Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon

Over the 4th of July weekend we had an invite to join some friends on a three day backpacking trip up to Thousand Island Lake. Having done the trip last year, I declined the offer and decided on what I thought would be a much easier paced trek in the Hoover Wilderness. I was familiar with the lower portions of both Molybdenite and Burt Canyons from previous outings, and they are easy enough. All that was left to chance were the upper canyons and the climbs over Hanging Valley Ridge. How hard could it be? When it was all said and done, accepting the invite to the other hike may have been the easier choice! But where’s the adventure if everything goes smoothly and as planned?

DAY 1

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Following a little used trail toward Rickey Cabin

Our route would take us up Molybdenite Canyon the first day, over Hanging Valley Ridge near the top of the canyon to Burt Canyon the second day, and then back to the vehicle the third day. Knowing we’d be happy to be done hiking by the end of the trip, we parked our vehicle at the Burt Canyon trailhead where we’d come out on the last day. Just past this trailhead is a little used trail to Rickey Cabin across the bottom of Hanging Valley Ridge to the east. The plan was to stay on this trail all the way eastward until we reached the Molybdenite Canyon trail, a distance of about a mile over easy terrain said the map.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Near Rickey Cabin

When we got to the top of the ridge, the trail fizzled out, and we found ourselves southwest of the cabin. No problem, we’d just continue east cross country. And that’s what we should have done, but there was a trail of sorts that was heading off to the southeast that looked like it might take us in the right direction. Had I looked at my big map instead of basing my decision on my GPS, I would have not followed this trail. Paper maps are much better for route planning. We continued on.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Me: “Look at the size of those claw marks!”  Kristy:”We need to get out of here.”

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Let’s see where this goes…

The trail we were following felt like it was going the right way, but my compass was telling me different. I even tried to veer to the east, but terrain kept forcing us south. As we approached the mountains of Hanging Valley Ridge, I realized we weren’t nearly as far east as I thought, and were still right above Burt Canyon. The only way to break our current direction of travel was to crash through the wall of aspens to the east and head uphill. It was hard to walk a straight line in the thick woods, so we checked our compass heading regularly and tried to keep from climbing higher than we needed to.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Navigating the thick aspens

We eventually broke through the aspens and into a more open spaced pine tree forest. The walking was much easier now, but we ended up having to head back to the northeast to keep from gaining too much elevation. A thunderstorm was headed in from the east when we finally got out into the open. We were all a bit nervous now, exposed as we hiked quickly through the brush to get over the ridge and down into Molybdenite Canyon. We felt relief getting to a small grove of trees near the ridge line. When we finally crested and were looking down into the canyon, the rumbling to the east had started to subside. Looking at our position, we weren’t too far from where I had planned to camp for the night. Even with the errant route, we had still made decent progress to the southeast. New energy filled us when we saw a nice trail on the valley floor, just a short bushwhack below us. We took a nice break when we reached the trail, then began our hike up the canyon in search of a good place to camp.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Not out of the woods yet

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Nearly over the top of Hanging Valley Ridge

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Finally on the Molybdenite Canyon Trail

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Making our way up Molybdenite Canyon

Less than a mile up the trail, we crossed the creek and came to a clearing near some pine trees. It looks like an area that has been used as a herding camp. We found a little spot in the trees the perfect size for our tent, and went about setting up camp and cooking dinner. I filtered water from the nearby Molybdenite Creek. It was cool, but not cold. The water was swift where I was at, but there are frequent beaver dams along the creek. For good measure, I hit it with the UV light (SteriPEN) just to be on the safe side. We joked about the challenging route we took that day, and I wondered how the hiking would’ve been had I stuck to my original plan. We hoped the next day would be easier, but we were headed into unexplored territory and didn’t know what to expect.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Camp #1

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
View down Molybdenite Canyon from Camp #1. We had Wi-Fi!

DAY 2

The next morning we awoke to the sound of some backpackers hiking out from McMillan Lake up the canyon, the first sign of people out on the trail since we started the day before. We were looking forward to hiking on an actual trail, and had hopes for an easy traverse of Hanging Valley Ridge at the top. The forecast for the day showed early thunderstorms, and it was already overcast. I was eager to get moving.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Continuing up Molybdenite Canyon

The first part of the hike was easy enough, a gentle grade up a well defined trail. Wildflowers were exploding everywhere. We passed the site of McMillan Cabin on the map, but it was too far up the hill to be part of today’s hike. Soon we were past where we had turned around on last year’s hike of Molybdenite Canyon and into new territory. This is also about the time the trail started to become more vague. We came to the intersection where the short trail to McMillan Lake begins, but the sign post was missing its sign.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Lots of wildflowers along the trail

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Not certain if these posts are trail markers or part of an old fence

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
The turnoff to McMillan Lake, minus the sign

We could now see the top of the canyon. It didn’t look too far off, but the trail was starting to go away, and the brush, bushes, and flowers were getting thick with all the water coming off the sides of the canyon. We had to carry the dogs through the worst of it to get through the mud and overgrown foliage. Sometimes we’d get some dry trail, but it was taking longer than expected to make our way up the canyon.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Top of the canyon in view

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Corn Lilies

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Finding our way through the willows

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
On “the trail”

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
A brief section of dry trail!

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Looking for the path of least resistance

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Kristy finding her way through the brush

Eventually we gave up on the trail, and just started trying to find routes around the mud and bushes to find the path of least resistance. The sky was also dark, so I was keeping an eye out for a safe place to retreat to if a thunderstorm broke out. We finally came to a spot that I thought was high enough up the canyon, and we started planning our crossing of Hanging Valley Ridge. There were two options: Go all the way up the canyon and cross over at a lower spot, or climb up to the ridge directly above us to save some distance. Eager to get out of the muck, we decided to start climbing from where we were at and get it over with. From what I could see on the map, and the actual landscape we could see from where we stood, it didn’t look too bad. Just steep.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Top of our canyon climb

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Looking up at the top of Molybdenite Canyon

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Starting the climb over Hanging Valley Ridge

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Climbing through the brush

The way forward was drier now, but the brush still took some navigating to get through. Kristy found a rocky drainage that proved to be the easiest way up. It also turned into a small creek that made a nice place to rest and refill our bottles. We still couldn’t see over the immediate rise, but we hoped to see our pass over the ridge soon.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Following the rocky drainage

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Break time at a cool water source

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Ugh, we still need to climb over that!

Climbing again, we finally crested over the hill and into a big bowl. Instead of an easy pass, there was still a big steep ridge ahead of us. My first thought is that it looked like a big tidal wave bearing down on us. As the trip and route planner, it’s always stressful when I see something unplanned like this. How will the rest of the group react? Other than a sarcastic, “Is this the flat spot you were talking about?”, everyone kept moving forward. At this point, though, what else can you do? We didn’t want to go back by any means.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Is this the flat spot you were talking about?

After getting across the bowl, we picked a spot to climb over the ridge. I looked up with much worry, hoping that this was indeed the top. Otherwise there may be a mutiny. The thunder began to rumble to the east. We were tired from the climb, but now we had a sense of urgency to get over the top and down to safety. Everyone was giving it all they had to get up the mountain.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Looking down from the top…almost there

I went up ahead to scout the route ahead (please be the top!) and make sure there was a safe route down the other side. Just past a snow bank, I reached the top at 10,935 feet. I was overwhelmingly relieved to see Burt Canyon on the other side. My son was nearing the top, but Kristy and the dogs were still a ways down. It started to rain and the thunder rumbled in the distance, so I took off my pack and went down to help her get to the top as quickly as possible. The sense of urgency now felt like an emergency.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Ponchos on! Let’s get off this mountain! 

Almost the very second we were all on top of the ridge it hit. CAAARRRAAACK! The thunder boomed directly above our heads. The wind picked up violently and it started hailing along with the rain. I struggled to get ponchos on the family, the wind fighting to rip them off and blow them off into space. I had to tuck them into straps to keep everyone dry. Scared dogs were carried under the ponchos. I didn’t even have time to mess with my rain gear at first, figuring being a little wet was much better than electrocution. As quickly as we could, we made our way down the other side to the safety of the trees. Kristy was taking photos and video of the scene, and I humorously wondered if she was recording evidence for the divorce lawyer. It was definitely not the position I had wanted to put my entire family in!

