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Re: Nelson Lake area

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Nelson Lake area
August 05, 2017 10:35PM
I have a permit for the Illilouette -- Red Peak Pass -- Merced River loop, departing on the 18th. But we're worried about the heat in the Illilouette and Merced canyons, so we're trying to escape to higher elevation. I've set my sights on the Cathedral Range, particularly the Nelson Lake trailhead. Amazingly, it's a Cathedral Range trailhead that's available pretty much any day. But I want this to be a 4- or 5-night trip, so I want to continue past the lake and get back onto the trail network.

(I've been around Glen Aulin a lot recently, so want to try something else. Thought about the Benson Circuit, but I'm concerned about the difficulty.)

P.S: Thank you to everyone who gave advice when I was first looking at the Red Peak Pass loop. It does look like a great hike.

My hypothetical plan is to camp first around Nelson Lake, the second night around Emeric Lake, and then get back onto the trails. Has anyone done this?

First of all, getting to Nelson Lake. People on this forum have said that there's a use trail. Is it fairly straightforward to follow, or do I need to budget extra time?

Then, the continuation to Emeric Lake looked rather delicious on Tom Harrison's map. Looking at the more detailed topo online, the final approach to Emeric Lake looks potentially difficult, and I'm not sure whether I should come from the north or the west.

Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 08/06/2017 10:35AM by iivvgg.
avatar Re: Nelson Lake area
August 06, 2017 07:36AM
There are use trails to Nelson, roughly. Two areas that get a bit tricky...

1) As you cilmb above the meadow east of Elizabeth towards the pass the use trails tend to break into many use trails, just keep the ultimate destination in mind.

2) From the pass down into Echo Creek there's a very well-defined use trail. This, too, tends to break up a bit as you near Nelson.

You should be able to get to Nelson with plenty of time for swimming in the lake.

I haven't been from Nelson to Emeric, so can't help there.

EDIT: I have, however, continued cross-country from Nelson down to the trails near Echo Valley, then continued to Merced Lake. This is relatively straightforward. However, if someone else has been Nelson to Emeric and can help...camping at Emeric is more enjoyable than at the designated camping site at Merced.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/06/2017 07:39AM by ttilley.
Re: Nelson Lake area
August 06, 2017 02:52PM
I was just there three weeks ago trying to go cross country from Emeric Lake to Nelson Lake and then onto Matthes and Echo Lake before exiting via Cathedral Lakes. I went a little too far west under heavy tree cover and had to drop down to Echo Creek about 2 miles downstream of Nelson Lake. I could have corrected my course by backtracking to the northeast face of this 500 foot cliff, but because I met a very large mother bear and her cub while I was making my decision on where to start down, I decided it was best not to see them a second time that morning. That proved to be a wise decision, as a half hour later I heard the mating call of a male bear and met him when I was within 100 feet of the bottom. I didn't go upstream to Nelson Lake the next day because the number of downed trees and standing trees is high on both sides of Echo Creek and I wanted to try for Matthes and Echo Lake. This proved to be too difficult to do in a day, so I exited west to the Echo Creek Trail after going over a 300 foot ridge on the north side of Echo Creek (the branch coming out of Nelson Lake) and dropping back down on the other side into a valley with an unnamed creek that flows into the branch of Echo Creek coming from Echo Lake. This allowed me to pick up the Echo Creek Trail at least two miles farther to the north (and losing less altitude) than I would have been able to by following the branch of Echo Creek going out of Nelson Lake. It was also easier to get across the branch of Echo Creek coming from Echo Lake farther upstream.

The main problem you will have is climbing up over 500 feet after you leave Nelson Lake, cross over Echo Creek, and head south. There are no good places to do it farther downstream (it gets worse with more tall granite shelves and less dirt), and it will require great skill to do it where it is easiest. The first 100 feet of climbing will not be bad, but after that you will have a tough time picking your way around granite shelves and steep areas with loose dirt. On my way down, I ran into trouble three times where the grade was too steep to walk down anywhere safely, so I had to slide on my rear for 15 to 25 feet and then stop, get up, and continue on. You need to be an expert climber to attempt this safely, and I do recommend you go with someone equally experienced who can help with route finding and medical assistance if there is an injury. The tree cover is so heavy on the way up and at the top that you will never be found without an infrared sensor on a helicopter to direct a ground crew. There are very few places in Yosemite at this altitude that have as many tall trees as this area has.

