|Rocky Basin Lake|
Place: Golden Trout Wilderness, Lone Pine, California
Coordinates (of my campsite at the Little Whitney Meadow): 36.373550, -118.343666
Length: about 7 miles
It must have been the effect of the rain because the night I passed at the Little Whitney Meadow after fulfilling my long time desire to see the Kern Canyon, I actually got some real sleep. It was still hot and stuffy inside my narrow tent but the constant tapping of the rain had a soothing effect on my tired nerves. On the morning of my forth day of my solo backpacking trip to the Golden Trout Wilderness I woke up quite refreshed. The rain had ceased sometime before dawn and when I left my tent I could see a line of clear sky in west beyond the gray clouds that still hung overhead. There was little to tell how difficult this day would be for me.
Not knowing how long it would be before the rain resumed I started taking my tent down right away. the rain fly was all wet so I hanged it on a nearby tree alongside the tent's footprint. In good timing, the sun broke through the clouds for the nice, sweet morning hour it took me to take my breakfast and to get everything organized and packed.
The rain fly was still somewhat wet when I packed it, but I didn't want to wait anymore. I had planned to get all the way up to the Rocky Basin Lakes that evening, which meant an almost constant ascent to about 11,500 ft in elevation. I wanted to take my time and go at a slow pace, but that meant I had to get going already.
There was a sign posted far away in the middle of the meadow, not quite in the direction where I thought the trail was supposed to be. But the sign was too far to tell what it said. It could have said 'Private Property' just like the last sign I saw down by the Kern.
|Little Whitney Meadow|
|Lupine flowers in Little Whitney Meadow|
Half way to the lone sign I came upon the Golden Trout Creek, right at where it collected another creek. Neither water line was visible from the meadow's edge, but came into view only from a few yards away.
To get to the sign I had to cross the creek. The water was high and the current fast. Having foreseen the need to ford the creek I had been wearing my sandals since I set out so it wasn't extra hustle to cross. Just to make sure though, I photographed the sign with my strongest zoom and enlarged on the tiny screen of my camera I could barely detect the words 'Salt Lick' marked on it.
I sighed with relief and stepped into the cold water.
|Golden Trout Creek|
I kept going in the general direction of the gap in the hills where the Salt Lick trail was supposed to go into. The soil was heavy and muddy, and got into my sandals. I didn't want to change back to shoes yet because I didn't know if I'd have any other creeks to cross before getting to the other side of the meadow. Besides, there was no dry spot there to sit on.
As I suspected, I had to cross two other little rivulets before getting out of the meadow. I also found some equine tracks and remembered that the National Forest Volanteers had told me that a mule pack had passed that way a few days before. So I followed the tracks the best I could. Some times I would lose them, but then I'd come upon a pile of some equine droppings and continue on.
When I finally exited the wetland I had come upon the huts that I saw from the far side of the meadow. It looked like an old and abandoned horse camp.
The area was fenced with a broken fence and the gate, still marked 'close behind you', was thrown aside on the ground.
I crossed the area and finally caught up with the Salt Lick Trail on the other side of the ghost horse camp. There was no sign but I was sure of the trail. So I promptly sat down to rest, change my shoes, and to eat a snack. I also enjoyed the lovely patch of sunlight until the ants found me and I had to get up again.
Shortly after I resumed my hike the sun vanished behind a blanket of clouds and I didn't dee much of it again that day.
It was also the first and last level part of my hike that day. From there the trail started ascending and kept steadily up. All that day I just climbed.
After the first lag, however, I had a nice goodbye view of the Little Whitney Meadow.
|A view of Little Whitney Meadow from the Salt Lick Trail|
The tail was blocked in many places by fallen trees, no doubt the effect of the latest winter. The people who walked this path before me had circumvented the trees and I followed suit.
At the first creek crossing I sat down to take my shoes off again. I also forced myself to eat something. I really didn't feel like eating but I couldn't allow myself another crisis like I had on the second day of my trek. Especially as I was gaining altitude and was planning to get quite higher before nightfall.
The trail did level off in a few places, and the trail became less distinct. I was grateful for the cairn placed there by the forest volunteers. It looked as if very few people had hiked this particular trail since the beginning of the season.