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Descending to Burt Canyon

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Flatiron Butte in the clouds

Once off the ridge, the rumbling stopped, but we still had a challenge before us. The valley floor was still 1,500 feet below, and it was steep and slippery all the way down. All of us fell on our butts a few times to the point of it being a laughing matter…in a hysterical sort of way. We all agreed we’d find the first flat spot and make it our camp if we ever got off this mountain.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Camp #2

Finally at the bottom, we scouted for a camp. Kristy found the perfect spot right next to the Little Walker River, an existing camping area with level ground, a fire ring, and a nice log to sit on. We immediately went to work cooking, setting up the tent, and getting into dry warm clothes. The sun came out as we ate dinner, and it was so peaceful that it was hard to really believe what we had just been through. I looked back up the mountain and it didn’t seem possible that we had just come over it. We made nine miles this day, and the terrain made the first day seem so easy. We went to bed early that night, and slept very well.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Little Walker River near camp

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
So peaceful compared to just a couple hours ago!

DAY 3

We took our time getting up on the third day. I don’t think my son even rolled out of bed until after 10:00. It was a sunny day, and this time we were fairly certain we’d have an easy day of hiking. It was all downhill, open meadows, and lots of trail. Once hiking, we first had to find a way across the Little Walker River. It’s small, but just big enough so that it’s a challenge to keep your boots dry. After that, we set out across the low brush in search of a fading trail.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Morning view of Flatiron Butte

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Even the dogs were taking their time waking up

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
All packed up

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Setting out across the low brush

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Looking back at the top of Burt Canyon

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Very large boulder in the middle of the meadow

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Beautiful meadows

Soon we were hiking across the meadows with outstanding views in front of and behind us. There’s a huge boulder right in the middle of the upper meadows, most likely deposited by a glacier long ago. It was times like this that made us forget the hard parts. After enjoying the scenery and a bit of exploring, we picked up the trail. It fades in and out this high in the canyon, but it’s pretty easy to find. We found what I think was the turn off to Anna Lake, but the sign that was there last year appears to be gone.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Back on the trail

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Mudslide/flooding

Partway down the canyon, we saw what looked to be the remains of a mudslide coming out of a side canyon off Hanging Valley Ridge. The river course had obviously been altered since we were up there a year ago. Beaver dams were washed out, and many ponds along with it. We stopped for water along the Little Walker for lunch, and got hydrated for the walk out. We wanted to sit at the water the rest of the day, but we could already see the storm clouds brewing. We headed on our way. Soon we were in the woods where we made camp last year near Piute Canyon, and we ran into a family headed up for some fishing. We were almost shocked to see other people.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Nearing Piute Canyon

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
In the woods near Piute Canyon

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Busted beaver dam and dry pond

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Lots of Indian Paintbrush

We were making a good pace down the canyon, already talking about where we’d eat that night. All-you-can-eat sushi was topping the list. Our legs were starting to get tired from the previous day’s efforts, and we were all feeling like we wanted to be done hiking. Through a narrow section of trail in the brush, Kristy caught her boot on something, and it sent her tumbling into the bushes. My son said, “Whoa! Mom just did a flip!”. Kristy tore her pant leg and banged her knee up pretty good in the process. I was thankful now for my bulky first aid kit, and went to work practicing my Wilderness First Aid training. We got her all bandaged up and back on the trail, but understandably, our pace was now slower.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
She’s OK!

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Crossing the Little Walker for the last time

Just a little past the scene of the tumble, we came to our last crossing of the Little Walker River. There was no way we’d cross without getting our boots wet, so we stopped to change into our sandals. Once on the other side, we took a snack break to get energy for the final push out. As we were sitting there, my son said, “I think I see a tick on mom’s pack.”. I told him not to touch it, because I wanted to verify the sighting. I made my way over there to see the tick, but when I got there, I couldn’t see anything. My son informed me that it had crawled up into the pack while he was waiting for me. There was some miscommunication here. I wanted to make sure he didn’t flick the bug off where I wouldn’t be able to identify it. He took it to mean not to interfere the natural course of things, so now we had a missing bug. I opened the pack up and made a thorough search, but could not find the bug. Nor was it on the ground in the immediate vicinity. Apparently what may have been a tick was gone. Or so we thought…

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Trail wash out

Kristy’s leg improved as we hiked, and the pace picked up. We came to a section of trail that had been totally obliterated by the flooding. Rock cairns marked the way through the mud, and we picked up the trail again on the other side. Soon we were down to the bottom of Burt Canyon, and the hiking was flat and easy. All of us were glad that we had parked where we did and didn’t have to hike any additional mileage to get to the trailhead. We were done.

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Through the aspens

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
And through the brush

Backpacking Molybdenite Canyon to Burt Canyon
Finishing up

Burt Canyon
The route

EPILOGUE

I would have to say this was the most challenging family backpacking trip we’ve ever done. Over the course of 22-23 miles, cross-country navigation, overgrown trails, bugs, injuries, and thunderstorms all made this a difficult hike. At the same time, though, it was ruggedly beautiful and we enjoyed the solitude, only seeing a few people over the three days. I don’t think we’ve ever seen more wildflowers.

One of the first things I did after arriving home was check the GPS data to examine our route over the top of Hanging Valley Ridge, the hardest part of the hike. Looking at Google Earth, I had originally planned to cross just a little higher up at the next pass. This section is 300 feet lower, but required more hiking to get to. Also, the descent to Burt Canyon didn’t look any easier than the route we took. Either way we would’ve gone would have been difficult, and I don’t know where we’d have been when the thunderstorm hit had we gone the other way. I suppose the only way to know for sure would be to go back and see for myself, although I’m fairly certain I’d be on my own for this excursion.

And what of the missing bug? A day after we had been home, Kristy came to me with her fingers in her hair. She felt something on her scalp, and asked me nervously, “Is this a tick?”. I was fully prepared to ease her mind, but when I looked, there was indeed a tick there. I didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t begin a complete panic, but ended up just being honest and said, “Yes it is.”. We got her seated and calmed down, and I worked the tick out of her hair very slowly with some tweezers. The tick was still small, and looked like it had just bitten her. Over the next day, we learned a lot more than we ever wanted to know about ticks. We identified it as a female dog tick, and felt pretty confident there was very little risk of Lyme disease. No further complications came out of it. On the bright side, we discovered some new bug repellents from Sawyer that we’ll be testing out on our next outing that should keep away the mosquitoes, biting flies, and ticks…all of which made an appearance on this trip.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Backpacking Burt Canyon to Anna Lake

Burt Canyon in the Hoover Wilderness offers visitors spectacular scenery as well as solitude.  Located in the Eastern Sierras, this trail follows the Little Walker River through a variety of distinct ecosystems, including desert sagebrush, aspen groves, pine forests, grassy meadows, and tops out at a desolate alpine lake. We did this hike over three days to keep the daily mileage down and allow extra time for exploration.

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Trailhead parking at the end of the road

DAY 1

To get to this trailhead, turn onto the Little Walker River dirt road less than a mile south of the 395 / 108 intersection (Sonora Pass cutoff). This well graded dirt road heads south up into the mountains above the Little Walker River, and eventually comes to an intersection where one can turn into the Obsidian Campground (also the start of the Molybdenite Canyon hike). Just past the campground turnoff and around the corner, a road climbs up and to the south. If you have a high clearance vehicle you can follow this road up about a mile to the end and park at the gate. There is room for just half a dozen cars. If you don’t think your vehicle will make it up the hill, there is parking available at the bottom on the other side of the road that will even accommodate horse trailers. Continuing past this parking area and across the bridge will eventually lead you to the trailhead for Emma Lake and Mount Emma, another recommended hike in the area.