Once you get to the top, which could take up to two hours, it's a nice forested walk south to Lake 9637, which is unnamed on most maps. Downed trees are everywhere, so you should anticipate your off trail progress will be slowed at least 25% over what your normal speed is on trail. Head to the south shore of this lake and climb up the pile of large rocks to the top where the three dead pine trees are. There were patches of snow when I went down it, but those should be gone now. The area around the lake was very swampy, but by now you shouldn't have to worry about sinking into the mud. There is a small pass when you get to the top by those three dead trees and you can drop down on the other side using a very long (1/2 mile) natural switchback that heads east and takes you to a runoff stream heading down the hill across lots of granite to Emeric Lake. I actually crossed over the runoff twice because switching back earlier would have meant dealing with swampy ground and big downed trees. You may find it easier to go that way now that the runoff is less. I was concerned about getting my leg caught or twisted in the mud and downed trees, so I chose the wet granite instead.

My experience camping along Echo Creek was mosquito free until the evening, but even then they were very light. However, camping even 500 feet away from Emeric Lake didn't help much, since the mosquitoes were very bad there all day long, but especially after 5 pm.

If you'd like to see some pictures of the area, let me know and I'll try to post some on Google. It looks much different than you might expect by studying maps or looking at it with Google Earth, which doesn't show the granite shelves in enough detail to do good trip planning.

ttiley is right about the hike from Tuolumne Meadows to Nelson Lake. When I did it a few years ago, I lost the trail on the way up with no snow around until the top. You basically need to head for the lowest pass that is southeast of Elizabeth Lake, which can be hard to see at times due to the heavy tree cover. I ended up going too far to the south and had to backtrack east a ways when I got near the top. The final 100 feet is a bit steep and may still have snow on it, but it is free of trees and is pretty much all granite. I was able to avoid all but one snow patch when I did it. Keep in mind that this moderately steep area is easier to negotiate than the 500 foot cliff south of Echo Creek.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/06/2017 02:57PM by rgliebe.
Re: Nelson Lake area
August 06, 2017 10:38PM
Wow, thank you for the detailed description. It's crystal-clear after reaching the top of the cliff. But before that is a little confusing. By the topo map, there looks like one good route: hug the base of the cliffs and always stay above the 9400' contour until due north of Lake 9637, then make a beeline for the lake. The steepest ascent this way is 300 feet high at most. And the satellite view shows only sparse tree cover.

On the other hand, continuing downstream a little farther and approaching Lake 9637 from the northwest involves a climb of about 500 feet in dense forest. This climb is steep, covering about the same lateral distance as the 300-foot ascent coming from the north. Your "a little too far west under heavy tree cover" sounds like this route.

I made a sketch of my preferred route only to realize that I can't upload it to this site. I can find some other way to transfer it to you if you want to see it.

Finally, do you recommend camping in the basin of Lake 9637 or on the saddle beyond it? It would be a shame to do all of that cross-country just to end up at a popular lake (Emeric).

P.S: You don't sound too enthusiastic about this area. Is it better to take the more usual exit from Nelson northeastward via Reymann? I hesitate to do this because I want to go south, and after passing Rafferty Peak I have more than five trail miles to get down to Emeric.

