Muir

“Attention, humans! You are entering black bear habitat!” Since when did the Sierra Nevada bears hire a PR firm?

 

Gateway to the Wilderness
Names: Mosquito Flats, Little Lakes Valley, John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Morgan Pass, Mono Pass. And the lakes: Mack, Marsh, Heart, Box, Gem and Chickenfoot.

 

Mosquito Flats Trailhead and the hike into Little Lakes Valley.

At the trailhead I catch up on my reading.

Welcome to the Muir Wilderness

Four posts filled with warnings, maps, hiking etiquette and a plea from the California Department of Fish & Game.

“Know the risk … this place is wild.” 

Framed in light brown wood.

Directly behind the light blue poster you see the deep blue sky with white cotton clouds and a fir tree forest giving way to a dirt trail.

Are  you prepared?

Always carry a map and a compass and know how to use them.

Carry water, food and weather protection.

Know your health and physical limitations.

You may encounter wildlife – know how to protect your food and yourself.

I try to focus on the vertical dark purple side bar instructing me to “Practice Wildlands Ethics” by leaving no trace followed by six bullet reminders.

But I can’t.

Just like the time I concentrated on what to do when you encounter a moose in Summit County, Colorado, I’m riveted by the horizontal tan boxed in message.

Remember?

What to do if you see a moose — listed four bullet points followed by six more under the heading of Physical Appearance.

A bear was on the loose years ago on our camping trip to Sugar Pine.

Wilderness Means Wild

After we left Fallen Leaf Lake camping not that long ago a bear incident was reported there.

Oh, and more recently all those headlines about the Lake Tahoe bears.

Remember those?

They freaked me out just like they did newbie homeowners.

No One Told Her About The Bears, Had A Break In

Some callers are head-scratchingly clueless, such as the woman who reported she was “mad, angry about buying a house in Tahoe. No one told her about the bears. Had a break in. Not happy.”

Bear Leveled A Garage Door And Cleaned Out A Refrigerator

Others are clearly fed up, such as the man who reported that he tried to secure his home but it “didn’t work” — a bear leveled a garage door and cleaned out a refrigerator.

Gun For Next Time He Comes Back

“Has gun for next time he comes back,” the report reads.

Wilderness. Wildlife. Break Ins. Midnight Snacks.

Now a word from the opposing party.

“Attention, humans! You are entering black bear habitat!

This area is our home, where we have survived for many years by eating natural food sources.

Lately we’ve been tempted by human food sources.

Did you know that we can smell anything with an odor, including your food, garbage and toiletries?

When you don’t store these items properly, we are tempted to rip into your tent, packs and panniers and eat anything available.

Since when did the Sierra Nevada bears hire a PR firm?

Bears Represented by PR Firm

Soon, after the females learned how to grab spawning salmon out of thin air with their bare paws at Tahoe?

Only The Female Bears Are Successful At Catching

Interestingly, only the female bears are successful at catching the salmon, and they teach their cubs to fish. 

It is funny to watch a male bear in the creek splashing around trying to catch a fish, finally giving up in disgust.

Did females migrate through a mountain pass from the western to the eastern side of the Sierras?

Are these the same bears waiting to ambush unsuspecting suburbanites?

Or, could this be the next generation of cubs spreading the gospel?

Just above the drawing of an imposing female black bear guarding her cub trail-side the warnings continued.

This is a risk to our health and your safety.  

Once we’ve gotten into your food and garbage we are no longer wild bears; we become aggressive and seek your food sources, and may have to be killed.  

Please, do us both a favor — store your food properly. — A message from the bears.

With ambushing bears do I really want keep the area wild?

The next nearby sign tried to convince me.

And, We’re Not Talking Parties.

Practices that keep it WILD. 

Where the imprint of humans is substantially unnoticeable …

OK these messages tell us all about selecting campsites, especially away from water which had always been my inclination in years past and finally all about campfires.

Use of campfires for cooking and warmth was vital in the past.  

However, use of wood for campfires at popular destinations has denuded areas of dead and down wood.  

These areas are at risk of losing their natural conditions due to heavy wood-gathering activity.

Water?

Why stay away from water sources in the mountains?

Good Reasons to Camp Away from Water:

It’s warmer – cold air sinks into drainages.  Lake basins and meadows.

There are fewer mosquitoes!

We had our fill of mosquitoes in Colorado when we paused on our climb to Cathedral Rock.

We sat on fallen logs to snack on sandwiches, string cheese and water – but only momentarily, because we became bait for swarms of mosquitoes. 

The last two reasons?

You are less likely to disturb wildlife.

And more importantly, depending on your activities the night before –

The sun will be up earlier!

Now, how about those sheep?

Fish, Game and Bighorn Sheep

Don’t they have an an agency like the black bears?

Apparently, they’re missing in action.

At least they’ve got a poster, kinda purple-ish.

In their group shot showing four standing looking to the right, one almost out of the picture looking to the left and the head honcho looking stage right also, but posing all regal like on the boulder behind the others.

“Please report bighorn sheep sightings and their locations to: CA Dept of Fish & Game”

The poster gave two phone numbers and two website links.

I looked around.

Nope, none.

Wondered what they had done?

Breaking and entering like the Lake Tahoe bears?

A mere misdemeanor like a butt-and-run?

I also wondered after a few hours on the trail with physical exhaustion setting in if I would remember or even look up from my hiking boots, one foot in front of the other?

Wait, There’s One. Right?

