28 July 2016

Williamson: Williamson Bowl

Inyo National Forest

Sequoia National Forest

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6

(Day 5 of 6) Another morning by the lake and still no fish are jumping, but we are going fishing. Just not here. We pack it all up only to drop it again just the other side of the rocks. Dave has decided that it will be easier to get to Big Sur for a family weekend if he walks out today and Devon likes that hike a little better than the one over the trailless rocks, so they are both bailing on us again. We wave them off while we unload our packs, the start the first navigational challenge.

next level down
Looking down on the lake at the next level below. Williamson Creek gets its start here. We are heading down to it and over the lip to the next one. Photo by Dave from above us.

This is where I want to grab my camera and thumb to a photograph of the area we will be hiking down to remind me of the route. Reconnaissance photos are really the only thing with enough detail to help with a route in a difficult area. Yesterday I decided to walk with the cliff at my left and I should not find a cliff at my feet. Otherwise there is likely to be a short and scary climb. Ralph gives into the urge to lose some elevation, but since I am staying high, he stays a little high and does not have to climb up much when the cliff comes. I come to a ramp that is a little steep, but decidedly not a cliff. At the bottom is a long scree slope to the outflow of the first lake. There seem to be footsteps in it coming out of or going into the rocks where we did. As we drop, we can see ripples and then fish jumping in the lake. This one certainly does have fish in it.

Fishing is not our only goal as we come down to these lower lakes. We also want to find the grave site of the one fisherman who snuck out of Manzanar and never returned. We scan around the lake looking for a pile of rocks in a pile of rocks. There are not a lot of spots that look likely. We continue on to our primary goal down at the lower lakes.

posing by the shooting stars
Williamson Creek as it is just getting started hosts a bunch of shooting stars and other small flowers. Photo by Ralph.

As we come to the creek, it is full of more than just green. There are shooting stars all over the place. They are a little past their prime, but as I look closer, I see tiny red puffs and other tiny flowers. A little further, the willows start. Willows are the bane of any attempt to follow a creek in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but they are just little things up here.

I follow the creek out to the next navigation challenge and try to find a spot to look out at the rock wall to the left. I suspect that is where we will have to go down. It is not a rock wall at all, just more scree. It looks easy to just swing out wide and down. As I start that way, I realize it will work out to go down where I am, too. Just not too close to the creek. It is a steep scree slope of somewhat small rocks and it has not had so many feet on it. It moves with every step. I plunge in my heels and ride it down, but Ralph is much slower.

The real navigation challenge proves to be the willows in the flat at the bottom. They are four feet tall here compared to a foot tall above. There are paths through them, but they do not seem to get anywhere. A new creek comes out of the rocks to the north to add complexity to the situation. Of course, the willows are clustered over the creek. While waiting for Ralph, I start trying to find a way among the dead ends only to find the confluence and no good place to cross either. Once Ralph is down, we take an unstable crossing anyway. From there, I go low among grasses and he goes high on the massive boulder hop and we get past the willows in about the same time.

The lowest two lakes are before us. These, too, have fish jumping all over. Potential sites for a surviving grave site are numerous and we take a couple of lines across the rocks to cover more ground as we proceed to the outflow of the lowest lake. Unfortunately, it seems that the fisherman is not so lonely that he wants to be found by a couple of strangers. The one thing I am sure I can find if I look hard enough is a frying pan. Sure enough, by an established camp site near the outflow and tucked under a rock is a cheap frying pan ruined by rust. There is a bulge of rocks on the other side of the creek that looks like a great place to see the view, but again there is no good place to cross the creek. The flow is deeper and faster here and dunking my feet in bone chilling cold water is not attractive, so the rocks go untrod today. Meanwhile, Ralph has set himself to fishing, so I set myself to not being hungry.

lunch at the lake
Settled in the grass for lunch by the lake. Photo by Ralph.

fishing in the lake
Ralph watches the fish chasing the lure on each cast.