P.P.S: Just reading your post and writing my response has impressed on me that this route requires map-and-compass navigation, so thank you for the reality check. I do know how it works (I'm an engineer :-), but never had to personally rely on it before.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 08/06/2017 10:52PM by iivvgg.
Re: Nelson Lake area
August 07, 2017 10:35AM
It's been 7 or more years, but my recollection when exploring above (NW) Emeric one day was that Lake 9637 is pretty swampy - not a great place to fish, swim or collect water. Others with more recent (or accurate memory of the) experience may disagree.
Re: Nelson Lake area
August 23, 2017 11:16AM
I would love to see photos of your trip rgliebe. I am working on changing my trip to that area to try to escape some of the smoke from the fires to the south.
Re: Nelson Lake area
August 07, 2017 10:56PM
I finally figured out how to use CalTopo. Here's my proposed route.

@ags: Thanks for the tip. I also had a sense that this lake wasn't quite a scenic attraction. But the saddle looks pretty nice, and the seasonal stream nearby should be flowing.
Re: Nelson Lake area
August 08, 2017 08:47PM
EDIT: See below instead

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/08/2017 10:18PM by iivvgg.
Re: Nelson Lake area
August 08, 2017 10:18PM
EDIT: Sorry, having technical difficulties

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/08/2017 10:19PM by iivvgg.
Re: Nelson Lake area
August 08, 2017 01:24AM
OK, your map is pretty close to the best route, and you are pretty close to nailing my route down to Emeric Creek. Keep in mind that the meadow south of Nelson Lake could be pretty swampy still. The south shore of Emeric Creek was very swampy when I was there, so I crossed over it as soon as I could to camp on the dry north side. I envision this meadow to be much like the area east of Upper Cathedral Lake that I had to slip and sink through the mud and runoff streams to get past that lake, only to find out afterward that the trail had been rerouted (and I lost it there until I got to the other side of the swamp). Since I couldn't see the face you are trying to climb from where I was, I'm not positive that you won't have problems on the last 300 feet when it gets steeper and probably becomes mostly granite shelves with very few rocks or crevices to get leverage with. You are climbing about 550 feet in total to get to the top, but the first 250 looks pretty reasonable, so hopefully it will work out better than what I did. I did pick the best and probably only safe way down without rock climbing equipment on the northwest facing slope from what I saw afterward.

You need to adjust your climb on the south side of Lake 9367 where the big rocks are. You need to go all the way around completely to the south side, maybe even slightly southwest, by the time you get to the top. That's where the three dead pine trees are, and unless you are right by them you won't be able to climb over the top of the ridge there safely. It's only a 5 foot drop down off the top of ridge by the dead pine trees with a crevice you can use, but it's much more (up to 20 feet of sheer granite) if you try to go over where your route is now. Ags is right about the swampy area on the north side of Lake 9637. If you want to camp near the lake, I would recommend following the outlet a ways out of the forest. It starts north but turns west and starts downhill at a significant grade after less than a tenth of mile from the lake, but because the tree density is less along it, it should be much less swampy from more sun. You will also get some excellent views from there of Half Dome and Cloud's Rest off in the distance. Ironically from the east side, Cloud's Rest looks more like Half Dome from the west side and Half Dome from the east side looks a lot like Cloud's Rest from the west side. You probably won't see any humans in that area, but of course I learned the bears seem to like to roam around there. I've never seen more than four parties camped at Emeric Lake at one time. It's so large that they are often 1/4 mile apart, and there are plenty of places to camp where no one will see you unless they explore around the entire lake. One time I camped on the west side of it near the outlet under high winds so I could sleep in peace and not have to listen to the loud drunks camped on the east side. I think Emeric is unpopular because it's halfway between the Vogelsang and Merced HSC, and many backpackers seem to be drawn to them for reasons that I don't totally understand, since I prefer peace and quiet. The only HSC where I've had good experiences is Glen Aulin, when only one or two groups (including me) is camped on the hill overlooking the creek.
Re: Nelson Lake area
August 08, 2017 10:20PM
Thank you again. My topo map is in the mail, and I will note this on the map when it arrives.
Re: Nelson Lake area
August 10, 2017 12:33PM
We did this hike a few years ago on a much simpler route, going up from Nelson to Reymann Lake, then over the pass to Rafferty Creek trail at Toulumne Pass, then onwards. It was a cakewalk.

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