But, while still fresh, and waiting for the last family member to finish their restroom business I scanned another wood framed sign titled “Little Lakes Valley Trailhead.”

It reminded me the trailhead took us into the John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest.

A small black and white thumbnail portrait of the bearded John Muir included a quote.

Frankly I didn’t catch its significance.

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out I found was really going in.”

I had time to read the reminders to be responsible and leave no trace behind.

Next a bunch of wilderness use restrictions to keep it wild.

One of those three dimension geological maps showing the mountains in light green and mountains in light brown drew me in until everyone was ready.

Ready for a group photo, just about as scruffy as the bighorn sheep poster.

But, including nine of us and three dogs – two hyper dogs already entangled themselves in their leashes.

Ready to go, oh wait we have to rotate photographers to catch everybody with their backs to a hill of dark fir trees, a meadow across the creek, and the slow moving creek where fishermen cast but didn’t catch.

Photos with people in them for family slideshows that nobody but family members want to see after the first one hundred slide by?

I’m not that guy.

Landscape nature photos?

I’m that guy.

Like herding sheep in the same direction, the parade began.

One after another including three dogs took off in single file.

Morgan Pass

Finding a blonde wood sign showing Morgan Pass?

With an arrow pointing to the left and Mono Pass with a second arrow pointing to the right?

Right up my alley.

The trick?

Taking the time to frame the photo against the background – a gnarly wind-swept juvenile and bushy green pine tree — to shelter the subject matter in too sunny a time of day?

Exposure?

Goldilocks.

Not too much sun, not too little.

I’m that guy.

We trudged on skipping the climb up another 1600 feet in elevation over five miles to Morgan Pass.

As well as, the steeper 2000 feet up hill climb to Mono Pass, even though it was a mile closer.

Place One Foot in Front of the Other

In hindsight, they should have given me about a mile head start instead of looking back to see where I was.

My knee had recovered from surgery and I felt confident the hike wouldn’t hurt it.

My wife lagged behind for the first part.

And, then … I was on my own.

Back to the Rock Creek Lodge’s website:

Although the trailhead is just over 10,000 ft., the hiking is relatively easy, climbing 600 vertical feet in about 3 miles to long lake. 

The most strenuous section is the 1st hill about a 1/4 mile from the trailhead, and each lake is about 20 to 30 minutes of hiking apart. 

Hiking in Little Lakes Valley is awesome.

Into Little Lakes Valley

Stopping high up on a tan boulder turnout from the trail we – after they waited for me – take in the classic Sierra view.

Off in the distance dark gray foreboding clouds touch the 3,000 foot granite peaks that surround the glacially-carved canyon.

It’s easy to spot the edge of the trees.

The top border doesn’t fill more than 50% of the shadowed mountains with their jagged edges.

A little white light peeks through the clouds in a naturally random pattern.

Little patches of tan boulders peek through the dark green pine trees across the way.

Directly below you see Mack Lake.

Which if I’m being honest looks more like a wide dark green river from this vantage point.

Mack Lake

Except it isn’t flowing.

Is there a pattern or nemonic device that helps you remember the names and sequence of the little lakes in the Little Lakes Valley like the alphabet for the Owens Valley towns on US 395?

Let’s check back with the Rock Creek site:

Each lake is beautiful and unique, as suggested by their names: 

Mack Lake, 

Marsh Lake, 

Heart Lake, 

Box Lake, 

Long Lake, 

Gem Lake and 

Chickenfoot Lake.

If you figure it out, let me know.

So the narrow rock-strewn trail widens as it slopes down and turns towards the left.

It opens into lighter tan dirt and fewer piles of rocks.

Marsh Lake in the Distance?

Off in the distance ahead you notice a darker brown pattern with bushy clusters in the foreground and a beginning of greener vegetation in the background.

Right in front of a band of fir trees that connect the right with the left sides to the trail.

We hopped across a small, narrow creek with dark brown water flowing downhill into the marsh.

My nephew took the opportunity to strip off his hiking boots and socks to sit on a rock and soak his feet.

Hidden behind the bend and off to the left are more marsh-like wild plants.

It’s easy to imagine that this whole flat area had been under water in non-drought years.

And, it’s easy to imagine this must be Marsh Lake.

Number two on the random list of lake names.

Continuing on, a gigantic boulder, maybe 12 to 15 feet tall, snatches my attention.

Why?

Huge Boulder with Red Accents

Well, it seems to lean a little to the right.

While it is all in one tan and gray speckled piece you can see the grooves etched into it vertically.

From ancient glacial activity or incremental erosion?

At any rate it was the dark copper red coloring filling in two cracks that provoked me into taking yet another hike-delayed photo.

Was it at Heart Lake or Box Lake?

The trail forced me to reconsider continuing.

About a half a dozen rustic steps up a steep section pulled at my knee in a way that signaled I should pace myself more than I planned.

The rest of the flock continued on.

They’re not even sure which lake they finally stopped at and frolicked in — splashing and swimming and throwing rocks in.

Possibly Gem or even Chickenfoot Lake.

Steps:

(32) Plan extended seasonal vacations during summer and winter months. Group destination locations together in regional trips to explore what several bucket list towns have to offer in the general vicinity – with only a week or two vacation time to spend, we recommend organizing your itinerary by travel regions.

An excerpt from Book Five in “The Knowledge Path Series” dedicated to helping you find the place of your dreams in the Sierra Mountain resorts.

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