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
The hike begins

Once we were packed up and ready to hike, we walked around the gate and into the mouth of Burt Canyon. The dirt road passes a few private cabins as it gently makes its way up the canyon through the sagebrush. Seldom do you get such a nice warm-up on a hike into the Sierras! As the family hike planner, rarely do I get to say, “See! I told you it wasn’t going to be very hard!”.

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Easy hiking

After some easy hiking, the road ends at a gate. Since this trail doesn’t see heavy traffic, it’s almost hard to see the singletrack leading off into the woods. From here the scenery alternates between pine forest, aspen grove, and stretches of sagebrush as the gentle climb continues with plenty opportunities to rest in the shade.

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Singletrack begins – Keep Left

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
One of the many aspen groves

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Break Time

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Deeper into the canyon

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake

As we gained altitude we started to encounter the wildflowers. One of the predominant flowers on our hike was the Indian Paintbrush, more than I have ever seen in one location. They were growing everywhere among the brush.

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Gaining altitude – Indian Paintbrush

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
I’ve never seen so many Indian Paintbrush!

Up until this point, we had been on the east and south of the Little Walker River. The canyon is big, and the gradual change in direction is barely perceptible as it curves to the west around Mount Emma. Using a map, compass, and the direction of the canyon, it was pretty easy to track our progress. Eventually we came to where the trail crosses the Little Walker River. The river was still flowing pretty good in July, even after a light winter. It would’ve been easy enough to wade across, but we attempted to cross on the stepping stones instead to save some time. I ended up being the only one who slipped off and got a foot wet. I imagine this crossing can be more challenging in early spring and after a big winter!

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Preparing to cross the creek

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Not a super easy crossing if you’re trying to stay dry

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
East-west section of Burt Canyon – Piute Canyon off in the distance

Once across the river, we were heading almost west with the smaller Piute Canyon joining Burt Canyon up ahead in the distance. The trail is steeper through here when compared to the beginning of the hike, but still quite pleasant. We planned to find somewhere to camp up around the next bend.

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Scouting for a campsite

After crossing the small creek flowing out of Piute Canyon, we began scouting for a campsite. Just past some wet meadows, we found a nice spot in the trees next the river. Even up this high, the river had a good flow and was a great supply of pristine water. It would’ve been a perfect camp spot if not for the bugs. The mosquitoes weren’t too bad on their own, but there were biting flies as well. It was a good opportunity to try out our new head nets! I think we must have timed our visit perfect for the bugs. A few weeks later, and I don’t think we would’ve had a problem.

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Camp

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Enjoying our mountain home

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Little Walker River by camp

DAY 2

The plan for the second day was to do a day hike up to Anna Lake and back. After breakfast, we packed up a few items in our small packs, and headed south up the trail from camp. We soon came out of our wooded area into an open meadow along the Little Walker River. We could now see the end of the canyon with great views of Flatiron Butte, a big rock formation apparently named for it wedge-like appearance.

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
A buggy breakfast

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Morning on the Little Walker

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Flatiron Butte at the end of the canyon

Along the way, we found what would’ve probably been a better campsite overlooking the river and canyon below. It still had shelter in the trees, but was a little more open, and probably would be less buggy. We’ll know better for next time!

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
We will camp here next time

Eventually we came to the turnoff for Anna Lake, marked by a weathered old sign that was laying on its side when we got to it. We did our best to prop it back up before pressing on. The trail this far had been obviously lightly used, but the trail up to Anna Lake even less so. Although easy to follow overall, there were times when we had to scout around to see where the trail went. It also gets pretty steep at times, and I was glad we weren’t carrying our heavy packs up the hill. To help take your mind off the steep climb, there are lots of wild flowers, cascading streams, and high elevation views.

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
A weathered sign marks the turnoff to Anna Lake

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Creek Crossing on the way to Anna Lake

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Overgrown but pretty trail

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Good views of Flatiron Butte and Hanna Mountain

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Nearing Anna Lake

As we neared the top of the climb, dark clouds began to build. We were so close, and I could feel the disappointment welling inside of me at the thought of having to turn around. We kept going, though, and the weather held. The overcast conditions definitely cooled it off, so when we finally arrived at Anna Lake, nobody was ready to jump into the icy snow-fed water.

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Arriving at Anna Lake

Anna Lake is small, but quite beautiful. The trees and bushes are stunted at 10,500 feet, and the peaks above the lake are rocky and barren. Snow was still melting into the crystal clear water. We picked a spot near the outlet for lunch and enjoyed the scenery. Later we explored the shoreline to the north, and even found a little campsite hidden in the trees. It was only big enough for a one or two person tent, but it would provide a camper some much needed cover.

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Nobody wanted to swim

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Lots of good lunch spots

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Hidden campsite just big enough for 1 or 2 people

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
North end of the lake

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
The outlet

It was time to descend back the way we came. We made much better time with gravity on our side! I took the time to photograph a lot of flowers on the way down. Once back on the Burt Canyon trail, it was easy hiking back to camp, where upon arrival, the dinner festivities immediately commenced.

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Flowers along the descent

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Mules Ear

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake

Burt Canyon to Anna LakeResting along the descent

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Descending steep terrain

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Mariposa Lily

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Not far from camp

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Home Sweet Home

Burt Canyon to Anna LakeHappy Camper

DAY 3

We awoke on the 3rd day ready to pack up and get hiking. Although it’s a little sad to leave the wilderness, it always seems like people keep a brisk pace when they know they are headed out. On this day it was probably the thought of getting away from the bugs. A hot shower. And definitely a cheeseburger and a milkshake at Walker Burger near the end of the trail.

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Headed out

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Someone is tired

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake

Burt Canyon to Anna LakeBeaver Dam

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Back across the river

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake

Burt Canyon to Anna Lake
Back to Walker Burger and Civilization

Had it not been for the bugs, this backpacking trip may have been almost perfect. We really enjoyed the diversity of the ecosystems we passed through and all the wildflowers along the way. We encountered very few people on the trail, and felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. With exception of the climb to Anna Lake, the grade is fairly gentle and great for family hiking. For a future hike, I’d like to bypass Anna Lake and make a 3 day loop out of Burt Canyon and Molybdenite Canyon (connecting the two canyons by climbing over the ridge at the top).

More Resources:

  • Permits: Another thing that made this trip easy for us is that we got our wilderness permit right in Carson City at the U.S. Forestry building on South Carson Street, since this area is in the Toiyabe-Humboldt National Forest.  I was able to conveniently acquire the permit earlier in the week, saving us time to drive straight to the trailhead. There were no permits available at the trailhead at hike time (no self-serve station).
  • Recommended map: Hoover Wilderness from Tom Harrison
  • Recommended Guide Book: Exploring Eastern Sierra Canyons – Sonora Pass to Pine Creek
  • Approximate Mileage: 13.5 miles from the trailhead (gate) to Anna Lake and back.
  • Elevation: 7,800 feet at the trailhead, 10,500 at Anna Lake
  • The full photo set of this trip can be found on Flickr HERE.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake

Looking back on my outings of 2014, backpacking into the Ansel Adams Wilderness topped the list for the most amazing scenery of the year. The wilderness is named in honor of Ansel Adams, well-known environmentalist and nature photographer who is famous for his black and white landscape photographs of the Sierra Nevada. This wilderness includes the ruggedly beautiful Ritter Range with mountains reaching 13,157 feet high. It covers 231,533 acres, and is located in between Yosemite National Park and the John Muir Wilderness. Due to it’s beauty and developed access points, this area is highly visited. The area includes approximately 350 miles of trails, including portions of the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails. For people looking to avoid the crowds, starting your hike at Silver Lake is a good option. Not only is the Silver Lake trailhead easy to reach compared to Yosemite or Mammoth, this loop allows access to Thousand Island Lake via lesser used trails. We did this 21 mile loop over 3 days, and the only trail we hiked twice was the first 2 mile segment from Silver Lake to Agnew Lake.

