Tuesday, September 02, 2014

A piece of the Sierra High Route: Puppet Lake Basin to tarn below La Salle Lake

Today we're efficient and are underway shortly after 8am. We head across the basin and then descend to Elba Lake, where we pump water while watching fish jump. From there it's down, down through a pine forest (back under the treeline) until we hit the bottom of French Canyon and pick up a real trail. No bears are encountered in the dark pine forest. We follow the trail for a while (so weird to be on a well-used trail again), dipping under 3000m (the lowest point of the trip), until we turn off on a faint trail that takes us up, up the other side of the canyon.
French Canyon with Merriam Peak
We're following decent trail through nice woods, next to a burbling stream. Nice! About halfway up we stop for a snack break and then continue up, up. The trail dumps us in a spectacular meadow surrounded by steep, dramatic mountains. We find a good place to sit and soak it all in for a while. We pump a bit of water, chance upon some teeny frogs, have lunch, and discuss just staying here since it's so nice. In the end we decide that it's too early to stop for the day, so we continue.
Meadow below Merriam Lake

Onward and upward, along another faint use trail beside the stream.  After a bit of climbing we hit the beautiful Merriam Lake. This one actually has sand beaches. Wow! What a lake. Another "should we stop early?" discussion, but we again decide to continue. The route along the shore of the lake has a clear use trail (yep, lots of people have Roper's book!) that leads us steeply up the wall of the cirque next to the inlet. Nice steep hike up, spotting a giant grasshopper along the way, and then we continue along the on-again, off-again faint use trail to the tarns that fill this basin.
Looking down onto Merriam Lake
We ditch the packs next to the last tarn (at ~ 3400m) and explore a bit to find the best tent spot. Upon retrieving our packs we have the third "stay or go?" discussion of the day. This time we opt for "stay". We pitch the tent, pump some water in a cool little alcove with a small waterfall (must be very cool when the water level isn't super low), and then set off on a walk. This takes us up the valley a bit more and then up to a ridge where we hoped to have spectacular views. Unfortunately, there's another ridge in front of this. Not to be thwarted by such minor things, we do the obvious and contour around to the second ridge. Here we get to enjoy a really great view down to our lovely meadow from earlier (not as lovely from above... the drama isn't there when you are atop one of the dramatic walls looking down), Merriam Lake, Pilot Knob, etc. Greg half-jokingly suggests going back to the first ridge and continuing along it to the top of Royce Peak. Of course it's too late in the day for this, so we don't do it. :-)  Instead we have a snack and then walk back via a different route (the landscape is very open, as was typical for most of the trip).
Underneath Royce Peak

Back at the tent we enjoy a nice skinny-dipping washing up at the little waterfall in the alcove (unfortunately no sun left in the alcove). Next comes a turbo dinner prep because we realize that we going to lose the sun early. Sure enough, at around 6 pm the sun vanishes behind a peak. It takes a frustratingly long time for some of the areas above us to lose the sun... too bad we're not up there. We'll learn from this for future site selection! We finish the day by tidying up, doing some logbook writing, enjoying the sunset on other peaks, and then retire to the tent rather early.

Dinner: Chix noodle soup with curry powder. Freeze dried beef stew (first time we've tried one of these things... it's ok, but not really great).

Track (the loop is the afternoon walk):

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