Sunday, July 19, 2015

Finger Lake and North Dome

A quick recap on two recent day hikes...

Finger Lake (South Fork Big Pine Creek)

North Fork Big Pine Creek
This was a repeat hike for Susan and I, but new for our two friends Bill and Collette who we dragged along so they could see one of the coolest lakes in the Sierra. This hike starts near Glacier Lodge at the end of the road up Big Pine Canyon, taking the South Fork of Big Pine Creek instead of the far more popular North Fork trail.  Our trail for the day is the one the climbers take to tackle Middle Palisades in the Palisades Crest. The three southernmost glaciers in the US sit below the Palisades Crest - Palisades, Norman Clyde, and Middle Palisades. The south fork trail starts with the north fork for a short distance, crossing the North Fork Big Pine Creek on a nice bridge, before departing and climbing gently to a large glacial headwall that gets your attention as it ascends steeply up over a thousand feet. The flowers were putting on a show as we made our way up the switchbacks.  Foxtail Pine was the dominant tree on the wall with some fascinatingly weathered specimens near the top.



Foxtail Pine
Reaching the top of the headwall, a magnificent view of the Palisades Crest opened up.  

Palisades Crest.  Middle Palisades in obscured by low clouds.
After a short breather we continued along the trail dropping a couple hundred feet to near Willow Lake.  A quick turn uphill and we were gaining altitude again on our way to Brainard Lake.  
Brainard Lake
On the far side of the cirque cliff behind Brainard Lake sits our real goal for the day - Finger Lake. A short but very steep scamper up a scree and talus slope brought us to the top of the ridge and the outlet of this fascinating lake.  Finger Lake sits in a very narrow canyon, its waters coming directly from melt of the Middle Palisades Glacier, thus the incredible aqua blue color.  
Finger Lake
With afternoon storm clouds brewing, our stay was shorter than we would have liked.  The return trip was uneventful but we did make sure to see the sights along the way.

Palisades Crest under threatening sky

View back down canyon toward trailhead
We made it to one of the most interesting lakes in the Sierra, beat the rain back to the car by minutes, and celebrated in Bishop with delicious Mexican food. That's what I call a good day!

12 miles, 4,450 feet elevation gain


Bird Lists:

South Fork Big Pine Creek
Brainard to Finger Lake
Finger Lake

North Dome (Yosemite)

First views along the trail
Third time is the charm!  Years ago on our first attempt at North Dome, Susan's acrophobia got the better of her and she wouldn't go out on the exposed section to the top of the dome. This was before I beat her senseless with endless cols, passes, cliffs, talus, scree, and other epic cross-country hiking adventures. A second attempt a couple years later and she came down with a nasty virus on the day of the hike and had to stay home in bed. This past Saturday was her third go at this hike out to a spectacular Yosemite view and was met with unqualified success!  North Dome is a glaciated granite feature on the north side of Tenaya Canyon directly across canyon from the face of Half Dome. This moderate trail is roughly 10 miles out and back, unless you add some extra side trail miles like we did. The trail takes off the Tioga Pass Road from the Porcupine Creek Trailhead. The first couple miles meanders up and down through a mature forest with beautiful examples of Red Fir, Western White Pine, and the occasional Jefferey Pine and Sugar Pine. As the trail approaches the edge of Tenaya Canyon the views begin to show through the trees.  

First look at Half Dome through the trees
As you approach the edge of the canyon, the trail dips down several hundred feet to a connecting ridge that takes you out to North Dome.  The view across the canyon to Half Dome, the Clark Range, and points beyond is among the finest in Yosemite.

Half Dome, Clark Range and beyond
North Dome from the edge of Tenaya Canyon, just before descent.
After descending on a steep and sometimes scrambling trail, the final walk out to the top of the dome is really spectacular.

Half Dome from the top of North Dome
Yosemite Valley from the top of North Dome
We took a detour on the way back to add some miles to the hike, heading northwest along the Yosemite Falls trail until connecting with the Lehamite Creek trail.  Along the way we passed over the mostly dry Arch Creek where we ran into a small flock of warblers, kinglets, and such.  Mixed in were two young Hermit Warblers at eye level who gave us fantastic looks.  Very cool!  The rest of the hike was pleasant in a beautiful forest ending another spectacular day.

12 miles, 2500 feet elevation gain.


Bird Lists:

North Dome Trail
Ridge trail
Lehamite Creek Trail

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