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Emigrant Wilderness

The final trip of my Advanced Wilderness Skills class this quarter was a student-led backpacking trip to the Emigrant Wilderness. I’d never visited the Emigrant Wilderness, but it was described to me as a larger, less-crowded Desolation Wilderness. I knew the Desolation Wilderness to be a gorgeous area, so I was excited to explore Emigrant.

We left campus at around 7:00 PM on the evening of Friday June 1. The drive along Highway 108 was long. We stopped in Mi-Wuk Village to pick up a wilderness permit at the ranger station there, and continued east along the highway until we reached Crabtree Road. After several miles of poor-quality, mostly unpaved roads, we reached Crabtree Campsite, our home for the night, at around 12:30. We went to bed immediately, most of us sleeping out under the bright, almost full moon.

Kat and Jessica at camp Kat and Jessica at camp

At 8 the next morning, we woke up, made eggs for breakfast, and packed our backpacks. The plan was to hike in a little over six miles to Granite Lake, spend the night there, and then hike another six miles or so on Sunday to complete a loop back to Crabtree. We were on the trail by 10, and made good time to the first landmark on our maps, Camp Lake.

Camp Lake is a beautiful alpine lake set beneath soaring hills and enclosed by tall trees that provided welcome shade in the hot weather. Unfortunately the warmth also meant that the mosquitoes were already in full force. As we followed the trail to the south of Camp Lake, we slapped at mosquitoes that attacked our legs and faces.

After Camp Lake, the scenery became even more spectacular. Though the peaks of the Emigrant Wilderness might not be as high or as dramatic as those of the Desolation Wilderness, they dominated our views in all directions. We continued following the trail over rocks and through meadows until we reached Bear Lake. If anything, Bear Lake with its shores of exposed granite was even more beautiful than Camp Lake. We stopped for lunch and ate a leisurely meal on the shores of the lake.

The trail beyond Bear Lake was mostly unmaintained. We followed it as well as we could for about three quarters of a mile until we reached a sheer cliff above a fast-moving stream. Though the experienced backpackers in our group would have had no problem crossing the stream, we had qualms about some of the beginners. I scouted the trail about a quarter mile ahead until I found a safe crossing point. But when I returned to the group, it was evident that Jessica, one of the beginners in our group, was unable to continue. A mix of altitude sickness and lack of sleep had conspired to make Jessica so tired that she simply could not keep walking. Fortunately, we found an excellent camp site nearby.

Bear Lake Bear Lake

By this time it was only about 3:30 in the afternoon. Once Jessica was settled in a warm sleeping bag, the rest of the group discussed what to do with the rest of the day. We decided to split into two groups, one of which would stay at camp to be nearby for Jessica while the other would climb a nearby ridge to look at the view. I went with the first group to climb the ridge.

When we were about two thirds the way up, I heard Adrian yell “Rock!” from above me. I saw Nellie, who was climbing between Adrian and me, get slammed in the head by a rock about the size of two baseballs. I helped Nellie climb down to safe ridge while Michele got out her first aid kit. After cleaning and bandaging Nellie’s wound, we started down the ridge back towards camp.

Bear Lake from the ridge Bear Lake from the ridge

But after we’d descended about fifteen feet, Nellie asked if we could still go to the ridge. After the initial shock of the wound had worn off, she seemed absolutely fine, so we changed directions and headed back up. When we reached the top, we were greeted with a spectacular view of Bear Lake and the surrounding mountains. We spent a few minutes on top and then returned to camp.

Bear Lake from the ridge Bear Lake from the ridge

While the other group climbed the ridge, we relaxed and began cooking a dinner of Cous Cous and beans. When they returned, we ate dinner and then went to bed. Despite the mosquitoes, most of us slept outside again. At around 9 PM, the sky was incredibly dark, and we could see a vast amount of stars. However, over the next two hours, the full moon rose above the mountains encircling us and washed out all but the brightest stars. I drifted off to sleep as the moon rose.

The night sky over Emigrant The night sky over Emigrant

The next morning we broke camp quickly and began hiking back the way we had come. We reached Bear Lake very quickly. Our pace was faster because Jessica, who had slept sixteen hours the day before, was feeling much better. When we reached Camp Lake, we went swimming for half an hour. The alpine water was surprisingly warm and very refreshing. We ate lunch while we dried off and then continued hiking towards the trail head.

We reached the parking lot a little after 2 PM. Despite the injuries and illness, we’d managed to have a good time in a breathtakingly beautiful area. During the long drive back to campus, I found myself wondering how soon I might return to see more of the Emigrant Wilderness.