DAY 1

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Trailhead Map

Before arriving at the trailhead, we stopped at the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center just north of Lee Vining to pick up the wilderness permits that are required for an overnight stay in this area. It’s a fun place with a lot to look at, so you have to remind yourself to keep your visit short so you can get to hiking. There is usually a good supply of books and maps here.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Trailhead RV Park

To get the trailhead, we drove south out of Lee Vining to the June Lakes cutoff. We followed the June Lakes loop to Silver Lake and parked at the Rush Creek Trailhead, located at 7,250 feet elevation. Even though the parking area accommodates several cars, we got one of the last parking spots. Agnew Lake at 8,500 feet elevation is just two miles up the trail, and is a popular destination for fisherman and other day hikers leaving from the resort/recreation area near the trailhead. We got our packs on and hit the trail, heading south above the RV Park and road below. Soon we entered the Ansel Adams Wilderness, leaving civilization behind.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
The mileage

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Entering the Ansel Adams Wilderness

Before arriving at Agnew Lake, we came to the tramway near Rush Creek. At first glance, the old tracks look like a relic from the past. I’ve read numerous trip reports of this area, and a few have chosen to climb the tracks as a stairway shortcut to Agnew Lake. It certainly does look tempting, but don’t do it. We kept on the trail as the signs advised, and we had only made it to the next switchback when a small cable car full of personnel was being lowered down the tracks! Had we climbed the tracks, it may not have ended well. Watching the guys get lowered down that cliff did not make me envy their job at all.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Cable Tramway Crossing

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Cable Car. Yikes!

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Leaving the June Lakes Loop below

Two miles into the hike we arrived at Agnew Lake, where the tramway ends at the dam. There are a series of dams and lakes along Rush Creek: Agnew Lake, Gem Lake, and Waugh Lake. It’s all part of a system originally constructed between 1916 and 1925 to enlarge these natural lakes, and use the runoff to generate electricity at the power plant at Silver Lake below. Rush Creek is also noteworthy as the largest stream in the Mono Basin, carrying 41% of the total runoff along its 27 mile stretch. There was a construction project in progress at the dam when we arrived, the tramway being used to transport personnel, equipment, and tools to the work site.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Climbing along Agnew Lake, Gem Lake Dam visible above

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Sharing the trail

West of Agnew Lake, the Gem Lake dam is visible high above. Agnew Lake is fairly small, so the trail must climb steeply to get to the nearby Gem Lake. The Rush Creek trail climbs some very rugged terrain along its route into the backcountry. There’s always climbing and descending to do as you make your way around the rocky shorelines. There are very few sections where you can just stroll along easily. Keep this in mind when planning your mileage for the day.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
We’d have to come down this in 2 days

On our way up to Gem Lake, we were treated to great views of Agnew Lake below. We could also see the trail we’d be returning on across the lake to the south. The trail to Clark Lakes climbs up the steep talus mountainside of Carson Peak, then disappears from view where the drainage narrows. It looked a bit scary from our vantage point, and I wondered how it was going to go when we’d reach that side in a couple days.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Looking back down on Agnew Lake

Before reaching Gem Lake we met horses coming down the trail. We climbed to the downhill side to let the guide, a mule, and a family on horseback pass us. The family didn’t appear to be very experienced riders, and were relying on the guide and well behaved horses to keep everything in check. Up on that cliff, it didn’t look at all fun to me. I heard the slide of the metal horseshoes on the granite, and tried to imagine myself high up on the saddle on all those exposed switchbacks. The very thought made me woozy, and I was glad to have my own two feet on the ground.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Arriving at Gem Lake

I thought the scenery has been incredible so far, but when we reached the much larger Gem Lake at 9,058 feet elevation, the views were taken up to the next level. Not confined between steep mountains anymore, we could see deep into the wilderness and see the jagged peaks of the Ritter Range we’d reach the next day. We followed the trail around Gem Lake’s rugged north side, and headed to the far west side to look for possible places to camp. Along the way we met a family that was on their way out. They said the previous night was pretty rough, with thunder and wind-driven precipitation. They seemed pretty rattled and exhausted from lack of sleep, and were looking forward to getting out of the mountains. As luck would have it, the weather was clearing, and we were probably looking at a peaceful night.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Intersection at Rush Creek

Once on the west side of the lake, we found a great campsite near the inlet of Crest Creek (and turnoff to Alger Lakes). It was already occupied though, so we kept going towards Waugh Lake. The trail goes over a hill, and then descends back to Rush Creek. Here the trail is wide and flat, almost like it is in a community park. Along the creek we passed what looked to be a commercial camp area with dozens of the same blue tents. There didn’t seem to be anyone around though. We didn’t encounter a lot of people on the trail after Agnew Lake, but it seemed that every good camping spot along the trail had somebody in it. It was a big contrast to all our other hikes in 2014 where we had almost complete solitude.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
A very brief section of flat trail along Rush Creek

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Climbing again

The easy hiking was short lived, and then we were climbing again through a field of large granite boulders. The trail looks so natural that it’s easy to forget the trail building marvel that it is. Without the hard work of the trail builders, this route would a long, hard, and possibly dangerous scramble through the rocks and boulders.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Trail through granite boulders

After climbing up through rocks, the terrain levels out along Rush Creek. Again we could see tents in the good camping spots as we walked along. Once I explored an area a ways off the trail some, and found what looked to be a good spot. I was just about to report my findings to my Dad, when I looked up and saw another camp directly in view of the site I had selected. A little frustrated, we continued up the trail a bit more and found a large flat spot in the trees signed, “Designated Stock Camp”. It was empty, had access to Rush Creek, and had some good spots off the trail. Sold!

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
A flat spot to camp

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Camp along Rush Creek

Since this trip was later in the season and the bugs weren’t a problem, I decided to bring only part of my 3 man tent. My tent has the option to set it up with just the rain fly, poles, and footprint, bringing the weight down to 3.4 lbs. This saved on room and a couple pounds of weight in my pack, which was much appreciated on this trip. Luckily there were no bugs to speak of, and this arrangement gave us the full protection feel of a tent, with the open space feeling of a tarp. Placing our backpacks at the head of the tent further helped block the wind for a good nights sleep.

DAY 2

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Morning on Rush Creek

We awoke to a sunny morning on Rush Creek. Far off to the west, though, some serious clouds were building above the jagged peaks. It caused me enough worry that I deferred taking down the tent until after breakfast. After some time, though, the clouds had not proceeded further east and were drifting north along the ridge line. My hope for a sunny day and good photos at Island Pass was restored.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Dam at Waugh Lake

After breaking camp and on the trail we almost immediately came to the dam at Waugh Lake at 9,442 feet elevation. I knew we were close, but didn’t realize it was just around the corner. The breeze hit us as soon as we were lakeside, and I was glad we had camped where we did in the shelter of the rocks and trees. Had we continued on the day before, there were a couple good campsites along the north shore, though. I was also pleased to see the lake nice and full. The Google satellite imagery that I looked at before the hike showed the lake almost completely drained for dam maintenance.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Hiking along Waugh Lake

The hike around Waugh Lake was a good way to start the day. It wasn’t as steep and rugged as the terrain the day before, and was a good way to warm up. Now that we were out in the open again, there was great scenery in all directions. Waugh Lake, granite domes, jagged peaks, and the occasional creek crossing.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Creek Crossing

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Jagged Peaks

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Rush Creek

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Crossing Rush Creek

We eventually came to an intersection where we joined the Pacific Crest Trail / John Muir Trail (PCT/JMT). We’d be hiking a section of this trail to the south over Island Pass and down to Thousand Island Lakes. We actually saw the people on the trail before the trail itself. This is a busy trail for being so far in the backcountry. We talked to quite a few hikers along the way, hikers from all around the world, and everyone wanted to know where we started and where we were headed. I always enjoy talking to people, but after a while I got concerned that we weren’t making good time with all the stopping and chatting. One lady told me she liked this area, because it wasn’t crowded like Yosemite. She seemed surprised when I told her I’d seen more people out on the trail today than I had seen on all my other hiking trips that year combined!

