Tony Krizan

Last high-elevation hikes of 2018 take Tony back to off-the-map trails

Thermal-heated Doris Lake at 6,900 feet in the Ansel Adams Wilderness is a one-hour hike from Mono Hot Springs Resort.
Thermal-heated Doris Lake at 6,900 feet in the Ansel Adams Wilderness is a one-hour hike from Mono Hot Springs Resort. Special to the Sierra Star

There were moments recently that I reflect back to decades ago when I first started hiking our Sierra Nevada. The Ansel Adams Wilderness hosted my first experiences and captured my imagination with its rugged beauty. My only guide on those first adventures were a compass and map.

krizan mug
Tony Krizan

The season for high-elevation hiking is almost over, but there’s time in the next five days to retrace a few of those steps from my past.

I set up my base camp at Mono Hot Springs on the southern border of the Ansel Adams Wilderness. My first trek follows an old packing trail that has been abandoned by the packers since the early 1960s. This trail is still being used by hikers who enjoy fishing or maybe a quick dip into one of the two thermal-heated lakes. The first that I’ll visit today is Doris Lake, surrounded by granite walls with a few openings to enter its blue surface. Its temperatures during the summer season can reach a high of 70 degrees. If one is into photography and enjoys scrambling and climbing over boulders, take a trek around this lake for remarkable views. This round trip is only 2.5 hours.

Next, I follow an easy-to-read trail to Tule Lake, another thermal-heated lake which is a few degrees warmer than Doris. For you fishermen, this is the only lake in the U.S. at 7,000 feet that supports smallmouth bass. This lake never freezes. Add another 90 minutes to the Doris Lake hike to reach both lakes.

tule lake
Thermal-heated Tule Lake at 7,000 feet in the Ansel Adams Wilderness is a 1.6-hour hike from Mono Hot Springs Resort. Tony Krizan Special to the Sierra Star

Keep following this remote trail as it descends in elevation and almost disappears from the newly fallen snags that cross its path. My destination this afternoon is called China Camp. This remote location was used by the cattle ranchers during the 20th century. My first obstacle was Mono Creek which flows year-round and lately, with our snowpack getting back to normal, this creek has been difficult to cross. Today I found a logjam and did a balancing act to the opposite side. This area of the Ansel Adams Wilderness is very seldom attempted by hikers. The main trail is difficult to follow from years of domestic cattle roaming the area. They have created conflicting trails throughout the area.

Tony Krizan took advantage of this logjam to cross Mono Creek leading to China Camp. Tony Krizan Special to the Sierra Star

I finally cross Warm Creek and follow it upstream to the China Camp location. Sad to say in the last few years an aged pine tree came to rest upon the main cabin. It crushed the full length of this log cabin. China Camp can be difficult to locate, so if you decide to attempt this hike, ask for directions or take someone knowledgable with you on this six- to eight-hour trek.

cabin before
China Camp Cabin before it became a victim to a pine tree. Tony Krizan Special to the Sierra Star

cabin after
China Camp Cabin after a pine tree fell on it. Tony Krizan Special to the Sierra Star

Devils Table is another trek that is a true adventure with no trails to its location. This mesa is a remarkable sculpture of nature. Over the years, I’ve established a cross-country route on this strenuous and scenic trek. Remember to stay high on the ridge line that separates a large seasonal pond and below on the opposite side is Tule Lake. Once arriving at the north side, here you will find the only pathway to the top. The reward will be the views of the surrounding areas of the Ansel Adams Wilderness. This is a three- to four-hour strenuous trek.

devils table
It requires a cross-country trek to reach Devils Table. Tony Krizan Special to the Sierra Star

My final adventure follows another abandoned packing trail and maybe the cross-country back route to Doris Lake. This trail (if you want to call it that) has been abandoned for over 60 years. With the washouts, fallen trees across its pathway and years of vegetation growth, this is a difficult trek. After almost an hour of bushwhacking, I decide to attempt the cross-country trek to Doris Lake. By looking at this route I know I’ll be climbing and boulder-hopping but it’s much easier than trying to follow the abandoned trail. In less than an hour I arrive at Doris Lake. Early morning is a beautiful sight looking across its glassy surface sheltered by the tall granite cliffs that surround its surface.

Many of us love a challenge! I backtrack looking for that trail. It takes almost two hours of pathfinding, but my knowledge from years ago hiking this route sure helped today. I finally arrive at Bear Diversion Road.

I completed the 2018 season with rekindling memories of my past. I’m a little slower but these solo hikes have given me the same rewards today as I experienced in previous years. Those of us who enjoy the wilderness know the experience of being one with nature. I’m looking forward to 2019 for new experiences.