We enjoyed opening the maps, and choosing some climbs, and a new, longer route.  It worked out really well, so there must be a lesson in there somewhere.... maybe the secret is to bring more maps and less plans?  

With the no cooking rule, fishing was of less interest.  Catch and release fishing is new to me, other than freeing small fish. I was so keen to get the fish released unharmed, that I didn't get the enjoyment of "playing them" on the way in, and instead of admiring their beauty, I just scrambled to get the hook out, and them back in the water.  I did try to file away the barbs, which helps a lot, but I was lucky to have mostly hooked fish in their lips.  I wonder about the subtle tricks to catch and release fishing that I need to learn.  For instance, I imagine treble hooks are all wrong, and do you try not to set the hook deeply? 
As for eating and drinking cold stuff, we made out fine, but did miss the hot drinks, and ramen soup at night.  Bearzy and Smokey did very well for themselves, as we had brought such large amounts of cheese, salami and jerky. 

By the end of our trip, I think we were all happily impressed with this new part of the Sierra. We had such a good time, but was that due to our happiness just being back in the Sierra, and the surprise of clear blue skies?  I did love the newness of it; and the rumours of great fishing; and the sign of so many bears. Though it lacks high, jagged peaks, the Emigrant has such a lot of fine granite showing through, and amazingly scenic lakes, and polished stone creek beds. and, and... I think we all want to return.

Re: TR- Cherry Creek Country of the Emigrant Wilderness: Great Granite, Lakes, Birds, DOGS*, and Blue Skies! October 8-1

Posted: Mon Oct 26, 2020 8:44 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Anxiously waiting the rest of the story! I have seen very big fish in lower Buck Lake. Did you try to fish it? I have never heard of restrictions of camping at Emigrant Lake, except that a few specific campsites are off limits. The water in the smaller lakes looks so low! I have camped at Latora Lake on one of the numerous peninsulas off the main trail. It was a bit of a pain getting there, but well worth the effort. Off-trail travel in that area is pretty brutal. In spite of dealing with mosquitoes, I prefer early summer (after peak flows) to mid summer for Emigrant Wilderness. The wildflowers are wonderful and it is so lush and green. Early Fall in wetter(high snow) years is also very good.

Hey- you beat me to it and posted the rest of the story just as I was writing this!

Re: TR- Cherry Creeks, Emigrant Wilderness: Granite, Lakes, Birds, Dogs, and Blue Skies! Oct. 10-8 to 10-13-2020

Posted: Mon Oct 26, 2020 10:05 pm
by Harlen
So it's nice in the early summer too? We wondered what those smooth granite creek beds would look like with a heavy flow of water. We must have lucked out with our off-trail travels-- it was pretty straight forward, and enjoyable. We only fished in the Upper Buck Lake, and it was pretty spotty fishing. I casted around here and there, but only got hits, and the one big rainbow in that berry big lake. Nancy, what can you tell us about all of that polished granite down around Lord Meadow? Have you figured out how much area it covers? All the best.

Re: TR- Cherry Creeks, Emigrant Wilderness: Granite, Lakes, Birds, Dogs, and Blue Skies! Oct. 10-8 to 10-13-2020

Posted: Tue Oct 27, 2020 6:40 am
by balzaccom
It is lovely in the summer. We've done many trips there. And that sheet of granite around Big Lake should be world famous. But then it would also be packed with people. It's much better the way it is.

Re: TR- Cherry Creeks, Emigrant Wilderness: Granite, Lakes, Birds, Dogs, and Blue Skies! Oct. 10-8 to 10-13-2020

Posted: Tue Oct 27, 2020 7:33 am
by sekihiker
What a great trip and report. I'm not sure I could have done without a stove.
I love that smooth granite. I've never seen anything like it. I thought it was snow when I saw the photo.
I'm sure the big fish was closer to the upper end of the weight estimate. It was HUGE.
Thanks for sharing in a season that has lacked reports. You are a real innovator. However, can't figure out why you didn't fill the bear can the rest of the way up with whiskey. Or, did you?

Re: TR- Cherry Creeks, Emigrant Wilderness: Granite, Lakes, Birds, Dogs, and Blue Skies! Oct. 10-8 to 10-13-2020

Posted: Tue Oct 27, 2020 10:39 am
by Harlen
Sekihiker writes:
I love that smooth granite. I've never seen anything like it. I thought it was snow when I saw the photo.
I'm sure the big fish was closer to the upper end of the weight estimate. It was HUGE.
Thanks for sharing in a season that has lacked reports....
Hi SekiBill,

Thanks for the comments. You're one of the geology professors around here, is there any merit to my glacier polish hypothesis? Wouldn't massively-jointed granite defeat weathering processes, ie, be harder to pluck from, and thus more likely to become the sheets of polished rock we saw? How much might result from the type of granite-- the size of the crystals, and their relative hardness? What about the great polisher itself-- the glacier and perhaps the quality of the material at its base? Okay, enough of these academic pursuits; now on to your whiskey question:
However, can't figure out why you didn't fill the bear can the rest of the way up with whiskey. Or, did you?
First, I prefer sweet brandy to whiskey-- judge me if you like; and this trip I did a really stupid thing. I took the Ursack instead of the Bearvault, but I am so used to filling the solid bear can with brandy along with the food, that I did the same with the fabric Ursack, and the f*%&#$g stuff just leaked out all over the inside of my pack, soaking my z-bag and all! Live and learn I guess, or do we unlearn at our age Bill?

p.s. Per usual, BS'ing about my fish. My biggest ever is still small-- it might have made 15" if I stood on it.