On the first day of our ten day backpacking trek in the High Sierra, we hiked up to Ruby Lake from Rock Creek and the Little Lakes Valley trailhead, after doing a car shuttle from the trek’s terminus at North Lake. It was a very short hike for such a long, involved day!
After spending the past few days acclimating to elevation at 10,000 feet, we hoped that our bodies were ready to tackle the big trip. And they were, except for our noses: We hadn’t showered in days. Phew! That’s no way to start a long trek. Luckily, we found out that showers could be had nearby, at the Rock Creek Lakes Resort. They didn’t open until 8am, so we spent the early hours making sure that our backpacks were ready. Then we took our showers, and also ate a tasty breakfast at the resort. It was a nice place with friendly people!
After that, it was time to head south, to the North Lake backpacker parking lot. We would be leaving the car there, at the hike’s terminus. We stopped off in Bishop to fill up the gas tank, then headed back up into the High Sierra. We had already arranged a shuttle ride for 12:30pm, taking us back to the Little Lakes Valley trailhead. It was nice to know that our car would be waiting for us when we finished, so that there was no pressure to arrive at any particular time. We were carrying enough food to squeak out an extra day, if needed, and I also had my fishing rod.
We arrived about ten o’clock, a bit early, and spent some time going through our gear. We didn’t want to leave anything in the car that we might need. We put the extra snacks in the nearby bear box and locked up the car. We grabbed our packs, which seemed a lot heavier with all that food inside, and carried them to the entrance of the parking lot. Then we waited. Luckily, the shuttle arrived early. After loading our packs in the trunk, we headed back to Rock Creek.
We lucked out on this shuttle, as I didn’t arrange it until a week or so beforehand. That day, the driver already had a drop off at South Lake (close to North Lake) and a pickup at Rock Creek, so he was able to fit us into his schedule perfectly, provided we were OK with starting our hike in the afternoon. Since we only had a short hike planned the first day, this worked well for all of us. As a bonus, he gave us a big discount! Excellent. As a way of giving him a bit extra, we stopped off at Tom’s Place and bought him some lunch. We bought some for ourselves, too, and took it with us up to the trailhead.
He dropped us off, and we hiked up the trail a short ways to the backpacker’s walk-in campground. We sat at a picnic table and ate our sandwiches. Sadly, I had to filter some water, as someone had taken the brand new gallon of bottled water we purposely left in the bear box earlier. They must have thought it was a gift! Vicki was annoyed, but I was more forgiving. There was a creek full of water right next to us! But I vowed that next time I would hide the water in some bushes, instead.
It was already mid-afternoon by the time we started. But that was OK. We only had to hike two miles and climb about 900 feet. This was totally doable, even for Vicki, who wasn’t really fully acclimated yet. Hopefully, after spending three nights at 10k feet, a fourth night (up at 11,100 feet) would top off her body’s ability to grab more oxygen from the depleted atmosphere. She wasn’t excited by this part of the trek, as she has trouble with uphill anyway, but at least she was willing to try.
We retraced our steps on the first part of the Little Lakes Valley Trail, which we had day-hiked two days ago, then turned off onto the Ruby Lake Trail, which immediately began to climb.
It should be noted that the best thing about climbing is that the views keep on getting better, and such was the case that day. Soon, we were high above the valley, and paused at a viewpoint. We spent some time recalling our recent experiences at several of those “little lakes” and they were just as pretty from up above. To top it off, the cumulus clouds had been building all afternoon, and the photos came out great!
After a while, the trail veered inland, following the outflow stream from Ruby Lake. Vicki was feeling pretty low, because she wasn’t getting enough oxygen, so we took a lot of short rests, to give her a chance to breathe and recover. I tried to get her excited, by telling her that we were almost there, but she’s heard me say that before. She trudged on. She would believe it when she could see the waters of Ruby Lake. Until then, it was idle speculation, words full of dreams and vapor.
In fact, when I saw an obvious spot to camp (which the map said was next to the lake), we still couldn’t see the water. I told her to take off her pack, as we had arrived. She was a bit of a zombie by then, so it took some time to sink in. Then we climbed up and over the final rocky wall, and there was the lake! It was big and deep and beautiful. Vicki began perking up almost immediately. There was a strong breeze blowing off the water, so trout fishing was out, as the waves were too big and I wouldn’t be able to cast very far. But Vicki didn’t care. She didn’t have the energy to clean and cook any fish. Not today, anyway.
We went back to the campsite and got out the tent. The rocky wall and some low pines served to block the breeze. We set up everything and then I went to the creek for water. Vicki got out the stove while I set up the air mattresses in the tent. Soon enough, now that the sun had dipped behind the wall of mountains in the west, the air began to cool. We got dressed in our warm clothing while the dehydrated meal rehydrated itself, and ate dinner sitting on the shore looking out over the lake. It was a mellow scene, and we were happy campers.
We didn’t stay sitting for very long. Vicki knew that we had yet another thousand feet of climbing in the morning, and she wanted to get it over with in the shade, while the temperature was still cool. She was dreading the climb, as we would be up above 12,000 feet, and she didn’t really feel fully acclimated yet. I reminded her that we had extra food, and that we could stay right here for another day, but she didn’t like that idea very much either. Oh well. This pass, Mono Pass, would be the highest point on our entire trek. If she could do this, then the rest of it would be easy. Except for the other two passes, of course. But I didn’t think it was wise to mention them at the moment.
Then we went to bed, while it was still light. And I set my alarm for O-Dark-Thirty.
For a topographic map of the hike see my CalTopo Page
For LOTS more photos of the trek see my Flickr Page
Onward to Day 2 >>