Backpacking to Upper Lewis Lake and Granite Dome in Emigrant Wilderness

Second annual backpacking trip up to Emigrant Wilderness for the 4th of July. Explored new territory off trail. Thank you to my 3 friends who got me through the first day. The elevation gain was not particularly kind to me. Thanks for your patience with me moving at the speed of an 80-year old grandma walking through sand.

We stayed the first night in Bishop, arriving around 1am on Friday. At 2am a huge thunder and lightening storm hit! I grew up there and I cannot remember a bigger storm. I almost went to sleep in the sunroom with the dog…”the dog must be scared” I told myself. But it was really me.

After about 3.5 hours of restless sleep we got up, ate yummy pizza bagels and homemade scones (thanks dad!). Downed some coffee and hit the road. Picked up our permit in Bridgeport.

The 4 of us started in Kennedy Meadows around 10am and worked our way up to the reservoir. As we passed hikers who were coming down from the mountain we heard some unsettling stories…”We were stuck in a 3 hour hail storm”…”We hit rain and lightening”….

The clouds played their mysterious game in the sky, transitioning from white to gray, to white and disappearing, only to reappear coming over a different mountain. I was most nervous for the off trail hiking, 90% of which is on open exposed granite slates. Not the best place to get stuck in a storm.

Endurance wise I was fine until that climb. We were checking out a new lake, which was “just over this second peak.” It was not over that peak. Coming over the top only to see more granite peaks was deflating to say the least. My body was in fatigue and I had mentally reached my limit. If it hadn’t been for the fear of being struck by lightening I would’ve told the group to keep going without me and that I’d rest for a while.

The best sight was when I saw Jason come back over the next ridge without a backpack. That meant the lake was just out of sight! I don’t know where the last reserve of energy came from, but I made it with their encouragement.

That fist lake we encountered was Sardella Lake. With the new found energy we made it to Upper Lewis Lake, which wasn’t much of a climb. We setup camp around 4:30. Clouds still looming. The good news was we heard there were fish in the lake, and Jason brought his fishing pole. He caught a trout on a lure and added it to their salmon pasta. My Alpine Aire freeze dried dinner was so tasty. That’s my favorite brand so far, I highly recommend it.

It felt amazing to relax and eat, enjoying the beauty that surrounded us. Not to mention drinking wine and watching the sunset 🙂 Here are photos from the first day:

We slept in (I brought ear plugs following my previous weekend in Big Bear when the coyotes kept me awake). Surprisingly I wasn’t too sore, I just need to really work on my altitude adjustment.

After oatmeal with apricots and coffee we explored the area, climbing around on the rocks and eyeing the possibility for a storm. A Ranger found us at the lake and said he was on his way up to Granite Dome, which was where we had planned on submitting that day. We kept an eye on him on his way up but lost sight of him. We packed up to summit for ourselves and ran into him again heading back down. He said the thunderheads were looking too ominous. They didn’t seem too much worse than the day previously (and it didn’t rain on us at all) so we kept heading up.

Part of the hike was a rock scramble, but nothing difficult. There was still snow in some areas and we saw some birds camouflages in the pebbles. To all of our surprise, the top of the mountain was covered in colorful wildflowers! It was gorgeous. The clouds gave for a nice backdrop, and we picked up our pace to summit before a bigger storm threat came in. After working our way across rocks that looked like giant cow patties, we found the peak plate markers. We could see Ridge, Iceland, no name, Upper Lewis and Sardella Lakes. We could also see a handful of other lakes over the other side of the mountain. Emigrant and Long Lake perhaps? Snapped a few pictures and headed down.

The clouds were biting at our heals, and when we made it to our tents we started to feel rain drops. We dove into our tents thinking this was the big storm. Drip…drip…drip… three drops. Done. We snoozed for a good 30 minutes and when we looked outside our tents we saw there were storm clouds all around us, and a little patch of blue sky just above. Dinner (Himalayan lentils and rice) was once again delicious. Drank wine and hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps. Mmm.

Slept pretty well (discovered a small leak somewhere in my sleeping pad). Woke up, ate breakfast, packed up and headed out around 9:30am on Sunday. Made our 11 miles back down, this time we found a good path down to the river crossing. Aside from my shoddy knees the way down wasn’t bad. Did manage to get a couple blisters. I’ll need to get that solved before JMT.

Ian and Jason made it back to the car relatively quickly (4 hours?) and were chilling with some beer when Sarah (who would’ve been just as quick, but was sweet and hiked with me) and I arrived. We lucked out and had no wait at the Mobil gas station restaurant on the outskirts of Lee Vining. GREAT fish tacos if you ever get the chance to go.

Overall, it was a gorgeous adventure with a little too much pain but I’ll need to keep pushing myself before the JMT next month. Fingers crossed. Here are the photos from our summit to Granite Dome and the hike down.

Thanks for visiting.

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