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2007: Silver Divide Loop

August 15, 2007

Silver Divide Loop (43 miles)

July 5 to July 10, 2007

Nick and Shahe


Trip elevation profile

Trip elevation profile

Day 1: Lake Edison to North Fork Creek (8 miles)

Day 2: North Fork to Laurel Lake (6.5 miles)

Day 3: Laurel lake to Tully Lake (3.6 miles)

Day 4: Tully Lake to Big McGee lake (4.3 miles)

Day 5: Big McGee Lake to Hopkins Creek (4.8 miles)

Day 6: Hopkins Creek to Lake Edison (15.3 miles)

This trip took us from Lake Edison up the Mono Creek, then up the Laurel Creek Canyon, over Bighorn and Shout-of-Relief passes down into Tully Lake; from Tully Lake over McGee Pass to Big McGee lake; then over Hopkins pass, an aborted attempt over Crocker Col, and down through Hopkins Canyon, and finally back to Lake Edison via Mono Creek. About half the trip was cross-country (off-trail).

Day 1: Lake Edison to North Fork Creek (8 miles)

Elevation Profile day 1

7,600′ – 8,400′

As we heard it was going to be hot in the Central Valley, and I do not have air-conditioning in my 1989 Corolla wagon, we decided to get an early start, coming from Santa Cruz, California.

We left the house of my hiking partner, Shahe, by 6:30am. With a minor detour to drop off his daughter in Merced, we arrived at Lake Edison at about 12:30. I had planned on taking the ferry across the lake, thereby avoiding 5 miles of not particularly interesting hiking. However, the ferry only runs twice a day, once at 9:00am (9:45am return) and 4:00pm (with a 4:45pm return). Instead of waiting around for four hours, we opted to hike it. We first ate lunch, got ourselves prepared, and were off by 1:45pm. We probably only beat the ferry by about 30 minutes.

Nick at signpost

Nick at signpost

The trail led us up Mono Creek, mostly though the woods. We joined the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) briefly. Where the PCT intersected with the North Fork Creek, the Mono Creek trail splits off to the right, crossing the creek. Just a bit beyond that we found good camping at the top of the ridge. As it was 6:00pm we decided it was time to call it a day.

Shahe at Campsite

Shahe at Campsite

This campsite afforded us a beautiful view. We had thought to camp when we got down to the river again, but the site was wonderful, and it was already late in the day. It turned out well, as we did not see any good camping along the rest of the Mono Creek before our turn-off up Laurel Canyon the next day.

Day 2: North Fork to Laurel Lake (6.5 miles):

Day 2 elevation profile

8,400′ – 10,400′

Arose at about 6:30am and broke camp by 8:00am. We got to the Laurel Canyon turn-off at 10:00am. The trail pretty much followed the creek, though mostly slightly above it on the north side. There were lots of mosquitoes (which turned out to be true for the rest of the trip) and also black flies (which were even worse when we returned to Mono Creek four days later). We started up the canyon at 10:30am. We got to the top of the ascent at 11:30am. Then a hike through a woodsy area, (flies along the way). Mosquitoes got bad in the meadow. We stopped for lunch just before the meadow along the creek. After that the trail got sketchier. You’ll want to get to the right side of the creek. We did so a bit later than we should have.

Nick panarama

Nick Hiking

We arrived at Laurel Lake at about 2:00pm. It was windy, but probably good, as lots of mosquitoes as well. Made camp above the east side of the lake. I took a quick dip in the lake (very refreshing!). Later I hiked up and across the ridge separating Laurel from Grinnell. In hindsight, it might be worth going into Grinnell instead of Laurel. Much bigger lake, slightly higher elevation, with less vegetation.

Day 3: Laurel lake to Tully Lake (3.6 miles)

Elevation Profile

10,400′ – 11,300′ – 10,800′ – 11,300′ – 10,500

Ascent up to Bighorn Pass

Ascent up to Bighorn Pass

Arose at abut 6:00am. Broke camp again at 8:00. We followed the steep gorge up from the inlet, then headed left at the ridge. We stayed a bit high on the north side, but probably should have stayed in the middle, as the terrain was better lower. Then we headed north up the for the final ascent. Some of it was fairly steep but none of it was difficult.. Got to Bighorn pass at about 10:00am. One could skirt to the side and avoid some climbing back up, but it would be across talus, and Rosie Finch Lake is nice.

Rosie Finch Lake

Rosie Finch Lake

Of course I took a dip in there. We left the lake at about 11:30. Got to Shout-of-Relief pass at about 12:30pm. We were less sure of the best route up, but seemed to do fine. Again, nothing particularly difficult going up.

Shout-of-Relief Pass

Shout-of-Relief Pass

Going down was talus and boulder hopping, with hands needed in a couple of spots. We went down snow fields for about half of the descent.

