04 July 2014

Cloudripper: Thunder and Lightning Lake

Inyo National Forest

Locate the trailhead.


DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3

We set off to Bishop on a quest to bag Cloudripper, the tallest peak in the Inconsolable Range, a small subrange of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This can actually be done as a day hike, but we have three days to make the peak, and then, well, whatever. I heard that and started looking around and thinking, oh we can hit The Hunchback (or Coyote Ridge) and Vagabond (not actually named on the USGS maps) on the way up, and then there is supposed to be a fairly easy way down int Seven Lakes for the night. Then we might be able to follow the trail over Jigsaw Pass and maybe hit Mt. Agassiz or something and head back north along the trail to Bishop Pass for some camping by a lake. The last day could see little Chocolate Peak and maybe Mt. Hurd. Lots of mountains, it would be an epic journey of only three days! The rest were a bit more focused. After sorting out one member accidentally bringing the wrong boots (an older pair) by the purchase of a new pair, we hit the trail somewhat later than planned and there are no spots in the overnight lot by South Lake forcing us into a turnout on the road just below Parcher's Ranch. This does give us a flush toilet to use before stating, but means we start a little lower on a trail beaten up by horses. It is lined with lush meadows full of wildflowers.

walking along the side of the road
A little roadside walking to get the trip started.

Humboldt lilies, but much smaller than ours
The Humboldt lilies are a quick find although these are the size of a baby fist rather than a large adult fist. They all look healthy.

meadow along the way
One of the more open meadows along the side of the trail.


The trail improves when it meets the trail down from South Lake. The trail above is a little steeper as it climbs. It crosses what is, at first glance, another trail, but is a large pipe that people like to walk along from the lake as a shortcut. It climbs a bit more and passes above the end of the pipe, which has been scattered a bit just before a stone water collection pool. A trail comes up from it made by people who decided to walk the last section of pipe. We keep on climbing until, just after things seem to get tight and steep, it levels out.

bowl of peaks in the upper valley
Looking down the trail and up the valley to the bowl of peaks around South Lake.

sharp valley below
Looking down the valley with the highway climbing up along the bottom. There is Mt. Tom poking up over the north wall.

water collection at the end of the pipe
Water collection for the pipe seems to be quite dry and the pipe looks unused at the end. Water can be heard a little more distant coming down the canyon side.

We stop for a brief lunch among the short trees and then continue. An easy slope on the left climbs up the huge flats around The Hunchback on our left. A dismal looking Brown Lake appears on our right. The high water mark on it is far above the current water level. As we gently climb, there is the sound of water flowing, then a marshy area to navigate. We cross over large boulders with a small thunder of water washing far underneath. None of this water seems to be destined for poor Brown Lake.

trail approaching Brown Lake
After the initial climb, we hit a flat area of meadow and short trees.

Brown Lake
Small Brown Lake is much smaller than usual.

easy slope to higher plaines
On the other side of the valley, a wide and gentle slope climbs to a higher plain that surrounds The Hunchback.

One more short climb brings us to the level of Green Lake. We hike a little way through the trees before finding it. This lake seems to be at its normal height.

marshy bowl where all the water goes instead of Brown Lake
A grassy flat below shows where the water goes instead of Brown Lake.

white columbines
Columbines in the area are white or a very light purple and even lighter yellow and a little showy.

Green Lake looking toward the outlet
Green Lake with the deep red and lined canyon side.

From Green Lake, the standard route is to leave the trail and start climbing toward Vagabond Peak, visible as a lump left of a spire above the lake. We think it is more sensible to take the perfectly good trail up toward The Hunchback instead. Climbing from there is just as good and quite a bit shorter, after all. The trail seems a bit steeper than what we have done so far as we climb.

climbing out of Green Lake
Menzo and Bhagwan climbing ahead on the trail up out of Green Lake.

inlet area of Green Lake
The area above Green Lake where the water comes to it from. Vagabond is the pointy lump somewhat on the left.

