|Looking like something out of the Sound of Music|
After spending a day wading through heavy snow up near Sonora Pass to bag what would have otherwise been an easily hiked summit, I turned my sights to a the lower elevations. The area bounded by Stanislaus National forest is one of extreme changes in altitudes. This time of year (Fall), it is basically "drive or hike to your preferred season". So simply by driving back down 4,000 ft I went from frigid temperatures and deep snow to comfortable late summer weather.
is a backcountry resort which draws everyone from casual weekenders to hardcore wilderness backpackers. Its the kind of welcoming atmosphere that must push PCT-thru-hikers to want to take a few zero days enjoying the good company and mild weather. I almost stayed there the whole day instead of hiking! But I did manage to get on the trail; won't be too much longer before all this becomes inaccessible in about a month.
Here's a map of my impromptu 6 mile hike into the wilderness:
The Emigrant Wilderness area of Stanislaus National Forest is one of the more famous federally designated wildernesses of California but don't expect to encounter many people past the first few miles. Commercially lead horse and pack trips will make their way a little past the entrance but mostly its just backpackers and solitude seekers deep in the heart of it. My trip was very tame compared to what most seek in this part of the Sierras but a fantastic "sampler" of what the area has to offer.
Since I was just out for the day, it was permitted to park in the Kennedy Meadows resort. Note that if you're going for an overnight trip, you absolutely need to park in the lot closer to the highway (designated on the map) which adds about a 0.5 mile to your hike.
What I really loved about my little hike was that it required minimal effort to get to stunning views. Really, one could just go for a mile walk south of the resort area and be engulfed in the natural beauty of the Sierras. The meadows themselves are bounded by the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River which serves as a destination for fly fishers. To the South and East, the summits of Leavitt Peak, Relief Peak and Granite Dome loom like gatekeepers to this land lost in time. The area has never really been developed or, for that matter, civilized.
The first half mile to one mile of the trail is relatively flat and serene. Once it does encounter some terrain, the trail mostly parallels the river before arriving at the junction of the two creeks which create the Stanislaus River. It is almost like a little Grand Canyon!
So, any sort of effort that is put in hiking up the trail is exponentially rewarded.
After a few bridge crossings of the creeks, the trail comes to a fork. If you head due East (hikers left), the trail continues a fairly steady ascent before leveling out in a narrow canyon carved by Kennedy Creek. A much longer day hike (14-16 miles) would lead to Kennedy Lake which I can imagine is marvelous. The tallest peak in the area, Leavitt Peak and Relief Peak are only three miles apart on a map but a 3,000ft deep canyon separates the two summits. Had I the determination, I probably would have hiked further into this section but I was contented with my nameless overlook-
|Leavitt Peak, one of the primary summits of the Sierras|
From here, I doubled back to the trail junction and headed South (hikers Left) towards Relief Reservoir. Normally I'm not too keen on seeing reservoirs but this one did offer a fantastic panorama of the Granite Dome-Black Hawk Mountain Massif. I was thankful I got over my snobbery towards man-made lakes and hiked to this destination. The lake itself was a crystalline in nature and had an almost emerald hue. As long as I kept my gaze away from the small dam, it was a pretty sight.
Unfortunately this was the furthest I could venture today. My body was aching from the trudging of Mt Sonora in deep, wet snow and I had already enjoyed two placid overlooks today; why not be content with that! I went down the way I came up and enjoyed the views in the afternoon light.
What a fantastic place and not too far from the bay area! Again, this was just a "sampler" of what the Emigrant Wilderness has to offer. I'm sure I'll be back next season for a backpacking trip!