Arrived at Tully lake at 2:00pm. We found a nice campsite on the north side up from the lake in some trees. There is a nice flowing stream about 50 yards further to the west with a use trail leading to it. I took another dip in the this lake as well.

Day 4: Tully Lake to Big McGee lake (4.3 miles)

Elevation Profile

10,500′ – 12,000′ – 10,500′

Didn’t get up until 6:45am! Still left camp at 8:00am.

We took the use trial to the stream. Crossed the stream, and angled northwest until we hit the trail. Made a right on the trail, which led us up the stream, onto a meadow, and then off to McGee Pass. It is a hike up, but the trail is well engineered with lots of switchbacks, so it is just a matter of trudging on up. We got to the top of McGee pass at 10:00am.

McGee Pass

Nick at McGee Pass (view looking west)

Down the other side is also a well engineered path, though it is mostly talus. We were down to Big McGee lake by noon.

McGee Lake Campsite

McGee Lake Campsite

At first we saw an excellent camp on our right as we took the path down toward the north end of the lake. It is just above a stream, and a marshy pond to the north of the lake. However, we discovered better spots down by the north end of the lake itself when we continued on down. There is a nice “beach” and lots of rocks you can dive off right into the water from (which of course I did). Good fishing here we were told.

Nick Diving

Nick dives into McGee Lake

We took an afternoon stroll up the inlet all the way up to Little McGee lake. I took a shower in the waterfall on the way up.


Nick in the falls

Day 5: Big McGee Lake to Hopkins Creek (4.8 miles)

Elevatioin Profile

10,500′ – 12,000′ – 10,300′

Quite the day! Arose at 6:00am. Left camp at 7:00am. We headed up for Hopkins pass. At first we thought it looked a bit daunting, but it turned out to be fairly easy. Up the drainage, keeping slightly to the right (north) side. There is sort of a trail. Turn left (south) at the lake at the bowl. There are even cairns pointing the way up. A bit of talus and boulder, but nothing that difficult.


Route up to Hopkins Pass

We got to the top of the pass by 8:40am. As it was early, instead of going down to Hopkins lake we decided to head directly over Crocker Col. Going up turned out to be fairly easy class 2 hiking. We got to the pass before noon. Up at the top is a huge sandy desert like bowl. One can see down (south) to Hopkins Creek, a green lush valley. Off to the left is the col, and Pioneer Basin. (We were confused at first about which was actually the pass, but a look at our map straightened us out). We hiked up Crocker Peak—about half an hour climb up pure boulders. Quite a view from the top! And fun racing down the sand on the descent!

Crocker Peak

Nick at Crocker Peak

At about 1:30pm we were ready to head down to Pioneer Basin. We spent a while figuring out which was the way down. We finally found what we thought was a path down. After class 3 tricky scrambling down for about 20 minutes, we got stuck, and couldn’t figure a way to go further. We went back up, and looked for another way down, which we didn’t find.

Giving up that idea, we made a change of route. We headed down to Hopkins Creek. It looked like we could take a direct route down until the valley, without heading back over to Hopkins Lake. That turned out to be a mistake. We hiked about a mile down the sand, then hit bushes. It got steeper, and soon we were confronted with a straight drop. We kept heading rightward, finding ways to get down more, though much of it was through thorny bushes. We hit a spot where we had to scramble down a 30 foot chute at about a 70 degree angle. That led us to the final descent though willows and marsh. Finally across some boulders, we got to the path and Hopkins creek at about 4:00pm.

Descending to Hopkins Creek

Descending to Hopkins Creek

After a dip in the stream, a short rest and snack, we found an established campsite less than half a mile down the path. Very nice campsite, but again lots of mosquitoes.

Day 6: Hopkins Creek to Lake Edison (15.3 miles)

Elevation Profile

10,300′ – 7,600′

This day was mostly descending. Rose at 6:00am, and again got on the trail by 7:00. We got a good pace going, as it was all downhill, and we were headed out. We stopped along the Mono Creek where I took a dip at a lovely spot. Had planned on staying for a snack and a rest, but the black flies were so bad (as well as the mosquitoes) that we got out of there as fast as I could get dressed again. We got to the east end of Lake Edison by noon, but again, as the ferry wouldn’t be there for almost another 5 hours, we hiked it again. We had forgotten that although there is no altitude gain or loss, the path around the lake had some real ups and downs over ridges. At that point we were tired of any uphill, and we kept thinking, “Aren’t’ we there yet!” At 2:30 we arrived back at the car.

Shahe and Nick back at the Trailhead

We drove to the hot springs nearby and soaked our aching bodies before the long drive home.

To see the full set of pictures from this hike you can link here to my Flickr album

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