Twin Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows

5th September 2019 This three day backpacking trip had us roughly following the northern section of the ‘Sierra High Route‘ in the Sierra mountains of California with another mix of cross country hiking, scrambling and trails. We drove north from Mammoth Lakes to the town of Bridgeport on the east side of the Sierra mountains and arranged a hiking permit for the trip at the ranger station. Like the rest of of our hikes on this holiday, we were able to get a permit for the same day which was a pleasant surprise. A short drive west took us to the Twin Lakes RV resort (via Buckeye Hot Springs to drop off a hitchhiker!) where we paid a small fee to leave the car for a few days.

Our 3 day backpack from Twin lakes in the north down to Tuolumne Meadows

Scott the friendly campground host gave us good directions on how to navigate through the myriad of local trails to reach Horse creek and the wilderness area to the south. The weather looked a bit dodgy with foreboding cloud build up and on and off rain but the views ahead southwards to Matterhorn Peak were encouraging. The trail was pretty clear but one section by the creek through thick willow bush soaked us from the waist down. Gradually the terrain got wilder and more barren with scree sided metamorphic peaks and faint trail leading to a wonderful little snow bowl just before the pass.

We had decided to deviate from the Sierra High Route by following Spiller Canyon on the other side of the pass all the way down to meet the Pacific Crest Trail and then climb back over McCabe Pass back to the SHR itself. Spiller Canyon is a broad open glaciated canyon surrounded now by sweeping granite peaks. There was no trail but the hiking was easy down grassy meadows and lower down weaving through a thin forest cover. In the evening, rain built up and it got rather unpleasantly wet and we searched around a bit to find a flat spot to camp near the river.

Looking up Horse Creek
Nearing the pass

We heard the crashing of branches in the night and assumed a bear may have wandered past heading up or down canyon. Anyway if it was a bear it didn’t bother us thankfully. The rain was still coming down in the morning as we packed the tent up but there were patches of blue sky poking through giving us some optimism. Continuing down the broad U-shaped canyon, the forest thickened a little but there was always a clear way to hike through with a few river crossings to find the easiest ground. We scrabbled over old avalanche paths with lines of felled trees from the higher hillside down into the river. By mid morning we met the obvious Pacific Crest Trail and found some granite slabs to lay out the wet gear in the sun that had managed to break through. Spiller Canyon had provided an excellent hike with no trails or people.

Following the PCT southbound for a few miles was a chance to chill out and enjoy the sunshine. We left the PCT to head east climbing up on the smaller McCabe Lakes trail, firstly through woodland before we split to head cross country again to pick up McCabe Creek. After crossing some meadows and lodgepole pine the climb got a bit steeper and we had to pick a line between willow scrub and steeper slabs before we popped out near to Upper McCabe Lake. We stopped for a rest to take in the more mountainous scene and look at the route up to the pass.

The final push to the pass was about 700ft but on a gravelly trail with some grippy granite scrambling. The views at the top of McCabe Pass were cool particularly to the east and south where we were heading to lakes, snow and rocky peaks. We headed south for a bit along the ridge before zig zagging down ledges between slabs to get reach Secret Lake and then followed easier meadows and a trail down to the beautiful Cascade Lake to camp. Great day and great alpine feeling camp!

Spiller Canyon
Drying out on the PCT
Near Upper McCabe Lake
Looking south from McCabe Pass
Cascade Lake camp evening

A cold night but the sun soon hit the tent in the morning and we warmed up over breakfast. We started with an excellent walk south round the east ridge of North Peak to Connes Lakes where we chatted to some hikers heading up one of the peaks. We then scrambled up lovely granite slabs onto the east ridge of Mt Connes in grand terrain with extensive views. More meadows, streams, slabs, pools and waterfalls as we rounded some more ridges before the push up to Mine Shaft Pass where we had a look around at the namesake old mine workings and could now see south to the Tuolumne meadows area.

We hit trail for the first time today as we descended gradually down past Gaylor Lakes and meadows dotted with white granite boulders. Surprisingly a whole bunch of tiny frogs hopped across the path through the meadow at one point – we found out later that these were tree frogs – cool!

Later on we saw some other hikers before we finally hit the Tuolumne Meadows park road and ended a fantastic final day to the hike. The only thing remaining for us after some calories at the Tuolumne Meadows grill was to hitch all the way round to the car at Twin Lakes. This worked out incredibly well- a lift down to the road junction before Lee Vining – a walk into Lee Vining- a kind person then gave us a lift all the way up to Bridgeport where he was staying then out of his way all the way west to the car at the end of the road Twin Lakes. Another great trip.

Cascade Lake camp in the morning
Up Mt Conness east ridge
Near Mine Shaft Pass

More photos here

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