On the final day of my solo Sierra Trek I hiked back to my car in Onion Valley from Kearsarge Lakes, crossing Kearsarge Pass. I also visited the Matlock Lake Basin, in order to get snow for keeping fresh several trout that I caught in Flower and Gilbert Lakes, which I brought home to my wife.
I was so excited to enact my trout-catching plan that I woke up super-early, at 4am, and packed up everything in the dark. I also wanted to climb up to the pass while it was still cool and shady, of course. And that’s exactly what I did. It was only 800 feet of climbing in a bit over a mile, so it didn’t take me very long.
I arrived on top along with one other early-bird hiker, and we talked for a while. We also took photos for each other. It’s not easy getting shots of yourself while solo hiking. Sadly, the light was too bright on the pass and too dark down below in the basin, so I’m not showing the result here. These things happen. But the views from Kearsarge Pass are excellent, so we hung out for a short while.
Once again, I saw trout rising in Big Pothole Lake, and, once again, I passed right on by without fishing. I had other fish to fry, so to speak. My primary goal on the way down from the pass was to find some residual snow, and it wasn’t looking good. The winter of 2022 had been very dry, and although it was still early July, essentially everything was melted and gone. Especially on this trail, which was located on a south-facing slope. But I still kept my eyes peeled as I blasted downhill in the cool of the morning. The only accessible snow that I could see was far across the valley, on the north face of University Peak. There was still plenty way up high, of course, but getting to it would be problematic, and might easily take all day.
My only hope turned out to be some low-lying snow in the Matlock Lakes Basin. I could see it, way over there in the shade, tantalizing in its stubborn iciness. When I reached Flower Lake, I took the side trail to Matlock Lake, then headed cross-country through willows and a swampy creek, directly toward a convenient patch of snow. It was still frozen solid, like ice more than snow, but that was OK with me. I got out my one gallon water bladder and opened up the top. I used my small metal shovel to chunk out pieces of icy snow, and filled it completely. I hiked fast after that, for I knew that it would start melting rapidly in the bright sunshine, as I returned to Flower Lake.
I hiked over to the big boulder on the southern shore of Flower Lake where I had done plenty of fishing the month before with Vicki. I hung the snow in the shade on a dead branch, then got out my Tenkara rod and attached the line and fly. There would be no more catch-and-release this time! I was fishing for keeps. Vicki loves eating trout, and this entire plan was my idea of giving her a present, since she didn’t get to come on the trek with me.
In Gilbert Lake I caught two more Brookies, bringing my total to three trout. They were small, so I needed several in order to make a decent meal. I put them in a sealable bag and laid them on top of the snow, which was already starting to melt. It was hot out there in the sun!
I put away the rod and started hiking fast. I kept switching hands when carrying the fish, depending on the switchbacks of the trail, in order to keep the snow in the shade of my body as much as possible. I had a bit over two miles to hike to reach the trailhead parking lot, and I really made some time as it was all downhill. Easy hiking.
I made it to the car and opened up all the doors. It was hot in there! But I’d had the foresight to hide some cans of soda under quite a bit of insulation, so they were still nice and cold. I popped one open and sucked it down. Ahhh! That really hit the spot. Then I got some snacks ready-to-hand for the long drive home, and headed down Onion Valley Road to the town of Independence.
I went directly to the nearest gas station and bought a bag of ice. It was far more than I needed, but that was OK. I poured out the melted water from the bladder, and was pleased to see that there was still a significant chunk of snow left inside. The trout were staying cold. I added more ice on top of them and set them on a foam pad on the floor, then covered them with my jacket. I decided not to keep the rest of the ice and dumped it. If I needed more along the way I would buy it.
I filled the gas tank and started driving. It was a five hour drive to get to San Diego, so I needed to get moving. By leaving in midafternoon, I was able to arrive in Los Angeles right at the end of rush hour, and had a fast run south from there. I made it home just at sunset. Perfect timing! And Vicki was thrilled to get the trout!
All in all, the trip had been a lot of fun. Some parts had been quite challenging, but almost all of it was beautiful. I think that if I ever go to Gardiner Basin again, I would avoid going the way that I did, over Gardiner Pass and through the miserable brush down in Gardiner Creek. Instead, I would go in via Sixty Lakes Col. That way I’d get to visit Sixty Lakes Basin twice! Truly, this was one of the loveliest and most remote spots in the Sierra Nevada.
For a topographic map of the hike see my CalTopo Page
For LOTS more photos of the trek see my Flickr Page
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