A Family Outing
My first venture into the Meysan Creek Basin was on August 10-13, 2006. What I had trouble believing was how a place of such stunning beauty could be deserted. But our party, me, my daughter and youngest son (both in their 20’s), was not complaining. We had the place all to ourselves and didn’t see a single soul for nearly 3 days. The trailhead is just a mile down on Whitney Portal Road from the Mt. Whitney trailhead. But overnight permits are easy to get for Meysan even in August.
The 3 of us drove up from L.A. Wednesday evening, August 8. We drove into the Whitney Portal Family Campground looking for room at the inn, but it was full up. We did catch a bear cub in our headlights roaming around the camp. It reminded us to take the usual precautions with our food.
We then decided to try the Portal’s Hiker Walk-In Camp and found plenty of room there. Around 11 p.m. we threw our sleeping pads and sleeping bags on the ground and enjoyed a nice slumber under the mildest of weather.
Meysan Lake Trail Gets My Respect
The next day, I drove down to the Lone Pine Visitor’s Center to pick up our permit while my kids had breakfast in bed. When I got back, we drove to the trailhead. Parking for the Meysan trailhead is alongside the road right above a large campground. We arranged our packs and headed down into the campground to pick up the trail. The trail follows on the west side of Meysan Creek and generally stays high above the creek. There are only a couple of places, until you reach the lakes at about 4 miles, where you can feasibly climb down to the creek to replenish your water supply. Lone Pine Peak is a constant presence to the east of the trail. And of course there are flowers along the trail like these:
This trail got my respect immediately. It was a little over 4 miles to our camp at Camp Lake (11,220’ elev.), but about 3,400 feet of elevation gain went with that mileage. With a full pack, I don’t mind admitting that I was hurting at the end. I was glad that my kids had insisted that we camp within the treeline, rather than at the treeless area around Meysan Lake itself (about another hour away from Camp Lake with our packs).
At Camp Lake, Mt. Irvine’s sharp profile looms to the southwest (see photo below) with Mt. LeConte standing prominently to the south.
To top off the magnificent views from our campsite, the face below the ridge that goes to Lone Pine Peak looked like golden granite bathed in the afternoon sun.
Our water source was a babbling tributary of the creek surrounded by beautiful grasses and flowers. There is something about sitting around in such a beautiful setting filtering water and chatting about nothing in particular that is very relaxing.
The only glitch to this wonderful day was my son getting a touch of altitude sickness that lasted throughout the night. The usual: headache and nausea. As a parent will do, I kept vigil throughout the night as I heard him get in and out of the tent to relieve his nausea. Fortunately, in the morning, he felt much better.
A Vigorous Day Without Peak-Bagging
Given my son’s bout with altitude sickness the night before, I didn’t push to get my kids up for an alpine start to attempt Mt. Irvine and perhaps Mt. Mallory. They slept until 7 and then we had a leisurely breakfast. My son said he’d recovered enough for an outing so we prepared our day packs and headed off for Meysan Lake. It is a lake of incredible beauty as you can see from the following photos. In the first photo, the lake seems to have the shape of a pig. And take note of those scree chutes just above the lake. My daughter, Alicia, is in the third photo.
We made our way down a talus field to the lake. Here are Daniel and Alicia taking a break by the flower-lined bank.
We then put on our scrambling/climbing faces and positioned ourselves at the base of the chutes that lead to the plateau between Mallory and LeConte and those that lead you to Mt. Irvine. Here's a shot of LeConte (from a vantage point near the top of our route):
We elected to take what is known as the East Chute of Mt. Irvine and commenced a scree scramble up to the snow sections. Here is a shot of our route.
I had planned for us to go up the snow slope, but the snow was rather hard and I wasn’t able to kick steps deep enough for my son and daughter to comfortably follow. So we scrambled up the rocks on the right-hand side of the snow field instead. Third class stuff. As we went up, we got wonderful views of the lakes in the Meysan Basin. In the photo below, Grass Lake (middle) and Peanut Lake (on the right) are prominent.
