Minnow Creek Backpack 2012 Before the Trip

The following feature story chronicles a 9 day backpacking trip I made with my brother Joseph between July 21 and 29, 2012. There are a total of 9 web pages each of which has cross links at page bottoms. This was into the John Muir Wilderness part of Sierra National Forest, Fresno County, in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. Over the last 4 decades of my adult life, I have made 180 such backpacking trips, each of which has been logged at least as when, where, and with whom through the years first with pencil on paper and later onto computer files. We were to visit part of the Silver Divide, a long west to east trending ridge of craggy peaks dividing drainages of Mono Creek on the south and Fish Creek on the north. Specifically the headwater basins of tributaries Cold Creek and Minnow Creek. All these waters are tributaries of the San Joaquin River that flow into the vast Central Valley and out the Golden Gate into the Pacific Ocean at San Francisco Bay

Included are about 100 downsized for web display digital images taken with my 12 megapixel Canon SX130 and 17 taken by Joe's Canon digital camera. Additionally are 11 small scans from 4x5 transparencies. Unless noted as 4x5 transparency scans or images taken by my brother, all images are by SX130. Although the SX130 has excellent image stabilization, if tripod stabilized I normally set ISO to 80 or 100 while if handheld 400 or 800. With compact digital cameras I tend to set exposure bracketing to at least -2/3 stop under as one can always boost brightness in post processing but anything overexposed cannot be recovered. The 4x5 transparencies are all Fuji Provia 100F film that have been crudely scanned on my Epson 2450 scanner then processed with Adobe Photoshop CS5 to reasonably match the transparency on a light table right beside my calibrated NEC monitor. All are identified on images below as such and have grey borders. The above image at page top is one such transparency exposed on the afternoon of Day 4. Any serious images I market on my website would be sent out for drumscanning that provide much better recovery of detail in darker areas, more accurate color, and better resolution.

By early May it was obvious late spring of 2012 in California was likely to be relatively dry following the pattern of a near record droughty winter. I looked at what had been my leading choices for 9-day backpacking trips in the summer and decided it was too much a gamble to make the considerable efforts to visit those locations. Simply put, backpacking is not all just experiencing magnificent scenery and wilderness but rather balances against often strenuous unpleasant effort and exertion. Especially for the uncommon person who carries into mountains heavy view camera equipment. Instead I would defer those trips to future years with normal or above normal winter precipitation when I can more confidently expect acceptable conditions. I'm a landscape photographer with backpacking trips oriented towards visiting our Sierra Nevada wilderness areas at peak aesthetic conditions when wildflowers are peaking, lingering snows still decorate the impressive peaks, and abundant water is still flowing through green landscapes. So I looked at my long list of planned trips I document on spreadsheets and began to focus on the area about Graveyard Peak that even in a dry year has an abundance of water in its blue lakes.


I had wanted to visit this area of lakes ever since as a young twenty something reading its description in Thomas Winnett's "Sierra North" Wilderness Press guidebook, and in fact have extensively visited areas nearby. Given new research with Google Earth 3D and the web, I modified the older trip plans so it would work this dry year. Joining me on the trip would be my brother Joseph, an enthusiastic fisherman, and person I have backpacked with the most over the years. In a normal year, I might have planned a trip to the area for the first or second week of August, however with the dryness decided on moving that up a couple weeks. So in May I sent in a wilderness permit request to Sierra National Forest for July 21 through 29 that came back quickly with a reservation. That is the yellow sheet in above image that also includes my elaborate trip itinery spreadsheet, gear checklist, and the actual wilderness permit. One may notice how I highlight 1000 foot elevation intervals on the topo, something I have done for decades that gives USGS maps a further perceptual dimension. The itinerary spreadsheet has columns that sum vertical feet up and down, highlights crosscountry in blue, adds mileage at topo measured quarter mile increments, and more. The trip itinerary included 3 nights camping on the south side of Silver Divide and 5 on the more remote north. Thunderstorm weather on days 2 and 3 however changed plans so we eliminated our day 3 destination and instead went right to day 4 while adding a camping day on the return south.