It takes a couple casts, but the fish like the lure he has and start biting quickly. They are not all that big, but they have a little bit on them. The data on the lake is that it was stocked with Colorado cutthroat trout. They certainly might be. After the third fish, he declares that the next one will be eaten. Apparently they heard him, because it takes more casts this time to land the fourth fish. Some regard four as an unlucky number because one pronunciation is the same as death in Japanese. It certainly is unlucky for the fish.

Colorado cutthroat trout
The last one that got away, unless it bit again. This does look a lot like a Colorado cutthroat.

Ralph was thinking to just eat the fist raw, but I rather think there is safety in cooking. Unfortunately, the cooking gear is 1000 feet up a lot of scree. We cannot just kill a fish and then not eat it. In a pinch, it seems the willows can provide. They have many dead twigs around the bottom and a green twig makes a good skewer. We set up the tiniest fire within a fire ring in the established fire ring of the camp and toast the fish for a couple minutes, then drown the remains of the fire with water. The cooking seems to have taken some of the flavor out of the fish and the less cooked spots taste a little more. The frying pan (but not the one under the rock) would have been better.

The clouds are gathering again as we turn back to climb out of the bowl and find a camping spot for the night. At the head of this lowest lake, we cross over to the north side of the lakes to avoid the willows in the flat altogether. This crossing is simple. We are still looking for the grave, but there is still no luck. Ralph wants some more water, so we stop by the second lake. Examining the water, there is another clue that the lake above might not have fish in it. That one is absolutely full of fish food. I had to pour water from it through my bandana to get all the shrimp out of it before putting it through the Sawyer squeeze. The water here, with the fish jumping out of it all over, have very little shrimp visible.

We start climbing again. I try to go wide and high to give an nice, easy climb on stones that should not be too bad footing. Basically, I do not want to climb a steep scree slope that slogs downward with each step. Diversion Pass above us is a funny thing. The cleft of it was clear to see from the level of the higher lake, but from here it has faded into a consistent rock wall. I get wide enough to travel below the cliff walls and there are the footsteps again. They are even more devoted to staying high through here than I am.

Avoiding the willows and getting up to the next level works well this way. As we follow beside the creek where it is flat, but high in the scree, we are probably doing a lot more work than we really need to. The one place I want to hit exactly where we came down is the rock ramp to get up to the level we left our gear. I tried to commit it to memory, but as I get to it again, it does not look familiar. The GPS helps confirm I am in the right place, but seems to be off by 40 feet at least compared to the morning track. Tall rock walls make a mess of the signal. I have to be almost on it to recognize it. Meanwhile, Ralph is wandering toward one of the many cliffs again, but it is easy to correct from his route. The final segment is pretty easy walking back to our gear.

The clouds have gathered well and there is even a mummer or two of thunder in the distance, but the rain holds off until we get everything stowed away in our packs. From here, there are many marked trails up the rocks. We each pick a different one and start climbing. They are equally good and bad, I am sure. At the top, the rain really begins, but there are no more rumbles. It is not all that heavy and the air seems to be lower than is reasonable given that it is raining and I seem to be drying almost as fast as I get wet. The wind is strong and cold, so I get out the windbreaker against that more than the rain. It is not as pretty up here without the long visibility.

The wind is blowing harder as we get to the trail. I do not relish going down Shepherd Pass in a gale. Wind like this, sometimes carrying sleet or dirt, must be the reason that the wooden sign at the top is more of an interesting carving than a sign on the west side. It is bad as we start down, but the wind reduces quickly as we get tucked behind some rocks. We get down the pass without mishap. Except for the washout, the trail is all quite easy from the bottom. We continue along it as the rain sputters a bit and stops. Crossing the creek, Ralph wants to find a place to camp rather than go all the way into Anvil. He points out that there were a lot of mosquitoes there. There are some here too, but it is a lot less than there. There are also a few camping spots. It is almost time to be camping, so it seems good to me.

As has been the case, the sky clears up around 6 PM so that the moon and stars can shine brightly through the night.

Continue reading: day 6

Words ©2016 Valerie Norton
Photos ©2016 David Welch or Ralph On Earth
Posted 31 August 2016

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