Off-Trail in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, California
- Hike a challenging off-trail route
- Be rewarded with spectacular views and secluded places
- Explore the local terrain on two planned layover days (or just relax!)
- Tasty, vegetarian-friendly meals
- Group cooking gear and equipment, including bear-safe food canisters
- Trained and experienced volunteer trip leaders
|Dates||Jul 19–27, 2014|
|Difficulty||4 (out of 5)|
This Sierra Nevada backpack crosses the Ansel Adams Wilderness south-to-north on a cross-country adventure through classic, sparsely visited subalpine terrain. Though each year is different, chances are good that we'll see few bugs and many wildflowers! You'll enjoy grand views of the surrounding peaks, our constant companions as we hike across undulating terrain punctuated by high, secluded lakes. On two planned layover days we'll have opportunities to climb a peak and explore high valleys and lakes.
Although we start and finish our journey on major trails, we'll spend most of our time on a rugged cross-country route that crosses three major ridges. Our ultimate goal and final layover destination is Twin Island Lakes, where we'll be camped dizzyingly high above the canyon of the North Fork San Joaquin River. Across the canyon, massive rock walls vault hundreds of feet above our heads to form the base of the Ritter Range just beyond. From camp we can dayhike to a string of even more remote lakes to the north, or follow a "use trail" up a high valley to the next pass in the heart of the Ritter Range. This is the terrain where Ansel Adams, on a summer visit at age 23, decided that nature photography would become his life's work.
Our hiking schedule isn't rigid. How far we get each day and where we camp depends partly on how we feel, the weather, and other factors outside of our control. The itinerary described here should be taken as a general plan, but the actual route and daily mileage may vary. A flexible, "it's all good" attitude works best!
Day 1: On Saturday, July 19, we'll gather in the late afternoon at a campground near the trailhead. We'll make introductions and enjoy a bring-your-own potluck dinner together as we take care of final trip preparations and discuss the adventure ahead.
Day 2: Early this morning, we'll serve a group breakfast before driving to the trailhead to start our hike. Although entirely on trail, this first hiking day may well be the most strenuous. It covers about eight miles and climbs roughly 2,500 feet to a camp at beautiful Joe Crane Lake. We'll be carrying our heaviest loads of the trip -- supplies for eight days -- so excellent conditioning will be required right from the start.
Day 3: This morning we immediately leave the trail to head cross-country on the slopes above Joe Crane Lake. We'll direct our steps north and east, past several picturesque subalpine lakes, toward our planned camp at McGee Lake. At lunchtime there may be time to climb a side trail to Isberg Pass, where we can look over into Yosemite.
Days 4-5: Continuing east and north, we'll cross a 10,900-foot ridge before descending very steeply to Rockbound Lake. We'll cross up and down another scenic saddle before descending to our camp. Our first planned layover day takes place in peaceful Bench Canyon. On this day we can easily climb a 12,000-foot peak near the Yosemite boundary; find a loop route around the high ridge to our south or just relax.
Days 6-7: We'll climb out of Bench Canyon, passing a small un-named lake on our way to Twin Island Lakes, where we'll set up camp and take our second planned layover day. Dozens of lakes in the untrammeled higher basins to the north are within reach of camp. Another option is to explore the area to the east, passing below the base of Mt. Ritter toward Lake Catherine and North Glacier Pass.
Day 8: We start our exit from the high country this morning, fording the outlet of the northern Twin Island Lake and descending a few hundred feet to a little-used trail. We'll follow the increasingly well-used trail downstream to the North Fork San Joaquin River, continuing past the mouth of Bench Canyon to Hemlock Crossing. Here we'll take the bridge and make our last camp just across the river.
Day 9: Our final day is the longest in mileage, but it's all on trail now, and our packs are light. We start by climbing 1,000 feet from the North Fork San Joaquin, but most of the rest of the day is downhill. We descend another 1,700 feet and hike a total of 10 miles before reaching our cars at the Granite Creek trailhead early in the afternoon.
Accommodations and Food
The group leaders will plan a diverse and appealing menu to accommodate vegetarians and non-vegetarians as needed. Any food allergies or vegetarian requirements should be indicated as far in advance as possible, so the leaders can prepare the menu and pre-package all group meals. Responsibility for cooking will be shared among the trip members, with guidance from the leaders. Our first official group meal will be breakfast on the morning we begin hiking. The last meal of the trip will be lunch on the final day of the outing. The evening meal on the first day at the campground is not included and will be potluck.
Equipment and Clothing
The following USGS topographical quadrangles cover the entire trip: Timber Knob, Mt. Lyell, Mt. Ritter, and Cattle Mountain. Single maps of the entire area include the Ansel Adams Wilderness map published by Tom Harrison Maps or the Ansel Adams Wilderness map put out by the U.S. Forest Service.
- Roper, Steve, The Sierra High Route: Traversing Timberline Country (The Mountaineers Books). Part of our trip goes on the route he describes in Bench Canyon and near Twin Island Lakes.
- Secor, R.J., The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails (The Mountaineers Books). This is an excellent general reference to climbing routes, cross-country routes, and trails in the Sierra Nevada.
- Laws, John Muir, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada (California Academy of Sciences). This is a general reference to Sierra life. It covers trees, wildflowers, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, and other life in the mountains.
In 2014, America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Although the Act was far in the future when our Outings program started, the Sierra Club was already working to forever protect certain wild places from human developments. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded, and for which the Wilderness Act was conceived. On our trip, we'll take some time to reflect on how the Wilderness Act has aided in setting aside this beautiful mountainous region for us to enjoy.
On our visit to this beautiful wilderness, we’ll live the Sierra Club motto: “Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.” In the spirit of both the motto and the Wilderness Act, we'll minimize our impact by being mindful of, and practicing, the Leave No Trace ethic.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from the Sierra National Forest.