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Ansel Adams Wilderness Day 1: SF to Rush Creek Trailhead and Gem Lake

Lengthy way to the trailhead

The plan for Saturday was to drive from the Bay Area through Yosemite over the Tioga Pass, with a stop here and there, pick up our permit, and leisurely make our way to a campsite I had booked at the Silver Lake campground for Saturday night. As plans go, it was a good one, but reality intervened. Having been delayed on departure from Prague Friday morning by waiting for a group of Russians connecting in Prague from Moscow, Roman and Franta missed their trans-Atlantic connection in Amsterdam. In spite of sprinting all the way across the airport, they could only wave their plane good bye. So instead of taking a non-stop flight they took a tour of Europe - flying to Paris first, and continued to San Francisco from there. They arrived in SF six hours later than scheduled, and rang the bell at my house late in the evening. That in itself would not be too bad, but they also confirmed my experience with last minute re-routings - people may make it, but the baggage often gets delayed.

Since it is pretty hard to set out on a backpacking trip with no tent, sleeping bags, or backpacks, we passed time by buying supplies for the trip and doing a bit of sightseeing in San Francisco. The baggage was supposed to arrive around noon and be available later in the afternoon. However, the Air France 1-800 number gave only ambiguous information when and where to pick it up. It seemed there was no communication between their office in Atlanta and the personnel at the airport in SF. So we showed up at the airport late in the afternoon, not knowing if the baggage was even there. It took us a while to find the well-hidden baggage office in the basement. It was closed! The 1-800 number reassured me they would be open the next day. I am not sure I said good bye...

Now what? I headed back up into the terminal since I knew the KLM/Air France check-in counters would reopen for a flight in the evening. Our luck started to turn - the first person acted as if she knew what we wanted, and the second person told us they would re-open the underground office in a few minutes and give us the bags. It was a happy emotional reunion - it would soon be getting dark outside but the sun seems to have risen in the dark basement corridors of the terminal.

The night was shortened on both sides - a celebration and packing in the evening, and an early start in the morning. We left before 4am, well aware of road closures due to Rim Fire, an ongoing forest fire near Yosemite. To reach the easter Sierra, we had to take Sonora Pass, prolonging the drive by more than one hour over the route over Tioga Pass. It was dawn as we approached the town of Sonora and we could smell smoke in the air. We were treated to a very colorful sunrise, and the smoke limited visibility in places to a few hundred yards. The air cleared a bit at Sonora Pass, but descending toward Bridgeport, it became clear how bad the visibility was on the other side. One could barely see the mountains from the Mono Lake Ranger Station where we picked up our permit for the Rush Creek Trailhead.


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Roman, Franta, and the Golden Gate Prague feet in SF Fun after getting reunited with the luggage SF airport Smoky driving Smoky scenery
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Smoky scenery Highway 108 Scenery near Sonora Pass Taking in the sun

Rush Creek trailhead to Gem Lake

It was noon when we finally hit the trail, much later than we would have liked. The trail rises steeply above Silver Lake and the sun was baking on the southern slopes. My backpack seemed heavy which I attributed to the unwieldy bear box that I carried inside, but it must have been my photo gear that was really heavy. We enjoyed the views, crossed the tracks of a cable-car that serves an electrical substation at Agnew Lake. The smoke thickened again as we traversed the slopes above Agnew Lake. When we reached Gem Lake, the hazy view was uninspiring, but the smoke filtered reddish sunshine made for a special atmosphere. We took a break and pressed on. We had climbed 2000 vertical feet with the heavy packs since leaving the trailhead. The lack of sleep for all of us, combined with jet lag for the guys, prompted us to look for a campsite. We opted not to stay with a couple other parties near Gem Lake, and instead found a nice spot west of it after passing the small Billy Lake near Rush Creek. The dinner sure tasted great and, with a fire ban preventing us from making a campfire, we did not hang out outside too long before turning in.


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Rush Creek Trail How much farther? Rush Creek trail and Carson Peak Carson Peak Warning sign Cable car rails
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Dangerous grades Franta Pine tree Pine tree above Silver Lake Agnew Lake Dam Roman
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View up above Agnew Lake Tree-framed Agnew Lake Agnew Lake Gem Lake Jet lag and trail worn Ancient wood
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Billy Lake Tree trunk

Last updated: February 23, 2013
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