Sunday, September 29, 2019

Silver Divide Backpacking

Red Slate Mountain
We wanted to get in one more backpacking trip before the season ended, but late September can have dodgy weather. Watching the forecast carefully we headed in between two big wind storms that could make the high passes tricky. By the time we had decided to go and got our act together, it was after 2 in the afternoon. Our goal was to get over McGee Pass before the wind picked up again the next day, so we cranked out 7+ miles to stage below the pass for a morning ascent. 

We pitched a camp just below Big McGee Lake right at sunset
The next morning was clear and reasonably calm so we headed over the 11,800 foot McGee Pass. The geology in this area is spectacular and made for a great morning climb. 

Little McGee Lake

At the pass we could see our destination for the next few days - the Silver Divide. Our route would take us by trail over Silver Pass, then cross-country for the remainder of the trip until we got back to McGee Pass.

Descending from McGee Pass looking at the Silver Divide

We left ourselves lots of extra time for exploring on this route so after descending from the pass took a side trip to Lee and Cecil Lakes in a side canyon. By the time we got to the lakes, the promised wind had materialized. There wasn't much tree protection there so we headed back down canyon to the river for a more pleasant evening.

Cecil Lake

Lee Lake

The storm got a little more serious overnight as we awoke to a skiff of snow and some cold temperatures.

Continuing on, we moved down Fish Creek toward the PCT/JMT junction where we turned south toward Silver Pass. In 2016 during our thru hike of the Pacific Crest Trail we missed seeing this area when a two day rain and snow storm blasted us. During those two days the mountains were socked in and we even had to spend a day in the tent waiting out the weather. We hoped this time would be better and we would see this spectacular country.

The storm had mostly passed and the wind died down some. The climb to Silver Pass was lovely and we took our time. After a brief side trip to Papoose Lake and Lake of the Lone Indian, Susan found us a spectacular campsite on a ridge with views in every direction.

The next morning was cold - really cold - 20 degrees F. Brrr! But it was a sunny bluebird day and we hit the trail for the final climb over Silver Pass.

Really cold!

Once on top we continued down the south side, past Silver Pass Lake and into the canyon below. We made two uneventful crossings of Silver Pass Creek and Mono Creek which in June of 2016 were raging torrents

Silver Pass Creek

After the last crossing we turned back toward the crest and Mott Lake. The next few miles would be new territory for us. Mott Lake was lovely but we had designs on camping at the next lake up in the basin - Rosy Finch Lake. We passed Rosy Finch Lake in 2014 during our hike of a section of the Sierra High Route and promised to come back. Rosy Finch Lake is stunningly stark and beautiful, nestled just below the crest of the Silver Divide. Finding a camp site was tricky, but Susan performed her usual magic and we had a good one.

Mott Lake

Cross-country climb to Rosy Finch Lake

Rosy Finch Lake

View of Rosy Finch Lake from our campsite up on a bench above

The close by Bighorn Lake which we visited for a look

Rosy Finch Lake as the sun sets

The next morning we joined the Sierra High Route for a crossing of the Silver Divide and return to the McGee side. 

Climbing to the Silver Divide

The descent from the Divide was uneventful. We picked a good contour line route that kept us at high elevation for an lunch time excursion to Red and White Lake, another new one for us.

From the Silver Divide looking north

Climbing toward Red and White Lake

Red and White Lake

From Red and White Lake we again contoured cross-country until connecting with the McGee Pass trail. From there it was a brief ascent to the pass and a long slog down toward the trailhead. The promise of a shower and warm bed after several very cold nights motivated us to plow through the remaining downhill miles to the car, arriving just minutes before sunset.

Red Slate Mountain

Fall blooming meadow Gentians with Red Slate Mountain beyond

Another look at the Silver Divide from near the pass

The trail descending into McGee Canyon from the pass

Big McGee Lake

Almost there!