TR: The Meadows of Roaring River Country (November 2018)

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creekfeet
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TR: The Meadows of Roaring River Country (November 2018)

Post by creekfeet » Tue Dec 18, 2018 7:33 pm

Note: I don’t normally take photos on my trips, but decided to snap some shots on this one. Unfortunately it was super hazy most of the time, and evidently my phone doesn’t work once it gets too cold, so I only have photos from the first two days, and they're nothing special.

Preamble: As a coastal Californian, I never knew the joy of a snow day as a child. However, now that I teach I got to experience my first cancellation of school, although it was due to the tragic Camp Fire. I had the next week off school anyway, so I figured I’d sneak in a trip I’d originally set aside for next summer. The original plan was to check out Deadman Canyon, because although I've explored Roaring River Country fairly religiously, I'd somehow never gone down the Elizabeth Pass Trail. Naturally I wound up spending almost my entire trip elsewhere.

The drive up the hill was pleasant and uneventful except for the fact that the girl working fees was wearing the standard issue NPS cowboy hat, a rare sight indeed. I wasn’t really sure if the road to Big Meadow would be open or not, but luckily it was. I stopped at the Baptism Pools for a minute before continuing up to the Sunset Meadow trailhead where I slept in my car for the night.
baptism.jpg
Day 1: I woke up with the rising sun, and rearranged my backpack for about the fifteenth time before hitting the trail. Rowell Meadow looked lovely with it’s golden hues of Autumn. From there I bee-lined to Comanche Meadow. While it was a little bit hazy, this stretch of trail offered some nice views of Mt. Silliman, Ball Dome, and other distant peaks. Comanche Meadow continued to be my least favorite named meadow I’ve been to in the park.

The next stretch of trail towards the RR station is notoriously hot, dusty, and to some dull. Even on a freezing cold day with nary a pack mule in sight, it was still hot and dusty, comparatively speaking. I was really looking forward to seeing the quaking aspen leaves as they decay to Autumn colors, but I was too late, and the aspens were all down to their birthday suits. I had lunch at Sugarloaf Meadow, which is an absolutely beautiful nook.

Pressing on I jumped in a part of the Roaring River that wasn’t frozen because I’m an idiot, but also because I’ve never done a backpacking trip where I didn’t swim. It actually felt pretty good. I got to the RR station with plenty of light to spare, so after chilling on the porch for a bit, I pressed on up Deadman Canyon until I found a nice little campsite near a creek crossing.
rowell.jpg
sugerloaf.jpg
Day 2: Lower Deadman Canyon was pleasant, but nothing really blew me away. As a big fan of history, I really enjoyed seeing the grave site for which the canyon gets its name. Originally I had planned to climb up from Ranger Meadow to the lakes on the west side of Glacier Divide, but after freezing my tail off at 8,000 feet the night before, the thought of climbing 1,000+ feet to freeze my tail off at 10,000 feet seemed pretty unappealing. I continued up the trail before detouring to Big Bird. Sitting on the shore of the lake was the only time I experienced wind the entire trip. It never ceases to amaze me how some of these huge alpine lakes can create their own micro-climates.

From Big Bird I went to the chain of lakes to the northwest, and went over the pass to Ferguson Canyon. I’d accidentally gone over this pass years before when trying to get to the Tablelands. It was more pleasant this time around. The drop down to Ferguson was a blast as I descended all these leveled plateaus. The Hanging Gardens of Ferguson. Long Meadow was something else. I’m not sure there’s a bigger meadow in the park, and it’s gorgeous to boot. The ox-bow creek running down the middle was mostly frozen, and I spent a good chunk of time skating down the ice. After a long day of exploring, I hung my hat near the meadow’s northern terminus.

