27 August 2015

Hell For Sure: Devils Punchbowl, Fleming Mountain, and Disappointment Lake

Sierra National Forest

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5

(Day 2 of 5) The new day dawns fairly clear of smoke. I had an inflatable mat that would have been more comfortable, but it turned two and decided to develop more pin holes every day. For a night on a basic blue mat embellished by marmot, this was pretty good. A bit of breakfast and gathering up my temporary home making and I am ready for a little more climbing through the trees. It does not take long for these to open up into meadow and then get decidedly wetter.

sun filtering through a meadow and the trees
A little meadow through the trees in the morning sunlight.

Meadow Brook
Meadow Brook as a brook through a meadow.

large pond in the grass
An expansive meadow including a large pond and a couple smaller ones further up.

After passing through an expansive meadow with a large pond and a couple more smaller ponds, the sandy ground dries out for one last climb. Now things are getting decidedly rockier as the grass and trees are quickly replaced with granite. Still, the general shape of things with wide expanses and high sides is the same. It has simply turned to speckled grey from a variety of green. The dry does not last long as the trail dissolves into braiding routes that make their way down to the side of the water that occupies the Devil's Punchbowl.

very light clored rocks
Cresting the saddle as things turn decidedly rocky all around.

expanse of water through the trees
There really is quite a lot of water in the Devil's Punchbowl.

Coming down to the water's edge, I cannot help but notice the fish. There is one nearly a foot long swimming around finding food in the shallows. It heads off and is replaced by another just as big. Their bodies seem to glow red from the inside. Wild trout are everywhere, even for the casual looker.

red fins near the surface and near the shore
Trout in Devil's Punchbowl.

Devil's Punchbowl
Looking out over the lake to the high cliff on the southeast side.

A path heads off to round the lake to the right, but the trail heads along the west side. Ahead, the land a little further left seems to just vanish. As I get closer, there is a greater feeling of a major drop off just a few tens of feet off the trail. I step out to confirm that it is no illusion. Far below are the pools known as Jigger Lakes and there is very little in between.

narrow land between water and air
Following the trail as it passes between the water and the air.

Jigger Lakes
One of Jigger Lakes.

There is another thin trail on the far side of the lake and I wander around it for a little bit. There are nice camp sites and then access to the little island. It is a grand spot for lunch and for gathering water before continuing down the trail. Dropping and climbing past more ponds and one very frighted garter snake, it meets the Hell For Sure Trail once again.

puddle of water among the grasses
Another meadow with a small pond on the way.

At the junction, I can take a short hike to my planned finish or turn down for a lengthy excursion to Fleming Peak. I have this idea that I will find my first azimuth mark. On the one hand, it is still quite early for finishing the day. On the other hand, the smoke is moving in again so sitting at the top of the peak will not have quite the impact it should. I decide to go for it and drop off the heavy stuff. There really is most of the afternoon left.

meadow with much grey
It is getting smokey again.

I had thought the junction was a dry area, but the dry creek soon turns out to have a little bit of flow. It is under ground again as the trail cross it. There is a short climb and a drop among the trees before a second junction with Mosquito Pass. The creek here is flowing quite well. I turn up the pass and turn off it quickly to go for Rae Lake. The reach for the Fleming Mountain benchmark includes an eleven hour horseback ride to a small basin above Rae Lake.

tree on an island in Rae Lake
Rae Lake has a little island as well, although less accessible from the edge.

I have picked a "small basin" that seems in a northwesterly direction from the north end of the lake and have a second choice basin for the return if the first does not work out. A point for the basin and a point for the peak go into the GPS and I start to climb. The first thing I notice is that my climbing seems to be more in a western direction than a northwestern direction. I also do not see any way one might get a horse up here unless the D and F Pack Station have some very special horses. This is a tough route up, but I am driven on by the prospect of finding an azimuth mark. I encounter a number of tiny basins and one or two small ones. Sometimes I find myself following cairns up the mountain. After a little bit of an overshoot, I am at the basin. All I have to find is a rock on the south side projecting three feet that is 21 feet east of a triangle blaze. There is a lot of south side and a lot of rocks about so high. The tree, if it has survived, may be the most unique part of the nebulous directions to the azimuth.

granite boulders
Climbing upward to views of the ridge between Rae Lake and Indian Lakes and not much else.

