Tony Krizan

Water in abundance at Mono Hot Springs and Edison Lake

San Joaquin River at flood stage next to Mono Hot Springs.
San Joaquin River at flood stage next to Mono Hot Springs. Special to Sierra Star

After experiencing five years of extreme drought, nature has finally returned to its normal cycle.

Over the Fourth of July holiday I decided to reminisce and revisit parts of the Ansel Adams Wilderness. I’m referring to the areas around Mono Hot Springs and Edison Lake. Both are located in the eastern area of Fresno County. From Oakhurst one will drive almost three hours to these wilderness locations.

While crossing the bridge that spans the San Joaquin River, this was my first preview to the amount of runoff from the winter snowpack. Many of the huge boulders exposed during the past drought have disappeared under its swift-flowing water. At Mono Hot Springs the upper and lower campgrounds are closed due to high water from the San Joaquin River (were set to open July 15).

Being a holiday, most of the available camping sites were taken, but after some searching I managed to locate a flat area to set up my camp. Difficulty followed, having to carry my gear up the side of the mountain. The climb wasn’t easy, but I have a private base camp ideal for the day hikes planed over the next few days.

The next morning I followed the old horse trail from the abandoned pack station that leads to Mono Meadow and Mono Creek. This old trail has extensive erosion from the extreme wet spring rains. A few trees have fallen across its path, but overall, this trail was still remarkably easy to follow.

My first reaction to this wilderness meadow is the amount of wildflowers across its surface. Even in July at 6,800 feet this carpet of white, purple and yellow brightens the area. The waist-high grass almost smothers the trail leading to the historic cable bridge crossing Mono Creek.

During a normal spring, hikers can follow this trail almost four miles to Edison Lake Vermilion Resort. Today that trek will be impossible with high water racing through the Mono Creek channel. The old swinging bridge is fenced off because of needed repairs, so following this trail will be impossible until maybe September when one could boulder hop across the creek.

The following morning I decided to hike past Tule Lake following another old abandoned trail. This wilderness trail leads to another large meadow that boards an isolated section of Mono Creek west of yesterdays hike. The trail was passable but catching my attention was the sound from Mono Creek.

I was almost a quarter mile from its geographic location, but the noise of water cascading over the rocks was clearly audible. Now I’m curious what type of surprise the meadow and creek has waiting for me.

Once I arrived at this huge meadow the high water had created a natural island out of this meadow. The fallen cedar tree that crossed the main creek was now underwater. My original idea was to following this trail to China Camp. It’s obvious that my plans will have to change today.

Maybe I can find a way to cross over to the island and this trek will not be a complete loss. After a few attempts to cross this shallow but wide temporary stream I found a decayed tree spanning across to the island.

A surprise was waiting for me as I approached the fallen tree by walking along the creek bank. The long walking stick which I carry serves many purposes. Today I used its length to test the ground surface leading to the fallen pine tree. Only 10 feet from starting my balancing act to cross to the opposite side, my stick sunk almost three feet into the soft earth. If I had forgotten to use this technique I would have sunk up to my waste in mud.

I retreated and kept testing the earth until I located another route to the fallen tree. There must have been an underground stream created by this high water spring season and that in turn created the soft underground earth channel leading to the creek.

I completed my crossing and hiked to the main creek channel. Normally this area of Mono Creek is 10 to 20 feet across. Today it’s 70 to 80 feet across with a current that is running at 10 miles an hour. No crossing today - I’ll just take a few photos for memories before starting my three-mile trek back to my base camp at Mono Hot Springs. This was the highest water level in this area in more than 30-plus years.

NOTE: Directions from Oakhurst to Mono Hot Springs. Road 426 to Road 223 through Teaford Estates to Road 200. Then to Auberry Road to Road 168 past Shaffer Lake to Huntington Lake to Kaiser Pass Road to Mono Hot Springs.