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    Campfire Tales — Backpacking

    Ansel Adams Wilderness

    Ansel Adams Wilderness

    Mid to late August is the perfect time to explore the Eastern Sierras.  Warm days and cool nights are typical at 8,000 feet elevation.  The mid summer mosquito hatch has already died out, but the Golden Trout are still biting.  

    Tucked away a few miles south of Highway 120 and Tioga Pass leading into Yosemite National Park is Gibbs Lake.  The area is often overlooked because of the relatively short hike in, the 4x4 road access, and the plethora of other more lucrative popular gems of the Sierras (i.e. Thousand Island Lake, Big Pine Lakes, Little Lakes Valley).  Located on the edge of the Ansel Adams Wilderness the flora takes a drastic change from the drier high Pinion desert of the Mono Valley and becomes a lush, dense forest more typical of Yosemite but without the trash bears.  

    We started out on the 395 and passed the Roosevelt Tree in Big Pines.

    After a quick stop at the Mono Lake Visitor Center for our wilderness permit we headed up Horseshoe Meadows Road to the trailhead.

    With a thunderstorm looming over the next ridge we felt a few raindrops as we loaded up and got started up the trail.

     Gaining 1,500 feet over about 2.5 miles the route scrambles up the mountain following a rushing creek.

    Here's Bullwinkle rocking his Ruffwear pack loaded down with all his goodies.
    Looking back downhill I could see the Mono basin where we started.

    Passing the Ansel Adams Wilderness boundary from Inyo National Forest we came upon Jeffery Pines whose bark smells like vanilla.

    Closer to the creek a mixed riparian vegetation starts to grow.  Here a nice grove of Aspen stand tall.  By fall the area will show a beautiful array of colors.  Sierra Gooseberries are wild edibles that taste like a ripe cherry tomato.

    We finally approached Gibbs lake and set up camp. After filtering more water and other chores it was time for dinner.  Knorr pasta side dishes, Spam singles, and baby food fruit pouches made for a tasty meal.

     The trusty Hydroflask keeps me hydrated and happy.


     Sunrise greeted us over the lake with a jaw dropping view.  Trout were beginning to rise and sip on flies.  We could watch them cruise the shallows in search of breakfast. Nearing mid day the fish activity waned and we followed suit with swimming, laundry, lunch, and napping.


    The Arcade Adventure Belt is super comfy, low profile, and fits under my backpack belt.  It's stretchy so it makes my pants feel like they have an elastic waistband.

     By afternoon Adam had caught his first Golden with a Tenkara rod, on a Parachute Adams fly, in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. 

     Saying goodbye to Gibbs lake we headed down the mountain.  The going was a lot easier descending from 9,500 feet elevation. 

    The next stop was the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest - home of the some of the oldest living things on earth.  High in the Mono-Inyo mountains east of the 395 north of Big Pine these Bristlecones slowly grow over millennia.  Some trees date over 4000 years old.  A small foot tall sapling is as old as my grandmother.  A decent Christmas tree sized Bristlecone started out it's life when the Declaration of Independence was signed.

    Deep Creek - Devil's Hole

    Deep Creek - Devil's Hole

    Deep Creek runs in the San Bernardino mountains from the northern side of Lake Arrowhead going westward towards the Mojave wash. Eons of erosion carved a deep canyon separating the southern San Bernardino side of the creek from Apple Valley.  
    Getting there:
    There are two ways. The northern route parks you at Bowen Ranch ($5 parking, it's private property)  Google earth pin . You can enjoy the hot springs, but don't drink the water or let it get in an orifice, unless you want to suffer for a few days after! From there and running downstream tiny brain eating protozoans are found in the water. Since we were bringing a dog we decided to go the southern route and not risk it, since Scout couldn't be trusted to not drink the water.
    The southern route has two options: one is an off road adventure requiring a high clearance 4x4, while the other is more mellow.  The mellow option is to park at Splinter's Cabin. From there you can go north on the Pacific Crest Trail to explore this region. We went the 4x4 way to really live off the beaten path.
    The drive can mostly be done in 2WD until the last 50 yards. There is a copout option right before the trail plunges to the valley floor just in case you don't have the cajones neccessary. But arriving at Devil's Hole you are greeted by this fantastic view. 
    Wild mint grows rampant here as well as miners lettuce and wild strawberries if you're looking to do some berry picking. Be on the lookout for bear scat keep yourself out of harms way.

    From there the PCT runs along the creek. We went south towards the notorious cliff diving holes and Aztec Falls.   
    Most of the trail will look like this if you happen to have a 120lbs GSD/wolf hybrid leading your pack. We knew you guys would enjoy the dog butt view.

