TR: McGee, Hopkins, Grinnell Lake, and smoke, 7/27/18-7/30/18

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Tamarack
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TR: McGee, Hopkins, Grinnell Lake, and smoke, 7/27/18-7/30/18

Post by Tamarack » Sun Oct 14, 2018 10:08 am

This was my one backpack trip of the year, prompted by my son who had not been able to find the time for a trip for 7-8 years due to work and family responsibilities. But the stars aligned for him in late July and he was excited to be able to squeeze in a 3 night 4 day trip. There were a couple of aspects of the trip that were somewhat unusual and perhaps of interest, so here is a trip report.

I had reserved a permit out of Lake Sabrina, intending to go over Haeckel Col, which I have crossed a couple times in decades past, then back over Lamarck Col to North Lake. But a rockslide closed the road up to Lake Sabrina a few days before our trip, and all other trailheads of interest were fully reserved. So we decided to take our chances for a walk up permit. With a late start from Berkeley, we didn’t arrive at the Lee Vining permit desk until early afternoon on a Friday, and it was quite smoky from the Ferguson fire and other fires around the state. I was not optimistic about getting a permit for a Friday entry in peak summer season. Surprisingly there was space available for two at the McGee Creek trailhead, so we took that. The smoky conditions probably had resulted in some permit cancellations. We were set on going despite the smoke.

The itinerary I decided on from McGee Creek was identical to a trip I had done myself 15 years earlier, which was to circumnavigate Red and White Mountain and its immediate neighboring peaks, over Hopkins Pass and back over McGee Pass, with highlights being Laurel Creek, Grinnell Lake, and the pond-dotted environs west of Red and White Mountain.

By the time we hit the trail it was nearly 3pm. Lack of acclimatization, lack of pre-trip conditioning, excess weight, age, and probably the smoke made the first several miles a major challenge for me. But I willed myself up to Big McGee Lake, where we arrived around sunset. It was quite smoky.

Fortunately the next morning was clear, and I felt much better. My son commandeered my camera the entire trip, and he enjoyed playing around with the panorama mode.
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Heading up from Big McGee Lake toward Hopkins Pass, flowers were still prolific in wetter areas.
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Another panorama, looking north from Hopkins Pass. I considered telling my son that we would be returning over McGee Pass to the right of this view in three days time, but thought it better not to, lest I be accused of planning yet another marathon trip.
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At Hopkins Pass we met the only other hikers we would see until three days later down below Big McGee Lake. I shared my trip plan, which was to descend to Mono Creek and ascend steeply back up to Laurel Creek, then gradually up to Laurel Lake and Grinnell Lake. This couple was a husband and wife from Bishop, veteran hikers themselves. The husband suggested that we consider going cross country over “Grinnell Col” and he pointed to a saddle on the ridge. He had not done that route himself, but had thought it looked like a reasonable route. I remembered looking at that ridge from Grinnell Lake 15 years ago and wondering if there was a shortcut over it from the Hopkins Creek area to Grinnell Lake. So I decided we would give it a try, even though it would mean foregoing the lovely walk up Laurel Creek to Laurel Lake, which was a favorite area of mine, among many favorites.

The ascent up to the saddle from Upper Hopkins Lake was not difficult. At the saddle I was greeted with a south-facing view of the shoreline along two of the three lobes of Grinnell Lake, and of the smoke that was again rising from the fires to the west.
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I had anticipated seeing a route around the lake along the eastern shoreline, but that did not appear to be the case. I knew that there was no route around the other side of the lake below Red and White Mountain. (Out of curiosity I did some research later, and learned that the actual crossing from Grinnell Lake to Hopkins basin is from the peninsula on the eastern shore up to the saddle on the ridge above the peninsula.) Anyway, we decided to descend to the lake and see what it looked like. The initial descent was sliding and plunging through very loose gravelly rock. Halfway down we contoured west onto firm rock and were able to pick a scrambling route down to the large flat peninsula on the northeast side of the lake.
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The next morning.
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We wished we could have had a layover day here to relax and enjoy the peaceful solitude of this beautiful place. But we needed to get our gear across the lake. We inflated our two sleeping pads and put them inside one of our bivy sacks, along with a fully extended lightweight tripod for extra rigidity. It took three trips across and back the roughly 40 yards at the narrowest point between lobes to get all of our gear across. Here’s a self timer shot with smudge on the lens and hiking pole handle.
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A couple of gallons of water seeped in and got the sleeping pads wet, but they dried quickly in the warm sun. We decided that this could be an excellent method for providing a shortcut across a body of water if necessary in midseason when the water temperature is tolerable. We also remarked that multi-lobed Grinnell Lake would be wonderful to explore on a raft, if only there were one lightweight enough to carry backpacking.
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Tamarack
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Re: TR: McGee, Hopkins, Grinnell Lake, and smoke, 7/27/18-7/30/18 pt. 2

