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Tuolumne Meadows and Lembert Dome during a summer storm, Yosemite National Park

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Re: Spillway Lake, Parker Pass and Mono Pass, 10 November 2019

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I was in the country and Brother-In-Law was available for a day hike on Sunday. So we picked an area neither of us had hiked before, the Mono Pass area. Since BIL needed to be at work early on Monday, we drove up Saturday night and stayed in Groveland, then set out relatively early on Sunday.

We started hiking at around 8:30, with only one other car in the parking lot. The temperature was still close to freezing, but we warmed up quickly once on the trail, and the sun did its thing too, and we soon each shed a few layers.

I assumed that with little precipitation over the past several months, the water levels at the various stream crossings would be, at most, low, and this was borne out: most of the streambeds were dry, and those in which water was flowing were an easy rock hop, and nothing that would be bothersome in waterproof boots. However, there was a reasonable amount of ice in most of the places where water was flowing, especially as we got higher. BIL spotted some fish in a pool at our first crossing.

The stream flowing from Spillway Lake (Parker Pass Creek) was steady and surprisingly strong, and the meadows were all yellow. Clearly, in spring and summer the flow would be higher, the meadows would be wet and there would be a palette formed by the grasses and wildflowers. But on this trip, yellow would be the predominant color among vegetation as we got higher. This didn’t detract from the views of Mammoth Peak, and the whole of the Kuna Crest as we continued our ascent. And we didn’t have to contend with flies or mosquitoes.

At the first fork, we elected to go Spillway Lake rather than head directly to Mono Pass. In retrospect, this was a brilliant decision, for several reasons. First, the gradient up to Spillway is significantly less than the gradient up to Mono Pass from that point, so we didn’t exhaust ourselves early, and we saved the steeper part for the descent, later in the day.

Second, whereas the trail to Mono Pass at that point goes into woods, the trail to Spillway is more exposed, which on a chilly November day wasn’t a bad thing, and allowed us to continue to have good views of the Kuna Crest, of the flowing creek and the ice along its path,

and, looking backward, increasingly good views of the peaks along the northeast edge of the park.

And third, we no longer had to watch for the horse manure that littered the Mono Pass trail.

I’ve mentioned before that going straight from the East Bay to high altitude presents challenges, and this time was no different: level terrain was no problem, even at 10,000 feet, but our pulses increased significantly with even small climbs. But we made it to Spillway, and took a food break. Even saw a small butterfly (sorry, no photo).

At this point, we could look back and clearly identify Dana, as well as White Mountain, the top of Conness, and North Peak. Pretty cool.

The cliffs to the south, particularly the one below which sits Parker Pass Lake, were also impressive, but with the low November sun behind them they were largely shaded and not susceptible to good photography. They probably warrants another visit in the summer, when there should be lighting at mid-day, and no doubt more colorful flora.

The area around Spillway felt fairly desolate, and as the climb east was fairly gentle, we decided to head cross-country to the trail to Parker Pass. (As BIL noted, cross-country is easy when you’re above the tree line.)

We had seen a few ground squirrels on the way to the lake. Up here we saw no fauna, although we saw plenty of evidence of such: lots of scat that looked like marbles, which I assume was from some type of deer, and some hoofprints from those same deer or another type of ruminant. Quite a few burrow holes, too, from what presumably were marmots.

We eventually crossed the trail and headed toward Parker Pass, and even went a bit beyond it, to the two lakelets just east of the pass in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, but they were nearly dried out.

The signs welcoming you to the Yosemite and Ansel Adams Wilderness areas respectively each say no wood fires in those areas. Does that mean wood fires are permitted between the signs?

Given more daylight hours, and a few days in advance to acclimate to the altitude, we might have attempted to summit Mt. Lewis, but not today. We did, however, double back a bit to look down on Parker Pass Lake. I assume that this lake, with its high altitude and heavy shade cover from the southern cliffs, freezes early and stays extremely cold most of the year.

It would be fun to come back to this area to explore some of the lakes on the east side of the Kuna Crest – Helen, Bingaman and Kuna, as well as some unnamed lakes.

We then made our way back to the trail and headed toward Mono Pass. While not quite level like the great plains, the large expanse of yellow did conjure up the sounds of Borodin’s “In the Steppes of Central Asia” in my head. And now that we were heading downhill, it was a cakewalk. We also saw the only wildlife we encountered on this part of the trip: two crows, flying close to the ground.

