Mono Pass and Little Lakes Valley, Eastern Sierra, CA. Higher up, a clearer look at Ruby Lake below (elevation 11,100 feet).
Mono Pass Trail Hike, Little Lakes Valley, California. Located about a half an hour from Bishop, the Little Lakes Valley is one of the easiest access points to the High Sierra in California. Turning off from Highway 395 at the junction of Tom's Place, a paved road leads straight up into the mountains, terminating at a place in the John Muir Wilderness called Mosquito Flat just over 10,000 feet in elevation (one of the highest elevation paved roads in the state). From here, you can take the relatively easy hike among the glacier-carved lakes along the Little Lakes Valley and Rock Creek. Or, you can take the more challenging paths, up into the mountains.
From the trailhead at the valley floor, the trail follows along Rock Creek for the first half mile, until you reach a junction, turning left abruptly up along the flanks of Mount Starr. Climbing steadily for the next mile up to 11,000 feet, where a small spur leads off to Ruby Lake, situated at the very edge of the treeline. The trail then turns left again, heading around the southern edge of Mount Starr, climbing higher and getting more rugged with each step.
Turning northward, leaving the last of the hardy vegetation behind, it's a landscape of greys and browns, bare rock and lichens. Finally passing over the wide saddle of Mono Pass at 12,000 feet at the 3 1/4 mile mark, it's like a moonscape. Even at this extreme elevation, this is one of the more easily accessible path over the nearly-impassable Inconsolable Range of mountains, and this pass has been used for centuries by Indian tribes and (later) explorers. Yet it is only snow-free for a few short months during the late summer and early fall.
From here, the trail levels out, dropping slightly to Summit Lake half a mile to the north - a clear blue snow-fed depression at 11,900 feet. From here, the trail continues along the western slopes of the Sierra Crest, first to a little cirque called Fourth Recess, then into Pioneer Basin - far too remote for a day hike and reserved for only the dedicated backpackers. I turned around and returned back along the Mono Pass Trail, down to Ruby Lake and then back to the Little Lakes Valley. Sunburned and exhausted but satisfied to have explored this remote corner of California.
This is a popular place to hike, and there are plenty of other
photographs of the region by others on the internet. For more
information, here are a few websites to visit:
Hiker Technologies, including topographical map
Natural Born Hikers
Picture taken September 29, 2007. Photo #22 of 70 in my Mono Pass Trail photoset.
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