While the trail was more or less detectible through the forest, following it became a real challenge when it crossed a meadow, and I ran into a few of those during my hike. In these places the cairns were a real help.
|Salt Lick Meadow|
|Cones of Foxtail Pine, Pinus balfouriana|
The stillness and the gloominess were gnawing at my mind. I found myself talking to myself, then talking to the trees. Maybe they heard me. Perhaps they even answered.
|Mountain Monardella, Monardella odoratissima|
|Clasping Arnica, Arnica lanceolata|
All the time I kept going up and higher, gaining altitude with every step. At one instant I heard some chirping and I saw a little flock of birds frolicking on a dead fallen log a bit ahead of my. I got very excited - there was life in the forest other than mosquitoes!
They were juvenile dark-eyed junco, a very common woods bird. Nothing to write home about, and certainly not the usual bird encounter I would post about hear, but I was so happy to see them, so I do post the only good image I got, and from very far, before they all flew away ant left me in solitude once again.
|Dark-eyed Junco, juvenile|
I filled my water container and continued up the slope.
|Lodepole and Foxtail Pines|
I was surrounded by pine trees. Asking pardon of them (yes, yes, I actually did), I started plucking fresh pine needles and chewing their tender ends, knowing they were rich in vitamin C. They taste a bit citrusy in a pleasant way. I don't know how much vitamin C I actually got this way but the practice did make me feel a bit better. Perhaps it was just the thought that I was actively doing something to improve my condition.
I do think that what I needed most though, vas Vitamin D, i.e. sunshine. And that I had missed all day.
|View southwest from the highest point of Salt Lick Trail|
|An Earth Whale chewing salad|
|Fleabane, Erigeron sp.|
|Barigan Stringer Creek|
And so I resolved to go on and continue ascending to the Rocky Basin Lake. The one problem was, I didn't find the trail junction for the lake. I kept going back and forth for a while to no avail. Eventually I decided to walk along the Barigan Stringer Creek hoping to catch up with the trail at some point. This was somewhat of a risk because there was no sign that anyone had walked that way in a while and there was no guarantee that the trail would even be visible. But I had figured that one way or the other, I would make it to the lake eventually if I kept going up along the creek.
After about a quarter mile of pathfinding between the trees I detected some footprints. I followed the footprints and found the trail. I sighed with relief and continued up the slope with renewed energy. My spirit also improved because the sun finally broke out of the clouds - for the first time since I left the Little Whitney Meadow.
|The Trail to Rocky Basin Lakes|
|One-seeded Pussypaws, Calyptridium monospermum|
Later I was told that this was a Neolentinus ponderosus mushroom, which is edible. At the time, however, i had no idea. And even if I did I probably would not have risked it anyway.
|Ranger's Button, Sphenosciadium capitellatum|
Then the forest thinned and the mountain I was climbing turned into a pile of rocks. The trail also vanished and all I had to follow was an irregular line of cairns. All of a sudden the hike became all the more slow and difficult.
Also the sun, that had cheered me up for the last hour was now dipping in the western sky. I didn't have much more daylight left.
|Woolly Groundsel, Packera cana|
Except for photographing flowers, of course. Here there were many of them, in between the large granite rocks.
|Pine Wavyleaf Paintbrush, Castilleja applegatei ssp. pinetorum|
And suddenly I was there, at the Rocky Basin. I knew the lake was there but it took me a moment to see it. Its water was so still that it mirrored perfectly the rocks and trees at its shores.
|Rocky Basin Lake|
The water level was low and the exposed soil revealed a number of animal tracks including deer, birds, and a wild cat. The flat area east of the lake was covered with even-height shrubs between which bloomed little wildflowers.
|Sierra Beardstongue, Penstemon heterodoxus|
When I had walked up on the trail I had imagined the Rocky Basin Lake to be similar to the heavenly Spring Lake where I had had the most wonderful camping experience with my friend last year. I wasn't much surprised that the Rocky basin Lake was nowhere like Spring Lake, but I couldn't help feeling somewhat disappointed. Not that the Rocky Basin Lake wasn't nice. It was very beautiful. But it was very serene, and very, very still. There were no fish in the lake, and I couldn't see any other life in it. There were only tracks in the mud and mosquitoes in the air.
|That bright dot in the water is the reflection of the cloud-dimmed sun|
|The moon was on the other side|
|Prickly Cryptantha, Cryptantha echinella|
Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants and the mushroom!
A Link to the next day blog post.