Ski Mountaineering

Fall colors and snow in the Pioneers Basin

Oct 1-6, 2018

Reiner Stenzel

I had to return from LA to SF. Having no time pressure I decided to drive up on the East side of the Sierras to look for the Fall colors and to make a short hike into the high country. One of my favorite areas is the Pioneers Basin, which I have visited in 2004 and 2011. SMS Leader May Adachi had not seen this area of beautiful lakes and mountains and decided to join the trip.

I left LA on Monday, Oct 1, drove up the 14 and 395, made a short stopover in Red Rock Canyon to take some pictures. In the late afternoon I drove up Rock Creek Road to Mosquito Flats, the trailhead for Mono Pass. At higher elevations the Fall colors were already at their peak and I took many more pictures. After car camping we took off in the late morning. The sky was grey and a light rain started. While ascending the trail to Mono Pass the rain got worse instead of better. Thus we decided to camp at Ruby Lake since the pass was in the clouds and it got dark.

Next morning, 10/3, it was clear and we proceeded to ascend to Mono Pass. During the day the clouds thickened again. We proceeded to the Fourth Recess Lake where it began to rain and change to graupel, fine hail. We disappeared in our shelters and lived there till next morning. It was quiet and there was no sound of rain on the tent. To a great surprise it had snowed quietly during the night and the tents and ground were all white. We were suddenly in a winter wonderland.

Our plan was to keep Recess Lake as our basecamp and to do a day hike into the Pioneers Basin and then to return to the tents. This is what we did on Thursday, 10/4, which was cloudy but without precipitation. It was a pleasure to climb without a heavy pack. As we ascended, the trees were all white and it looked like a winter trip. The lowest Pioneer Lake (Mud Lke) was surrounded by golden meadows and white forests. At the upper Pioneer Lakes the Fall colored bushes had also white coatings, which made a very pretty scenery. The clouds covered the Pioneer peaks (Crocker, Hopkins, Stanford, Huntington). At the second upper lake the clouds were dropping down to the lakes which were now grey instead of the usual blue color. With poor visibility it was time to return. Although this time the visit lacked the typical sunny Sierra scenery the contrast was so unusual that we enjoyed this pre-winter like scenery.

Back at the basecamp we decided to hike out part of the way. Trail Lake is pretty and we had spotted a hut. Upon arrival and inspection it was a shelter for the snow surveyor but not for hikers in the snow. No problem, we set up camp and tried to keep warm. Next morning my 2 liter Platypus was filled with solid ice. On Friday, 10/5, we climbed to the pass, enjoyed blue sky and sunshine, took pictures of the snow dusted mountains and then returned to the cars. I headed north and May drove south after this adventure in the mountains.

On my drive north I visited Lundy Canyon but could not find good Fall colors. But on Sonora Pass above 8,000' the aspen were yellow and red which made a beautiful contrast to the snow covered mountains. I car camped near the pass and it snowed again in the night. After this dose of winter weather I descended into the warm western foothills. One disappointment was the scenery near the Dardanelles: The Donnelly fire earlier this year had destroyed uncounted trees within 36,000 square miles and the settlement of Dardanelles is gone. The rest of my drive presented no further surprises. It was nice to see the silhouette of downtown SF from a bridge over the Bay.

Back to Trip Reports
Back to SMS Home Page