On the second day of our trek, we woke up early at Ruby Lake, backpacked up and over the Sierra Crest at Mono Pass, continued downhill on the Mono Canyon Trail, and eventually found a campsite in Fourth Recess, where we fished for trout (and ate them!)
My alarm went off long before dawn, and we began packing in the dark, via headlamp. We decided to have what we call a “bug-out breakfast” and would eat it while we hiked. I like these meals, because I typically eat a two-pack of Pop-Tarts. Excellent! Carbs rule in the morning. The sky was just getting light when we left, and the air was quite cool. Venus and the moon were showing in the eastern sky, which was mostly clear. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day.
We had about a thousand feet to climb in a mile and half, which was a decently steep grade, and we wanted to get there while the air was cool and the trail was shaded. Vicki doesn’t do very well when she gets overheated, and she was already dealing with acclimation issues, so leaving early was key. We headed out, slightly downhill, to the Mono Pass Trail, and began climbing the switchbacks.
Our hiking pace was slow, as usual. But we kept on moving. Eventually, the trail rounded the south ridge of Mount Starr and emerged into the early sunlight. It was time for Vicki to remove her outer leg layer, but she left her windbreaker jacket on. As we hiked upward, the views got better and better. Ruby Lake was down below, and it was ringed by other mountains. I used my PeakFinder Earth app to identify them when we stopped for a short break. Maybe I’m just a Map Nerd, but I like knowing the names of the mountains I’m photographing.
Video of Vicki trying to get her yodel to echo off the wall across from Ruby Lake. It didn’t work.
Eventually, the trail ducked behind the ridge, and we were hiking in shade once again. Vicki was happy. After a short break, she took out her oximeter and checked her blood oxygen. It was 90%, which was actually not too bad for a person near 12000 feet. Of course, I saw it at a much lower level three days earlier, right after some serious exertion, and I checked to see if she was turning blue! But we were heartened by the current reading, as it meant that she was almost fully acclimated. Did she have a headache? Of course she did. But we knew that after the pass, we would be dropping an additional 2000 feet, and then I predicted that the headache would be gone. She hoped so. My own reading was 95%, but that wasn’t surprising as I have great lungs. Sometimes it’s good to be me.
The trail got much sandier as we approached the pass. In fact, there was more than one trail, which is typical of sandy slopes, especially up this high where snow often lingers long into the Summer. But all of the paths joined together eventually. All that really mattered was the Rule of Up. One step after another, with plenty of pauses to catch our breath, and we would eventually make it to the top.
We didn’t stay long on the pass, which was broad and sandy. The views were relatively lousy compared to other high passes I had summitted, and the breeze was cold. We could see Summit Lake a short ways ahead, and it was nice and sunny. We decided to take our celebratory break down there. When we arrived, we realized that the water level was very low. The Winter of 2022 hadn’t been very good to the Sierra Snowpack, and it showed.
After checking the map, Vicki decided that she wanted to see Golden Lake, which was a short ways off the trail. So we hiked until we found a likely spot, and left our big packs behind, and headed off cross-country. Up at 11,500 feet you can’t exactly call it Bushwhacking when there aren’t any bushes to be seen! It was more like tundra-walking. We checked out the lake, which was nestled in a bowl far below us, and met two young guys coming up the slope! It turned out that they had been fishing down there, and caught a 15-inch Golden Trout. That was huge for a Golden. They said it tasted pretty good, too. They let us know that there was one sly 18-incher still waiting in Golden Creek, just below the lake, but they had no luck catching it. I was sorely tempted to head down there and try it myself, but Vicki and I had places to be, and trails to see.
We put on our packs and hiked on. Soon, we arrived at a ridgetop with excellent views down into Mono Canyon. The Trail Lakes were in a side valley, below us to our left, and Pioneer Basin could be seen across the way. That basin looked gorgeous, and well worth visiting, except that you had to drop all the way to the bottom of the canyon, then climb back uphill to get there. Maybe some other year.
It was before noon, but we decided to eat lunch early, since we had such a great view. While we ate, I got out the map. While hiking, I had come up with a possible change of plan, and I wanted to run it past Vicki. Our original plan had us camping down in the main canyon, somewhere near the Hopkins Lake Trail. It was obvious from where we sat that there would be no views down there, as it was heavily forested. Meanwhile, we had heard good things about Fourth Recess from other hikers. There was a big lake with a tall waterfall at the headwall above it. Plus, my fishing guide indicated that there were trout there. Would Vicki like a trout dinner that night? If so, the trade-off was that tomorrow’s hike down the canyon would be ten miles rather than eight. It was downhill all the way, but still a bit longer than she liked. We ate lunch as she thought about it.
We hiked onward without a final decision, but that was OK with me. We passed by the Trail Lakes and continued downhill via many switchbacks. The trail was in rough shape with several washouts, supposedly from a big storm last year, and we saw signs of work being done by trail crews.
We eventually arrived at the Golden Creek crossing. There was a faint trail leading upstream to Golden Lake, but the main trail headed down the canyon. We decided that our feet were getting too hot with all that downhill hiking, so we stopped at the creek and dunked our feet in the cold water. Aahhhh! That really hit the spot.
As she soaked her feet and consulted with her body, Vicki came to the big decision of the day: We would be camping at Fourth Recess Lake today. We’d have to let tomorrow take care of itself. And we were early enough that she might get that trout dinner after all!
We arrived at the lake and it totally lived up to our expectations. It was gorgeous! This beat the heck out of camping under some trees down in a mosquito-infested valley. Oh, yes. Now all we needed was a campsite.
We found two nice gentlemen already camped in a huge campsite, and they graciously offered to share it. It was uphill and back from the shore, but that was OK with us. We picked a spot and set up camp right away, in a nice shady spot. It felt good to take off my heavy backpack, and when I walked I felt like I was lighter than air, bouncing like a ball around the camp.
I got out my fishing gear and headed down to the shore while Vicki was taking an afternoon nap in the tent. Might as well get right down to business! There were several good spots to fish a bit further up-canyon, ones without trees and bushes which would snag my line. I headed to the first one, then set up my fly rod, adding the line to the tip. I could see several trout swimming along the shore, which was perfect. I met another fisherman when I arrived, but he didn’t have much luck and headed back to his campsite. He was using a spinning reel with a lure. I wasn’t worried. Fly fishing works quite well on these remote High Sierra lakes. And I was right! Within an hour, I caught a Brook Trout and two Rainbow Trout, and had them on a stringer, still alive, when Vicki arrived.
She was excited, and immediately began the cleaning and cooking process. This takes a lot more time and effort than catching them. This gave me a chance to take a break of my own. I lay down in the tent and read my book in peace. It was a mellow afternoon. A bit later, Vicki arrived with the gutted fish and began cooking them. She also made one of our freeze-dried dinners. Soon, we were munching away, happy campers, indeed. Did she offer me any trout? No. She was greedy when it came to uber-fresh trout, and I wasn’t a big fish eater anyway. I mostly liked catching them, watching them flash in the sunlight, alive in the water, as they fought the line.
After dinner, it was time to do the dishes. Boiling water for freeze-dried meals is easy, but trout residue needs soap. This was my job, sadly. But that was OK. I was mainly happy that Vicki was enjoying herself. And her headache had finally gone away. Hooray! Tomorrow, we would be heading even further downhill, so the elevation sickness would be a thing of the past. The next challenge would be the higher daytime temperatures we could expect down below 8000 feet. But that was tomorrow’s problem.
For a topographic map of the hike see my CalTopo Page
For LOTS more photos of the trek see my Flickr Page