Sierra National Forest wilderness page

At that point, the trip was two months away so we began preparing our gear and bodies. As a warm up trip, on Memorial Day weekend, we did a 4-day backpack from Ebbetts Pass to the Noble Lake area that went smoothly. Two weeks before the trip, I had taken care of all gear and food issues. Usually on short trips I don't bother with much preparation and checking, however for week long trips given time, tend to leave no stones unturned. By the weekend preceding our trip, I had fully packed up my backpack that then sat quietly in my apartment during the work week days before we left. My pack weighed in at 60 pounds and I would also be carrying 6 additional pounds in boots, clothing, pocket items, and water by time we left the trailhead. Thus a carrying weight of 66 pounds, a very weighty load for a thin 5 foot 6 inch 140 pound older man. However that is about 10 plus pounds lighter than I had been carrying many years on most trips as recently as a couple years ago. At that point I realized my aging body could not continue to carry such crushing weights without possible medical issues resulting. So I reinvented my gear with latest pricy low weight hi tech items. Thus my core gear now weighs just 30 pounds. Added to that weight was 22 pounds of camera gear, 2.5 pounds of fishing gear, and 12 pounds food. Brother Joe with old worn heavy gear, more fishing gear, and quite a bit more food would be carrying nearly as much weight.

As departure day approached, I arranged to leave my work place 2 hours early. We would get a jump on Friday commute traffic and have time to reach the trailhead early enough in the evening that we could night hike a couple hours. Doing so would give us two days camping at Graveyard Lakes instead of just one. On the morning of Friday July 20, I phoned up Sierra National Forest and requested my wilderness permit be placed in the ranger station night box so we could pick that up after office hours. At 3pm Joe who lives to the north in Solano County, arrived in Newark at the southeast end of San Francisco Bay at my workplace where I repair telephony switches and we moved his gear into my 2007 Forester. These days it is difficult due to legal statutes to leave vehicles on urban streets unattended for more than a few days and long term parking lot rates are ridiculous. So I got an ok from our industrial park landlord to leave his SUV there the full 9 day period.

Soon we were moving south on US101 as we started our 7 hour 250 mile trip to the trailhead. We turned east onto SR152 up and over the Coast Range at Pacheco Pass, across the San Joaquin Valley, then south a bit to Madera on SR99, where we topped off on gas and filled ourselves at a McDonalds. Continuing east on SR145 and onto SR168, by sunset we had picked up our permit at the Prather ranger station and were leaving hot dry blue oak savanna lands and entering the cooler evergreen forests of the Sierra. The last 26 miles from Huntington Lake reservoir to the Lake Thomas A. Edison reservoir trailhead is on a slow twisty single lane bumpy paved road that climbs over 9176 foot Kaiser Pass and then descends into the broad South Fork of the San Joaquin River canyon. It was 10pm by time we reached the dusty trailhead at 7800 feet where about a dozen vehicles were already parked. We spent 20 minutes finalizing our packs, secured my Forester, turned on our headlamps, then map in hand set off down the trail neither of us had ever hiked.

Acme.com topographic map of Lake Edison reservoir trailhead area

My plan was to hike to the 2.2 mile point at 8100 feet that was just outside the John Muir Wilderness boundary. The dry trail was very dusty and soft due to considerable horse use. Temperature was a pleasant 58F degrees and we made good time. Up top I wore my standard clothing of a front zipper nylon shell I unzipped with nothing underneath and blue jeans below. The south facing jeffrey pine and white fir forest had dried out weeks before so we did not have to worry about any mosquitoes. And bears are uncommon in any of these zones we would be visiting. By midnight, we wandered off the then rising trail where we saw some boulders and quickly tossed down our sleeping pads and bags without bothering to set up tents.


Day 1 Saturday July 22

   David Senesac
   email: info@davidsenesac.com

Day 2 Sunday July 22
Day 3 Monday July 23
Day 4 Tuesday July 24
Day 5 Wednesday July 25
Day 6 Thursday July 26
Day 7 Friday July 27
Day 8>9 Saturday July 28

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