Post by Tamarack » Sun Oct 14, 2018 10:28 am

We meandered slowly up to Bighorn Pass, in no hurry to leave this beautiful basin. At the pass we decided not to contour directly to Shout of Relief Pass, but opted instead to descend to Rosy Finch Lake for an afternoon break. At the lake we discovered what appeared to be a rather fresh rockslide that had extended quite far into the lake as can be seen in the left foreground.
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The rockslide also had resulted in material from the lake bottom being deposited onto the shore some distance away. It must have been quite a sight to see and hear. Starting to hike up along the inlet creek to Shout of Relief Pass, we saw that the slide had actually been from the bed of the inlet creek itself.
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I had read that there had been a forecast of heavy rain a couple of weeks earlier, and perhaps a heavy downpour was the cause of the slide, as well as the one on the Sabrina road.
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By the time we were nearing the pass, the smoke was rapidly thickening.
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And by the time we stopped for the day at the pond-dotted basin on the other side of the pass, the smoke was the worst of the entire trip. We actually put on the respirators for a couple hours that we had brought as a precaution for just these conditions.
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But as was the pattern, the next morning the air was clear. We set out north to find the McGee Pass trail.
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The trail passes through beautiful meadows before it starts climbing to the pass. This is looking back down trail from where we had come.
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The older man happy to be at the pass.
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Another panorama shot, of the lake on the way down from McGee Pass. A very stark landscape, but with striking colors.
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As the trail traversed above Big McGee Lake, the starkness gave way again to prolific flowers.
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A last shot in the meadows below Big McGee Lake before taking off down the trail at a fast pace, hoping to get back to the bay area before very late—for the one of us who had to be at work early the next morning, that is.
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Re: TR: McGee, Hopkins, Grinnell Lake, and smoke, 7/27/18-7/30/18

Post by kpeter » Sun Oct 14, 2018 1:46 pm

Wow! Fording a lake! How deep was it where you crossed?

Some very nice photographs. I really enjoyed them!

September 2017 I think I stopped to photograph that same hill beside the trail for flowers on the way down to Big McGee.
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Look familiar?
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Re: TR: McGee, Hopkins, Grinnell Lake, and smoke, 7/27/18-7/30/18

Post by Harlen » Sun Oct 14, 2018 6:45 pm

Thanks for the really fine and fascinating trip report. We loved it for many reasons- first and foremost because we so look forward to a future of backpacking with our sons- if we are as fortunate as you. Second, because you have reminded us (and shown us with some truly stunning photos) that trips in from McGee to the Mono Divide country are well worth repeating; we are always looking for dog-friendly areas.
And lastly, we loved your trip for the adventurous route you chose, and the crazy shite you guys got into! Did you really have to cross and re-cross that freezing water?! And it was very cool that you keyed into that slide phenomenon.
We look forward to many more of these excellent trip reports of yours, Cheers, the Harlens.

p.s. One of our friends was right into panos; this is halfway up Redslate from the west
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Re: TR: McGee, Hopkins, Grinnell Lake, and smoke, 7/27/18-7/30/18

Post by wildhiker » Sun Oct 14, 2018 10:33 pm

Great report on really beautiful country.

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Re: TR: McGee, Hopkins, Grinnell Lake, and smoke, 7/27/18-7/30/18

Post by Tamarack » Mon Oct 15, 2018 8:45 pm

Thanks to all for positive feedback on the trip report. This is truly a very enjoyable site on which to share, read about, and comment on our experiences. In regard to crossing Grinnell Lake, the lake bottom dropped off fairly quickly away from the shore and we couldn't see the bottom as we crossed, so it must have been at least 20 feet deep. Three times across and back pulling a load was quite exerting in the cold water, but was feasible with the warm air temperature. Looking at such beautiful scenery made the exertion much easier of course.

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Re: TR: McGee, Hopkins, Grinnell Lake, and smoke, 7/27/18-7/30/18

Post by sekihiker » Wed Oct 31, 2018 9:38 am

Great photos of a great trip. Thanks for posting.

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Re: TR: McGee, Hopkins, Grinnell Lake, and smoke, 7/27/18-7/30/18

Post by Harlen » Wed Oct 31, 2018 11:36 am

Hey Tamarack,

We love your photo of the Aqua green lake on your day out over McGee Pass. Can you please tell me which lake and from what direction you took it from? I am killing my back peering at the map at my knees, and at your photo on the screen trying to figure it! I gave up, and decided to prevail upon you guys for the answer. (My best guess is that it's the Little McGee Lk., looking to the northwest???)

Thanks, Ian.

p.s. We are still enjoying your Trip Report. I think we'll take 6 days on it though, and will somehow avoid the freezing swim!

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Re: TR: McGee, Hopkins, Grinnell Lake, and smoke, 7/27/18-7/30/18

Post by maverick » Wed Oct 31, 2018 12:17 pm

We love your photo of the Aqua green lake on your day out over McGee Pass. Can you please tell me which lake and from what direction you took it from? I am killing my back peering at the map at my knees, and at your photo on the screen trying to figure it! I gave up, and decided to prevail upon you guys for the answer. (My best guess is that it's the Little McGee Lk., looking to the northwest???)

Harlen,

It is Big McGee Lake, taken from the northwestern side, a little off-trail heading towards the small lake west of BML.

PS Your right RR, should have been Little McGee Lake.
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I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

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Re: TR: McGee, Hopkins, Grinnell Lake, and smoke, 7/27/18-7/30/18

Post by Rockyroad » Wed Oct 31, 2018 1:34 pm

maverick wrote:
Wed Oct 31, 2018 12:17 pm
We love your photo of the Aqua green lake on your day out over McGee Pass. Can you please tell me which lake and from what direction you took it from? I am killing my back peering at the map at my knees, and at your photo on the screen trying to figure it! I gave up, and decided to prevail upon you guys for the answer. (My best guess is that it's the Little McGee Lk., looking to the northwest???)

Harlen,

It is Big McGee Lake, taken from the northwestern side, a little off-trail heading towards the small lake west of BML.
Are you sure it's not the tarn between McGee Pass and Little McGee Lake? This was taken during this year's meetup, probably a day before the other photo. Now that I'm looking at this, I don't recall if this is the tarn or Little McGee Lake itself. I'll have to check my other photos tonight. However, it is not Big McGee Lake.
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