Ski Mountaineering

June Lake and Mono Crater, CA

Nov 28 - Dec 5, 2020

Reiner Stenzel

This report describes a family outdoors vacation with Covid restrictions. We stayed in separate lodges in June Lake, drove separate cars for couples with and without children, face masks at short distances, cleaning hands, etc, particularly important we had three members of high susceptibility to the virus.

We drove from the Bay Area via South Lake Tahoe to the east side of the Sierra, then south to June Lake, in about 6-7 hours. We expected snow in the mountains but it was thin. Since we scheduled travel after Thanksgiving and early before the Holiday season the traffic was light.

Sat 11/28 we started with a hike of the Rush Creen trail, i.e., from Silver Lake to Lake Agnew. Eight people, two dogs were looking for fun. No clouds in the sky, but very crisp air in the morning. The trail starts out gentle, then it steepens and is covered by stretches of snow and ice. We reached the railroad track where it got dicey. Climbing the snow covered track calls for ice axe which was out. The same holds for the trail which switchbacked along a steep north-facing mountain wall. Although we were close to Agnew Lake it was wiser to return and look for other trails. Since there was time for a short one we climbed Obsidian Dome and found pretty specimen of black glassy "rock".

Sun 11/29 we wanted to hike in nearby Rock Creek Valley but the road was closed beyond Rock Creek Lake. The lake was partially frozen and we had to restrain the kids and dogs to test the ice. At the stream inlet they found a safe shallow frozen stream where they had fun. We returned and enjoyed this hike around Rock Creek Lake.

Mon 11/30 was back to school, the zoom style. Likewise my son and daughter were working, we grandparents took off in the afternoon to June Lake so that the kids could run out. There was almost nobody else at the pretty sandy shore. Ducks followed us until the Labrador dog jumped into the icy waters to catch one, of course without success. When the sun went down the temperature dropped like a stone we returned into the warm lodge in town.

Tue 12/01 was a day of loafing for the retirees otherwise the grand-kids were in zoom school, their parents at zoom work, and our daughter Isa and husband Andrew were also busy in front of their laptops. This is Covid life!

Wed 12/02 was work and school in the morning, then we explored the trails of two big lakes, Silver and June. No fishermen, no campers, no boaters, few tourists, the town seemed to be under COVID quarantine.

Thu 12/03 was another sunny day so we decided to climb up to another lake, Parker Lake. The trailhead is near Grant Lake, the hike repeats an easy start, followed by slippery snow/ice coverage but nothing dangerous. Parker Lake is beautiful, partly open, mostly frozen. Eery sounds were in the air, which we identified as ice forming cracks. Near the shore the ice was at least 4 inches thick which was safe to walk and to slide on it. On the opposite shore we saw a large patch of aspen which must have displayed great Fall color a few months earlier. Nobody was at the lake. After a fine lunch and taking lots of pictures we returned. From the lower trail we had a great view of blue Mono Lake and the Mono Craters. It was a great hike for three of us. Too bad, our son's family had already returned to SF.

Fri 12/04 Isa free of obligations, so it was time to climb a mountain. I recalled a ski ascent of Crater Mtn 16 years ago but without skis it was hard to ascend on scree, two steps up, one down on 30 deg sand. After this "no pain, no gain" ascent we were on the crater. It was warm in the sunlight, no wind, no clouds, views from the White Mtns to the Eastern Sierra Crest to South Lake Tahoe peaks, of course more Mono Craters nearby. We enjoyed another lunch, photo spree, touring around the crater, admiring glassy obsidian stones, but then it was time to descend. Long gliding steps on scree was fun, but the shoes filled rapidly with annoying pebbles. Our XC hike without GPS through a forest was reasonably correct and we found the car and drove back on narrow forest roads. Potholes and soft sand called for high clearance and four wheel drives which a Subaru was made for. On the way back we made a detour to a low crater called Panum Crater, famous for beautiful obsidian rocks, and a great view of nearby Mono Lake. When the sun disappeared it was time to drive back.

Sat 12/05 we packed and drove home via Reno since most passes were closed. But we made a detour to Buckeye Hot Springs where we dipped into a warm pool and had lunch, then drove 5 hours home. It was a great trip!

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