Updated: Sep 29, 2022
"Should we go to Mammoth tonight and hike tomorrow?"
At 3:45 p.m.
I had just started to make a big ol' batch of chili.
For anyone wondering, this is how our adventures typically start out.
I finished the chili, put it in the fridge, and started packing an overnight bag, along with hiking gear and food. My husband secured lodging and got the Jeep ready. By 6:30 p.m., we were on the road, headed to Mammoth Lakes, CA. It's about a 3-hour drive, but we had to make a quick stop in Carson City, NV, on our way, so we rolled into Mammoth around 9 p.m. and found about the only restaurant still open for some dinner before we got settled in for the night.
Maybe you have this problem, too, but I always find it difficult to fall asleep quickly when I know I have to get up earlier than usual the following morning. (Like getting up at 3:00 a.m. to catch the first flight out of the Reno airport.) But I tried my hardest and before I knew it, it was 5:00 a.m. and the alarm on my phone was chiming next to me.
Part of this adventure's plan included getting an early start on the trail, knowing that not only would the trailhead parking lot be busy/full if we waited too long, but after reading an alert and corresponding information about it on the website, it sounded like our best bet was arriving prior to 7:00 a.m. to avoid any potential closures or unwanted conflicts with the shuttle bus. On the off-chance this website information was incorrect, or we misinterpreted it, it could inadvertently add at least an additional mile each way to our over 13-mile hike.
All that to say, we got up early. Just in case.
Red's Meadow Road was what I would call a "paved Jeep road." It was narrow, winding, and bumpy with steep grades in some sections. Not hard to understand why part of the intermittent road closures were due to necessary repair work.
When we arrived in the area with multiple trailhead parking lots, to my astonishment, numerous vehicles were already parked and we had a hard time finding an open space. As I looked around at all the foggy windows, it became evident that many people park and sleep overnight in their vehicles, and then start hiking the following morning. We were very lucky to find an ample space – we basically had to park the Jeep in a bush (adding a few more pinstripes), and I had to get out of the Jeep before we parked it, but other than that, the space worked out great.
When I stepped out of the Jeep, I realized just how chilly outside it was. The current temperature was in the 30s. I stood at the back of the open Jeep, thankful my husband suggested I pack my choppers, and I decided to add my bottom layer before heading out, figuring I could always remove layers later on.
At 6:30 a.m., we hit the trail in Agnew Meadows. The pre-sunrise darkness and chill in the air was definitely not something we were accustomed to hiking in. On the contrary, we're usually the last ones to leave a trail in the evening.
It took about 1/4-mile of fast hiking before my body started to warm up. And then a wave of panic set in.
Perhaps it was the combination of getting up so early and the shock of the chilly temperature, but a little ways down the trail, I was struck when I realized I never put my snacks in my hiking pack. We were too far in to turn back. I was kind of hoping my husband remembered to put his snacks in his pack and we could at least share, but when I brought it up, he realized he'd forgotten, too.
While staying overnight in Mammoth, we brought all food in from the Jeep to avoid issues with bears breaking in and we forgot to put the snacks back in our packs before we left the trailhead. Epic fail. Rookie mistake.
And I had packed the most snacks for this adventure, too. Sigh.
So, here we are, on the longest hike of our season so far, and I, without any food. Not to mention, we now had an unattended Jeep in the wilderness full of snacks – definitely not an ideal scenario with bears around. So, even if I make it back to the Jeep at the end of the hike without passing out in the process, would a bear get to my snacks before me? Super.
I consciously slowed my pace in an effort to conserve energy. As if that would help.
I tried not think about it because we had a long ways to go and there wasn't much I could do about it. Mind over matter, as my dad always told me.
Moving along and trying to distract my thoughts... this was definitely a different kind of trail marker/emblem than we typically see on our hikes. The markers we see for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) or the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) are usually not made of wood like this, so I had to take a photo.
This is likely only our second time in Ansel Adams Wilderness. The first time was on a beautiful fall hike to Parker Lake in 2019.
A section of the first half of the trail is basically a shelf road, something nerve wracking we are used to tackling in the Jeep.
The early-morning golden hour was fast approaching and was something new for us while on a hike. The towering peaks and treed landscapes were slowly being illuminated by the rising sun.
That prominent point is called Two Teats. I'm not making that up.
The first foot bridge was a very sturdy specimen.
As we were hiking along, we were regularly hearing water rushing in the distance – Shadow Creek. We finally got the first glimpse of the first major waterfall. It was cascading right through a steep, rocky canyon.
Speaking of canyons, the views along the first half of this hike were incredible.
A cedar tree with substantial girth growing out of a boulder along the trail.
The majority of the trail terrain was varying degrees of rocky. Some stretches were just small rocks, while others were literal stone steps manually set into the trail. My husband frequently commented on how much time and effort went in to building this trail.
As we climbed our way closer to the first waterfall, the rock wall canyon became even more impressive.
Climbing along the canyon...
In fact, a good portion of the trail follows Shadow Creek with amazing cascades and waterfalls all along the way – similar to our Lake Louise Hike in Wyoming earlier this year. Needless to say, we stopped numerous times to photo the various idyllic creek scenes.
At about 3 miles in, we arrived at Shadow Lake. It was perfectly glassy. Reflection perfection.
In the distance is one of the towering "rock walls" that is responsible for casting a shadow over Shadow Lake.
We still had to get to Ediza Lake, so we kept moving. (Except for a few more stops to take photos of the creek, cascades, and foot bridges. But we also knew we could stop again on our way back.)