Years ago I got separated from my pack on an over-ambitious exploration of the Tablelands and wound up sleeping with my map as my only blanket. I mention this because sleeping in Long Meadow was hands-down the coldest night I’ve ever spent in the Sierra.
deadman.jpg
plateau.jpg
creek.jpg
Day 3: Thawing out took quite some time. I’m not exactly sure what time I started walking because it was so cold that my watch froze, although I got pretty good at using a compass and a stick as a sundial. Leaving the creek bed, I started up the east slope towards a tiny, unnamed lake. For such a small lake, it had a great cirque, and looked quite picturesque with its dark waters surrounded by golden grass. On top of the ridge there were occasional cairns. Cairns in completely random off the grid places were a major theme of my trip. Eventually they more or less led to Scenic Meadow. I’m not sure if this one or Long Meadow is more aptly named. Although the marshy features had lost some of their vibrance in the coming winter, I was blown away by the contrast of the bright yellow grasses against a backdrop of deep purple mountains.

The mountain in the immediate vicinity was Barton Peak. I’m not a peak bagger in the slightest, but this one was a gimme. It only tops out at 10,370 feet, so the views were obscured by trees. Nonetheless, there were spectacular views over Deadman and Cloud Canyons and Sentinel Ridge.

While it wasn’t a difficult climb it left me pretty beat, and I wasn’t sure where I wanted to make camp for the night. I was debating between heading back towards the RR station, or lighting out for Ellis Meadow. Not having made up my mind, I meandered off in a line kind of between the two. Before long I could see Ellis off in the distance, which took me by surprise. It didn’t look terribly far as the crow flies, so I decided to go for it.

The topography of Roaring River country is so bizarre. There’s all kinds of plateaus, and there’s so many gulches and bits of micro-topography that don’t even show up on the 7.5 map. The land between creeks is dark, spooky, and at times disorienting. Not wanting to take any chances of getting lost, I basically walked to Ellis in a straight line, crossing both branches of Ferguson Creek. Lucky for me, I emerged from the forest right at the foot of the meadow just in time for sunset. Ellis Creek was near bone dry, and the little water to be found was all frozen. I had to smash through some ice just to scoop up some “nutrient rich” water.

The first time I visited Ellis Meadow four years ago, I considered it the most beautiful place I’d ever seen in my life. On this trip I went bed to thinking it was the third most beautiful meadow I’d seen that day. Still a lovely place to camp, though.

Sidenote: Has anyone ever been to the lakes just north of Ellis Meadow on that plateau? I have to imagine they’re right up there in the least visited/most obscure category.

Day 4: I woke up cold and ready for a shower. I intended to follow the cairned route down Box Canyon, but after losing the trail in the immediate vicinity of the meadow I completely altered course and started walking straight towards Sugarloaf Dome. The route down to the canyon floor was dry, steep, and ruthlessly efficient. At Sugarloaf Meadow I ran into two guys, the first people I’d seen all trip. We talked for a minute before one of them asked to see the sole of my shoe. I was kind of delirious at that point, and did so without question. The hike back to the trailhead was a little more difficult and steep than I remembered it, but ultimately uneventful.

I got back to my car in good time, and cruised down the scenic road back to the General’s Highway. Much to my chagrin the gate was closed. However, after some sly detective work I realized it was only dummy locked, so the gods were on my side.

Aftermath: Overall it was an incredible hike, and I have plenty of reason to go back someday and see these sights at a time of year when everything isn’t dead. Deadman Canyon has the hype and trail, but I don’t think it holds a candle to the beauty of East Ferguson Canyon.
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sekihiker
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Re: TR: The Meadows of Roaring River Country (November 2018)

Post by sekihiker » Tue Dec 18, 2018 8:30 pm

I got cold just looking at the photos and reading the report. Thanks for sharing.

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Re: TR: The Meadows of Roaring River Country (November 2018)

Post by tomba » Tue Dec 18, 2018 9:25 pm

What days in November was your trip? I would like to compare the amount of freezing with my November trip.
Has anyone ever been to the lakes just north of Ellis Meadow on that plateau?
I don't see any nearby lakes north from Ellis Meadow on the map. Did you mean south?
one of them asked to see the sole of my shoe.
I guess they saw your shoe prints on the trail and wanted to see if they were yours. This way they would know whether to expect more people there. This time of year there are few people and shoe prints on trail last a long time.
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Re: TR: The Meadows of Roaring River Country (November 2018)

