Where: Emigrant Wilderness, Stanislaus National Forest, Sierra Nevada Range California When: May 29th and 30th 2015 Who: Ben, Sarah, Pat, Terri, & Mark (dogs: Inky, Happy, Desi, and Lulu)
Trailhead: Crabtree, elevation 7,160′ to Gem Lake elevation 8,230 ft
We started our trip with a drive from Oakland, Ca with a few friends and dogs in tow, stopping at the Summit Ranger Station to obtain our permits for the Emigrant Wilderness overnight, then continuing on forest roads to the Crabtree trailhead.
The weather was beautiful and we had just missed heavy rains and a little bit of snow two weeks before. We headed in around 10am towards Camp Lake, our first break destination. It took some adjusting to navigate between our four dogs, trekking poles, and creek crossings but we all figured it out soon enough and got to Camp Lake (2.6 miles) around 11:30am. What a beautiful spot! We all relaxed and were only bothered by a few mosquitos, if only we knew what lay ahead!
Soon after we headed out towards Lily Pad Lake where we would stop for lunch. This lake is unnamed on the map but commonly called this because of the obvious lily pads that float throughout it. Lily Pad lake was just as great as Camp Lake with large granite boulders to relax on, warm sunshine, and limited mosquitos. The dogs especially enjoyed the snack break and begging for beef jerky!
We got going again and shortly headed through Piute Meadow, which was very pretty but had areas where the trail had flooded from the previous heavy rains and that is where the mosquito torture began! Every time we stopped even for a moment they swarmed us to bite through our lighter clothing and anything that was exposed.
I was glad we had made sure all the dogs were current on heartworm medication and had brought some picardin spray we could spray into our hands and rub on their coats, in areas they could not lick, as they were getting eaten up pretty bad too. We also got lost for a little while going along Piute Creek and ended up bushwhacking a bit before we decided to backtrack and found the trail that crossed over the creek. Luckily after crossing the creek, which I slipped and fell in on my butt in, we finally came out into drier areas of granite with views all around us.
We could even see some snow on the distant peaks. The next few miles were pretty steady in elevation and we cruised right past Piute Lake anxious to get to our campsite at Gem Lake for the night. The next mile past Piute lake is up viewless switchbacks and makes for a tedious and difficult ascent.
Everyone was feeling a little low on this stretch and the dogs were getting pretty tired as well. The mosquitos at least are leaving us alone and we were wonderfully surprised by the quiet beauty of Gem Lake, which we had all to ourselves with a wonderful campsite. We setup our tents and got a little fire going in the campfire ring to dry our socks from all the wet trail of the day (legal in this area when fire alerts are not in place and with a campfire permit) There was tons of wonderful granite to spread out on and cook our dinners, great logs to sit on and wonderful views of the surrounding lake, rocks, and trees.
We were all shortly in bed after sunset and a tough 9.5 mile day of 1,000ft elevation gain, the bulk of that in the last 3 miles. The night was super clear and the moon so bright I had to put my bandana over my eyes to sleep since it was glaring through the tent wall. We were also serenaded by frogs until the first light of dawn. I kind of appreciated the croaking since I think it would have been so completely quiet otherwise. In the morning we started up the fire again and watched the sun come up over the granite walls while we made breakfast and enjoyed our coffee.
We headed out of camp around 9am to start our loop back that would take us by Groundhog Meadow and Grouse Lake. The way back was a little less mileage (8.7) than the way in and would afford us with some different views than the day before. We headed down and around Gem Lake onto a large granite mountain where it was hard to keep on the trail, it would have been impossible if others had not placed rock cairns along the way. We finally headed down to an area with dirt and found the trail easily as it wove along a canyon. Here we could see snow in between the trees on the other side of Buck Meadow Creek.
We followed along Buck Meadow Creek for a while and soon came to a beautiful waterfall, which slightly made up for the having to shortly cross the very swollen creek to continue along the trail on the other side.
We stopped for a lunch break shortly before the granite stairs began (where the dogs immediately passed out for naps)
It was a lot hotter today and there was a lot more sun on this side of the trail so far but really wonderful views. There are also lots of crazy granite stairs on this side.We also had to go along some very marshy, flooded, and mosquito filled areas as well which did not put us in the best of spirits. Everyone trooped along though and enjoyed the amazing wilderness around us. We finally hit Grouse Lake a little over half way but shortly moved on as we were all looking forward to our planned stop at In N Out on the way home.
We only saw one group of about 5 people headed in on the trail all day, it was a very quiet trip for us not running into others to stop and chat with along the way. We hit an area of pine shaded switchbacks on the home stretch, which I carried our little dog Inky up most of the way because she was beat and had some pine sap stuck between her paw pads making her not a happy camper. We finally hit the trail marker we had turned off on the day before for Gem Lake and were shortly back to our cars. We ate all the food at In N Out and scared some younger girls who thought we were just plain gross and dirty, haha!
Take aways: All and all it was a great trip but we did have some tough moments! WHEN I go back it will be later in the season (to avoid mosquitos, those jerks really know how to ruin a party) and for a longer trip to space out some of the climbing to enjoy it more. This was also only our second real backpacking trip so knowing what we do now and how to pack lighter I think we would enjoy it a lot more as well! Plus I would bring booties for the dogs because there was a lot of pine sap and the granite was tough on their city slicker paws. Lessons learned!