The expanse of space at the top is surprising. The trail passes by two posts that were once placed here by shepherds that tended flocks on these high plains. We leave the trail near the second post and find a small trail that heads down to Thunder and Lightning Lake along the contour. A much better established trail can be seen on the other side of the canyon climbing to the lake. We stash most our stuff and start up to Cloudripper.

green land sloping gently downward
Looking back along the trail as it climbs through the gently sloping land that surrounds The Hunchback. The post in the distance was originally set by shepherds using the area.

The climb brings us to another flat, although smaller and much more rocky. We climb another slope to yet another flat, although this one slopes a bit more.

rocky and fairly flat
Bhagwan and Linda clambering over the rocks in this relatively flat area.

seed pods like red and gold Easter eggs
The seed pods of a small purple flower look like a delicate blown glass to me as I pass trying not to stomp too many alpine plants.

We try to get around Vagabond without just hitting the peak, but keep coming to cliffs as we try to get around. We want to save our energy for the real peak, but it starts to look like we are wasting it tying to save it and take to the climb until it no longer feels like there is cliff as part of the crossing of this peak. We top out only a few feet short of the peak, but a tenth of a mile away.

Lakes near Chocolate Peak
Ruwau Lake and Saddlerock Lake and a few others that live south of Chocolate Peak and west of Cloudripper.

Vagabond from the nearest flat
Standing on the last little flat and looking up Vagabond. We do not want to go up that hill, it can come later.

looking to Cloudripper from Vagabond, 1/10 of a mile WSW of the peak
We climbed that hill and now can look across to Cloudripper. There is nearly 600 feet to climb on the far side of that flat.

We stand 13,000 feet above the homes we left just 24 hours ago looking at our goal, which looks quite forbidding. We are light headed and slept poorly and some are admitting to headaches. Thinking about our pace, it seems that if we go for it now, we will be enjoying sunset on Vagabond on the way back. This does not seem like a good plan. We have been too arrogant to think we can do it on this first day. The mountain will still be there tomorrow and so will we. We turn back and head to the peak of Vagabond instead. It is a scramble with some worrisome spots where the rocks become quite large, but we make it to the last little bit, touch the top and sign the register.

Thunder and Lightning Lake and lakes beyond
Looking down on Thunder and Lightning Lake from Vagabond Peak.

Green Lake as a basin cut out of the high flats with Owen's Valley behind
Green Lake seems to have been scooped out of the flats around The Hunchback as we look over it to Owen's Valley beyond. Mt. Tom is there again as the pointier peak sticking out into the valley.

We turn back again and start climbing down. Menzo did not drop his pack before getting all the way to the peak and starts down directly from it. Linda follows the angle fairly closely from where the packs are. The rest of us also shorten the route from our original angle, but not so much find the going difficult. It turns out Linda and Menzo had the easier bit of it and we will take their route, approximately, on the second try. There will be no more of this "saving our energy" by not attacking Vagabond. We have also decided that there is a way up from Thunder and Lightning Lake that we should take. We still debate going to a lake along the trail instead for far too long even though no one is really on that side because it does seem like the more sensible choice given the hour. It has to be Thunder and Lightning. We pack up the rest of our stuff and start the contour along the rough trail. Our feet sink into the scree as we go and we hit a large boulder field that is difficult to navigate. Most of us clamber down the boulders even though climbing higher on the scree should work. The lake seems further away than it should be. Eventually we get there, the last as darkness falls, and settle in near the beach at the inlet.

contouring around the edge to the lake
The trail, such as it is, after Menzo and Linda have already passed as we contour our way around to Thunder and Lightning Lake.

beach at the inlet of Thunder and Lighting Lake
The inlet of Thunder and Lightning Lake has, at its current level, an excellent beach. It looks like this should be underwater in normal precipitation years.

The winds pick up a bit as darkness falls and there is some concern that this will be colder than up on the ridge since cold will tend to settle. Eventually, the winds calm again and the temperature never seems to drop much after the initial drop with the passing light leaving us no choice but to spend a pleasant night.

Continue reading: day 2




©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 7 July 2014

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