Sometimes I wonder if these types of posts need any narration at all. Sometimes I feel the pictures tell the full story, and they do a better job than I ever could describing the grandeur and beauty of the Eastern Sierra backcountry. So, I’ll try to let them do most of the talking…
I only go backpacking once or twice a year, and every time I do, I wonder why I don’t do it more often. Backpacking takes me deep into the dream worlds I can’t see from the road or experience on a day hike. Backpacking feels like a secret society of sorts; where only you and your fellow Bonesmen know what gems lie beyond the trail and just over the ridge.
Ediza Lake is one such gem. An alpine lake at 9,300 feet elevation, it can be done as an out-and-back hike but you end up missing much of the scenery surrounding it. The jaunt to Ediza is one of the most beautiful trails in the Ansel Adams Wilderness and needs an overnighter to fully appreciate.
We had our sights set on Ediza last September. Summer is a spectacular time of year in the Sierra, and especially the end of summer, when the leaves are just starting to turn color but the air is warm and fragrant.
We arrived in Mammoth Lakes a day before the hike and spent a relaxing afternoon sunning on Lake George and watching kayakers paddle across its turquoise waters. It’s one of the most photogenic lakes in the region with a clear view of Crystal Crag looming above the Mammoth Crest.
To end our very rough day, we drove to the hot springs off a dirt path near Benton Crossing. There we found a geothermal pool in the middle of a meadow all to ourselves. As we soaked in a hot mineral bath, we watched the sky turn all shades of orange and red and purple as the sun slowly dipped below the Sherwin Range in the distance.
Can I just say that a pre-hike hot tub is the way to go for multi-day backpacking trips? I slept so soundly that night that I woke up refreshed and energized for the haul ahead.
We started our hike on the Shadow Lake Trail in Agnew Meadows, descending into the San Joaquin River Valley as we passed creeks and cascades along the trail.
At the halfway point about three and a half miles in, we reached Shadow Lake. Despite the frigid alpine water, it looked so inviting on that hot summer day that we couldn’t help but heave our heavy packs off our backs and jump in!
I almost could’ve stayed at Shadow and been perfectly content with our trip. The Sierra solitude was spectacular. There were smooth granite slabs everywhere, baking in the sun and just beckoning us to take a nap on them.
Picking up the trail again, we connected with the John Muir Trail for a while as we followed Shadow Creek.
While making a random restroom stop, we discovered a small waterfall about 50 feet off the trail that flowed into a deep swimming hole. It was magical!
We continued another three miles up Shadow Creek, rolling through green meadows and climbing up a granite staircase until Ediza Lake came into view.
Most people set up camp at Ediza and call it good. After all, this is where the trail ends, and it’s definitely not a shabby place to put up a tent. The shores of Ediza were dotted with all likes of shelters and though I wanted nothing more than to kick off my boots down by the lake, I also wanted something special. I always want to know — what’s just over that next ridge?
Another mile ahead, we found ourselves in a postcard — standing in the middle of a high mountain meadow at the base of Mount Ritter, with the Minarets to the east and Banner Peak to the north. It was breathtaking. There was not another camper around.
I fell asleep to the sounds of the waterfall outside our tent and woke up to the Ritter Range bathed in the glow of early light.
We spent the afternoon doing a day hike to Iceberg Lake, scrambling up a slope and boulder hopping back and forth across a stream. The more adventurous among us even took a skinny dip in the icy waters!
Instead of coming back down the way we came, Will and I decided to traverse the talus to the other end of the lake. Ascending several hundred feet above Iceberg, we could see Cecil Lake in the distance.
We continued up a cliff that looked like a stack of building blocks. And because no climb is complete without a sequence of classic butt shots, here are the best ones that Will so meticulously captured.
Once up and over the ridge, we down climbed the rocky northern slope below the Minarets. My knees thanked me when I finally made it to the meadow!
Our last day was leisurely. Our friends hiked out after breakfast, whereas we slept in and bathed in the waterfall. It was a lovely lazy day… and a Monday at that.
After lunch I went exploring while Will started packing.
I climbed atop one of the granite domes in the meadow, taking in the views of our little gem of a campsite. Breathing the air. Finding my bliss.
Can you spot him fluffing our orange tent below?
Hiking out, the eight miles to the trailhead didn’t seem nearly as long as the way in. It was familiar yet unfamiliar. Every turn was a new way to look at the landscape.
When we stopped at Shadow Lake for a snack and a swim, taking in the surroundings, I had to wonder — what’s just over that next ridge?
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