|Upper McCabe Lake, view north|
Date: July 31, 2019
Place: Yosemite National Park, California
Coordinates: 37.998005, -119.326219
Length: 2 miles
Level: Very Strenuous
Splitting the accounts of the third day of me and my friend's backpacking trip in Yosemite into two blog posts seemed like a good idea not only because I have too many photos to show that would make one post to heavy but also because that day's hike was split into two very distinct parts.
The first part of the day we hiked off trail from Lower McCabe Lake to Upper McCabe Lake, and that hike had left us drained for a number of reasons, all of which I mentioned in the previous post. When we finally arrived at the shores of Upper Lake McCabe my friend toot a much needed rest. At that point I was resigned to stay there for the night. I was tired but felt too edgy to sit for long so I took my camera and went exploring a bit.
|Sierra Penstemon, Penstemon heterodoxus|
|Spreading Phlox, Phlox diffusa|
|Goosefoot Violet, Viola purpurea|
|Great Red Paintbrush, Castilleja miniata|
|Alpine Mountain Sorrel, Oxyria digyna|
|Shrubby Cinquefoil, Diaspora fruticosa|
|Dwarf Alpine Paintbrush, Castilleja nana|
|Green-leaved Raillardella, Raillardella scaposa|
Walking along the north shore was simple enough. The rocky areas we traversed were easy to climb over.
|Mountain Pride, Penstemon newberri|
|Out path from Upper McCabe Lake to Roosevelt Lake as captured by my GPS|
|Upper Lake McCabe spillway|
I thought that if it was done to make crossing easier they could have done a better job ... Either way, we did cross there to the other side, avoiding wading upstream of the spillway.
I was amazed at how clear the water was. Given more time I probably would have gone in for a swim. It sure was tempting, and the water not even cold to my touch.
most of the south west shore of the lake was a large scree field, what made our progress really, really slow. Occasionally we came upon a small patch of wetland irrigated by the melting snow and on it grew beautiful little alpine bog plants.
|Dwarf Bilberry, Vaccinium cespitosum|
|Mountain Laurel, Kalmia polifolia|
We were racing time however, trying to get over the McCabe Pass before nightfall, so I couldn't linger by the wildflowers as long as I wished.
|Frosted Buckwheat, Eriogonum incanum|
As we negotiated the large cracked rocks that comprised the scree shoreline I looked mostly down to watch my step and balance on the slanted rocks. Every now and then I would raise my eyes and gaze at the awesome view of the mountain ridge. All of a sudden I became aware of a dark figure that was making progress along the same shoreline, heading from the bottom of the pass northeast towards us. Another person in the wilderness, the first (and only) we've seen the entire day!
We met about half way to the pass and stopped for a short chat. He was doing the same loop hike we were, only in the opposite direction, similar to the route of that East Coast mountaineering class. He too supported the thought of going up to the pass today rather than wait for the morning, saying it would be much harder to climb the snow slope when iced by the night's chill. Especially when we didn't have any ice crossing equipment with us. But we shouldn't worry too much, he added. There are sun cups all the way up.
Sun cups were described to my by one of the mountaineering class instructors we had met the day before on the PCT. She said these were depressions made by the diurnal thaw-freeze cycle of old snow and that they formed easy to climb steps. I still didn't have a visual of this thing but that was soon to change.
|Shepherd Crest East Ridge|
|Shading the slope|
|Granite Draba, Draba lemmonii|
|Going up to McCabe Pass|
A rocky 'island' about a third of the way up provided us with where to rest a bit. I watched wistfully as the sunlight line receded higher and higher, hoping there will be more light still when we've reached the top.
The small exposed area between the rocks was covered with a mat of the tiniest willow I've ever seen. I would never have recognized it as a willow if not for its distinct fluffy inflorescence. Less than two weeks after I would see more of it up by Winnemucca Lake.
|Snow Willow, Salix nivalis|
On one of these pauses I saw an animal running quickly across the snow. I thought fox and started fumbling for my camera. Thankfully the creature paused by the rocks before diving between them and I managed to snap a couple of shots. At home after enlarging the image I saw it wasn't a fox but a marmot. I didn't know they could move so fast, I've never seen one run before.
When I finally reached the pass (too late to warm up in sunshine) I looked down in an almost disbelief at what I'd just done. The north-facing slope from Upper McCabe Lake to McCabe Pass stretched below me like a huge bumpy slide. Everyone else who've we met that did this route had done it going down this slope, some sliding on their backpacks (I've seen the marks) and some stomping on crampons (seen those marks too). I thought that maybe with a pair of skis I might have .... but all and all, I think doing it again I'd still rather go up it rather than down. I'd start way earlier though.
|Lake McCabe viewed from McCabe Pass|
|Alpine Ivesia, Ivesia gorodonii|
|Dwarf Alpine Paintbrush, Castilleja nana|
|Davidson's Penstemon, Penstemon davidsonii|
|Pygmy Fleabane, Erigeron pygmaeus|
Despite the pressing time I had to pause at the pass to savor the moment. To take in not only the precious alpine bloom but also the vastness of the High Sierra roof of the word sensation. Here's nothing quite like being up there like that.
Straight ahead below me I could see the elongated shape of Roosevelt Lake where we were headed. It was already shaded. Beyond the lake I saw the granite peaks poking at the sky fr as far as the horizon. One of these peaks looked round and very familiar. Could that be ...
|View south from McCabe Pass|
As it turned out going down the left side of the valley wasn't very easy either. There were n steep rocky ledges there but the entire slope was flowing with ice-cold water and covered by a thicket of bushy willows. It was hard to whack our way through this thicket and cross the streams without getting our feet soaked with cold water.
|Willow and Heather|
|Atto Lousewort, Pedicularis attollens|
When the tent was ready my friend wanted to go right in but I wouldn't let her until she had some dinner. I had to use the beacon threat again before she ate some. She looked much better after that and breathed normally. She smiled to me as I washed the dishes and apologized for not being in shape to help out. I apologized for snapping at her and pushing her hard. Inside I was still freaked out - the risk of altitude sickness was still very real.
|Last light above Roosevelt Lake|
Later I laid awake inside the tent, listening to the steady breathing of my friend. We've done it - going up to Upper Lake McCabe and across McCabe Pass, with no trail and across very challenging terrain. We did it, and it was almost too much. Now we were completely alone in the wilderness with one more day ahead before going back on the regularly used trails where other people were. As tired as I was, and although quite comfortable and warm inside the tent, it took me a long time to relax and drift off to sleep.