Through-Hike from Leavitt Meadows to Hetch-Hetchy

posted Jul 26, 2013, 10:11 AM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Jul 26, 2013, 10:12 AM ]

We finally got out on the trail this year (whew!) and had an adventuresome trip across the Sierra from East to West:

This was a through-hike, obviously, so we have to start out with thanks to Jon for helping us drop off our car at Hetch-hetchy, and Cathy for driving us to the trailhead at Leavitt Meadows.

Day 1:  Off to a late start, for many reasons, and on a nice hot day, as well.  This was a slog.  The first few miles through volcanic sand above the West Walker River, with full, heavy packs (we were planning for an eight day trip) it was real work.  That's the lower canyon in the photo at right, with Crown Peak in the distance.
And because of my health problems, this was our first trip of the season—so we might have been a little out of shape.  We sweated and trudged our way up to lower Piute Meadow, where the mosquitoes were waiting for us, and camped along the river (photo below) in the small granite area between Upper and Lower Piute Meadows.
The mosquitoes still found us, and it was head-nets during dinner and afterwards.  Nine miles.  


Day 2;  The next morning, P was putting his pack together when he felt his back go out, and was pretty much immobile for a few minutes in excruciating pain..  M pulled the Tyvek tarp out of his pack, and laid it on the ground.  For the next twenty minutes, P did his back exercises and tried to relax the muscles.  No fun at all.  We went from trying to figure out how to get back to the trailhead (and then our car, which was 100 miles away) to slowly thinking we might be able to continue.  P eventually picked up his pack, and we were off.  The day included a steep climb out of the West Walker canyon up to the Pacific Crest Trail, and then a lovely climb  through the lakes on the east side of Dorothy Lake Pass. 

Wonderful country.  This is one area we want to explore more.  That's Stella Lake in the photo at right, in front of the dry mountains on the east side of the Walker River canyon.  And then over the pass and down to Dorothy Lake…full of skeeters, and camping along the banks of Falls Creek below the junction with the trail to Bond Pass.  The sky was threatening, and we set up our tent a bit early, but only heard the thunder in along the crest above us—no rain.  A nice spot, but another head-net evening because of the bugs.

Dorothy Lake

Day 3:  A good start to the day, as all is well on the back front.  This was a highly anticipated day, working our way down through Jack Main Canyon on the PCT to Wilmer Lake.   The trail leads from one meadow to the next, and the flowers were blooming like crazy.  But where there are flowers, there are bugs.  Way too many mosquitoes for us to stop and smell the lupine. 

Lunch was on a granite slab on the side of the creek, and just before Wilmer Lake, the landscape changed---and we went from lush meadows to bare granite.  We passed Wilmer Lake (surrounding by lush grass…hmmm) and camped about a mile below it, on the far side of Falls Creek.  

 This was a lovely spot, with deep pools for fishing and swimming.  This afternoon the thunderstorms hit us square, with lightning, thunder, rain, and gusty winds.  Still, we were snug in our tents, napping quietly, and by six p.m. the skies were clearer, and we had a beautiful sunset.  And after rinsing off in the stream, we were almost clean.


Day 4:  Really looking forward to more of this amazing canyon.  The first mile or so was through some of the most remarkable granite, with Falls Creek cascading down slopes into deep pools. 

And then we hit the meadows and lakes.  This part of Jack Main Canyon is an intimate landscape, with the trail wandering through meadows and forest to small lakes, each one delightful.  And the flowers were everywhere.  Alas, so were the bugs.  We had hoped to explore more along here, but the bugs were so fierce that we just kept hiking through the wonderland. 

We pumped water where Falls Creek heads over the cliff to Lake Vernon, and ran into a few members of a CCC trail crew there.  We asked about the route down to Lake Vernon, and they pretty much unanimously discouraged us. So when we saw the cairns leading off the trail to the left, we checked it out, cautiously.  But each slab of granite lead us further down the slope, and after a while, only a tough

Class 3 scramble for 15 feet separated us from the lower and flatter sections of granite.  That's M, at left, working her way down a slab. 
Once through there, we headed over to the creek and followed it down to the forest, where we found a rough trail to the Snow Survey hut.  And from there, an easy hike to a nice campsite at Lake Vernon.  The whole afternoon it threatened to rain, but we only felt a few drops.  We won’t post the route we took down to Vernon, because we don’t want to encourage everyone to try it…but we’ll answer any questions via PM or email.


Day 5;  A bit of a dilemma today. 

We had planned to be out longer than five days (we were carrying food for eight days) but the only way-station on the way to Hetch-hetchy was Laurel Lake, and that didn’t appeal.  Plus the weather was still looking pretty dark and dreary…that's a view of Lake Vernon at right...and we started to think about our lovely cabin near Twain Harte.  So we packed up and headed down, down, down.  We finally found out why the Beehive has its name (the only other time we had been here, it was under two feet of snow)

and then pounded down the switchbacks across from Kolana Rock to the dam at Hetch-hetchy.  The staff at the Evergreen Lodge camp store were really nice to two smelly, filthy backpacers, and they we were off to our cabin for showers, a roast chicken, a bottle of wine, and a softer bed.