Ted's Hiking World Elephants Back
Mokelumne Wilderness

July 8, 2008

It is projected to be 107° in the valley today — the highest temperature of the year to date.  This seems like a great time to be elsewhere, despite the terrible air quality resulting from 300+ active California wildfires.  Besides, I am most anxious to visit my favorite "local" hiking area for the first time this season.

Having gotten a very late start, I reach the trailhead at 1 p.m., where three parking spaces remain available.  The parking fee went up from $3 to $5 this year; but my Golden Age Pass obviates the expense.

The first mile of trail is shady, but otherwise unremarkable.  Plenty of flowers already are in evidence, however.

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Sierra Beardtongue

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Sulfur-flower Buckwheat Western Blue Flax

Beyond the Frog Lake spur, it is a short distance south to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.  There are flowers everywhere here, including gorgeous pink skyrockets in unprecedented numbers.

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Elephants Back, 9585*

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Slendertube Skyrockets These relatives seem to have lost their pink

I head up the PCT toward Elephants Back, determined to attempt a frontal assault for the first time.  Last year, a similar plan was thwarted by gale-force winds; at that time I went up the backside anyway, but vowed never to do it again under those conditions.  Today's breeze is modest and shouldn't pose a problem.  Not surprisingly, my walk soon is sidetracked by ever more flower types.

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Broadleaf Stonecrop Ballhead Gilia
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Mountain Monardella Lupine
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Mountain Dandelion King's Smooth Sandwort

Those dandelions sure are cute.  Ambling up the trail just far enough to look down the other side of the hill, I encounter this notice to northbound hikers:

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It is time to commit to the ascent.  The upcoming 600-foot climb rates to be an adventure, as the going will be steep and rough, and there is no trail.

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The mountain is waiting

This route proves taxing indeed, at least for this semi-aged soul.  Numerous breath-catching stops are in order.  Also, the scree is so loose that I am compelled to walk on plants or sporadic bigger rocks as much as possible.  In one area no such aids are available, necessitating a slow, slippery scramble to a more solid surface.

The effort has its rewards, however.  Before climbing far, I have the pleasure of logging three new flower types in as many minutes.

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Lichen on the talus Mountain Snowberry
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California Polemonium Davidson's Penstemon

What serendipitous finds on this slope!  I would see no more of these species today.

About halfway up the mountain is a flat spot beside the cliff where the PCT is in view below.  At the brink of the drop-off are a couple of tall thistles, seemingly in command of the area.

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Beside the north face

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The Pacific Crest Trail zigzags down the slope Graygreen Thistle

A few more rest stops enable me to reach the top.  Two youngsters from the Tahoe area are here already, sporting fishing poles in their packs.  Go figure.  One of them invites me to look at his rocks, which I do.

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Looking north from the summit

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Does this contain some gold? A fascinating marking

Judging from their demeanor, I think these guys are stoned.  I cannot be sure, however, and they didn't offer me any weed.  I remark to the "geology buff" that this hilltop demarcates the Great Basin itself.  Water from Frog Lake and everything east of here flows to the Carson River and the Nevada desert, whereas the other lakes outlet westward toward the Pacific Ocean.  In any case, the man either was not particularly interested or not particularly coherent.

The summit marker and cache box are missing; that's odd; I saw them last year.  There is a nice eastward view ranging as far as the Pinenut Range in Nevada.  Even this arid volcanic rock pile supports a lot of flora.  It is most enjoyable being up here right now.

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The haze isn't so obvious if one looks eastward Groundsel and Prickly Phlox garnish the summit area

There is a convenient place to cross the twenty-foot gash in the mountain top, after which is is a short distance southward to a first view of spectacular Winnemucca Lake in the shadow of Round Top, the area's highest peak.  It is much less steep at this end of the hill, making it easy to amble down to gentler slopes.

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Winnemucca Lake and Round Top, 10381*

There are three small ponds just this side of the lake; many hikers never see them or even know that they exist, because those tarns are not visible from the main trail.  In order to get from here to there, it is necessary to negotiate an area that I call The Jumbles.  Actually, it is more of an obstacle course — an expansive stretch of jumbled granite boulders.  Unlike a typical talus slope, however, The Jumbles has a special flavor; the gaps among the rocks are filled with grasses and sage and flowers!  Despite the time-consuming nature of this crossing that requires some delicate balancing and hands-on scrambling, I find it a lot of fun.  One cannot be in a hurry here; the challenge is to guess the easiest route.

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Looking back at the back of The Back Paintbrush and Mule Ears decorate The Jumbles

Having frequently veered left toward smoother going, I find myself eventually overlooking the eastern end of Winnemucca Lake, bypassing the three ponds completely.  Across the way is a cascade that I have not seen before; it is noisier than its size would suggest.

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This little cascade makes its presence known

It's time to stop for a well-earned lunch.  A glance at my handy-dandy combination altimeter + barometer + compass + chronometer + thermometer + spirit-level indicates that it is 4 p.m. already.  Horrors!  The time has passed much more quickly than I had anticipated.  I am expected in Sacramento for a seven o'clock bridge tournament; yet there are miles of trail and 95 miles of highway between me and the game site.  This means that I won't be able to dawdle much for the remainder of my trek, and I don't like that.  Oh well, it serves me right for mismanaging my schedule.

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Winnemucca Lake

There is a usage trail along the northern shore of the big lake, with spurs leading to the little ones.  I will have to forgo my planned side trips today.  But I refuse to pass up a quarter-mile detour to the lake's outlet in order to commune with my heathered friends.

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Gateway to Paradise

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Non-stop greenery everywhere Sticky Cinquefoil
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Whitebark Pine Red Mountain Heather

An irridescent butterfly awaits me just across the creek:

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This one is called a Greenish Blue

This is one of the best-feeling spots north of Yosemite.  Oddly enough, I have the place completely to myself at the moment; nary another soul has been seen for quite some time.  Unfortunately, I cannot tarry.  Fortunately, it is an easy 2-mile jaunt back to the trailhead, through a lovely spring-fed meadow at the perfect time of day.  And of course, there always is time for more photos; I do have my priorities.

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Fleabane Daisy Crimson Columbine
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Ted's Garden Elephant Heads
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Sierra Stickseed Sierra Bluebells, or soon will be

Now it's just a matter of putting away the remaining distance to the car.

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Beside Elephants Back

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Frog Lake

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The final lap


§: One could not ask for more flowers than I saw today; the display was incredible.  That's why I refer to this area among friends as Ted's Garden.  I logged eleven new varieties, and I'll be back soon to see how the usual suspects of August are doing.  By the way, I kept my appointment on time.

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