Mile: 959.8 to 972.7 plus .4 to Benson Lake
up/down: 2450/4300 feet
New trip bird: Bald Eagle over Benson Lake
New Tuolumne County bird: Common Poorwill at dusk
9 major creek crossings and too many small ones to count. Even though we are past peak flow some of these were tough. Throw in a snow covered pass, miles of on again off again snow covered trail, route finding, and plenty of up and down and you can call this 13 miles one of our toughest days.
We left Miller Lake and made a small climb to the edge of Matterhorn Canyon. Then a serious drop into the canyon with plenty of snow on he north facing slope. When we reached bottom we had our first, and easiest, crossing. We followed Matterhorn Creek for a while and then turned up Wilson Creek. With knowledge of what was to come it was pointless to try and keep dry shoes. Our trail runners drain quickly and within 5 minutes after a crossing our socks are damp but livable.
We made three crossings of Wilson Creek on the way up to Benson Pass. I haven't checked, but at 10100 feet it must be one of the last times above 10000 on the trail. The last mile up to the pass had wicked sun cups that made for slow going.
At the top we had fantastic views west of the Smedberg Lake watershed, including Volunteer Peak. Most of the features in this part of the park were named in the late 1800s by Army officer Harry Benson who was also the acting Superintendent of Yosemite National Park from 1905 to 1908. Smedberg was one of his young officers. We traversed down canyon and arrived at the very wet Smedberg Lake. Snow melt out is just arriving at this elevation and everything is either covered in snow or very wet.
At the outlet of Smedberg we started down canyon but quickly reversed course and started up toward the west shoulder of Volunteer Peak. We didn't know it at the time but the canyon headwall below the lake is nothing but cliffs. To get to a side canyon that was possible to walk in required a climb up of several hundred feet. This north facing slope was nearly covered in snow and very steep. We lost the footprints of hikers going before us and had to rely on GPS routing to get us in the down canyon. And that canyon was wicked steep with snow difficult route finding. More than once we had to glissade the snow slope as it was just too steep to walk with the switchbacks covered. Finally we were down at the bottom where we started a series of creek fords working our way down canyon.
At the bottom were the two toughest crossings of the day, first one last crossing of the Smedberg Lake creek (quite swollen at this point) then Piute Creek as we approached Benson Lake. We managed and got plenty wet. It was after 4pm and the tough day did us in. We walked the short side trail to the lake where we found it in severe flood stage, at least 5 feet above normal. The shoreline is pushed back quite some distance leaving willows and pine trees underwater. There is a lot of snow and water in the Yosemite backcountry.