Hiking the Hoover Wilderness and the Pacific Crest Trail

June 24, 2014 

Let's take a drive through Yosemite National Park, over Tioga Pass Road to the Hoover Wilderness and the Pacific Crest Trail.

After driving over Tioga Pass, turn left on Highway 395, and before Bridgeport follow the marked road toward Virginia Lakes on the left. The trailhead is located in the Hoover wilderness at the west end of the upper lake at 9,800 feet.

Two vehicles are required for this adventure. First vehicle will be dropped off at the Lembert Dome Trailhead, located at Tuolumne Meadows. The second vehicle will remain at Virginia Lakes Trailhead, where we depart from.

I'm sharing this hiking adventure into the Hoover Wilderness with my two loyal hiking buddies, Fred Cochran and Clem Bingham.

We followed the Virginia Lakes trail as it climbed through beautiful stands of White Bark Pines. Blue Lake was the first of five lakes along this wilderness trail. We skirted around the west shore line of Blue Lake then climbed toward Cooney Lake at 10,200 feet. Next to Cooney Lake was P J Cooney mining log cabin. Today this rustic cabin is still standing, assisted by log braces. Cooney was one of the early colorful prospectors in the area in the late 1800s.

Looking south is snow covered Black Mountain Peak. On the opposite side, is the reddish landscaping of Dunderberg Peak. After 1.8 miles from the trailhead are the three Frog Lakes. Named after the once numerous mountain yellow-legged frog ... I didn't see a frog anywhere today.

Next are the steep switch-backs with lingering snow still crossing this eastern face. Finally after 3.5 miles and an elevation of 11,140 feet we arrived at a wide, flat and rocky bench perched below the western flanks of Black Mountain. Area residents call this pass Burro Pass. Even at this elevation, spring wildflowers such as sulfur, penstemon and alpine gold are still blooming.

Before we started descending, looking to the north in the distance is the Saw Tooth Mountain Range roughly 2.6 miles from this pass. Our objective is to locate a campsite for our first night. After dropping through snow and being side tracked around a few snow bridges, we finally arrived at a grassy area with only a few patches of snow at 10,625 feet.

The following morning we dropped another 500 feet to the junction of Hoover Lakes (two) and the trail to Summit Lake. Once arriving at Summit Lake even though the elevation is only 10,000 feet, ice had formed on its northern surface ... caused by the cold wind blowing off the snow from those 12,000 foot peaks surrounding this canyon. Another 200 feet of elevation gain to Summit Pass and we'll cross the boundary line into Yosemite National Park.

We'll be dropping in elevation for the next 4.9 miles through Virginia Canyon. This trail also follows Return Creek through lush green meadows and thick stands of Tamarac Pine and Red Fur trees.

Next is the junction to the Pacific Crest Trail, McCabe and Spiller Creeks. These two creeks created extra effort on our crossing. The water was moving quite fast and removal of our boots was in fashion. Crossing bare foot in knee deep, swift moving water made me realize, I'm a tenderfoot.

With this water hazard completed, now we have 500 feet of elevation gain to the next junction. After hiking another half mile beyond the junction we found a small stream and set up our campsite roughly 100 feet from the stream. This will be a well-deserved site after completing more than nine miles today.

The following morning we hiked the Pacific Crest Trail down Cold Canyon another 8.2 miles to our next campsite at the Glen Aulin Sierra Camp at 7,800 feet. Two week ago we stayed at this camp when hiking down to Water Wheel Falls. Today there were mules and horses packed with supplies with workers setting up tent cabins getting ready for the opening of the summer season.

It is now 7 a.m. on our fourth day and we'll start our finial six mile hike with an elevation gain of 940 feet to the Lembert Dome Trailhead. Once again we'll enjoy the beauty of White Cascade and Tuolumne Falls while following this river back to our trailhead.

During the last four days we hiked 28 miles and achieved an elevation of 11,140 feet. We slept on a snow covered ridge, hiked around and over snow bridges in the Hoover Wilderness. Then we entered Yosemite National Park and hiked over eight miles of Virginia Canyon. Next was the scenic 14 miles of the Pacific Rim Trail and the Wild Tuolumne River to complete this memorable wilderness adventure.

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