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Climbing to Island Pass

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Looking north to Donahue Pass

The scenery up to this point had just been fantastic, but when we reached Island Pass, I wasn’t fully prepared for what we saw. It was jaw dropping. We were already at 10,205 feet, but the massive 12,936 ft Banner Peak and chain of mountains behind it towered above us. And with the tiny alpine lakes in the foreground, you just couldn’t ask for a better scene. May Dad said he would stay the rest of the season right there if I airlifted supplies in for him.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Arriving at Island Pass – 12,936 ft Banner Peak

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Happy to be there

After spending some time at Island Pass taking in the view, we headed down the south side of the pass towards Thousand Island Lake. It wasn’t long before the lake was visible in the basin below Banner Peak. It’s quite large for an alpine lake, and amazing to see with all its islands. We had planned to camp at Thousand Island Lake this day, so I was eager to get down to the lake for some exploring. As we got closer to the lake, though, we could see a lot of tents dotting the shoreline. And once we were down to the lake we saw a lot of people coming in from Reds Meadow from the south, including day-hikers, backpackers, and photographer groups being dropped off by horses. It was so busy that you probably couldn’t have camped anywhere on the lake and not been able to see several other people due to the few trees at this elevation. Because of privacy issues and not wanting to pile on additional environmental strain to this already overused location, we made the decision to find somewhere else to camp off the JMT. As much as I had wanted to spend more time at this beautiful place, we’d have to cut the visit down to a lunch hour and press on.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Thousand Island Lake

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Lunch break out of the wind

We found a good break spot along the shore where the trail meets the lake at 9,883 ft elevation. It was pretty breezy, so we ducked in behind some bushes to eat lunch and plan our new destination. It was still early in the day, and we had a lot of energy left. Clark Lakes were on our route, and they are off the main trail of the PCT. We hoped we’d have more solitude and shelter from the wind when we got up there.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Leaving Thousand Island Lake

It was hard to leave Thousand Island Lake, but it was definitely the right choice. I also knew that I’d appreciate the extra miles and elevation I was about to hike when I woke up the next day to hike out. As we continued south on the PCT along the head waters of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River, we continued to meet more hikers and horses on the trail. Many were planning to spend several days up at Thousand Island Lake. In the interest of time I tried to keep my greetings to a smile, but many people wanted to stop and talk. I was getting worried, because I knew my extra energy wasn’t going to last forever. Especially since the trail was now descending down into the canyon, and we had to eventually gain all that elevation back. Finally we reached the turnoff to Clark Lakes, and got off the main trail. It was a relief to get back to solitude again.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Pack train returning to Reds Meadow

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Looking towards Mammoth

As we climbed towards Clark Lakes, we got some great views towards Mammoth Mountain and the San Joaquin River canyon to the south. My legs were getting a bit tired, so I was thankful when we hiked over a rise to find the first of several Clark Lakes at around 9,800 ft elevation.  We passed the first lake by, and found a nice spot to camp near the second lake. The lake level was low, and it appeared there wasn’t much water flowing in or out of the lakes this time of year. Little macroscopic lifeforms swam about the lake, so I was happy to have a water filter with me, and not just merely purification tablets. After getting camp setup and dinner started, I realized just how tired I was. Instant hot apple cider and freeze-dried beef stroganoff were on the menu, and they were absolutely delicious. It might as well have been a five star restaurant sitting there in the dirt eating food out of a bag. After dinner I was ready to turn in for the night. Looking at the time, though, it wasn’t even 7:00 PM yet! I tried to read the book I had lugged along, but that just made me even more tired. And soon I was out…

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Arriving at Lower Clark Lakes

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Camp at Clark Lakes

DAY 3

The next morning we were awakened early by my Dad’s dog. He’d been quiet up until this time, but now he was growling at something off in the distance. My Dad told me to look off in the direction of our bear vaults. With still blurry eyes and no glasses I squinted across the meadow and saw an animal standing and watching us. Out of the three possibilities it could be, I was really hoping it wasn’t a wolf or mountain lion. After focusing on it with the zoomed-in camera and waking up a little, I was relieved to see it, and the other pack member that showed up, were just coyotes. They scared away easily, but I was definitely awake now. We dubbed my Dad’s dog, “Cowboy the Brave” for his heroics and protecting us in camp.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Early morning visitor

Eager to get on the trail, we broke camp and had breakfast. On the plus side of being woken up early, we got some great photos of Banner Peak and Mount Ritter reflecting on the water. We’d continue to see these big mountains with changing foregrounds throughout the morning as we continued our way up the trail. There were some really good campsites at the biggest of the Clark Lakes, but we also saw a few people around the lake as well. We definitely had more seclusion where we camped.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Morning reflections of Banner Peak and Mount Ritter

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
One of the Clark Lakes

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
More views of Banner Peak and Mount Ritter

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
The upper Clark Lake

After passing the last of the Clark Lakes, we went over the top of the pass and began our descent to Spooky Meadow. I’m not sure why it’s called that, as it looked pleasant enough. Perhaps it’s the steep trail leading down to Agnew Lake from the meadow. It was a bit spooky at times.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Descending to Spooky Meadow

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Spooky Meadow

After leaving Spooky Meadow, the trail heads down the steep chute leading to Agnew Lake. It was now time to see up close the trail we were looking at two days ago. I was glad to have my trekking poles on this steep descent, both for balance and to help take the load off my knees. There are short switchbacks when the terrain allows, and other times the trail just heads straight down. There a few spots with some exposure where it would not be good to fall. As someone who doesn’t care for drop-offs, I was still able to manage this trail. I was definitely on the edge of my comfort level, but it was quite thrilling as we descended with Agnew, Gem, Silver, and Mono Lakes far below us.  It’s hard to imagine someone building such a trail in today’s world.

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Descending steeply

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
The Gem Lake Dam

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Agnew, Silver, and Mono Lakes

It felt good to get back down to Agnew Lake and on flat ground. We rested up a bit for the final two mile hike back to the trailhead. The last section would feel pretty easy after what we’d just did. As soon as we left the breezy Agnew Lake basin, the temperature climbed rapidly as we descended towards the valley floor. I even heard a few hikers we passed complain about the heat. I assured them their discomfort would be short lived. With our early start, we were back to the trailhead around noon. Finally getting the pack off, I was glad we had done some extra hiking the day before!

Backpacking Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake
Back to Agnew Lake

Even though this area was fairly crowded at times, I still highly recommend it for the scenery and fun terrain. I also think doing the loop in the counter-clockwise direction was the right choice, as I think an ascent up to Spooky Meadow would be less fun than coming down it (especially since the ascent would be in the 3rd mile after driving all day). Additionally, approaching Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake from the north seemed to be more dramatic. The trails are all well defined and there are signs at most of the intersections that make following your progress on the map a breeze. If you’re nervous about staying out in the wilderness by yourself, this is a good place, since you know other people are never too far away. I’ll definitely be back again to do the same loop, or with all the other side trails available, a variation of some sort.

Additional Information:

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon

“What’s the name of this canyon again? Molly-buh-dendite?” “It’s pronounced Molib-uh-nite. No…wait…Mo-lyb-denite. Yeah, that’s it. With a D in there. Molybdenite is a mineral of molybdenum disulfide, says Wikipedia.” Variations of this conversation repeated prior, during, and after the hike. As it turns out, pronouncing the name of this canyon is much harder than hiking it.

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
At the trailhead

Molybdenite Canyon is located on the northeastern side of the Hoover Wilderness, and is accessed at the top of the Obsidian Campground along the Little Walker River Road. Look for the Obsidian Campground sign just east of the Sonora Pass junction on HWY 395. Little Walker River Road is a well graded dirt road, and the campground road, even though a little bumpy, should be accessible by low clearance vehicles. There is ample parking at the trailhead at the end of the road, and horse trailers have good parking just outside the campground entrance.

