Last year at this time we had already had done several backpacking trips. Since the Sierras kept getting snowed on through the first of June, Nathan and I decided to hold off on doing a trip until the second week of June.
Throughout winter we discussed different possibilities on where to go for our first outing. Numerous locations came up in conversation. However, about a week prior to going we finally settled on taking the trail near Huntington Lake at Badger Flat. The plan was to take off Friday afternoon and be on trail by 2 and head towards Ershim Lake. From Ershim we would day hike to both Rock Meadow and Rodeo Meadow on Saturday and home on Sunday. If we hit a ton of snow we would camp at Big Creek and head home on Saturday. Seemed like a doable safe plan until we went to pick up our permit at the Forest Service in Prather.
Once we advised the Forest Service where we were going they told us Badger Flat was closed. After a little discussion, we asked what was open and what trailheads were others using. At that point, they advised us that Crown Valley, Rancheria, and Woodchuck trailheads were open. In addition, we were advised someone pulled a permit to go to Tephite Valley a few hours earlier. Almost simultaneously Nathan and I laughed knowing there is no way in hell anyone can get to Tephite Valley due to the creek crossings.
Since I took Rancheria Trail to Chain Lakes last fall with my nephew, I was comfortable with taking that particular trail to Duck Lake. My brother agreed so we pulled a permit and headed up towards Wishon.
Once we were back in the Jeep, we had a little discussion on what took place in the Forest Service and our thoughts on it was “Whatever” we’ll make the best of it. The hour drive was uneventful until we got about 100 yards from our turn off to the trailhead, there was a vehicle stuck in the snow that was on the road with three guys trying to dig it out. Obviously we knew we had to help and pull them out with Nathan’s Jeep. What amounted to about a 20 minute delay, we got them out on their way and we headed towards the trailhead parking area.
Finally around three o’clock the brothers were on trail for the first time in 2019. About 100 yards in we spot our first little bit of snow on the trail. After a mile or so we were crossing snow on the trail frequently. In addition, we crossed several runoff drainage’s. At one point, Nathan missed his step and got a shoe full of water.
Before we were two miles in, we had lost all signs of a trail and basically navigating off of instinct. Occasionally I would look at the GPS to confirm we were headed in the right direction. We knew if we stayed to the west of Rancheria Creek we would be in good shape. We also knew that we had to cross the creek at some point before a meadow or we would miss our junction.
Not to long after entering the John Muir Wilderness we were trekking on four to six feet of slushy snow. In some spots there were up to 10 foot drifts. Trail markers normally just above eye level were at our ankles and very easy to miss if we weren’t paying attention. At one point, I was 25 yards or so behind Nathan following his steps when the snow gave way and I was belly deep in a snow hole. Typically, this kind of thing happens near rocks or down trees that are covered by snow but not this time. There was absolutely nothing around, just a hole.
After couple of hours on trail it was time for a quick snack break consisting of jerky. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to rest to long, since we still had a couple of miles to go and we were both wet up close to our knees. Around six thirty we started looking for a snow bridge safe enough to cross Rancheria Creek. Once we crossed the creek, we approached a meadow that was the size of a football field that had water running through it with 10 foot snow walls on each side. We stayed east of the meadow and worked our way up to the lake.
Around seven we arrived to a snow covered frozen Duck Lake. After a quick glance of the lake, we split up to look for a spot to make camp, I went low and Nathan went high. After a couple of minutes, Nathan found a spot semi-level that had a snow free area between a couple of trees where we could build a fire. I went to gathering wood and building a fire while Nathan set up the tent.
After camp was established, we sipped on a beer and stood around the fire while waiting for enough coals to cook our dinner consisting of Fresno State Jalapeno Popper Sausage and Knor’s Louisiana Red Beans and Rice.
Saturday morning was spent drying out our clothes and shoes by the fire before we took a stroll around the lake. The north side of the lake had a little area by the inlet that looked fishable once the quarter inch of ice melted off. To speed up the process we broke up the ice as much as we could. After our ice breaking fun we headed to the south west part of the lake where the view was just beautiful. There were areas where the lake was started to thaw and the emerald colors were popping through the mostly snow covered lake. A truly amazing sight. I am positive that we saw Duck Lake at it’s finest.
An early lunch and a little nap on the south shore of the lake is just what we needed to get us motivated to try our hand at fishing. We could see fish where we had lunch so I took a chance and waded in the freezing cold water out to a couple of logs I thought I could hop up on and fish from. Unfortunately, the logs moved further out once I started to get up on them and I found myself chest deep scrambling back to shore. Let me tell you the sun never felt so good.
Once I dried off, we headed back towards the inlet to see if the ice layer had melted off so we could fish and sure enough it did. I tied a Copper John on to my Tenkara rod and Nathan went with an ice cream cone. Needless to say the Brook Trout had no chance, we were having fish for dinner!
We cleaned our fish and headed back to camp to get a fire started so we could cook some supper. While we were waiting for enough coals to accumulate to bbq our trout, I decided I would fry one up in my little pan for an appetizer; it was delicious.
With our bellies full, we headed off to bed early since neither one of us slept very well the previous night.
Sunday morning we woke up broke camp and headed out. Following our footsteps from two days prior was more difficult than you would think but for the most part we stuck to the same path. we stopped once for an early lunch and another time to visit with fellow hikers who were curious of the trail conditions. By 12:30 we were back to the Jeep and on our way home.
Thanks for reading, I also created a short video of the trip. It can be found here: https://youtu.be/05kuJztXjao