Miles: approx. 9
up/down: approx. 1500/3000 feet
We weren't sure if we would ever make it to Nelson Lake. From our frozen (25F this morning!) little camp below the lake we decided to avoid the canyon headwall and climb the low ridge over to Echo Creek. As we continued to ascend toward the pass at the top of Echo Creek it became evident that the path over to Nelson was possible now that we were higher in the canyon. We went for it and we rewarded with a fairly easy traverse to the lake outlet. That's the thing about hiking cross-county off the beaten path - you never know what you will find and sometimes a route that looked good on the map is in reality much more difficult.
After a nice break at the lake we crossed back over to the Echo Creek canyon where we knew from published accounts there was a use trail (not Park Service maintained) over the crest next to Unicorn Peak and down to Elizabeth Lake. Beyond that was a maintained trail back to civilization and our car. Sure enough we picked up the trail quickly and made the 800 foot ascent to the pass. The view from the top was spectacular - north to Mt Conness and the nearby mountains and down onto Lembert Dome. Wow.
With that we continued down the use trail to the pretty but overused Elizabeth lake for second (or third depending on who's counting) lunch. After that we made quick work of the three and a half miles back to the car.
It was fun getting out again before real fall or winter weather hits, finishing our last remaining section of the John Muir Trail, and seeing some new parts of the park we've never been before.