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Getting Started

The trail begins next to the Wilderness Information sign frame, which at the time of this writing, does not contain a sign or any information. The Hoover Wilderness boundary, though, is about 2.5 miles up the trail. Wilderness permits are not required for day hiking.

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Hiking through the brush

We began our hike around noon on Columbus Day, a perfect Fall day with lots of sunshine and mild temperatures. The grade starts off easy for some pleasant hiking. The trail at this time of year was dry and dusty, made silty from the many horses that use this route. Our little dogs were covered in dust in no time.

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Golden Aspens

It looked like we may have been a little late for peak Fall color in the canyon, as many of the aspens had already lost their leaves. The trees along Molybdenite Creek, though, were still glowing gold in the bright sun. The trail transitions frequently between these aspen, open brush, and pine forest.

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Through the woods

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Flashes of color in the brush

Eventually the trail comes to a stand of old majestic junipers, many with massive trunks. They dominate the hillside of Hanging Valley Ridge as you pass into the Hoover Wilderness.

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
A stand of old junipers

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
The interesting remains of a juniper

The trail climbs up as you pass the junipers, but then flattens out again as the valley opens for great views deep into the canyon beyond. Easy hiking resumes as you pass by the creek and small pools probably caused by beaver dams. Lots of small trout would flee up and down the creek when we’d peek over the grassy banks.

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
The valley opens up for great views up the canyon

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Views of the Sweetwater Mountains behind

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
The creek pools up at times

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
A short break at the creek

I brought my water filter for this hike, but was glad we didn’t need it. Although it would’ve been fine in a pinch, the water was pretty shallow and looking a little green with algae in some spots. There weren’t too many swift moving sections between the beaver ponds either. I bet this creek is flowing pretty good in the Spring and into Summer, though.

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Looking for trout

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Crossing the creek

After crossing the creek, we headed into the woods again. About 4 miles in now, it looked to be a good sheltered area to setup a camp if one was backpacking. Soon we spotted a big quartz outcropping on the east canyon wall. We set this as our destination for the day. Kristy would relax by the creek with the dogs, while the boy and I climbed up to investigate the rocks.

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Into the woods again

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Headed for a quartz outcropping

Although not far up, the quartz outcropping took some bushwhacking through brush, thorn bushes, downed trees, and thick aspen. Kristy knew better than to follow us. When we finally got up there, though, it was a pretty interesting sight to see. It looked like many of the talus slopes we’ve hiked before, but it was all quartz. We hunted through the rock, looking for crystals or any sign of molybdenite (although we weren’t sure what it looked like). Finding nothing precious looking, we still marveled at all the sparkly rocks before heading back down to the creek.

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Quartz Talus

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Beautiful Quartz

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Rockhounding

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
The valley below

We regrouped with Kristy and the dogs, and prepped for the hike out. Shadows were starting to appear on the west canyon wall, so we made haste back down the trail. The easy downhill made for some of the fastest hiking we’ve done all year, and we covered the four miles back to the car in no time. Even the dogs were tearing it up.

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Headed back

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Through a small meadow

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
The last showing of Fall

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Near the end of the trail

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
Back to the trailhead

Hiking Molybdenite Canyon
The drive out Little Walker River Road

Once back at the car, we made for Walker Burger in Walker, CA. It’s our customary stop after adventuring in this area before heading back to Carson City. Apparently they close earlier this time of year, though, so our stomachs were very disappointed as we drove by the dark building. Trail-mix would have to do until we arrived home.

Molybdenite Canyon
Our Route

Molybdenite Canyon is a great hike. The easy grade allows for fast hiking and a lot of exploration. By the time we turned around, we were very close to McMillan Lake, and weren’t too far from the end of the canyon. We’d like to come back and explore these areas further. Having hiked most of Burt Canyon earlier this year (the next canyon over), we’d especially like to come back and combine the two canyons for a three day backpacking trip next summer!

MORE INFORMATION

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake

The trail to Gibbs Lake may be a trail you’ve never heard of before. I had never heard of it until I read the trail description in the book Exploring Eastern Sierra Canyons. This book is an excellent source for finding the hidden, off-the-beaten-path hikes along the Eastern Sierras.

Backpacking to Gibbs LakeThe dirt road up Horse Meadow

Before starting this hike, we stopped at the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center for our wilderness permit (required for an overnight stay in the Ansel Adams Wilderness) and a map. The visitor center reminds me of a busy airport. But instead of flights and boarding passes, it’s hiking and permits. As we stood in line, you could hear that people were headed out on a multitude of different adventures in the area. It’s a beehive of activity, and a fun visit.

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Trailhead Parking

The trailhead for this hike is a few miles up a dirt road that looks insignificant when viewed from the highway. When traveling south on HWY 395, it’s the first dirt road to the west after passing the Tioga Pass turnoff. As soon as you turn off the road, you are presented with a few choices of dirt roads. Just go straight, and soon you’ll see a Horse Meadow sign indicating you are going the right way. We were glad to have a high clearance vehicle, and made it all the way to the end of the road to the trailhead. Low clearance vehicles may not make it to the trailhead, but there are plenty of opportunities to pull off the road and park if additional walking is required.

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Starting up the trail

The trail starts off by following an old roadbed, built in the days when people made roads straight up the mountain. It gets your attention quickly with the heavy pack on. The good thing is you make a good dent in the 1,570 feet of elevation you must climb to get to Gibbs Lake right up front. Looking back along this first climb, you’ll occasionally get views of Mono Lake and Mono Craters, and sometimes hear the traffic far off to the north on Tioga Pass.

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Mono Craters viewed from the trail

After climbing steeply for less than a mile, the road temporarily levels out, but then dives back down a short ways to Gibbs Creek. There are some big Junipers here, almost like a gate, and you can feel the forest become denser compared to just a few moments ago. Standing in the clearing, the way forward was not at first obvious. With a little exploration, we found the trail pick up again behind some downed trees.

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
The trail picked up again behind some downed trees

The trail begins steeply again, but is more interesting now, climbing up a narrow wash. Gibbs Creek can be heard in the trees nearby, and the feeling of entering the wilderness gets stronger. Soon the trail breaks into a clearing, and the giant Mount Gibbs and Mount Dana come into view.

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Climbing the wash

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Mount Gibbs and Mount Dana come into view

We started to have a hard time following the trail. The water runoff frequently follows the trail, so when the trail converges with other runoffs, it becomes hard to decide which one to follow. We got to a point where we were pretty sure we weren’t on the trail anymore. Then it became obvious we had gone astray when we were surrounded by boulders. The maps shows the trail keeping close to the creek, so we made our way in that direction through the rocks and bushes. Eventually we spotted the trail again, and got back on track.

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
We seem to be off the trail

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Definitely off the trail

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Back on the trail

Once back on the trail, we were treated to the best hiking of the day. Dense woods, a beautiful and full creek, and a gently climbing grade. It felt good after scrambling through the boulders. Soon we came to the Ansel Adams Wilderness border. It’s been our custom to always get a photo next to the wilderness sign. This time, though, the sign was missing, perhaps taken as a souvenir, and only the post remained. It’s pretty obvious this trail receives less visitors and maintenance than others in the area.

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Photo next to the wilderness “post”

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Gibbs Creek winding through the woods

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Almost to the lake…

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
We made it!

2.7 miles from the trailhead, we were at Gibbs Lake. Rain had been threatening all day, so we were glad to arrive dry and have time to setup camp. After shelter was secured, we made for the lake for a quick swim. I thought for sure this would be the trip where I’d finally take the plunge. It’s August and there was no visible snow around the lake. Perhaps it was the lack of sun and a cool breeze, but I declined to go in after some preliminary wading. My son was the only one that was brave enough or that could be peer pressured into jumping in. His swim was very brief, and his facial expressions indicated very cold water. I had chosen wisely. My friend Scott hollered in approval, and the echo took at least ten seconds to decay up in the treeless peaks above. We headed back to camp to warm up.

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Camp setup, Mount Dana in the background

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Testing the waters

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Cold!

