Place: Spring Lake, Mineral King, Sequoia National Park, California
Coordinates of Spring Lake: 36.470975, -118.554916
This is a post about the third day of my backpacking trip to Mineral King with my friend Last August.
The night was just beginning to fade when I woke up and went out of the tent. Everything was still and quiet - the air, the lakes, and the animals. I felt as calm as my surroundings. I was in my element.
|Western Wood Pewee|
|Black-tailed Deer, female|
|Spring Lake area|
It was a great feeling to walk around without having to carry our heavy backpack. All we took was water, a light snack and my camera.
Soon we discovered that there was no easy path going up to Cyclamen Lake. Not where we were going, anyway. We had to climb some massive granite slabs and hop across some deep ravines between those slabs. Whenever it looked like there would be an easy way between the boulders it was blocked with a thicket of willows. Often we had to backtrack some distance and tray another lead.
Little by little, however, we were gaining altitude, and the view that lay before us was absolutely spectacular.
|Spring Lake Lagoon|
|Alpine Mountain Sorrel (Oxyria digyna)|
|Tolmie's Saxifrage (Micranthes tolmiei)|
Going up these chutes was challenging too but we were less worried about plummeting into oblivion while squeezing through them or climbing onto the boulders that blocked our way here and there.
|Sulphur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum)|
|Forked Wood Rush (Luzula divaricata)|
|Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium)|
What I did see was a young robin sitting on the rock face and calling to its parents. They didn't come, not while I was watching.
|American Robin, juvenile|
|Possibly Showy Sedge, (Carex spectabilis) together with Poa sp.|
There wasn't a choice there, however. We started our slow descent, carefully going down stepping from one rock to another below it. We stopped frequently to breath and to assess our progress.
The most prominent wildflower we'd seen up there was the magnificent Sierra Columbine. There was one near where we had our stop on the way down. As we were munching on the meagre provisions we had brought with us we heard a low hum and saw something buzzing about the large, pale yellow flowers. At first glance I thought it might be a hummingbird but closer attention revealed it was a moth - a huge moth. The largest I've seen active during daylight. It is, in fact, the size of a small hummingbird and the buzz of their flight is at a very similar pitch.
|Cinquefoil and pine on the rock edge.|
The biggest things that grew along the creek itself were large willow bushes that often were too thick for us to pass through.
|Willow, likely Sierra Willow (Salix orestera)|
|Willow, likely Sierra Willow (Salix orestera)|
|Cliff Fern (Woodsia scopulina)|
About mid-day we got back to our little camp. I went into the tent to 'lie down a bit' and within seconds I was out for a good half an hour.
I woke up feeling lightheaded and very hot. When I got out of the tent my friend wasn't there. I looked around and spotted her down by the lake shore, sitting meditatively on a large rock near the water and I went to join her there to sit among the sedges.
|Native Sedge (Carex vernacula)|
The lake has a long, narrow 'arm' that stretches eastward. We hopped across it, went a little up the hill and looked back. From there we could see the cascading slope that we had climbed earlier that day. I saw where we met our path's dead end and I could see other possible climbing routes that now will have to wait until the next time I make it to Spring Lake.
We made it to the little pond and there I promptly took my clothes off and went in the water. Like I expected, the water was much less cold than at the larger Spring Lake. It was still too cold for my friend, however, and she settled for wading in the shallows only.
|Little Spring Lake|
After the swim we continued our exploration. We walked to the place where Cliff Creek spills out of Spring Lake. It fell down two short but strong cascades, then eases through a flat area into a string of beady little ponds before turning the curve and disappearing from view.
We hurried away from that site, feeling it desecrated the place. But there, on a little rock overlooking the creek we saw a squirrel munching on something. We went around the squirrel, careful not to scare it away, conscious that it was at home and we were the visitors.
|Foxtail Pine (Pinus balfouriana)|
Near the tiny waterfall was a damp area covered with the teeniest tiniest wildflowers of several species. Some I've seen on the earlier days of our trip but others I was seeing for the first time.
|Small White Violet (Viola macloskeyi)|
|Willowherb (Epilobium sp.)|
I took the time to explore Spring Lake basin a little bit on my own. In particular, I wanted to check out more closely the little lake on the northeast of the area.
I climbed the low hill that lay between the lakes. It was made of sedimentary soil that was deposited there by countless floods. It comprised mostly of coarse granite gravel that looked highly porous and didn't seem to hold much water. The dominant plant there was the shorthair sedge that grew in circles and loops of various shapes, some quite elaborate.
|Shorthair Sedge (Carex exerta)|
I circumvented the lake on the west and found myself walking along a shallow brook that was flowing gently out of the lake. I didn't resist the temptation - I took off my shoes and sat for some time with my feet in the water, until I lost all sensation in my toes.
After thawing my feet and putting my shoes on again I continued walking along the lay brook. Soon I arrived a wetland area and I tired going around it the best I could. The bog was belted with shrubs, many of which were willows. Between the willows and the flooded grassy flat was an inner belt of purple and pink flowers, primarily shootingstar, penstemon, and onion.
|Pacific Mountain Onion (Allium validum)|
|Bigleaf Lupine (Lupinus latifolius)|
And then again, being so soft and soaked, it is a difficult land to walk too.
|The bog east of Spring Lake|
There were many flowers right in the bog itself, although smaller and less showy.
|Wandering Fleabane (Erigeron glacialis)|
|White-crowned Sparrow bathing|
|Water Sedge (Cares aquatilis) in Spring Lake shallows|
Surprising, because the nearest oak is quite far away and in much lower elevation. I wondered if the wind had blown it up there or did it come hitching a ride on someone's shoe. No way of knowing.
We hang by the lake until the sun was quite low. Then we went back to our campsite to make dinner and watch the sunset. I tried not to think about having to leave Spring Lake on the morrow. I felt strongly that my time there was fleetingly short.
The fawn eyed us curiously too, but stayed further away - a smart approach when dealing with humans of any kind.
Little by little the light faded away. The peaks on the eat lit up with gold evening light that clung to the granite tip in the final moment of the day, and then extinguished, leaving us to get ready for the night.
Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!