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Little Lakes Valley

It was an end of May and my craving for spring snow in the mountains needed to be satiated. A couple of weeks earlier in the season and after a wetter winter than during my previous trip to the same area, I set out for another late spring adventure in Little Lakes Valley.


Gallery of my favorite photos

Yosemite

There was a line to enter Yosemite, expected because of a long weekend, but yet surprising to see in the afternoon. Storm clouds gathered and when I reached Olmsted Point, cold rain came in showers, creating a stormy atmosphere to take a few shots. It was snowing on Tioga Pass. When I picked up my backcountry pass by Mono Lake, it was still drizzling and I was hoping the next morning would be different.

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Olmsted Point Tioga Pass
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Snow on Tioga Pass


Sunrise

It was a completely different day the next day. A beautiful sunrise and fresh snow up on the peaks were inviting to explore. As I drove up Rock Creek Road, a surprise awaited. Even though I had been told by a ranger the day before that the road was open all the way to the Mosquito Flat trailhead, it was closed over a mile short of the trailhead. I quickly weighed my options, but decided to continue with the plan - go for a day hike to Ruby Lake, followed by a return to the car for my big backpack, and camping somewhere in Little Lakes Valley.

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Cabin near Lee Vining Cabin Approaching Mammoth Lakes Rocky Creek Road


Up and above Ruby Lake

I grinded my teeth as I walked on the road to the trailhead. There was just a few snow drifts, and the closure was likely to prevent crowds from accessing the snowbound Little Lakes Valley rather than technical difficulties in plowing the road. It is a little over two miles from the trailhead to Ruby Lakes. The trail follows the Mono Pass Trail that splits off the Morgan Pass Trail after about a half a mile from the trailhead. As I rose up, amazing views of Little Lakes Valley and a circque of peaks at the end of it opened up. Farther up, I lost the snow-covered trail a couple of times. It was almost a religious expericence when I reached the lake (11,121ft) and looked at the cliffs of the 13,000+ peaks on the other side. I was all alone, the lake was snowcovered with just a little snow free patch near the outlet, and it was deafeningly quiet.

I followed the south side of the lake up, carefully asessing avalanche risks. I ascended west until I reached a flatter section at about 11,300ft. Not much farther up the valley was the undoubtedly completely snow covered Mills Lake and I could see Mt. Mills and Mt. Abbott at the end of the valley.

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John Muit Wilderness sign Bear Creek Spire Trail to Ruby Lake Toward Ruby Lake Toward Ruby Lake
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Creek below Ruby Lake Ruby Lake Ruby Lake Looking back
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Mt. Mills and Mt. Abbott in BW Mt. Mills and Mt. Abbott


Down from Ruby Lake

I followed in my footsteps on the way down. When I got back to Ruby Lake, a group hikers headed for Mono Pass looked lost. I directed them back down to where the trail for Mono Pass forks off. They were from a Los Angeles hiking club. An older gentemen with a little poodle came up last. He or his dog were satisfied enough by the scenery and he asked if he could accompany me on the way down in order not to get lost. We had a nice chat and he mentioned where they headed the next day, an area unknown to me before, above Big Pine. I put it on my list...

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Ruby Lake and a giant snowball Mt. Starr and a giant snowball Snowball LA hiking club A hiker and his poodle Moonset
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Moonset and Ruby Lake Moonset Spring melt Mt. Morgan Melting landscape Snow poodle


Camp above Marsh Lake

I had lunch back at the car, and it was after 2pm when I put my heavy pack on and headed back up the road. This time I continued on the Morgan Pass Trail. Given the workout I had in the morning, I started looking for a campsite early and ended up camping above Marsh Lake, with an amazing view just a few steps from my tent. Shortly after I set up camp, nnow showers blew in and dusted Mt. Morgan to the south with snow. The weather settled down for the sunset and it was a quiet frosty night.

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Rock Creek A tent with a view Marsh Lake and Mt. Morgan Little Lakes Valley Doing justice to its name Marsh Lake and snow showers
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Stormy clouds Boulder above Marsh Lake Tentscape Mirroring Sunset Last light
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Twilight Marsh Lake reflections Dusk


Sunrise reflections

It was still dark when I got up. I set up my tripod and watched colors of the dawn change first into alpenglow and then the first sunrays on Bear Creek Spire. The visual effect was multiplied twice - by the reflection in the lake.

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Dawn reflections Dawn scenery Alpenglow Sunrise
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Mountains times two Matsh Lake reflection Mountain reflection Bear Creek Spire and Mt. Dade reflection Pyramid Peak and Bear Creek Spire
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Panorama Colors of the mountains Marsh reflection


Treasure Lakes

From my camp, I followed the Morgan Pass Trail as it passed by Heart Lake, Box Lake, and Long Lake, where I turned off the trail to the right and continued up toward Treasure Lakes. When I reached the lakes, they were still in an early spring condition - all snow covered with a small puddle of bluish water forming in one spot, just enough to get a reflelction of the top of the Bear Creek Spire. I continued up on steep snow until I reached a flat area near Dade Lake, around 11,500ft. Compared to my trip two years prior, the landscape still resembled winter and I watched some snow and rock slides triggered by the sun. I figured it was not a good idea to continue up, and retraced my steps back to the camp.

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Camp by Heart Lake Heart Lake reflections Icy Box Lake Long Lake Long Lake
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Icy reflection Ice Breaking through Along the way to Treasure Lakes Weathered tree Dwarfed
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Treasure Lake Treasure Lake Bear Creek Spire reflection Treasure Lake in BW
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Bear Creek Spire Near Dade Lake Down from Dade Lake Bear Creek Spire Gear
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Treasure Lake blues First cloud My tracks First cloud Box Lake Heart Lake
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Marsh Lake reflection My Tiros


Olmsted Point

Two day later, I made another stop at Olmsted Point, this time lit by the late afternoon sun, with thunderstorm clouds forming over the higher peaks. The view was a great ending to the trip.

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Olmsted Point


Last updated: February 20, 2017
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