A Beautiful Blue Duck

Duck Pass Trail to Reds Meadow
(20 miles, +2,000/-3,500 feet).

This was originally supposed to be my first day on a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail with a couple of friends.   However, I hurt my ankle a couple of weeks ago, MixMaster hurt his back, and BarnFinder broke his toe.  Maybe the Universe is trying to tell us something?

My ankle is better now, and I already have the time on my calendar, but after my difficult solo experience on the Tahoe Rim Trail earlier this summer I decided to plan a shorter trip to do by myself.  The plan is to do about 80 miles in 4 days from the Duck Pass Trail to the John Muir Trail all the way to Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley.

I awoke at 2am this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I decided to hit the road early from San Diego.  I made it to Mammoth about 9am where I grabbed my permit and parked my car at the hotel I would return to from Yosemite.  Mammoth has a great free bus system and I used it to get out to Lake Mary, a one mile walk from the Duck Pass Trailhead.  By 10:30am I was on the trail.

Here we go!
My favorite dude’s wilderness
Climb up to Skelton Lake

The climb was quite shady and pleasant, and before I knew it I was at Skelton Lake.

Skelton Lake

I kept walking until I got to Barney Lake, where I took a quick dip.

Barney Lake and Duck Pass
A quick dip

The trail passed between Barney Lake and Red Lake before heading through barren rocks up to the pass.

Red Lake
Barney Lake
Rocky trail up to Duck Pass
View of the basin from below Duck Pass

After the pretty views of the lake basin below, Duck Pass itself was somewhat anticlimactic.  There were no views and no signs.  Just me and my umbrella.

Duck Pass

I headed down the other side of the pass to start my long descent for the afternoon.  What I found there really blew me away.  One of the most beautiful blue lakes I have ever seen in my life.  Its deep blueness reminded me of Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe.

First glimpse of Duck Lake
Duck Lake

The trail traverses high above the western shore of the lake, giving spectacular views that changed with the light.

Duck Lake
Sunlight on Duck Lake
View towards the outlet of Duck Lake
This lake is amazing!

I reached the outlet at about 1pm and took a break.  A lovely bird stood in the shallows, keeping me company.

Bird in Duck Lake
A wider shot of the bird

I thought about taking a swim, but then I remembered that Reds Meadow, where I could eat a cheeseburger, was open until 7pm.  I did the math and thought I could make it, so I cut my break short and pressed on.

Trail below Duck Pass

After a short descent I met up with the PCT.

Head left!

The trail followed the contours gently traversing downward and occasionally giving wonderful views of the Sierra.

Sierra view

By 3:30pm I made it to Deer Creek Crossing, where a lucky horseshoe may—or may not—have contributed to a nearby deer sighting.

Lucky crossing
Lucky deer
Lucky trail

By 4:30pm I made it down to 8,700 feet at Lower Crater Meadow and the Red Cones where I had originally intended to camp for the night.  My knees felt a little tweaky, but the lure of the cheeseburger was too strong and I decided to press on.

Red Cones
Water fills the trail near a beautiful seasonal stream

After some switchbacks, the trail passed through a dramatic burn area.  I later learned from the cashier at the Reds Meadow store that this fire (called the “Rainbow Fire”) took place in 1992.  It was really fascinating to see how the forest was recovering.

Rainbow Fire burn area
Rainbow Fire burn area
Berries in the burn area

By 5:45pm I made it to Reds Meadow.  A cheeseburger and shake never tasted so great.

Reds Meadow

I resupplied at the store and headed back to the trail to look for a campsite for the night.

I’m in the right place

The area around Reds Meadow is a network of trails because of its proximity to Devils Postpile Monument.  It was a little tough to find a spot out of the view of the trail and outside the monument (where dispersed camping is not allowed) but I eventually settled on a sandy open spot in a burn area that wasn’t too close to any potential deadfall.

Lying in my tent, I had cell service and I could even hear the last of the tour buses heading down the road from Reds Meadow.  I video-called my family, using my head lamp to light up the tent so they could see me, and afterward I watched the moon set for a while in the West before I drifted off to sleep.


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