    Scout found a trail for us down to that bend. Follow me!
    To get down to these holes on this section of the PCT requires some bushwhacking down/up some steep faces. Pants and sturdy shoes are recommended. Emily was tough as nails and made it no problem.
    We made it down and proceeded along the riparian banks.  Scout decided to go for a swim while we set up lunch and our fishing poles. I was using a cut down Shimano ultralight spinning rod rigged with an Okuma 5/6wt reel and full sinking line.  Adam tried out his new collapsible Tenkara rod.  
    It was raining/misting on and off all day with the average temperature hovering around 45 degrees.  Emily was a champ and toughed it out.  We explored more off trail and along the creek bed in search of native trout but came up empty handed.  The summer drought of 2015 must have hit pretty hard and the numbers are not rebounding yet. We hightailed it back to the SUV and did a tick shake down.  I found one on my back and used tweezers from my Med Kit . For these shoulder seasons the area is rife with ticks and skeeters. I always recommend treating gear and your dog with Ben's Permethrin spray to not have to deal with these guys.
    Now for the hard part: getting out is a short 25 yard rock garden with one big maneuver at the end.  Emily got a video of me high centering and rocking the 'Treg, tapping a tree, and nearly running over Adam.  This is the carnage. If you can't duck it..well...
    Come summer time this place will be a great way to escape the heat, picnic and cool off in the deep pools.
    ROUND 2: Early June 2016 revisit 
    The weather forecast for the weekend was to be a hot one.  With that in mind I rounded up the Wander Squad and headed back out to Deep Creek this time from Splinter's Cabin for a slightly easier path.  The drive in was mostly paved and mellow winding through groves of oak and juniper.  We hit the PCT going north and in no time found a decent track that plunged down the steep canyon walls to the inviting pools below.  
    With temperatures in the 80's we stripped down and swam the pools adjoined by small waterfalls and rock slides.  Stirring up schools of native brown trout we decided to let the fish rest for a bit and chow down on lunch in the shade.  
    Adam tries out his Tenkara to see if he can break it in with it's first fish.
    I get some luck in a pool above with this big lunker.
    Here's a closeup of one of the larger specimen of the day showing it's beautiful coloration.  Their feisty feeding habits and undamaged pectoral and dorsal fins indicate these are healthy native trout. I suspect in some larger and deeper pools further downstream there are some big uns hiding.
    Obligatory selfie with Bullwinkle. He gets jealous if we post more pics with other dogs.
    Links to gear used:

    Cottonwood Lakes

    Cottonwood Lakes

    This was to be the trip of the summer and it definitely didn't disappoint. The Cottonwood Lakes are a series of 5 lakes clustered in the shadow of Mount Langley and Cirque Peak.  Located in the southern tip of the John Muir Wilderness the trailhead shares an inroad with the Mount Whitney Portal in the Alabama Hills of Lone Pine.  The trail starts at Horseshoe Meadow where you can choose to acclimate to the 10,000 feet of elevation overnight.  

    The trailhead - about to enter Golden Trout wilderness.  The Golden trout is only found in California and happens to be her official state fish.

    Before the trip I had outfitted our dog Bullwinkle with a pack of his own. He didn't seem to mind the extra weight.

    The trail passes through some easy terrain  for the first 3.5 miles.  There are a few stream crossings which are a welcome break.

    From there it climbs steeply up to the Cottonwood Lakes basin for a mile gaining the most elevation. Here I am enjoying the climb.

    Once you reach the basin the view of Lakes #1 and #2 take your breath away if the climb didn't do it already. The bear canister on my back is available for rent at the Ranger Station (where you get the wilderness permits anyway).

    Bullwinkle celebrates with a romp and roll. It may look like he's eating it, but he was just enjoying the day.

    The group loaded up on water and proceeded to find a nice campsite above Lake #3 ( the largest) in the trees to shelter us from the wind. I also happened to need trees because of my Hennessy Hammock setup I was using. The camp quickly dozed off into an afternoon siesta.

    After exploring the area dinner was on our minds. I was trying a bag of MREs, Adam was on a steady diet of tuna and crackers, while my buddy Trung had a spam and rice plate.

    After tucking in and feeling the altitude we were greeted with a Southern Sierra night sky, one of the best views of the trip.

    We awoke refreshed and shook off the frost to greet the rising sun. Sleeping bags that transform into ponchos or a convertible sleeping bag from Poler or Alite is a great solution for those cold early mornings.

    Once we were warm enough we got to fishing. Mid morning through mid afternoon we were catching rainbows and goldens on rooster tail hooks and Thomas Bouyants spoon lures. 

    Lake #3 was very active with plenty of shoreline to spot cruising fish.

    By the afternoon towards sunset the lake was bubbling with action. The surface of the lake looked like it was boiling with fish jumping out to snatch flies. Bullwinkle had by then finished his swim and was busy sunbathing.


    We spent another night above Lake #3 and fished the morning.  After a 6.5 mile hike out (much easier down hill) we all agreed for some hot food in town.  The plan was to get a table at the Alabama Hills Cafe (highly recommended breakfast/lunch spot @ 111 W Post St, Lone Pine, CA) but we were turned away by weekend crowds. We were set on large hot plates of breakfast fare and french toast at the 'Bama Cafe but settled for McDonalds and enjoyed the running hot water and flushing sit down toilets.  I had two Big Macs with fries, a shake, and an apple pie thing all to myself. It was heaven. 

    Gear Used:



    Ultralight Med Kit


    Dog Med Kit


    ExOfficio Nioclime shirt


    ExOfficio Amphi convertible pants


    ExOfficio Give N Go Boxer Brief


    Alite Cloverware utensils


    Anza Fixed blade

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