Hiking / Trails, Mammoth Lakes
From the South of town off of Old Mammoth Road, take the road past the equestrian center and turn left for approximately 1/2 a mile. Follow the signs to the Sherwin Lakes TrailHead. The trail to the Sherwin Lakes (roughly 2.8 miles) starts off over a pastoral bridge over the little Sherwin Creek and meanders gently upward through pine trees. After a mile or so the switch backs start and you being to work those quads. In April there were enough snow patches to make it fun, although stepping through 2 feet of snow can be work. The lake is brilliant under the shadow of the mountains behind it. Figure 1 1/2 to 2 hours up and an hour to get back. Roughly 800 feet of elevation climb. Don't forget to bring water and I always recommend good hiking boots when ever going on trail.
Mono Pass is the Continental Divide of sorts. It leads from Ruby Lake in the usually rather deserted Little Lakes Valley into Touloumne Meadows in ever crowded Yosemite National Park. Mono Pass is actually a gap between the Sierras. Its supposed to be a short (ha!) 1,000 foot elevation gain. I'm not sure if its short or simple as we never took it, but it did seem more appealing than the endless rockpiles we had to cross to reach our destinations.
The obsession with Mount Abbot began before my time with the hiking crew. In June, 2007, we went on a day trip, hiked Lookout Peak and the rest of the group went on a Mount Abbot scouting mission while I stayed behind and napped. Despite the fact that we didn't quite know the route and there was no trail, we went back in July 2007 for a one day Mount Abbot climb. Granted, this was a lofty aspiration for one day (especially since I flew in from sea level the day before and had a fine combination of jet lag and altitude sickness), but we were armed with ice axes and crampons so at least we looked like we knew what we were doing.
We began at some extremely early hour, 4 a.m., 5 a.m., who remembers and hiked out to Little Lakes Valley, up and over the rocky slopes to third lake and then up to the base of Mount Abbot. We took a break and then put on our crampons and began heading up the icy base of Abbot. My journey would end here. After staggering up a few hundred feet, slipping and falling on late morning ice turned to snow, I had a revelation while lying on the ground after falling for what seemed the 100th time in 30 minutes. I didn't have to do this. There was nothing I needed to prove. It was such a freeing moment. I wished Justin luck and headed to the base of Abbot to wait with his brother who'd already decided that sane people from the suburbs do not attempt things like this. Official excuse: his crampons didn't fit right. I didn't buy it.
Unfortunately, neither Justin nor Dave, the other member of our weekend warrior quartet, did not make it to the summit. They made it up the slope from hell, and to the next part which Justin said was much steeper and almost to the ridge. But they wisely decided to turn back as it was late in the day and Mosquito Flats and, more importantly, the car, were miles away. We'd already headed back in that direction, communicating by portable hand held radios that screamed to anyone passing that we were not mountaineers but city people with lots of technology (we didn't pass to many, fortunately) that we were heading in the direction of the car, Tom's Place, saner pastures and not necessarily in that order.
So, I didn't summit Abbot. And, all joking aside, I don't regret it. There was nothing in me pushing me forward, creating that drive that's needed to push past fear and pain (and, again, not necessarily in that order) to keep going higher. Perhaps back in July, 07 I felt I'd journeyed as high as I needed to go, in mountains and in life. Then again, maybe my crampons didn't fit right either.
Lookout Peak is a little known and rarely climbed conglomerate of rocks which rises to over 12,000 feet. It is one of the easiest "climbs" in the Little Lakes Valley area as technical skill and equipment are not required, although certain areas do require handholding of rocks.The second and third photos show some of the steep angles and the travelogue photos show us doing some climbing
We summited Lookout Peak in June, 2007 on the first day of summer under clear skies and mild temperatures. We were the only ones on the summit, and, according to the summit register, the only ones to summit for over a year.
More information and photos are available in my Lookout Peak travelogue.
Pyramid Peak, shown in the distance in photo 1 and closer in photo 2, got its name for obvious reasons. At 12, 000 plus feet, the views are probably worth the uphill slog, sometimes scrambling over rocks or slipping on loose tiny rocks known as scree, depending on which route you choose. Pyramid is considered fair game for beginning level hikers or climbers, but keep in mind that beginner means having the ability to climb certain segments locating and then using footholds and handholds in the rock. It can be hiked in one long day from the Mosquito Flats trailhead, or enjoyed from a distance on a more leisurely day near and around Ruby Lake. We chose the latter option, for this trip anyway.
Little Lakes Valley is one of the prettiest and most accessible spots in the Sierras. A series of trails lead to the nearby lakes and, beyond the maintained trails are some challenging peak scrambles. The area does not receive anywhere near the amount of traffic as the immensely popular Yosemite, which is another point in its favor. I've listed some of the lakes and trails in other tips and travelogues on this page.
Ruby Lake is a great easy dayhike and a beautiful and surprisingly uncrowded destination. From the Mosquito Flats trailhead, it is 2 miles along an easy to follow trail with only minimal elevation gain. Make sure to follow the Mono Pass fork in the trail though, or you'll end up going the wrong way. This is a great spot for a picnic or, to continue hiking, head to one of the nearby lakes. The valley area is largely flat and most hikes are an easy walk from this point.
In the first photo, you can see Ruby Lake from above, as the picture was taken from the summit of Lookout Peak. The second photo was taken from the trailhead less than a mile from the lake.
If you want something more challenging, head away from Ruby Lake and the valley. This is where the real fun begins as the trails end and there is a scramble over a large rock field to get further out to the peaks in the distance. About a mile and a half past Ruby Lake is a great spot by another lake whose name I don't know where glacial runoff forms a small waterfall. We passed a few hikers and a couple of campers en route to Ruby Lake, but, once past the rocks, we saw no one at all.
This was the view along the River Trail on late September afternoon, near the end of a long dayhike into the lakes above. The valley is that of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin - in which lies the Devil's Postpile - and Mammoth Mountain is seen ahead.
One 'backdoor' to Garnet Lake is to take the River Trail up from Agnew Meadow trailhead - this is where options to Thousand Island Lake via the Pacific Crest Trail and hikes to the Minarets via Shadow Lake also begin. The River Trail comes off the Ediza Lake Trail just past Olaine Lake, where that trail drops to cross the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin. The River Trail continues to follow the eastbank of the Middle Fork up to just before Thousand Island Lake when it rejoins the Pacific Crest Trail. A few miles up, there is a small lateral trail that will climb steeply up through forested cliffs to Garnet Lake's outlet. Watch the way closely as it is not always obvious!!
There are natural craters all throughout Mammoth Mtn and this is one of them. You can hike down to the bottom. It's actually quite a whole different world. There's a murky swamp and various types of insects, birds, and plants. The other crater right next to it is much bigger and steeper and there is NO WAY that you'll be able to hike down that one.
During the summer drive on past Mammoth Lakes on Hwy 203 and go on to Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls. Beautiful valley.
However, even in July there could still be snow, so bring a few layers.