Lakes and Passes of the Western Ansel Adams Wilderness, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13145A, Backpack


  • See spectacular High Sierra peaks and passes
  • Swim and fish Basin's two dozen lakes
  • Explore lakes and alpine basins at a reasonable pace, including a planned layover day


  • Group cooking gear and equipment, including bear-safe food storage canisters
  • Great food
  • Campgound before the hike


DatesAug 18–26, 2013
Difficulty2 (out of 5)
StaffRalph Purdy

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Trip Overview

The Trip

One of the western Ansel Adams Wilderness' highlights is the granite crest along its northwestern border. This miles-long crest includes Sing, Gale, Triple Divide, Post and Isberg Peaks, and several passes -- all with spectacular views north to Yosemite and east to the Minarets, Mt. Banner, and Mt. Ritter. There are approximately two dozen lakes to the south and west, all along the length of this crest. This area, called the Granite Creek Lakes Basin, is where our trip takes place. Forested mountains, streams, meadows, and, finally, Fernandez and Granite creeks and Clover Meadow -- the entry points into this beautiful wilderness -- lie farther to the south.

We'll travel about six miles from our Clover Meadow trailhead to Vandeburg Lake on the first day. Vandeburg Lake is about 1,000 feet higher than our trailhead, but with all the ups and downs, we gain about 1,800 feet. Interestingly, all of the lakes we camp at are at or near timberline, giving us views of nearby peaks to the northwest and distant vistas across the Granite Creek Lakes Basin to the east and south. The next day, we'll go the short distance to Staniford Lake. We’ll take a side trip to have lunch at Lady Lake on the way and set up camp in the early afternoon. This will give us several options: Some will want to explore beautiful Chittenden Lake and other nearby lakes such as Shirley and Lillian Lake. Here, you can fish, swim, or take photographs. The third day, we'll travel to Anne Lake, where we will have a layover day. At 9,504 feet, Anne Lake provides excellent camping in a wonderful alpine environment. We found that fishing in Anne Lake yields 8- to 10-inch rainbow trout. Trip participants can choose to fish nearby Rutherford Lake (we caught 12-inchers there), or hike to Fernandez Pass for spectacular views and, perhaps, down the west side to Breeze Lake for swimming and fishing. A group may go cross-country to Walton lake and climb Triple Divide Peak. We'll then take two days to get to Lower Isberg Lake. On the first of these days (day five) we plan to camp off-trail, near a spring about one and a half miles south of Post Peak Pass. However, a cross-country hop to the Post Lakes is also an option.

The next day we'll have some breathtaking views as we go over Post Peak and Isberg Passes on our way to camp at Lower Isberg Lake. This lake, in a huge granite basin above timberline, can be seen easily from Isberg Pass. After a rigorous climb over two passes, Isberg Lake provides a welcome swim and the opportunity to catch golden trout. Our last camp will be at the westernmost of the three Cora Lakes, chosen because of the views it offers and because we can find good campsites located a half-mile away from the trail, which is the major entry and exit for this part of the Ansel Adams Wilderness. We then leave this beautiful wilderness by hiking to Granite Creek campground, where we will shuttle back to Clover Meadow.


Day 1: Meet at the Clover Meadow Campground (7,032 ft) for supper and orientation. Please plan to arrive in camp no later than 5 p.m.

Day 2: Shuttle some cars to the Isberg trailhead near Granite Creek Campground. Then return to Clover Meadow and hike to Vandeburg Lake (8,655).

Day 3: Visit Lady Lake on the way to Staniford Lake (8,711).

Day 4: Hike to Anne Lake (9,504).

Day 5: Layover at Anne Lake.  Swim, fish, explore Rutherford  Lake or climb Triple Divide Peak.

Day 6: Climb to 1.5 miles south of Post Peak Pass and camp near a stream (9,634).

Day 7: Cross both Post Peak and Isberg Passes and camp at lower Isberg Lake (9,830).

Day 8: Descend to the westernmost Cora Lake (8,400).

Day 9: Exit the Ansel Adams Wilderness at the Granite Creek Campground (6,996).



Getting There

Our trailhead is the Clover Meadow campground, located on the west side of the Sierra Nevada, about 100 miles from Fresno, California; 250 miles from the San Francisco area; and 320 miles from Los Angeles.  Everyone should arrive at the Clover Meadow campground no later than 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, August 18th, the first official day of the trip. We'll provide supper and give an orientation to the trip.  We camp there overnight and leave on Monday morning, August 19th. We'll need to shuttle some cars over to the Granite Creek campground so we can get back to Clover Meadow when we come out of the wilderness on August 26th. The trip leaders will send detailed information later on the location of the campground and routes to the trailhead. About one month before the trip, we will send out a trip roster to help facilitate carpooling arrangements.

