Friday, August 31, 2018

Exploring the Land of Lakes

Date: July 31, 2018
Place: Dinkey Lakes Wilderness, Prather, California
Coordinates: 37.142310, -119.044124
Length: about 4 miles
Level: Strenuous

Cliff Lake is one of the many alpine lakes that dot the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness area, and one of the prettier ones. Nestled against a sheer granite cliff and surrounded by a conifer forest, it is the perfect place for a wilderness campout. Had I headed out on my trip earlier the day before that would have been the place to have spend the night at. As it was, I arrived at Cliff Lake in mid-morning, and by the time I was ready to go on it was still before noon. Rock Lake - the first lake over the Dogtooth Pass and where I had planned to spend the next night, was only a short distance away so I decided to have a little side hike to see the nearby Bullfrog Lake.
My hike from Cliff Lake to Bullfrog Lake and to Rock Lake as captured by my GPS
First I had to find the main trail which I had left to go down to Cliff Lake. I walked uphill until I met what looks like an official trail which lead uphill in the right direction. I followed it and it did connect me to the trail coming up from Nelson Creek. Now I was walking in a thin conifer forest comprised mainly of lodgepole pines with very little undergrowth and many bits of granite strewn around. The clouds too started gathering again, and I listened warily to distant sounds of thunder.
Dogtooth Peak
After a short ascend I found the trail fork leading to Bullfrog Lake. A few steps down that trail the view opened up and I could see the double summits of Dogtooth Peak. The northwestern spire did look like a canine tooth.
Dogtooth Peak
The trail to Bullfrog Lake took me downhill. At the end of the trail was a small pond size lake that has already receded enough so access to the water was only through a wide mud belt.
I did access the water - I collected a bucketful to wash a few garments, and I hanged them on my backpack to dry. All that time I thought I was alone by that lake, but as I finished washing and got all my things together again I noticed a man walking slowly on the opposite shore. I didn't think much of it, but by the time I was ready to go back up the man approached me and we had a little chat. He told me he was going to go around the slope I came down from and explore a lake that was marked on the map but had no trail leading to it. I was content with going straight uphill and over the pass to Rock Lake.
Bullfrog Lake
Unlike oak trees, pine trees of most species are very similar to one another. Most pines in the forest I was walking through were lodgepole pines and looked like clones (to me, at least). But every now and then I saw an individual pine that stood out in appearance. Like this twisted one in the photo below. I wonder what kind of saplinghood it had that had rendered it this way.
Like little gold coins - drying out jewelweed plants totted the forest floor. Undergrowth shrubs and herbs in that area were few and far between, and most of them were done blooming.

I reconnected with the main trail leading up to the Dogtooth Pass. The trail became considerably steeper and I huffed and puffed my way slowly uphill. Dogtooth Peak is the highest point in the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness, with a summit 10302' high. On another time I might have gone up there but on this trip I was going strait over the pass, which was about 9900' high. I had a good reason to hurry - heavy clouds were amassing on the southeast and the sound of thunder was closer than ever and boomed as frequently as one every 30 seconds. I sure didn't want to be caught at the highest point in the area during a lightning storm.
Another group of hikers came down the pass trail. They were in a hurry too, hoping not to get caught in what looked like an inevitable thunderstorm.
This storms, I already knew, can be a very local thing. The clouds could stay to the southeast and miss me altogether. In fact, over cliff Lake which was now way below me to the southwest, there was hardly a cloud.
Cliff Lake
I came over the pass and as soon as I started descending down the other side I could hear them: loud calls of people having lots of fun. Soon I could see them too - young people splashing in the lake.
I came down to the southern shore of Rock Lake. There, at the most perfect place for camping was a big yellow sign nailed to a tree saying, "No Camping Here".  I sighed and went all the way down to the shore where I sat to rest and to filter some water.
Rock Lake was very much like Cliff Lake, except smaller and rounder. to the west there was a large granite rock that seemed to slide into the lake. I assume that rock is what gave the lake its name. The east and north shores had a lovely belt of flat, forested ground, perfect for camping. Two large groups of youth already occupied the eastern and northern shores.
Rock Lake
I had planned to camp by Rock Lake that night but the place was too clouded to my taste. One of the reasons I chose to backpack at the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness was to avoid being in complete solitude for days as happened to me last year at the Golden Trout Wilderness trip. That said, I wasn't at all thrilled by camping too close to large groups of noisy campers. So after filling up on water I listed my backpack once more and went on northward, passing the tents on the eastern shore and skipping across the little creek where overflow water from Rock Lake would go. I forgot to turn on my GPS then so I don't have an illustration of my walk from Rock Lake to the Second Dinkey Lake.