Post by oldranger » Tue Dec 18, 2018 10:59 pm

I've been to the lower pair of lakes s of Ellis and except the portion of your trip between Deadman and Ferguson (which I have done several times on foot) have covered all of your route many times on horseback when the Roaring River Ranger. Subsequent rangers have not ridden off of maintained trails as much as I did so many of the old cowboy trails are probably pretty sketchy now. I'm pretty sure the trail that used to connect E. Fork of Ferguson with the trail down the W. Fork is completely overgrown from reproduction of lodgepoles after fires in the 70s. I know in 2000 when I hiked down the west fork and neared the old junction of the trails (just a couple of hundred yards s of Ellis Meadow) that the trails were completely blocked by downed trees and the reproduction. I also remember then that following the trail past Ellis was difficult due to the downed trees but once past Ellis it was still easy to follow. Yep all those moraines paralleling the two fergusons can be confusing but I had the routes down. The only part that was different every time was the part between Little Jack Meadow (tiny patch of meadow over the ridge to the w of Scenic Meadow) and Scenic Meadow. Scenic Meadow was the destination of one of my last patrols as a ranger. I was sent up to disassemble a snow survey marker so a helicopter could drop by and remove it.

By the way what a great trip. Glad you had passable if cold weather.
Mike

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Re: TR: The Meadows of Roaring River Country (November 2018)

Post by iHartMK » Wed Dec 19, 2018 1:13 pm

What a great trip report! We did a trans-Sierra back in July starting at Sunset Mdw. trailhead and going all the way to summit Mt. Whitney and out through Lone Pine. The first few days of our trip was the same as your TR.
I was wondering where exactly is the Baptism Pools? I know the Big Meadow road pretty well But I don't think I know where that's at..
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Re: TR: The Meadows of Roaring River Country (November 2018)

Post by Flamingo » Wed Dec 19, 2018 1:48 pm

Thanks for sharing your TR @creekfeet -- It's neat this part of the Sierra in it's late-season glory.

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Re: TR: The Meadows of Roaring River Country (November 2018)

Post by Satyr » Thu Dec 27, 2018 4:16 pm

We walked into the Roaring in the beginning of October and it was already getting cold enough. We continued to walk down Sugerloaf Creek to the confluence with Ferguson and camped at a great site there. Then we hiked into the Roaring a couple of days for some fabulous fishing. The travelling in there is brutally rugged but the Roaring River is gorgeous. We were in for 6 days and never saw another person.

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Re: TR: The Meadows of Roaring River Country (November 2018)

Post by creekfeet » Mon Jan 07, 2019 10:39 pm

Tomba- I did mean the lakes to the south. Initially I was going to try to visit them, but they truly are off in the middle of nowhere. I was in the backcountry from 11/17-11/20. As a person that's pretty much never spent time in cold weather, I have no frame of reference, but I would guess it was in the low 20's at night.

iHartMK- The Baptism Pools are where the road crosses Boulder Creek shortly before the cutoff to Sunset Meadow. There's a little turnout and a fisherman trail leading up to them. It's just a colloquial name, but I've always thought it was more creative than just calling it Boulder Creek.

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Re: TR: The Meadows of Roaring River Country (November 2018)

Post by rightstar76 » Tue Jan 08, 2019 5:57 am

They wanted to see the sole of your shoe? What an odd request. That would have made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Hopefully, as tomba wrote, it was to find out if they had the place to themselves and nothing more. I definitely would have been eager to move on. Liked your pictures. They really show what it's like before winter arrives.

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Re: TR: The Meadows of Roaring River Country (November 2018)

Post by creekfeet » Tue Jan 08, 2019 9:58 pm

rightstar76 wrote:
Tue Jan 08, 2019 5:57 am
They wanted to see the sole of your shoe? What an odd request. That would have made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Hopefully, as tomba wrote, it was to find out if they had the place to themselves and nothing more. I definitely would have been eager to move on. Liked your pictures. They really show what it's like before winter arrives.
I actually just thought it was more funny than anything. It was a situation where we were all super surprised to see other people out there, and I think they just wanted to be able to look for prints and know that there wasn't anyone else they were going to encounter.

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