Hiking the Emigrant Wilderness and Leopold Lake

On August 3, I started out at the Crabtree trailhead in the Stanislaus National Forest and hiked into the Emigrant Wilderness.

[click on pictures to enlarge]

The Crabtree area is on the left side of the map at the start of the track. My car was the only one in a dusty trailhead lot at the end of the road. This was not the regular Crabtree trailhead, but the one marked “overflow parking.” The trail starts on the east edge of the lot and heads east before turning south toward Bell Creek.

The trail was rough and sometimes hard to follow. The electronic topo map (shown here) does not have the trail accurately represented where it is in the terrain. I think this is due to sloppiness of Garmin, rather than the trail having moved. So beware when using a GPS without also having a hardcopy map. I was comfortable having both.

In about three hours of hiking I made it to Grouse Lake where I had just enough time to pitch my tent and eat a little before dusk fell in and mosquitoes started attacking me.

The next morning I went on. My target was the California Conservation Corps Backcountry Crew camp at Cherry Creek.

 The trail was remote. In early August on a weekday, I saw hardly any other hikers. There are few markers, limited only to major trail junctions. Here is a typical section of trail.

I made it to the camp by about 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon. Devin was there on Kitchen Patrol, so he was the only one in camp when I got there, and we spent a nice few hours together connecting after more than three months of him being isolated out there. Here is a picture of Devin I took within minutes of arriving.

Click here for more information about the CCC Backcountry Program and Devin’s adventures.

On Saturday we decided to climb up to Leopold Lake. There is no trail to the lake. It’s a climb straight up a rock face, crisscrossed with granite crevasses, creeks and a few waterfalls.

It took us about 45 minutes of climbing time and another 25 minutes of resting before we got there.

The fact that there is no trail is probably a blessing. When we got there, I was overwhelmed by the absolute wilderness paradise we found. Some of the peripheral small lakes around it were still covered with thick ice. There were still large snowdrifts melting on August 6th. Leopold Lake is basically on top of a mountain, surrounded on all sides by cliffs, rock slabs and no trails leading to it. The lake is clear and deep.

Once there, swimming in the cold and deep water was refreshing and exhilarating. We had just come for a look and to hang out for a couple of hours. But I immediately realized that I could spend an entire week here at Leopold, surrounded by nothing but pristine and just about untouched nature and penetrated by quiet solitude.

Looking at the map of the Emigrant Wilderness, I realize that there are dozens of such lakes in this area with no trails leading to them. It gives me comfort to know that we still have such remote and completely untouched nature in this country.

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