Less than half a mile down to the northwest I came upon the Second Dinkey Lake.  It looked like a smaller version of Rock Lake. I gazed around: no tents.
Second Dinkey Lake
I came down the path and circumvented the lake. No one was camping there. I walked all the way to the northwestern shore, found a wonderful spot and claimed it for the night.
My campsite at the Second Dinkey Lake before pitching the tent
Meanwhile the clouds that amassed were blowing in my direction. I pitched my tent quickly and arranged my little campsite as best as I could. Then I sat to cook dinner, hoping to get it over with before the breaking of the storm and then ride it inside the tent.
Brewing storm

Nature, however, had other plans for me. The storm fell upon me in the middle of my cooking. Suddenly I felt hailstones coming down. I pulled my hat over my head but almost immediately the hail turned to rain. I run to hide my camera inside the tent, and as I walked back to my stove the rain ceased. Wind and thunder continued intensely for a few more minutes, but no more rain or hail came down. By the time I was done eating the storm was over and the clouds thinned and dispelled.
It was late afternoon and I was fed, my campsite all ready for the night, and I had an hour or so still of daylight. The sun was shining brightly again, as if no storm ever blew by just moments ago.
I decided I had enough time to check out another lake that was close by. I took only a bottle of water and my camera and found the trailhead leading to Island Lake.
My hike from the Second Dinkey Lake to Island Lake and back as captured by my GPS
A sign by the trailhead claimed that this trail wasn't suitable for stock. I could see why - the first part of the trail was a steep climb on a very crumbly rocky path. I was glad for not carrying a heavy backpack on that one.
The trail to Island Lake
Although light, I was already pretty tired so I walked slowly and stopped frequently to look around and to appreciate some wildflowers that I saw blooming by the trail.
Sierra Penstemon, Penstemon heterodoxus 
Island Lake was not in my hike plan for this trip but I'm glad to have hiked there - of all the lakes I've seen on my trip this was the prettiest one. Also the highest one. There might be e connection there :-) It was the only lake on that trip that reminded me of the paradise of Spring Lake from my Mineral King backpacking trip.
Island Lake
For a split second a thought crossed my mind to move my camp up there. It was already getting late, however, and the thought of packing everything again and hauling it uphill and setting up my camp from the start was too daunting. Besides, there were already people camping by Island Lake. Not many, and they were quiet, but still.
Island Lake 
I walked around a bit, exploring a little.  I liked the field of the bur reed in the eastern cove of the lake.

It was the same kind I saw at Cliff Lake, but a large patch of it.
Narrow-leaved Bur Reed, Sparganium angustifolium 
 The sun was going down fast. Up by Island Lake it was sunny still but below it was already getting dark. I started on my way down, but got sidetracked a little - off the trail was a large, mild slope of smooth granite. I left the trail and walked across that granite slope to a fantastic vista point.
Sierra Nevada - view northeast at the Mono Divide from near Island Lake. 
The shadows came over me. I hurried back to the trail and down to my campsite where, after getting ready for the night all I had to do was to sit by the lake and admire the calm reflection and the beautiful sunset.
Reflection. Second Dinkey Lake.
It's this twilight time between finishing the day's work and sleep time that I feel most lonely. With no friend to share this beautiful time with, all I can do is hearing my own thoughts rumbling inside my mind and swat as many mosquitoes as I can.
Meanwhile as the daylight was fading, the groups over at Rock Lake were just starting their evening: a guitar came out (who would carry a guitar on a backpacking trip on top of everything else they need to carry???) and they all started singing. Nice songs, but loud. Rock Lake is over a small ridge and I guess the acoustics of the basin made it so the singing sounded very close to me, although they were about half a mile away.
I had mixed feelings. I liked the singing, but it didn't seem to fit the wilderness settings that called for quiet, and I preferred to hear the nature sounds. Moreover, the sounds of merrymaking intensified my own sensation of loneliness.
Sunset at the Second Dinkey Lake
I waited for the sun to disappear below the treetops, then crawled inside my tent. The Rock Lake group kept on singing for quite some time. I don't know for how long because soon I drifted into sleep.

Many thanks to members of the Eastern Sierra & Scenic Hwy 395 group for their help in identifying vista point landmarks.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I experience real joy in your awesome photos of the High Sierras, and reading the details of the hiking day. Your blogs make my days first hike was in 1961, Hetch Hetchy to Tilden up the Jack Main...good memories.

    1. Thank you for your heart warming response! Sharing my experiences here helps me relive this hike once more and I'm happy to touch other people with my posts :-)

  2. The Island lake is indeed beautiful and so is the view from the vista point.
    The picture of the storm clouds is great!
    I agree with you that the music is not right for the wilderness...

    1. It was a very interesting storm ... lots of noise and hardly any impact. But I'm glad I had the chance to see Island Lake. Next time I'm in that area, that's where I'll camp.

  3. Replies
    1. You know, it is doable as a day hike too ... (hint, hint)