This wooden foot bridge spanning Shadow Creek had visible frost on it!
I loved this little pool. If it had been warmer out, we would have been tempted to take a dip.
About 6.5 miles in, we arrived at Ediza Lake.
At this point, my stomach had already been growling and I was low in energy. I dug through my pack and found a bag of past-their-prime Jolly Rancher candies. I peeled off a wrapper and popped one in my mouth, then put a few in my pocket for later. So, my sustenance on this 13-plus-mile hike consisted of sugar and artificially flavored fruit.
At this juncture, we turned around and started to make the trek back down.
On the way up to either lake, we saw very few people, mostly scarce tent campers. On the return trip, however, numerous hikers, backpackers, and dogs were coming up the trail. It, all of a sudden, seemed busy compared to the earlier solitude.
In fact, one young woman hiking up the trail was wearing a shirt that said "Minnesota" on it. As we approached, I asked her if she was from Minnesota. Without stopping her stride, she called back over her shoulder, "Yes, I'm from St. Paul." I responded with, "No kidding! My husband is from Hastings." She and her hiking partner seemed to be on quite a mission, so that was all that was said.
We stopped at a few more key destinations on the way down for photos.
Here's a brilliant Shadow Lake from a distance above.
Looking through the trees from the trail out into Shadow Lake.
It is pretty common to see lots and lots of boulders along hiking trails out here, but this one along the shore of Shadow Lake had an "artistic" patterned texture to it, not to mention, it had a tree growing straight out the top of the boulder.
On our second pass of Shadow Lake, we spent additional time because it was one of our favorite spots on this hike and now the lighting was completely different than it was on the first pass.
This is also the point where my husband blew a shoe.
His well-worn trail runners have maxed out their longevity. He got tired of the flipping and flopping of the half-broken foam piece as he walked, so before we left Shadow Lake, he tore it off completely. Time for a new pair!
This tree alongside the trail was absolutely huge with a massive root system.
And it was such a surprise to see any wildflowers still in bloom along the way!
We continued the rocky descent through the picturesque canyon.
In addition to being hungry, I was also now feeling slightly overheated and sweaty. I sensed the need for an urgent wardrobe change. So, I stopped along the trail and peeled off layers, jammed them into my pack, and I immediately felt more comfortable. So now I was just hungry. I unwrapped another Jolly Rancher.
By about mile 10, I was really hungry, running low, and looking forward to getting back to the Jeep for some much-needed snacks (assuming the bears left any for me), but on this trail, the final 2 miles, or so, require climbing several rocky uphill stretches that were probably going to overextend me at this point. I tried not to think about it and just kept putting one foot in front of the other.
We finally made it back to the trailhead. The Jeep was in tact. No bears.
First things first. Snacks.
What an incredible hike this longest-hike-of-the-season was.
But wait! There's more!
Before we left the area, we made stops at the Devils Postpile National Monument and then the Minarets lookout.
We had never been to the Devils Postpile, yet, so we weren't really sure what to expect.
It's definitely one of the more unique piles of rocks we've seen.
Here's how it was formed:
Shaped by Fire and Ice
Molten lava and glacial ice shaped these unusual rock columns. Basaltic lava more than 400 feet deep filled this narrow valley nearly 100,000 years ago. As the lava cooled, cracks formed on the surface to release built-up tension. These cracks formed into hexagons, one of natures most efficient and stable shapes. When the cracks reached about 10 inches in length, they branched out at 120º angles to form the hexagons.
The cracks deepened as the interior cooled to form basaltic columns. During the last ice age, about 20,000 years ago, a glacier exposed this cliff of columns and polished the top surface. The postpile continues to be sculpted by weathering and earthquakes that break and change the formation.
The Devils Postpile formation is one of the finest examples of visible basaltic columns in the world.
To me, one of the most notable aspects of this monument is the fact that the columns were naturally formed into the shape of hexagons.
After a 13-plus-mile hike (and lack of sustenance), we didn't really have the desire to hike up to the top of the postpile or out to Rainbow Falls. We might need to plan a secondary trip in the near future.
While we were at the Devils Postpile, we visited the small, on-site ranger station to look around. A tall, older gentleman was manning the counter and immediately struck up a conversation with us. Through this 15-minute chat, we learned that 45 years ago, he had lived in our same town at Lake Tahoe on a street near ours, though at a higher elevation than us, so we laughed about the steep road up to his house and the difference in snow conditions. He said back then, he drove a rear-wheel-drive VW bus and he basically never took the chains off its back tires all winter long, just so he could get to and from his house down to the grocery store. Such a small world.
Then it was on to Minaret Vista.
About the Minarets:
The Minarets are all that remains of an ancient lava flow. These mountains existed millions of years before the formation of the Sierra Nevada. Today they are a part of the Ritter Range.
Their sawtooth appearance is created by the freezing and expansion of water from rain and snow which seeps into cracks in the rock. This slow weathering process gradually chips away bits of rock, enhancing the jagged look of these peaks. The Minarets were named for their resemblance to the spires on Moslem temples.
This lookout also had interesting "tools" at it. Very low-tech and vintage.
And this display was a little peculiar, but I thought it was pretty cool that someone took the time to "carve" into a sheet of steel the silhouette of the ridgeline that lines up with the actual ridgeline from this vantage point and mark key peaks with letters.
A worthy final stop to take in the incredible sights.
From here, we drove back to Mammoth and had a well-earned and long-awaited late lunch downtown. Adventures are fun. Sometimes, last-minute adventures can bring added stress, but this one was well worth it.
Shadow Lake & Ediza Lake