A Summit Whirlwind

Ruby Lake to Mosquito Flats via Summit Lake
(6 miles, +1,100/-2,000 feet).

Today was Day 2 of my Father’s Day trip to the John Muir Wilderness, and I can say without a doubt that it was my favorite day of hiking ever!

It started around 5am as we awoke to alpenglow on Ruby Lake.


We ate some breakfast and packed a daypack full of snacks and water and extra clothes for a trip up to Mono Pass.

First we had to climb down a bit from Ruby Lake.

Ruby Lake outlet

A few minutes later we hit the junction for the trail up to Mono Pass and started our climb.  The views down to Ruby Lake and up to Ruby Peak were stunning.

Ruby Lake
Ruby Peak
Pasta Jay snaps some photos

The trail heads southwest and then turns northwest, where we entered shade and soon encountered snow.  We paused to put our micro spikes on before heading up to the pass.

Here we go, in the snow!
View up to Mono Pass

We had to stop for a bit when we passed an icy slope that was perfect for glissading.


We continued up to the pass, taking our time in the high altitude.

Almost there!
Moonset over the mountains

By 7:30am we made it to the high point of the trail.

Group photo at Mono Pass

I originally thought we might want to climb Mono Pass Peak, so we headed off trail up in that direction.

Climbing Mono Pass Peak
View of Mono Pass from above

We got about halfway up to the peak and the scree started getting pretty slippery.  Pasta Jay was worried about falling, and I was worried about the last few hundred feet being covered in snow, so we decided to traverse at about 12,300 feet to a ridge above Summit Lake.

First view of Summit Lake

When we got to the ridge we could really see just how much snow we would have needed to negotiate to finish the climb.

Mono Pass Peak

We also got some amazing views to the northwest of Mount Hopkins and Red and White Mountain.

Mount Hopkins and Red and White Mountain

A crazy thing happened on this ridge.  It was beautiful and perfectly calm, so we opened up the daypack to get snacks and laid our stuff down on the ground.  As we chatted, Pasta Jay said he was feeling a little nervous about how deep we were in the unknown.  I tried to make him feel better, noting that it would only take a couple of hours to reach the car if we ran.  I said “we are perfectly safe.”

At exactly that moment, a whirlwind hit us, sending everything flying into the air.  My puffy jacket, the Pringles, my hat—everything!  Fortunately, everyone acted fast to recover all our items that landed up to 100 feet away.  I couldn’t locate my jacket, but the boys had seen it go over the ridge and when I headed over there I found it between two rocks where I could (thankfully) reach it.

The only thing we couldn’t find was my ziplock with my toothbrush (it got into the daypack by mistake).  It’s certainly a blemish on my usual commitment to Leave No Trace, but maybe some marmot will have fewer cavities!

We calmed down a bit and then decided to head down to Summit Lake.

Coming down from the ridge
Snow field below Summit Lake
DoubleSub negotiates the sunups

We took a good long break at the lake, resting and enjoying the extreme beauty.

Summit Lake panorama

Pasta Jay skipped some rocks.

How many skips?

DoubleSub took a nap in the sun.


And I went swimming.

I can’t feel my feet!

Pasta Jay wanted to climb a bit above the east side of the lake where he said he saw a little lake from the ridge on the other side.  I didn’t believe him because I hadn’t seen it and it wasn’t on the map, but sure enough we found a beautiful little tarn.

Pasta Jay’s hidden lake
View of Summit Lake from above

On the way back down we found lots of beautiful details from ice crystals to alpine wildflowers.

Ice crystals
White flowers
Alpine succulent

We eventually decided to head back down, but first we needed to get some water.


As we were departing the lake we heard a huge splash reverberate throughout the valley.  When we turned around we saw that a huge 30 foot chunk of ice had broken off and fallen in the water. SO cool!

We spent some time looking in the inlet waters to Summit Lake, finding evidence of life everywhere we turned.

Inlet to Summit Lake
Tiny cricket on the snow

We eventually got back to the snow field below Mono Pass where we put our micro spikes back on.

Here we go again

Early this morning the pass was covered in shade, but it was now shimmering under the sun.

View down from Mono Pass
View of the trail from the bottom of my glissade

Once we got back down to where we could see Ruby Lake, we got more amazing views.

Ruby Lake

Alas, the breeze had disappeared over the course of the morning.  The mosquitoes took advantage of the calm, chasing us down the trail all the way to camp.  It was only noon when we got back, but because of the bugs we decided it might be better to leave on a high note.  So we packed up and headed back to the car.

I can’t believe how beautiful this place is.  It makes me really understand why John Muir fought so hard to protect the wilderness.  I’m so happy I got to share it with my boys, and we will definitely be back!


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