We weren’t in camp long before the rain started. At first it started off slow, almost like it might just pass through, but then began to get heavier. Luckily there was no lightening and thunder, because one of our dogs is terrified by the booms. We decided to take shelter in the tents and wait it out. Cocktail hour began.

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Cooking in ponchos

After a while, we guessed the rain probably wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. Luckily we all brought ponchos, so we decided to suit up and start some dinner. We found a dry area under a tree to setup the stove and get some soup going. We all looked silly in our ponchos, and so we established the town of Ponchoville. Dinner was a short affair in the rain, so we retreated back to the tents for more cocktails and conversation.

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
I’ve had this poncho for 30 years and it still works!

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
The dogs weren’t real fond of the rain

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Fun in Ponchoville

It rained most of the night, not letting up until early morning. Luckily we had picked tent sites on a duff covered slope, and this kept us well drained. We stayed dry and warm all night. As I was waking up, I imagined getting out of the tent to start laying things out to dry. I wanted to get everything ready for a hike up to Kidney Lake up the canyon above us. When I peaked out of the tent though, the sky was still grey and the rain slightly misting. It looked like we’d have to alter the plans.

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
A misty morning on Gibbs Lake

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
The Gibbs Lake outlet

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Somebody take me home!

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Reflections on Gibbs Lake

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Mount Dana and Kidney Lake hidden in the clouds

During breakfast, we decided it’d be best to pack up and head out. One of the draws to hiking to Kidney Lake is the view of Mono Lake below. With the cloud cover, we wouldn’t be able to see anything. Also, we didn’t want to be up there when it started raining again, as it most certainly looked like it was going to do.

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Hiking out

We packed up and started to hike out. The mist in the forest set a dreamlike tone for the hike. We found some gooseberries along the way, and my son and I stopped for a quick snack. We were eager to follow the trail past where we rejoined it the day before, and figure out where we went wrong. It was pretty obvious when we got there. A big tree had fallen across the trail, and there was a lot of debris that kept the upper section hidden in the trees. We even saw that someone had setup some rock cairns on the fallen tree, but they were easy to miss…as we obviously did. We tried to make some more trail markers before leaving, but I’m not sure how much luck the next hiker will have.

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Ohh, some berries!

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
The trail goes through here. No wonder we missed it!

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Back at the trailhead

Before we made it out, the rain started up again. With all the steep downhill though, we made it out to the trailhead pretty quickly, and nobody got too wet. It felt too early getting back to the car before noon, so we decided to do a little exploring on the drive home. We stopped at Travertine Hot Springs in Bridgeport, but it was full. We drove across the valley to Buckeye Canyon Hot Springs, but it too was at capacity. Looked like everyone else had the same idea on this drizzly day! To finish off the trip right, we made our usual stop at Walker Burger in Walker, CA. Its backyard style dining area is perfect for grubby backpackers and dogs, and the food tastes great after a night in the mountains.

Backpacking to Gibbs Lake
Headed back down Horse Meadow

While we had a great time on this hike, the rain made it feel rushed compared to most of our other trips. I was really looking forward to the climb up to Kidney Lake, but we didn’t get much exploring in besides the trail. The trail itself is in poor condition, and the steep road climb is not as fun as many other trails we’ve hiked. One of the neat things about this hike, though, was all the transitions. High sagebrush desert, to pinyon pines, to mixed forest with aspens, and finally becoming alpine, all in just a few miles.  Overall this area definitely warrants another trip in for more exploration. It’s high on scenery and solitude while being close to services and many other things to do. We’ll definitely be back.

MORE INFORMATION:

Climbing Peep Sight Peak

At 9,716 ft elevation, Peep Sight Peak in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness doesn’t stand out as a mountain worth bragging about climbing. There are much taller peaks in the area and throughout the Sierras. Even the trailhead for this climb is somewhat remote and inconvenient to get to. The draw to climb Peep Sight Peak are the many large and interesting conglomerate rock formations that top this mountain. Also worth the journey are the wide open views of the wilderness, with many other noteworthy peaks visible from the trail.

Peep Sight Peak
Look for the trailhead sign on the Highland Lakes road

This hike is started at the Tryon Meadow trailhead on the Highland Lakes road, which is a well graded dirt road off Highway 4 just west of Ebbetts Pass. Low clearance vehicles should be able to make it if care is taken. The trailhead is signed, and will be on your right (west) about a mile before Highland Lakes. Plenty of room to park and turn around off the main road is provided.

Peep Sight Peak
Plenty of room at the trailhead

The trail immediately enters the Carson Iceberg Wilderness. Wilderness permits are not required for day hiking. The first section of this hike follows rolling terrain through the woods on its way to Milk Ranch Meadow. Very little overall elevation gain is made during this first leg, so it’s easy to get this section done quickly.

Peep Sight Peak

Within just a few minutes on the trail, you’ll realize that this area is used for open cattle grazing. The water crossings are trampled with hoof prints, and the faint odor of cattle byproducts is present for much of the trail. This means bring plenty of water with you, and be real selective of your water sources when filtering or treating creek water. We were frequently surprised of the terrain these cows could get into. These are some tough cows.

Peep Sight Peak

This hike was done on July 27th with temperatures in the 90s back in Carson City below. The tree cover was welcome for the first part of this hike, since the trailhead is at around 8,500 ft and still a bit warm. There are plenty of opportunities for shade until the real climb begins. Breaks in the trees allow for good views of the jagged Raymond and Reynolds Peaks to the north.

Peep Sight Peak
Arriving at Milk Ranch Meadow

After circling around the base on the north side of Folger Peak, the trail arrives at Milk Ranch Meadow. It’s very scenic here, but obviously a very popular place with the cattle. There are fences here, and even an electric one that I verified is live, but they don’t seem well maintained. It appears that the cows can still go wherever they want. The trail is a little confusing through the meadow, with frequent forks. All the trails seem to parallel the meadow though, and it looks like new trails were made around fallen trees. Just follow along the meadow, and you can’t go wrong.

Peep Sight Peak
Looking back at the meadow

When you reach the top of Milk Ranch Meadow, it’s time to climb. The trail leaves the meadow through a little break in the fence between two trees. The trail from here appears to receive very little use, and is hard to follow at times or just disappears altogether. Sometimes the trail is just what appears to be erosion from water runoff, and you wonder if you’re really on the trail. There are also a few times when you must scout around to pick up the trail again. A good trail map and compass is very helpful on this hike. I used the Carson-Iceberg, Emigrant and Mokelumne Wilderness areas map from National Geographic with good results.

Peep Sight Peak
Wildflowers along the way

As you start to climb, great views of the surrounding peaks come into view.

Peep Sight Peak
Airola and Iceberg Peak

Peep Sight Peak
Folger Peak

Peep Sight Peak
Folger and Hiram Peaks

Eventually we came to the creek that drains the northeast side of Peep Sight Peak. Just past the creek the trail disappeared completely and a barbed wire fence blocked further progress. There was no indication where the trail might go, other than the map showing the trail continued somewhere past the fence (we’d eventually find the trail 50 yards away to the west on the way back). We decided to go off trail at this point, and followed the creek drainage up around the north side of Peep Sight Peak. It was at this point that our hike strayed from the most direct route. We would’ve been better off time and mileage-wise to hunt for the trail beyond the fence; however, looking back, there are no regrets for taking the route we did. We did some great exploring, and saw some amazing country that we wouldn’t have got to see otherwise.

Peep Sight Peak
Leaving the trail to ascend

Peep Sight Peak

Peep Sight Peak

Following the creek up took us through a lot of wildflowers. Eventually the conglomerate rock closed in on us, and there was just a narrow slot where the creek has cut through. I climbed up the slot to see what the route ahead looked like, and was surprised to see the beginnings of a big tabletop mountain and the peak just ahead.

Peep Sight Peak

Peep Sight Peak

Peep Sight Peak

Peep Sight Peak

Once up on the table area of the peak, it occurred to me that I really didn’t know where the arch and other formations were located on the mountain. The highest point of the mountain was directly ahead, but didn’t appear to host any formations. We decided to hike the table around the peak to the west.