As we neared the junction with the Mono Pass trail, BIL suggested that we go off trail a few steps to the east to see if we could see Mono Pass. This proved to be another brilliant suggestion: not only could we see the pass area from the south, but we could see down Bloody Canyon to Mono Lake. This spared us the need to take the actual trail past Mono Pass and into the mouth of Bloody Canyon for a similar view.

The views of the south face of Mt. Gibbs and the Pacific Crest were nothing to sneeze at either.

We returned to the Parker Pass trail, then rather take it all the way to the merger with the Mono Pass trail, cut across the western area of the pass. This would not be doable when the area is wet, but was possible this late in the year before the snows arrive, and this too saved us some steps. We arrived at Mono Pass, and ate some more while overlooking Summit Lake. Unlike the various abandoned mines marked on the USGS map, none of which we saw (not that we looked), the benchmark was right there, next to the sign.

Note the benchmark just behind and to the left of the signpost.

It was at this point that we saw the first people we encountered on this trip, a family of four. We finished eating and began the trek back, descending through the woods. As we neared the trailhead, we passed a total of seven more people, all of whom were heading back to their cars, including two young women who we assumed were tourists from outside the USA, on account of the heeled boots they wore; I now have new appreciation for the meaning of the term “well-heeled”. BIL noted that us old folks were only entitled to ego gratification if we passed the young ‘uns while we too were wearing heels. We did not envy what their feet would feel like that that evening.

We reached Tenaya Lake and Olmstead in time to see the sun setting off Tenaya Peak (and Polly, Pywiak, and Mariolumne domes), and Half Dome,

and the whole face Clouds Rest, the Quarter Domes and Mt. Starr King.

And BIL noticed a nearly-full moon rising over some peaks behind us.

The best wow moment on the way out of the park, however, was the entirely red sky we saw at one point when the road turned and we suddenly had an open view to the west – red across the whole horizon. Sadly, no pull-out to stop for a photo, so that one will remain a memory only.

I always wish I could have more time in Yosemite, but for a one-day trip this one worked out pretty well – just the right distance and elevation change, and some gems at the end of the day too. Looking forward to the next hike, whenever that may be.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/14/2019 04:20PM by Not quite The Geezer, but getting there.
Re: Spillway Lake, Parker Pass and Mono Pass, 10 November 2019
November 14, 2019 06:16PM
Thank you for the TR! I love that area! Glad u had a good time! You chose a great day hike!
Re: Spillway Lake, Parker Pass and Mono Pass, 10 November 2019
November 14, 2019 09:19PM
Lovely! Those mines up by Mono Pass are not hard to find...just a bit south of the trail, up on the hillside.

Check our our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
Or just read a good mystery novel set in the Sierra; https://www.amazon.com/Danger-Falling-Rocks-Paul-Wagner/dp/0984884963
avatar Re: Spillway Lake, Parker Pass and Mono Pass, 10 November 2019
November 14, 2019 11:33PM
Sounds like quite an adventure. That mile or so from just above Sardine Lake until the junction with the Spillway Lake trail is just about my favorite place in the world. Not too showy but still breathtaking, with Gibbs and the Kuna Crest literally RIGHT there. I've never been to the area anywhere near this late in the year, though, so these pictures are wild. Thanks for sharing!
Re: Spillway Lake, Parker Pass and Mono Pass, 10 November 2019
November 15, 2019 05:59AM
Nice pics and trip report. Thanks for posting
Re: Spillway Lake, Parker Pass and Mono Pass, 10 November 2019
November 15, 2019 09:24PM
Awesome pics and great TR! Amazing shot of the Tenaya lake and full moon also.
Thanks for sharing. Tenaya lake and Olmsted Point are gorgeous on it's own, especially when it's not that busy smiling smiley
Re: Spillway Lake, Parker Pass and Mono Pass, 10 November 2019
December 29, 2019 01:21PM
Awesome photo! An amazing shot of Lake Tenaya.

Thanks for sharing. Are there any places to visit?
Not sure what you mean by "places to visit". I think Yosemite is full of places to visit, that's why I keep going back :-).
Re: Spillway Lake, Parker Pass and Mono Pass, 10 November 2019
December 30, 2019 07:50AM
I did not notice this the first time I read your report...but I want to recognize you for the citation of Borodin--a first in TRs IIRC!

Check our our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
Or just read a good mystery novel set in the Sierra; https://www.amazon.com/Danger-Falling-Rocks-Paul-Wagner/dp/0984884963
Well, my first TR included a reference to Mahler (with the place in the score), but this is apparently the first reference to Borodin anywhere in this forum. I see you posted some years ago about humming Handel while hiking. Will respond to that one on that thread.
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