Both Florence Lake and Lake Edison offer access to the Sierra at those elevations so we decided to head in that direction. True, the road over Kaiser Pass is slow and twisty, but we had the time, and we certainly had the inclination. For those who plan on something similar, with no traffic at all it’s a good hour’s drive from Huntington Lake to Lake Edison, and that’s only twenty miles. Add in an RV or trailer in front of you, and expand the timeline.
After talking with the very nice people at the Prather Ranger station, we took out a permit for Mono Creek, at the head of Lake Edison. That gave us lots of options based on the conditions, and it turned out we needed them!
If you’ve never been to Vermilion Valley Resort at Lake Edison, you owe it to yourself to experience it. Something between a High Sierra Camp and a High Plains Drifter bar, this resort sees tons of solitary PCT thru-hikers and a motley crew of boaters and fishermen as well. If Humphrey Bogart appeared you’d start to think that this might be the High Sierra version of Heart of Lightness…
The ferry took us across the lake the next morning, and we hiked up Mono Creek and into the John Muir Wilderness. The trail was not in bad shape for the segment up to the JMT/PCT junction---mainly because the thru-hikers must have cleared a lot of the major winter damage. There are a few different log crossings available at the North Fork of Mono Creek…but we managed to forget that on the way in, and forded in. Big adventure….but the couple following us had even more trouble, as she was swept 20-30 feet downstream before managing to grab a few branches and pull herself to safety. That's the scene at right, before they tackled the deepest water and strongest current.
She was smiling and cheerful afterwards…but it left us just a little shaken.
From there it was straightforward up to the Mono Creek junction, and then a wonderful hike up Mono Canyon. Yeah, there were a few fallen trees, and the trail was sometimes under water, but for a spring hike this was a walk in the park.
Until we got to the next big creek crossing, at Laurel Creek. And here M put her foot down. She was not going to risk this one, especially late in the day. So we camped here for the night, and waited to see if the water levels would go down in the morning.
They didn’t. Not really. So we climbed up Laurel Creek Canyon, and were absolutely delighted with the decision. This was a real grunter of a climb, 1000 feet in a mile, but we got fantastic views on the way up which gave us lots of reasons to stop and catch our breath. I mean take photos. And we were obviously the first people to hike this trail in 2011. That's the creek we didn't cross, at left.
And once over the rim of the canyon, the meadows of Laurel Creek are simply stunning. We hiked up into the middle of the first meadow and dropped our packs on a small granite island in the middle of paradise.
From there we day-hiked up the canyon: first over snow and avalanche debris, then over huge talus blocks. At the top of the talus we took a look up canyon—lots more snow, even more avalanche debris, and a raging creek hiding somewhere under the snow. Not the best scenario for summer fun. After all, we were on vacation.
We had already decided to camp on the granite in the meadow, so we went back there to eat lunch. And that’s when we realized that with only tiny trees on the island, it was too damn hot! So we backtracked down the canyon into the forest, and set up camp.
The afternoon was spent napping, resting and fishing, (check out P’s feet in that photo at left, pink and yes, that's snow on those Crocs). After dinner we went for a stroll back out into the meadow for some sunset photos.
The next morning we retraced our steps back to the ferry, this time using one of three major log options to cross the North Fork of Mono Creek. And from there we were home free, only stopping to wait for the ferry and soak in the sun and granite at the east end of the lake.
Other reports: we spoke to a fellow hiker who had crossed Laurel Creek and continued up the Mono Creek trail. He reported that about a mile past the creek was a major avalanche that had left about 100 yards of downed trees across the trail. He fought his way through that…but couldn’t find the trail afterwards. And it was getting late, so he headed home. And the log across Mono Creek itself on the way to the Second Recess was still there, but quite wet in the middle. And the creek was really roaring. If you fell of that log, there was no hope of not getting washed down the canyon. Not a complete suicide mission, but only for professionals on the balance beam.