Accommodations and Food

All participants will arrive at the trailhead camp with their backpacks and personal gear, which should weigh no more than 25 pounds.  The trip leaders will bring commissary, which includes all meals, cooking utensils, pots, stoves and fuel. These will be divided among all of us on the trip, adding about 15 pounds to each person’s pack at the beginning of the trip.

Based on past food planning experience, we will offer a variety of menus, lots of flavor, calories, and nutrition, and not too much red meat. We can accommodate vegetarian participants.

Trip Difficulty

The trip is rated 2 (on a scale of 1 for our least difficult trips to 5 for our most difficult trips), in part because of the short second day. However, we gain 1,800 feet on the first day and have three other days in which we gain between 1,200 and 1,400 feet.  In addition, we will climb two passes over 10,500 feet on the seventh day. As with any backpack trip in the Sierra, good conditioning is essential. Without it, travel at high elevation carrying a 40- to 45-pound pack can be a distressing experience. It is important to exercise year-round to maintain good physical condition. Beginning in early May, you should take hikes on weekends with a loaded pack and, if possible, at elevation. Running or carrying a loaded pack up and down hills, or even stadium stairs, is also a good idea. As you can see, we stress preparation for the trip by carrying a loaded pack.

Equipment and Clothing

A detailed equipment list is available at It is important to have sturdy, lightweight equipment, as your pack plus personal gear should weigh no more than 25 pounds. Each trip member will receive their share of the commissary, and this will add approximately 15 pounds to each pack. Your pack should have at least 4000 cubic inches (65 liters) capacity for our nine-day trip. Boots are particularly important; you should have six-inch tops with Vibram lug soles. They must be broken-in. Waterproof jacket, pants, and tents are strongly recommended.  Lightweight fishing equipment can be included by those who wish to try their hand on the lakes. 



  • The U.S.G.S. "Timber Knob" 7.5 quadrangle topographic map covers most of our trip. The Post Peak and Isberg Passes and Isberg Lake are on the "Mt. Lyell" 7.5 quadrangle. The U.S.F.S. "A Guide to the Ansel Adams Wilderness" (1:63,360) map covers all of the Ansel Adams Wilderness and parts of Yosemite and the John Muir Wilderness.


  • Clark, Ginny, Ansel Adams Wilderness. This book provides very helpful descriptions of all the areas we'll travel.
  • Laws, John Muir, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. Published by the California Academy of Sciences. A general reference to Sierra life. It covers trees, wildflowers, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, and other life in the mountains.


The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater understanding, advocacy, and participation in the goals of the Club.

Our backpack takes place in the Ansel Adams Wilderness of Inyo National Forest. It is hard to imagine why this stunning scenery is not part of adjacent Yosemite National Park. In 1890, when Congress created Yosemite, the boundary lines included the Ritter Range and the headwaters of the North and Middle Forks of the San Joaquin River. However, in 1905 the park lost this spectacular Eastern Sierra Nevada area to political pressure from miners, ranchers, and homesteaders. Park boundaries were redrawn to allow business interests to operate in the Inyo National Forest. Fortunately, Congress designated a portion of this area as wilderness in 1964. It was originally established as the Minarets Wilderness, but with 1984's California Wilderness Act, the area was enlarged and the name was changed to Ansel Adams Wilderness, honoring the famous landscape photographer. Adams spent many summers participating in and leading Sierra Club outings in the Sierra Nevada. His photography communicated the beauty of wild places and helped develop public support for protecting wilderness across the country.

In recent years, local volunteers, working together with conservation organizations, have developed modest proposals to permanently protect the remaining unprotected wild gems of the Eastern Sierra. This includes the Owens River Headwaters, located just east of the area where we will hike, as a proposed addition to the Ansel Adams Wilderness. These areas were included in a bill -- the California Wild Heritage Act, which seeks to protect remaining wildlands across the state -- first introduced in 2002 by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer.  Some parts of this bill have passed and others are still being pursued.  In celebration of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, we will review the Wilderness Act and the efforts to extend the territory of the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Sierra National Forest.



Ralph Purdy is an experienced backpacker. He has gone on many Sierra Club trips over the last 18 years and has served as both assistant leader and leader. His personal interests include the geology, flowers, photography, fishing, and history of the Sierra Nevada.

Assistant Leader:

Brian Cook began hiking with his father as a young boy in Pennsylvania and later in Montana. He has gone on many Sierra Club backpacking and snow camping trips over the last several years. The Sierra Nevada is his particular favorite any time of the year. This will be Brian's fourth year participating in Sierra Club trips in a leadership capacity.

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