Backpacking in the Emigrant Wilderness!

Emigrant Y Lake

With a hot and cloudless weekend before us, what better thing to do but head up into the Emigrant Wilderness and backpack around at elevation! We collected our friend Eric and drove on up to the Herring Creek campground, which was north of Pinecrest by 15 minutes or so and around 7 miles in on a progressively less maintained road. But the campsite was free, and beautiful!! There was no running water, but that was fine as there was a nice stream there for us to filter from. We slept overnight there and went on to the trailhead in the morning.

We drove through pinecrest, a huge campground/recreation area where there were zillions of people recreating. The road was remarkably well maintained for a long distance. Not sure why, but eventually it turned into a dirt road which kept getting (again) progressively less well maintained until we got to Gianelli Cabin. Not that it was difficult to get to. It was just your average 1.5 lane forest dirt road by the end of it. A lot of people were parked in the parking lot, but it turns out that most of them were just day hikers. There were a couple of horse trailers, but they were long gone by the time we got there.

We hiked on up, and one of the first things we came to was a local high point and some sort of landmark for the folks on the emigrant trail, Burst Rock. We cut up the hill and went to the top of it and ate lunch. It was a nice place, with a huge view. Supposedly, there were broken wagons down below, but we couldn't spot them.

We then went on back to the trail and kept on going. There was some snow still near the trail in a lot of places, and we ambushed stephany with some snowballs. But the best use of snow was revealed to us by some day hikers who we chatted with. They both had a snowball on top of their heads, melting away and cooling them down! We complimented them on their cool hats, and put a snow cap on the next time we came to some snow. It was GREAT! Putting it directly on the head was too cold, but if you put it on top of your hat, it is really nice. Steph and I wore our snow caps proudly for most of the way back, garnering some funny looks, but a nice cool time. Where else can you wear snow on your head in July? :-)

Because it was indeed hot. Supposedly it was 80 or so at 8000'. It felt like that in the sun. Though there was a nice breeze which came and helped out tons. We drank lots of water. 4 liters was not enough. We ran out a mile or so before getting to the campsite. At night, though, the temps dropped down to 40 or so and there was some dew about even with the nice breezes that stayed with us the entire time.

Anyways, we were pre-warned by the snow-hat people that the next saddle after Burst Rock had a great view of northern Yosemite and the rest of the emigrant wilderness if you dropped your packs and went up to the top of the ridge. We did so, and it was indeed a treat!! What a view! We highly recommend it. :-)

We also matched pace with a friendly day-hiker who was killing some time before he had to pick up a friend, and we chatted a bit. He told us that mosquitos were everywhere near the lakes, and sure enough, they were! Not quite as bad as Steph's experience in Tulomne Meadows last year, but there were enough to be rather annoying. We applied bug juice liberally, shouted praise to the winds that blew them away, and were later told by somebody that they would be all gone in August.

So eventually, we rolled into the y-meadow lake, or whatever it's called. The trail was fairly up and down, but well graded and quite well maintained, though there were a few places where big trees had blown down over the trail. Once we got to the lake, there were a few folks about, but we walked on down the lake to a nice spot, and nobody else was around! It turns out that the trail books all say that it's 5 miles to this lake, but it's actually 6.5, so we were happy to be pushed a little more than we thought we would be.

We soon had set up camp (easy to do, because we slept in our bivy sacks), and were up for some swimming! The lake was cold, but not oh-my-god-i'm-dying cold. Steph and Eric jumped right in, but it took me a while to get the courage up to jump in and scrub the sweat off. But I did, despite massive amounts of taunting. Unfortunately, the mosquitos were really happy about that. We got chewed up a bit. But the wind helped out. It blew them away from us. So we swam and then warmed up on the sun-baked granite rocks that were the terrain of the area.

Night fell slowly, and the stars came out, and then THE MOON CAME UP! And WOW! It was full, and the night was clear and cool, and we were up at 8600' and the moon was BRIGHT! We could see our moon shadows, count the fingers that we were holding up with them, etc. I even was able to read by the light of it a paperback that Steph brought along, and discern colors! It was amazing!! That was brighter than I've seen the moon in a long time. It was hard to look at. We tried to estimate what percentage of the sun's normal brightness it was, but failed to come up with any good numbers. It was fun, but we went to bed.

Steph and I slept in our bivy sacks. We were hoping to leave the top open and thus be able to sleep under the stars, but with the mosquitos and the incredible moon, we zipped up the bug netting and put the tops down. It got kinda cool that night, and we even got some dew on the outside of our sacks. I was glad that I had my bivy sack, because the sleeping bag that I had was really light, but not very warm anymore after being taken to burningman for a couple of years. I need to wash it to get all the dust out of the down. But I stayed warm and did fine.

A nice lazy start was had the next day. Steph swam once more, and we eventually hit the trail. We drank and ate a lot more for breakfast, and thus we felt like we had a lot more energy, and so we powered on home. Some horses passed us, and some people wearing funny looking western cowboy clothes looked at our funny looking snow hats. We stopped and talked with a volunteer ranger for a while, and he gave us some good info. Apparently you should get a permit for the backcountry in the emigrant and carson-iceberg areas. It's free, but it helps 'em keep track of what is getting used. We did not know that, and felt bad. He was nice though and told us that the cow damage that we had seen in the carson-iceberg hike was actually something that rotated around every year, so we could call the ranger station and ask where the cows were to be this year and avoid it. Good info.

So we got back and took our hot boots off and drove with the windows down back to pinecrest, where we rinsed some sweat off with a nice faucet, and drove back home. The road down to pinecrest was just SO beautiful! It was sad to leave. The central valley was hot hot hot, and we made it home in very good time. Truly, it was a great weekend!! Eric was, as always, a super great guy to hang out with, the views were incredible, and it was just so excellent! I highly recommend this hike.

So here's the map of the route which we took.

My pictures are here.

Have fun!

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