My parents took me backpacking outside of Ketchum, Idaho practically every summer of my childhood starting when I was 3 or 4. I loved being totally immersed in the mountain forests. I am lucky to have been exposed to the incredible isolation and remote wilderness that backpacking brings from a young age. I am also fortunate to have been taught the skills needed to be so isolated from civilization. We brought my best friend, Josie, to Idaho with us when I was in high school and she predictably fell immediately in love with it. This summer I decide to plan a trip to take four of my best girlfriends backpacking. For two of them it would be their first trip.
I selected the Duck Pass trail in the John Muir Wilderness for a few reasons. 1. It looked incredibly beautiful 2. The trail passed 3 smaller lakes on the way to Duck Lake. I wasn’t sure how well everyone would do hiking with packs so the lower lakes gave us alternative camping options 3. The trail to Duck didn’t seem to long or challenging but was far enough to get us out of most day hiking range. 4. There were trails that we could day hike on once we set up camp.
We left from the Bay Area on a Wednesday and stopped for a day hike in out of the Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite National Park.
We spent the night in Mammoth and headed out the next morning from Cold Water Creek Campground. We passed Arrowhead lake after a short series of switchbacks. Everyone was ready to sit down and have a snack when we got to Skeleton Lake. Josie and I jumped into the freezing water for a short swim. A few more miles down the trail and we arrived at Barney Lake at the base of Duck Pass. We rested a bit while enjoying the beautiful scenery. I went for another arctic swim.
Duck Pass was short, steep and Rocky. Here is Jo (left) the tiny blue dot making her way up the pass above me while I’m about half way up the pass. The view of the drainage below was breath taking (below). As we climbed higher we could see the lakes we had passed earlier in the day. The view on the other side of Duck Pass down at Duck Lake was equally spectacular (below).
We set up camp along a tiny unnamed lake along side Pika Lake which is a smaller lake alongside Duck that has more flat areas to camp. Jo and I got to the area first. We set our packs down on the shores of Pike Lake and went in search of the perfect camp spot, somewhere with views and privacy. I think we did pretty good.
The next morning Josie and I both awoke early. The air outside the tent was cold but the morning was beautiful. We walked away from camp over toward Duck Lake and were greeting by the most incredible reflection I think I have ever seen. Duck Lake is a very large lake and this morning it was completely glassy. All of the surrounding mountains perfectly reflected in its waters. Jo and I sat on a rock outcropping above the lake and took in its spectacular beauty and watched a few marmots scurrying around the rocks.
The next morning we set out early to day hike to Purple lake. The trail took us around the eastern shore of Duck lake and down into the drainage basin. Storm clouds moved in and we decided to turn back for camp. It began lightly raining on us as we made the last leg of the trip back. The down pour began just as we got to camp and sent us all ducking into our tents for cover. Thunder, lighting, pouring rain. Luckily before we had left in the morning I had dug trenches around the tents in case it rained while we were away. The storm passed. Everyone emerged. As we began making dinner I saw the clouds double back. Just as we were finishing eating the clouds began to really darken and get closer. We started hearing thunder and seeing lightning strikes down the valley. “Ok everyone lets get dinner cleaned up and everything back in the bear boxes ASAP.” We all scurried around putting things away and getting ready for the night. I shoveled the trenches deeper. The clouds darkened. The thunder got louder. Lightning strikes intensified. Everything put away, Natalie and Traci dove for the cover of their tent. Jo, Suzy and I watched the lightning. It was a spectacular show. The storm neared ever closer. The temperature dropped. Everyone went into their sleeping bags but me. I sat in our vestibule area with the fly un zipped watching the lighting crack. “Ouch!” Something hit me hard. Hail! I zipped the tent closed and joined the girls in the tend. We watching 1/2-1 inch hail balls bounce off the ground around us. They pummeled the tent. This is why you get a good tent. The trenches I had dug filled with hail. The ground became white. Thunder roared.
Eventually the hail turned to rain. I got into my rain paints, put on my rain jacket and stepped out into the storm. Hail had bounced under the fly and was sitting along the tent. The trenches were full of hail. Both threatened the dryness of our night sleep. Rain thundered down on me. I flung the hail balls out of the trenches. Around me it looked like a winter wonderland. I love mountain storms…as long as you have good gear!
The next morning we hiked out. It was a beautiful sunny day. The day hikers we passed on the trail all asked how the storm was. They told us about how crazy it was in Mammoth…nothing like what we saw in the high country!