Open any map of our Sierra Nevada mountains and you will be amazed at how many lakes are waiting for your next adventure. Here is one of my favorite hikes with over a dozen lakes in five days, I did several years ago. This adventure is classified as easy to strenuous or class one through three.
With record-breaking snow levels in the High Country (more than 8 feet at some locations), I would advise this hike, and others at high elevations, be planned for late July or August.
The trailhead starts west of Edison Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Follow the trail through Graveyard Meadows. During the spring and early summer this meadow will reward you with brilliant colors of native wildflowers. Continue following this trail north toward the five Graveyard Lakes which start at 9,940 feet.
Each lake is like steps as you ascend to the remote pass named after Tom Addison, called Silver Fox Pass. As I climbed, those distant peaks of the surrounding mountains appeared, showing off their dress code for the summer.
The blue sky reflecting off these remote lakes painted a breathtaking picture of this remote area. I chose the third lake with an ideal campsite overlooking three of the five lakes.
Only markers exist forging to the saddle of Silver Fox Pass at 10,400 feet. At the summit facing west are the Graveyard Lakes and in the distance is the canyon carved out over time by the San Joaquin River as it flows west toward Minaret Mountains. At the west corner is a 5-foot flat boulder with pieces of obsidian resting on its surface. Would it be safe to say that our Native American tribes used this route forging their way into these mountains? I respectfully departed from that location and left those artifacts as I found them.
My first adventure over this pass was shared with the mountain man to whom this pass was named. Addison and I shared many trails until his passing in 1996 at the age of 86.
Once we hiked through this saddle, it opens up into another enormous valley. This 700-foot decent to the valley floor was very steep, forcing our skills of boulder hopping into play. To add to the difficulty, we had a wet winter and the north-facing slope was heavy with snow. We had to use ropes to descend below the deep snowpack. For future reference; I’ve hiked this pass four times and late summer will improve this steep descent.
At the valley floor is a huge run-off tarn. I’ve hiked both shore lines of this water source. The quickest route is on the west side which followed to our next campsite at Peter Pande Lake. During my third trek into this area I ventured around the east side and discovered an obsidian bank stash. The previous wet season washed part of the hillside and uncovered a stash of spear points, arrowheads and blanks made from obsidian. I removed one piece and covered the remaining pieces. On my fourth adventure to this valley I purposely hiked along the east bank but I could not locate this stash area. Could it be I discovered another sierra mountain secret?
Peter Pande Lake is another garden spot snuggled into one of those remote mountain valleys. At the west end of this lake is a 12-foot waterfall generated from the runoff of Anne Lake. Another interesting story featuring one of my four adventures into this area. I set up my campsite perched on a high ridge next to the waterfall. Around 6 a.m. I was awakened by the sound of a pulsating aircraft engine. Could it be an aircraft in trouble and is looking for a place to land?
I immediately unzipped the flap on my tent and ran outside and stared into the direction of the engine noise. I could see an aircraft descending toward the surface of the lake. As it skimmed just above the lake surface the aircraft engine sprang into life and it climbed into the morning sky. Wow, I thought to myself, that pilot was sure lucky this morning! Less than a minute later I heard the engine noise again.
I looked behind me and dropping down following the contour of the mountain was this same aircraft passing directly overhead. I’m estimating only 30 feet separated us as it flew above me. I would swear I could count the rivets holding the aluminum skin on the wings. Now I was thinking; is he looking for a place to set down his ill-fated bird? Then I was stunned to hear the engine once again burst into life while skimming over the surface. On this pass he gave away his reason for waking me up before 6 a.m.. While skimming over the lake he was dropping hatchlings into the lake so fisherman like me can enjoy the sport of trout fishing.
In future columns I’ll share my hiking experiences at other Sierra Nevada Lakes in the Ansel Adams and John Muir Wilderness.