There does not seem to be an azimuth here. Once at the basin, travel is easy across to what is likely considered Fleming Pass. There is even a little trail to follow. The back side looks like it is easy enough to travel down again. The peak that is my destination is not far off to my right, which I suppose is the wrong direction from the azimuth mark, so maybe this was not a good guess for the basin. Travel is easy along the ridge for all but the last hundred feet or so, then it becomes huge rocks and slabs.

gentle bowl of land
Looking down the other side, which is smokey as well.

Rae Lake and two higher ponds
Looking down on both the ponds of the second possible basin for the azimuth mark and Rea Lake below them.

The station at the top of Fleming Mountain is obvious and not quite what is claimed. It should be a bronze disk stamped "Fleming Mtn 1950", but what I see looks like a station that might have been built 60 years before and is now twice as old and somehow still standing. The two reference marks are as advertised and point directly at it. Generally, a post is erected as well, but that is just a bit of wood or metal wired in an upright position. There are often a few rocks to steady it, too, but nothing like this. A few hundred pounds of rocks have been moved to steady this elaborate structure with wood nailed together in a triangle at the top. Maybe RJS just got a bit carried away back in 1950 or maybe just decided to let an older monument stand. Either way, I do not want to tear it down to see if there is a monument under it. Peeking through the holes in the rocks, I cannot see anything.

Fleming Mountain station
The station on top of Fleming Mountain.

north view
Looking over reference no. 2 to the valley on the north west side of the mountain where Reddy's Hole is.

I think I might be able to get down a steep route sort of southeast from the peak. This would probably have been the best and the most like the reach, but I decide to try for the closest trail marked on my map. This trail also curiously goes in lines ignoring the terrain below it and mysteriously makes a random angle at the top of a peak marked with elevation. The marked trail is very likely to be inaccurate, but it would be an easier way down and it does go to the basin, if that part of the trail is accurate. Looking along the ridge, it looks like following ledges along the wrong side will be easiest. It still is not that easy and before coming to the trail, I decide to work my way back up and over an earlier saddle and down the other side. This is much easier. It takes a while to bleed off the elevation, but eventually I am in the basin.

ponds and meadow
Down to the small basin below the peak with the ponds on the left and an outcrop where there may be an azimuth mark on the right.

The search for the azimuth is on again, but still has the same problems. What exactly marks the south side of a small basin? I wander all over the rocks looking for something. I should pay more attention to the trees. They are the less numerous things. But blazes kill trees sometimes and if they do not, the trees often fill them in. Again, I can find nothing and it is getting late. I turn to get back down to the lake. This basin also does not seem like something that can be reached from Rea Lake while on horseback.

Rae Lake
Rae Lake from the south side of a small basin. Hints of the Devil's Punchbowl can be seen in the distant smoke.

I reach the lake again when I wanted to be back at the junction almost three miles away. It really is late. The mildly familiar trail seems to go faster on my way back.

Fleming Creek
Back to Hell For Sure Trail and crossing Fleming Creek.

trail through the meadow
Almost back to the junction where my overnight gear is resting. The trail ahead goes up, but not all that far up.

It is tempting, since it is getting late, to camp at the junction once I have my camping gear again. On the other hand, it is probably less than a mile to Disappointment Lake. There is certainly enough light and the lake seems much more attractive, so I gather it all up and start over the hill. The trail crosses over rocks where a little uncertainty sets in here and there, but is mostly quite clear.

red orb in the sky
The smoke is making the sun just a dim red orb in the sky.

Lake Disappointment
Coming into Lake Disappointment.

The lake is back off the trail a fair way, but easily visible. At a cairn, I turn down to find a flat spot. There are lots of places that will do. Pumping water takes up most of the last of the light. That is alright, cooking supper and getting camp set up is easy.

alpine glow under the rising moon
Alpine glow on the cliffs by Disappointment Lake as the moon rises.

I wonder if I am supposed to speak my disappointment to Disappointment Lake. "I did not find the azimuth mark!" It does not seem like a very great disappointment.

Continue reading: day 3

©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 21 Sep 2015

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