When we first started to plan this trip we were planning on going to Lake Dorothy above Convict Lake but at the last minute we changed our plans due to a message I got from a fellow Facebooker that the stream that we had to cross was now a raging river and completely impassable. So we made a quick change and headed up to Duck Lake in Mammoth.
We left early from Riverside on Friday to make sure we had time to get our permit to stay overnight in the John Muir Wilderness. As we came down the 395 the air turned brown due to 2 fires burning between us, one at Lake Isabella and the other at Lee Vining. We made it to the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center pretty quickly to get our permit. This is the second time I have used this place to get a permit and I have to say that the staff is extremely nice, the faculty is very clean and there is a lot of useful information as well as any map you can think of for purchase there.
After we got our permit we made a quick stop to fish at Convict Lake. This lake is very special to Don as he used to spend a lot of time with his family here fishing and camping. As we came up to the lake I could see why this would be a spot you would come to over and over again. The hills look as though they were drawn on with vivid colors of burgundy lines etched on the slatted rock and all colors of green meadows climbing over the peaks. After we fished for a little bit we headed for the car. Along the trail we had a few friends join us. There were about 6 to 8 dear running alongside of us as we made our way off the lake.
The day was turning to night and we made our way through Mammoth to the trailhead at the end of Clearwater Campground in Mammoth. We decided that we would sleep in the car and get up early the next day to start our hike. Saturday morning came quickly and we were up and on the trail by 7am.
Duck Pass Trail starts off with a steep set of switchbacks through a very thick wooded area. The climbing goes on for about 1 mile but then it starts to level off. As we got to top of the switchbacks we were attacked by mosquitoes. They were the size of tiny birds. Luckily we didn’t forget bug spray or we would have been eaten alive. We came to the first pond that we named Mosquito Lake since it looked like the home to all the mosquitoes.
As soon as we passed the pond we came to Mammoth Creek. Don had been wanting to fish since we had gotten on the trail and he couldn’t pass up the first spot. The fish were practically jumping out of the stream. They were small but we were able to catch a few.
We continued on. The trail never really let up. It had a good steady incline all the way. We passed a few lakes and a beautiful meadow. The landscape before us looked as if it was made by Disney.
We came to the last lake, Barney Lake, before we headed up the Duck Pass that would take us to our final destination. The lake sat at the base of Pass. It was turquoise blue/green with a small island dividing the lake. There were about 3 empty tents staking claim to the island as their owners were off exploring the area.
When we got to the end of the lake we finally had a complete view of Duck Pass. The mountain side was still half way covered with snow and the trail was lost under it at places. The view offered no reassurance of an easy trip. We took in the magnificent mountain and started up the switchbacks. The switchbacks started right off the bat with a steep climb and it didn’t stop. We came to our first patch of snow. The trail continued straight and then up another set a switchbacks above us. Don thought it would be a great idea to skip the trail and head up the snow to the trail above. It was going to be a “shortcut.” He made it straight up the mountain making it look as though a child could do it. I started to head up and immediately regretted going that way. I have 2 left feet, I fall if I turn my head the wrong way and I am a scardy cat. This hill was no joke and I was going to fall to my death, ok I was only going to slide down a couple feet to the trail below but it felt like I was going to fall to my death. I finally made it up the snow bank and was back on the trail. I refused to do anymore “shortcuts” which made the trail much easier and completely do able. Once I gained my confidence back I was able to look out and enjoy the few. Looking out you could make out all the small lakes we passed as we came up along with the beautiful lake Barney. Nothing looked real, it was all too beautiful!
After about an hour we finally reached the top and we were awarded with the incredible view of Duck Lake. The overly large lake took over the canyon with it’s deep blue colors. The mountains that framed the lake still had mass amounts of snow disappearing into the depths of the lake. The green meadows the were trying to steal the show invited us to be center stage as we followed the hillside down and the trail around the lake.
We came to the backside of the lake where the stream connects Pika and Duck Lake. The ground was soft and wet everywhere due to the snow melt so it was really hard to find a spot to camp but we finally came across one that someone had been to before. It was right on the lake but it was one of the only dry spots around. We finally got our packs and boots off and it felt wonderful. I do have to say that my boots were awesome!! This was the second time I wore them and I had no blisters, no hot spots, they were completely waterproof and they still looked like new after going through the streams, mud, slush and snow.
Before we got anything set up Don had his fishing poles in the water, all 4 of them ready for the day to begin. After that we started to unpack and set up camp. For the rest of the day we fished, relaxed and explored. The only other group that joined us was Boy Scout Troop 2578 from Anaheim, but they ended up settling in at Pika Lake.
The warm day moved to a cool dusk and then into a cold night. Before the sun dropped we cooked up 2 of the 30+ Brook Trout that we had caught and released. We were told by fellow hikers on their way out that there was wild onions everywhere and boy were they right. The onions were dense along the stream. We dug up 3 onions and added them to our foil of fish along with lemon pepper and garlic powder. We threw them onto the flames and cooked it for about 1/2 hour. The pink flakey meat of the fish with the onions and seasoning turned out so yummy.
After our meal we turned in for the night. After having such a warm day I was surprised to have such a cold night. The temp seemed to be in the low 20’s and when we woke the ground was frozen over. It was hard to get out of our sleeping bag and tent but we were awarded once again with a lake made of mirrors reflecting the majestic mountain tops.
After we ate and got moving the sun finally peaked its rays over the ridge of the mountain the morning started to warm up again and the frozen ground turned to mush. By 9am we were packed up and ready to make our way out of our little paradise.
The trek out welcomed many new hikers working their way into the beauty we were leaving. The scout troop that shared our valley caught up with us on the pass as they made their way out with us. The hike up the pass was steep but short and the snow going down the other side didn’t seem as bad as I had made it out in my head the day prior. The way out seemed to be long and hot especially with the sunburned shoulders and back I had managed to get the day before. I didn’t realize how bad my back was until I got home and was in the shower. I was moving slow as I usually do downhill but I was moving much slower as it felt like sandpaper slowly rubbing my skin away from my body. The last 2 miles I had to stop and break. The boy scouts passed us on the trail. Don motioned for us to keep up with them but I couldn’t do it. He finally grabbed my pack and took all the weight for himself leaving me with a selfie stick and walking poles for the last 2 miles. He ran down the mountain on a mission. I could barely keep up with him. The last 1/2 of the mile we finally caught up with them and he was happy. We finally made it to our car by noon.
We had an amazing 2 days in the John Muir Wilderness. The last time I was in the Sierra Nevada it was in 2013 when I hiked Mt Whitney. Even though Whitney was a great adventure I would have to say that this trip was my favorite in beauty. All in all we hiked over 10 miles and gained 3312 feet of elevation.
County: Mono & Fresno County
Miles: 10.2 miles round trip
Permit: Wilderness Permit needed for overnight
Elv Gain: 3312 Feet Gained
Elv Peak: Summit at 10,793 Feet
Trail: via Duck Pass Trail