Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Pioneer Basin - 8/29/08 - 9/1/08

Okay so this trip happened a number of months ago but better later than never right? I was really excited and slightly apprehensive about this trip. I had always wanted to go to Pioneer Basin and had read several reviews about how great this area is. The apprehensive side of me was worried about the "lightweight" classification for this trip. I did this trip through my Sierra Club section and there were guidelines about weight. It was not a true lightweight trip since the lightweight just meant that the "big 3" needed to be under a certain weight. I also looked at this as an opportunity to buy some new gear :) ....which I did in the beginner of the summer. I am the proud owner of a Six Moon Designs pack and a Tarpent....I really love the Tarptent.

A couple of weeks before the trip the co-leader had to cancel and I agreed to help out. I knew a few others on the trip and knew the other folks would be well experienced so I was looking forward to hiking with the group. I headed out on Thursday morning with Rich and Dave. The drive over to the Eastern side was really great as usual. We were planning to have a little group together for a dinner potluck and we made a stop in Mammoth. It ended up that the whole group was there for dinner at the trailhead at Mosquito Flat....and dinner....

Dinner was quite the event....everyone brought something and there were lots and lots of fresh goodies including garden grown tomatoes and some swiss char. We went nuts and made 2 types of pasta sauces. There were lots other goodies as well including fresh bread, cherries and much more. Of course there was wine and to no one's surprise I contributed that particular item. With bellies full and a huge slog ahead the next day we turned in after dinner. One note about the campground (Mosquito Flat) was really nice and super emtpy which was quite a surprise given that Labor Day is a really big backpacking weekend.

Day 1
The next morning we got up early and tried to head out early. We were on our way out from camp and we ran into the camp-hostess...pseduo camp hostess after talking to her for awhile it was clear that she and her husband had multiple duties. I think our morning well wisher was also interested in the fact they we were a Sierra Club group and she listened in on our trailhead talk. We were soon on our way and it looked like it was going to be a good day.

The word of the morning was up and the afternoon word would be down. We were headed up to Mono Pass at 11,200 feet. Along the way to the pass there were some really nice lakes and it looked like some good fishing as well based on number of fishers I saw. The trek to the pass went slowly but surely and the moderate pace helped us to get up the pass without falling over at the top. I was on the hunt for a pass sign so I could take a picture but I think it must have been removed in the last few years because we didn't see anything. We took a nice windy stop up at the lake. I thought the pass was really beautiful because of its desoloation. It was windy however so we were all glad to head back out into the sun. Post-pass was alllll downhill and down and down and down. We passed by Trail Lakes which has a snow monitoring station and several well estabalished campsites. We then headed North and then slightly Northwest to head into Pioneer Basin. Someone had blocked off our turnout ino the basin so we had to do some backtracking but it was pretty minor. We ended up establishing camp off of a creek and well off the trail. Anne was a little concerned about the exposure at the lakes given the windy weather we had and being off trail out of the way gave us some isolation as well as put us out of the way of any normal bear food tours. Sunset was cold but really beautiful as we watched the light play off of the surrounding granite walls. Also our campsite had a view into the Fourth Recess which was really great.

Day 2
The next day was greeted by some fairly fast moving clouds. I think most of the group's assesment was that it was going to rain but it didn't look like a storm was impending so we headed out for a dayhike. We hiked further up into the basin and headed to the end of the trail which leaves you at a pretty large lake at 10,862 feet. From there we walked to the NW end of the lake and then over to a lake that is unnamed and sits right below Mt. Crocker. We were hoping to hike up to a saddle in the ridge to get some view looking North but the skies were becoming a bit more threatening at this point and sure enough as we started to head up it started to rain. it usually is in hiking plans were reassessed and we decided to head over to yet another lake at about 11K. The rain let up and we decided to take a lunch/snack/Joel swimming break. I was slightly bummed at the let up with the rain since I had broken out my new poncho and wanted to put it to the test. Our journey of lakes continued after lunch and we headed to another unnamed lake which was SE of our lunch break. There was almost a unanimous vote that this was everyone's favorite lake. We also had 2 not 1 brave swimmer test the waters here. There were apparently some established campsites on the NW end of the lake but it wasn't clear how many people it could hold.

After our favorite lake we journied on and back to the lake that was at 10K feet but to the south end of the lake where we ran into some guys who were doing some fishing. I should mention that there was no one camping at any of these lakes even the guys that were fishing were not camping in the basin. I was pretty surprised by this given how beautiful and accessible the basin is and the time of year that we were in there. We hiked a little further south to a small lake that had really beautiful SE views and then we rounded out the trip by doing a little cross country jaunt to our campsite. All in all a really great day of hiking and of scouting out some future camping destinations.

Day 3
I was really looking forward to today's hike since we were headed to Fourth Recess Lake. I had seen several pictures of this lake and it looked like an amazing place...I was not going to be let down. We started out early and it was FAHreezing....that is my way of emphasizing how darn cold it was so I was more than happy to lead the group and get my blood going. It was a pretty short hike to the junction of the Fourth Recess trail but it was long enough with enough up and downs combined with a slight jog to get me warmed up. We ended up setting up camp about .25 miles away from the lake to stay off trail in the trees with the hope off avoiding some of the wind that was going to come off of the lake. After setting up camp we hike up to the lake and some folks were interested in climbing to up above the lake. I personally was not sure that there was way to the lake but I joined our small adventursome group to see where we would get to. Of course we ended up getting to the top after some fun scrambling and boulder hopping. I was really beautiful up top and it only took us a couple of hours. It was also super windy and we had to tie everything down. Once we are up there I of course was very curios about what lay further back and figured it was a pretty easy hike into Snow Lakes but that would have to wait for another trip. Since we said we would be back by a certain time we headed back down and met the rest of the group at the lake. It was late afternoon by this time so we headed back to camp for a little R&R before dinner and after dinner some of us went to go watch sunset. That night was cold very very cold and I was glad that I had all of my layers. I also think in hindsight that camping closer to the lake would have been okay I don't think there would have been much a temperature deviation between the sites.

Day 4
Sigh...time to leave the wilderness. Unfortunately I was met with unkind surprise that morning and somehow a mouse had gotten into my bowl that night and hadn't gotten out alive (I'll leave it at that). Lesson to reinforce...turn over your pots, cups, bowls, etc before you go to bed at night. We got an early start that morning because we had a tough hike out and it was cold again and folks wanted to move. The group got split up early on and was hiking at pretty different paces. We eventually all met up at Trail lakes and went at a slower pace after that to keep the group together. We actually saw a fair amount of folks headed into the basin and I was of course very jealous. At the pass we stopped and talked to two older women who were headed in both of which were Sierra Club members and they were out for a week+ trip and were going all the way into Snow Lakes...I was very impressed and inspired...hopefully that will be me when I am their age. The rest of the hike out was uneventful I went through my last picture taking frenzy. We got off the trail at a really decent time I think it was about 1 or so and of course I supported the idea of stopping at Whoa Nellie Deli. We all quickly "showered" and changed and raced each other to the deli where we had a full pig out session..which was justly deserved. We then parted ways and headed back to reality (sigh). Another great trip into a really beautiful area that I hope to return to with a great group of folks.

See all of the pictures

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