Peep Sight Peak
View of Bull Run Peak

Walking the table provided great views of the surrounding area, including Bull Run Peak to the southwest. After a rest, I decided I would ascend to the ridge over the talus to try and find the arch. Once up at the ridge, there was no sign up the arch. I was very near the top though, and had some great views off both sides.

Peep Sight Peak
Views off both sides of Peep Sight Peak

Peep Sight Peak
View of Raymond and Reynolds Peaks

Peep Sight Peak
View to the west

I continued south along the ridge in search of the arch. Eventually I found the tall crag that stands alone, appearing to watch over the valley below. It was truly a sight to behold, and I knew the photo wouldn’t do it justice. Next time I’ll have to get a person standing next to it for size comparison.

Peep Sight Peak
Watching over the valley below

A little further south along the ridge, and I finally found the arch, the “peep sight” that the peak is named for. I climbed through and around it to get some photos.

Peep Sight Peak
The Peep Sight arch

Peep Sight Peak
Side view of the arch

Peep Sight Peak
A view of one of the arch’s legs

After regrouping with my dad, we filtered some water from a spring and made plans to hike out. Following the ridge to the southwest didn’t look too terribly hard, and we would eventually join back up with the trail. Down below, there was a big wash with steep exposed sides. We tried our best to avoid it as long as we could. Eventually the terrain forced us down into it, and we had to scramble down loose banks to the creek below. This turned out to be another good water source, mostly free of cattle evidence, so we filled our bottles again.

Peep Sight Peak
Looking for a good route down

Peep Sight Peak
Making our way along the ridge

Peep Sight Peak
Trying to avoid the wash below

Peep Sight Peak
…but finally forced into the wash

Peep Sight Peak
But there was a good water source!

The hiking became much easier now, and we finally reunited with the trail. It was nice to walk along easily for a while. I was surprised at how much elevation we had lost though, and we had to climb out quite a bit.

Peep Sight Peak
I think I see the trail down there…

Peep Sight Peak
Climbing up along the south base of Peep Sight Peak

Eventually we came to a high point on the trail. We were right below the arch and tall crag. Now revealed was the best way to reach these two landmarks. Apparently I had looked over the edge from the top in the wrong spots, and didn’t see this route. Someone looking to do this hike with the least amount of mileage will want to climb here. Another good option would be to go up where we did, and down here to make a loop. Going around the southwest end of the mountain was definitely not the best way, and we lost too much elevation.

Peep Sight Peak
The best way up to the arch and tall crag

The trail started to descend back towards the point where we left the trail to begin our ascent. It was very hard to follow. Occasionally we would find the remnants of old trail blazes in the trees. They’re easy to miss. Some scouting was required to find the trail again.

Peep Sight Peak
Remnant of an old trail blaze

Peep Sight Peak
And another old trail blaze

Eventually the trail disappeared in a meadow. We continued walking through the woods, and found the barbed wire fence where we turned off to make our ascent. We had finally come full circle.

Peep Sight Peak
Trail disappearing into the meadow

It was starting to get late in the day now, and we did our best to make haste. Occasionally we would lose the trail, but then find our footprints again. It was nice to get down to Milk Ranch Meadow again for some easy hiking. The bugs were virtually non-existent on the way up, but now that evening was drawing in, the mosquitoes would bug us if we lingered anywhere too long.

Peep Sight Peak
Back at Milk Ranch Meadow

After hiking between 10-11 miles, we got back to the trailhead at 7:30 PM, much later than we had anticipated. Having explored the area now though, and knowing the best route, we can shave several hours and difficult hiking off the next trip. We wouldn’t have phone signal again for more than hour into our drive back. As it turned out, we weren’t the only ones anticipating an earlier return home, so some apologizing was required to worried family members.

I highly recommend this hike into a little used part of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. We didn’t encounter another hiker all day, so the hike ranks very high on solitude. Anytime we thought we heard other people, it just turned out to be a cowbell from a wandering herd of cattle. Having a compass, good map, and sticking to the south face to make your ascent will make your hike much easier. Bring lots of water or a means to treat or filter your water, and choose your water sources carefully. There aren’t too many places the cattle haven’t been. Backpackers looking for an extended stay in the wilderness can enjoy a few different loop options off this same trail.

More photos of this hike can be found here on Flickr.

Sawyer Mini Water Filter Review

I’ve become frustrated with my pump water filter. Not only can it be a lot of work, performance degrades pretty rapidly over a weekend outing. Cleaning the ceramic filter in the field doesn’t seem real effective, and there’s the risk of contamination when cleaning it in the stream. When I saw the super simple $20 Sawyer Mini Water Filter, I thought it couldn’t hurt to give it a try.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Filtering water on the Pacific Crest Trail

The Mini Filter kit comes with the MINI Water Filter with Tip Cap, a 16 oz Reusable Squeeze Pouch, a 7″ Drinking Straw, and one Cleaning Plunger (Syringe). The whole kit, including the stuff sack I put it in, weighs only 4.5 ounces (130 grams), and takes up very little room in a pack. By leaving out the straw or the syringe (if you don’t need to clean the filter on a shorter outing), you can reduce the weight and volume even further.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Just Squeeze!

I got to test the Sawyer Mini on a 2 night backpacking trip recently, and used it for our family of three. I headed down to the creek on our first morning, eager to put this little filter to the test. The first thing I noticed was that the little 16 oz pouch was hard to fill with water. I don’t think the water flowing into the pouch was strong enough to counter the water pressure pushing in on the pouch. I moved out to a rock in the middle of the creek where the current was much faster. This seemed to do the trick, and the pouch filled up. After screwing the filter onto the pouch, I started to filter the water into my Nalgene bottle. Before even squeezing, water was coming out the clean side using gravity alone. Nice! Squeezing the pouch and keeping a constant pressure on it easily started to fill my bottle.

Since I planned to filter a lot more water than the 16 oz pouch would easily handle, I decided to try one of my extra 2 liter Platypus soft bottles I brought along. I was happy to find that the screw-on threads were compatible. I filled up the 2 liter bottle (which filled much easier than the little pouch), and repeated the process. Once I had my bottles filled, I even carried a 2 liter bottle of creek water back to the campsite to be filtered later. This was something I really couldn’t do with my pump, and saved me additional time.

Sawyer Mini Water Filter
The whole kit (including an added stuff sack) weighs only 4.5 ounces

By the second morning, I noticed the filter wasn’t flowing as fast as when I first started using it. Squeezing the pouch or bottle was still a simple task though. I used the syringe to back-flush the filter a few times. I was probably too cautious when cleaning the first time, and eased the water through the filter not wanting to damage anything. Rereading the instructions when I got home though, it says to back-flush the filter with enough pressure to make sure you force the contaminants out, and not merely allow the water to take the path of least resistance. I’m looking forward to using the filter long term to see how well the water flow can be maintained.

SUMMARY

I really like the Sawyer Mini Water Filter. It worked great for our family of three for a 2 night backpacking trip. I imagine the full size filter would be faster, but I didn’t feel under-powered on my weekend outing at all. It’s a lot less work than my pump filter, takes up less volume in my pack, and works with a number of the bottles I already have. It even works with a disposable water bottle in a pinch. I also liked that I could easily take water back to camp and filter it in a more comfortable, drier location. I thought the 1 pint pouch was a little small, and is probably better suited to emergency use when you may need the filter “just in case”. One of my 1 liter Platypus soft bottles would be more practical for personal use without any real space or weight penalty.

Not only is it great for backpacking, but it will be great for those longer hiking and biking day outings where I’m not sure if I’ll have enough water, but still want to travel light. I’ve run out of water with a few miles of uphill still to go, and one of these Minis would have made a huge difference. And for around $20, it’s hard to beat the deal!

Ready to purchase? Buy this product now at REI, and help support this website!

More information at the Sawyer website here.