This was another short overnight backpacking trip in the Eastern Sierras, but this time it was with my Dad who met me in Mammoth from Sacramento. We had decided on Chicken Foot Lake in the Little Lakes valley just above Rock Creek Lake between Mammoth and Bishop. The great thing about the trailhead to Little Lakes Valley is that you start at a little over 10,000 feet giving you a great jump on getting to the high altitude lakes of the Sierras. In fact, the route to Chicken Foot Lake only involved about 800 foot of vertical elevation. Definitely good for those of us who carry an additional 15-20lbs of camera gear.
The two days before we arrived though, it had been snowing pretty steady in the region. In the days leading up to the trip, my Dad and I were close to calling off the High Sierras trip and doing some day hikes in the lower areas while staying in a Mammoth hotel, but thankfully it didn’t come to that. The weather cleared the night before our entry date and we were greeted with beautiful clear skies and fresh patchy snow on the ground. The snow had about 60% coverage with many sections of the trail without snow, but many other areas where the trail wound through large fields of winter wonderland.
Once we got to the lake, so many of the possible campsites were either covered with snow or melt water that it took a half hour to find the only dry one around. Thankfully it had a great view of the lake and was still a bit sheltered. We purposely got to the lake earlier in the day and picked a closer lake to hike to so we could have a nice relaxing afternoon. While my Dad napped for a few hours on a big flat rock by the water, I took my time and explored the area.
The snow really added an extra dimension to the landscape. The cold had already turned most of the green into brown, so having the snow around not only accentuated the terrain on the distant peaks, it also gave me a great texture and accent to the foreground objects. We really lucked out with a perfect combo of recent snow and very calm weather. The nice high altitude clouds ended up leaving us before the light changed color for sunset, but there were still some great views while they visited.
Although we had perfectly nice weather during the daytime in the 60′s, it dropped down into the 20′s at night. Somehow (don’t ask me how) I was able to get out of the tent at 1am to take some star trail photos. I set up the first shot and during the 20 minute exposure I went back to the campsite for some hot tea. When I poured water from the canteen into the pot, it actually crystallized mid-pour in the air giving me a frozen slushy. Yeah, it was cold. An hour and a half standing around in this cold, I ended up with two photos; that’s just how star trail photography goes.
The next morning on the hike out, my Dad commented that it felt like a spring thaw. All the melting snow, flowing water, and brown grass coming alive again definitely felt weird in the fall, but it was a nice treat for our weekend trip.