During the second week of August, my son Tyler and I set out for a backpacking trip in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. Monday was our big travel day that started at 3:30 a.m. with a 2 hour drive to the Omaha airport. Two flights and a rental car drive later we ended up at Annett’s Mono Village resort on Twin Lakes near Bridgeport, CA. Traveling 18 hours left us tired and hungry. Ty and I set up our tent in the campground then headed over to the resort diner for some comfort food. After dinner and a bear cub sighting in the campground, we climbed into our bags and had no trouble sleeping.
Tuesday was our first day of hiking. We woke up early and headed over to the diner for a big breakfast. We were going to need the calories for our 8.5 mile, 2,500 ft. elevation hike up to Peeler Lake. After showering, packing up our gear and parking the car we hit the trail. The first leg or our hike was on the Robinson Trail. The trail head starts in the campground and is an easy 5 mile trip up to Barney Lake. Our plan was to eat lunch at Barney Lake but the mosquitoes were too thick to stop. That was the first sign of the mosquito plague that would torture us over the next four days. The record breaking snow pack had kept the higher elevations cold into July. This year, conditions were just right for mosquitoes in late July and August.
The hike from Barney Lake to Peeler Lake is more rugged. The mosquitoes made the stream crossings downright miserable. When we stopped to switch shoes for the deep water we were hammered with bug bites. We finally reached Peeler and were looking forward to some rest and relief from the bugs. The mosquitoes were ferocious, so we promptly set up our tent and dove in for a nap. At about 6 pm we slathered deet from head to toe and began to prepare our dinner. We ate our first meal of the trip in a breezy location that overlooked the lake. It proved to be slightly effective at keeping the mosquitos away. As we watched the sun set the cold set in and the mosquitoes disappeared. Peeler Lake was amazingly beautiful and worth every bug bite and blister.
Wednesday was day two and our destination was Arndt Lake. I chose it because the lake was off the trail and remote. Arndt was also going to be a leisurely 5 mile trek through Kerrick Meadow with minimal elevation. Our mosquito strategy was to deet up; wear long sleeves; and keep moving. Kerrick Meadow has a wide variety of environments. In our short trip we walked through prairie like areas; full canopy forest; dry desert looking landscapes; marshy swamps and of course meadows.
We headed off the trail at a waypoint I had marked on my GPS. Once we found the lakes outlet stream, we followed it up to Arndt. Since it was lunch time, we ate, then leisurely set up our campsite. After lunch Tyler napped while I explored and filtered water. This was my favorite place of the trip. The view of Kerrick Meadow was stunning. I found a high vantage point that Ty and I could have dinner and see for miles up the valley. After dinner that evening, we stayed up after sunset with some warm drinks and enjoyed the big sky view.
Thursday was the day we were to meet my college friend Rich with his wife Diana and another friends wife Didem. Tyler and I needed to secure a campsite for five people at Peeler Lake. We geared up and trekked back to Peeler. When we arrived we had our choice of campsites. Our site selection was based on mosquito deterrence. We had discovered that the shady cool spots had the least mosquitos. Our spot also had a nice breeze off the lake.
After setting up camp and eating some lunch we set off without packs to find the crew. We hiked about a mile to a vantage point that overlooked several switchbacks on the trail. Ty and I entertained ourselves for about an hour before we spotted Rich, Diana and Didem. We knew that mosquitoes would be testing their morale and we tried lifting spirits with conversation.
When we got back to camp, Didem immediately broke out fishing gear to catch some dinner. I guided her to a spot where we had seen others fishing. She managed to catch one small trout to supplement her dinner. As I suspected, dinner conversation was about their discovery of mosquitoes on the hike up and the treacherous stream crossings. As the sun set, our camp became immediately bug free. We had some good conversation and then off to bed.
Friday’s plan was to hike over to Crown Lake. Our initial route was to head to Kerrick Meadow and over Rock Island Pass to Crown. After some conversations with other hikers, we learned that Rock Island Pass still had a fair amount of snow. We opted for plan B which meant we would hike a shorter 5 mile route. That proved to be a wise decision. This track allowed us to hike at a leisurely pace and enjoy the scenery.
At Crown Lake we found a secluded campsite with loads of room. After lunch Rich, Tyler and I set off for a 4.5 mile day hike up to Rock Island Pass. This is what I wanted, a rugged trek on a barren mountain trail. As we approached the pass we could see the snow and other hikers slowly creeping down. The snow field was quite large and steep. I had not prepared for this type of hiking and it was sketchy at first. Fortunately, we had some hiking poles that proved to be a necessity on the snow. Eventually, we clawed our way to the 10,250 foot peak and took a moment to think about how we would get back down.
I thought we would be mosquito free on the snow and above the tree line, but, I was wrong. We were soon forced to keep moving and began the slow descent over the snow and back to the trail. The hike down was a completely different trip. We had first class views of Kettle Peak and Slide Mountain. The coolest thing to watch was a small group of hikers coming down from Mule Pass. There was a lot of snow on that pass and we had heard it was closed.
Our last evening of the trip was pleasant. Clouds set in and created a spectacular sunset. The clouds also made the evening a little warmer. We took advantage of the warmth and stayed up late chatting and drinking warm beverages.
Saturday morning meant it was time for the 9 mile hike back to Twin Lakes. We woke up early to eat and pack before the mosquitoes came out. There was a lot of talking and picture taking on the hike out. Everyone had become an expert at evading mosquitoes. The best deterrent was to keep moving so the stream crossings were quick and efficient. Two things made us laugh on the way down. The first was the naked girl wading around her boyfriend in the bug infested Barney Lake. The second was the conga line of day hikers in shorts and tank tops heading up to mosquito central (AKA Barney Lake).
We reached the cars around 2 pm and promptly made a b-line to the campground bathrooms. After everyone had freshened up and changed cloths we drove in to Bridgeport for burgers and ice cream. After that, it was off to South Lake Tahoe to spend the night in comfort and travel home on Sunday.
I would do this hike again, mosquitoes and all. From now on, I’m always packing a head net and plenty of 100% deet. From a logistics stand point, Annett’s Mono Village was the perfect place to start and end the trip. The parking, campground, store and diner were useful conveniences. When I think back on the trip, I remember the people, the views and the satisfaction of the physical challenge.
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