Also along the way, I noticed this V-configuration, which looked to me like a mountain yawning.
We finally made it to a plateau-like area from which we could go right to get to Irvine. However, by this time, Alicia and Daniel decided that they probably weren’t up for getting to the summit and the return trip to camp. While Alicia rested, Daniel and I took a short hike over to the far side of the plateau from which side we could see Mt. Whitney. I then gathered the troops and we headed back down.
On a lower snow field, I took advantage of the opportunity to have the kids practice self-arrest. When we got back to camp a little after 3 p.m., Alicia and Daniel immediately got comfortable lying out in the sun on their sleeping pads with paperback in hand. Later, we had a nice dinner, read a little bit, and went to sleep under a full moon.
Lone Pine Peak and Peanut Lake
Saturday morning, I got up before the kids to filter some water and ready the cooking area for breakfast. I also put a 135mm lens on my camera and snapped photos of a morning full moon lingering around the top of Mt. Irvine. Here is one of the photos.
Our plan today was to climb Lone Pine Peak. So after breakfast, we headed off to cross Meysan Creek and find the big chute (Northwest Slope route) leading to the summit ridge. Before heading up the chute, we stopped to visit Peanut Lake. Here is a good shot of it.
Peanut Lake is a hidden gem well off the beaten path. It cannot be seen from the Meysan Trail. In fact, you have to drop down a substantial distance and cross the creek to get to the lake from the trail. My son and I decided we would come back here for further exploration and perhaps a swim after our Lone Pine Peak climb.
We embarked upon the Northwest Slope route. It was a horrific scree slog with lots of loose rock to be wary of. I didn’t really enjoy this route except that it was a good work-out. We scrambled all the way to the large plateau that sits below Lone Pine Peak. There are great views of Mt. Whitney from here. Here's one of them.
We then headed over to the ridge leading to the summit. We could have probably stayed lower on the ridge than we did. Instead, we bobbed up and down with the contour of the ridge for a good long distance before we got to the summit. As we had lunch, we were entertained by a hang glider drifting first up Lone Pine Creek canyon and then toward us in the Meysan drainage. Seems to me that climbing peaks in the Sierra is substantially less risky than traversing its canyons on beds of air.
On the return, we made quick work of the descent of the chute. At this point, my daughter announced she didn’t want to return to Peanut Lake (from the bottom of the chute route to Lone Pine Peak, it was still a good additional 250 foot vertical descent to the lake) and that she would find her way back to camp. Dad of course became a worry-wart about her heading out cross-country alone to find our camp, but she wouldn’t be deterred. As my son and I headed down to the lake, I kicked myself for forgetting to give her my whistle for use in case she got into difficulty. But hey, you’ve got to let go sometime, especially when your kids are already adults.
Daniel and I had a wonderful time exploring the boundaries of Peanut Lake and hanging around on the large rocks jutting into the lake. To top off our visit, we stripped to our skivvies and jumped into the water for a swim. Even in the summertime, the water temperature of a mountain lake at 11,000 feet is mighty exhilarating. You have got to time your swim just right so you can get back to shore before you get too numb to move your arms and legs. Here is a shot of Mountain Impulse enjoying Peanut Lake.
THIS IS WHAT LIFE IS ALL ABOUT!
Back at camp (naturally, I was immediately relieved to see my daughter’s backpack next to her tent), we saw other campers in our vicinity. Oh well, we’d had this part of the Meysan Basin to ourselves for almost 3 days. We spent one last pleasant evening in this glorious basin.
Sunday Brunch Along the Meysan Trail
Sunday morning, after breakfast and packing up, we hit the trail back to civilization. On the way, we saw two young deer bounding downhill through rocks and bushes like kangaroos. Momma was not far behind and she stopped to graze not 25 meters from us. I took out my camera and she continued grazing unconcerned even as she heard my shutter going off several times. Here’s a picture of momma deer having Sunday brunch along the Meysan Trail.
It’s hard to beat Sundays like this!