Back Packing The Ansel Adams Wilderness

back packing the ansel adams wilderness

Back packing the Ansel Adams Wilderness in northern California is an unforgettable experience.  The views of hard granite mountains and jewel like alpine mountain lakes is breath taking.  My wife dehydrated over 15 pounds of expertly prepared meals in our Excalibur 9 Tray Deluxe Food Dehydrator.  I whittled the food down to about 12 pounds to fit my pack.  My back was just under 4o pounds.  

Back Packing The Ansel Adams Wilderness Overview

Back in high school, I was a huge fan of the photography work of Ansel Adams.  I saw this as my chance to experience the terrain Adams traveled on and enjoy the beauty of this remote region of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range.

This was not my normal camping trip.  Most of my camping now is experienced in our Ford Club Wagon in national forests and parks.  Backpacking is not something that I do every year since I am happily married with 2 kids.  

I called my old buddy Frank and suggested that we get together to go fishing on back packing trip.  Frank loves to fish.  My guess is that he stocks his hot tub with live fish in his back yard to hone in his angling skills.  I enjoy fishing as much as I do target shooting.  Too much shooting or fishing tires me out. 

Frank goes back packing with intentions to fish.  His routes always include multiple stream crossings and camping at trout filled alpine lakes.  I go on adventure trips listen to the quiet voice of God by viewing his wonderful creation of beautiful mountains, alpine lakes, bubbling  streams, and to eat amazing fresh fish and tasty foods that my wife packed for me.

My buddy Frank actually packed a 2 man inflatable rubber raft to increase his odds of catching more fish.

Get An Early Start To Enjoy The Day

We were supposed to be on the road by 7 AM and I did not get out bed until 6 AM.  Being an extremely fast hiker, I knew I could make up the time with an accelerated pace.  I arrived at Frank’s around 8 AM and we left shortly after he introduced me to his cat.  Frank was not keen on the late start.  I t

My feet are suffering on and off with a bad bout of plantar fasciitis.  Because of this injury, I changed out all my equipment and go ultra light.  The only equipment that was not replaced was my MSR Simmerlite stove.  Everything else was brand spanking new.

My Transition From Hiking Boots To Barefoot Trail Running Shoes

I started the trip in a pair of Merrel Trail Glove barefoot road running shoes. The are comfortable enough to wear without socks the entire back packing trip.  I felt every rock under my feet.  Having a good ground feel kept my stride short and I was able to anticipate a slipping rock or surface before it could cause a twisted ankle.

I advised Frank that I did not want to go on any cross country trails.  I was thinking that 5 miles a day for 6 days would be okay since I know that I have at least run up to 35 miles in day.

We started the trip at Fernandez trail head, elevation 7600 feet.  Our first campsite was only about 4 miles out from where we started.


Fernandez Trail Head To Lady Lake

Lady_LakeWe packed up all over our gear again at the Fernandez Trail head parking  lot  and were ready to hit the trail by 3:30 PM.  I immediately discovered that the lever to the real of my fishing rod was missing.  Good thing I carried my ultra-light rod and and reel that Frank deemed useless.

Frank stayed true to the course on day one by choosing Lady Lake that was maybe 4 miles from the trail head.  It was so easy that I almost felt guilty for hardly walking.  Since we arrived at camp so late, poor Frank barely had anytime to fish.  I did not care one way or the other as I got to cook up an incredible batch of home made dehydrated chili that my wife made for me.  Lady Lake was absolutely wonderful.  Frank said that it the fishing would be great.  He never mentioned that we went at least one mile out of our way to get there and that we would have to back track the following day.  The mosquitoes were sort of bad too.  No big deal since I had a new Sea to Summit Mosquito Head Net with Insect Shield.

Day 2- Hike to Lillian Lake

Frank's fishing boatThe hike to Lillian Lake was so easy that I hardly remember it.  More time for my partner to fish.

Frank was like a dog on a leash until we arrived at the lake.  All he wants to do is fish.  Frank had his boat and fishing gear before I had my tent in order.  He caught nearly every fish in the lake and threw most of them back in.  I fished as hard as ever and managed to catch one large fish which Frank insisted that I release since his boat was already full of fish. 

Remember the story of the Jesus’s future disciples catching so many fish that they broker their net?  Frank’s one of the disciples.  I spent a nice hour touring around the lake in his inflatable raft.  It was a lot of fun.  I never caught a fish.  Did not matter to me since Frank catches enough for us and anyone camping near us.  He ought to  charge for his service by taking rich business men on exotic fishing trips.  They will never have to lie to their wives or girlfriends about how many fish they caught after fishing with Frank.


You cannot go wrong with any lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.  Most of the lakes including Lillian were full of fish.  Even the ones without fish were beautiful. We visited so many lakes that it’s hard for me to recall them all.  My unpaid wilderness guide, Frank, has them all memorized with personal notes about each lake on his ancient topographical map.

Day 3 Cross country hike to Rutherford Lake

I like cross country running. I used to compete and love it. But cross country hiking is another story.  You can get lost in a matter of minutes.  Animal trails start looking like foot paths.  Piles of rocks like trail markers.  Frank and I got separated looking for the trail.  Both of us over 50 years old.  I told Frank that I found a bunch of trail markers.  His usual response is “Yes, they are markers, but they could mark any trail.”  I know that they are the right markers. I let Frank go back to his “fishing” map (it’s a real topographic map with all his fishing notes). He is convinced that he knows where the real trail is. 


As I head up high I notice a piles of rocks indicating a trail. Frank advised staying close to our lunch spot .  Frank is no where to be found.  I walk back to where I last saw him.  We both start yelling and it echoes back and forth.  He walks away from me and I away from him. 

When we  finally do meet up, Frank is visibly upsets and reprimands me for not following directions and getting too far away. Whatever.  I found the trail, but both of being stubborn, over 50 years old, etc. we will not give an inch.  I let Frank think he is in charge of the expedition again.  It works to have one guy know where we are going.  All the lakes tend to confuse me.  He talks for hours about lakes from previous, current, and future fishing trips.  I think we should have stayed at one lake to save on the confusion.

Day 4 Monster hike to Lower Isberg Lakes via Post Pass

This is one of the those hikes that you hope to never do, but are way glad that you did it.  My tour guide Frank, says it’s only a 9 mile hike.  I heard that before.  Yet he is anxious as ever to hit the trail early.  The problem is that Frank’s Steripen not working.  I left the back up purifier in his truck.

I take my morning java and head over to the next campsite and say “hey” to Ross.  He’s a nice young man with lots of cool equipment.  He works for a former employer of  mine.  I casually admit to him our quandary.  I offer to buy his MSR water filter.  He politely refuses my offer and says that I can use it and return it later. 

I break the good news to Frank and he still is not happy that I am slow at moving out of camp for our hard hike.  I may sound conceited and over confident, but 9 miles is nothing for this old dog.  Ross throws in a battery to boot for Frank’s broken Steripen and advises us that it’s not that safe for drinking water.  We finally hit the trail at 830 AM.  Hey, it’s only 9 miles, so what’s the big deal?  We will be at camp by 1 PM.

Frank's Fish

Keep The Hiking Pace Slow

After getting lost once or twice and eaten alive by mosquitoes, we make our way to a beautiful sub-alpine forest.  The mosquitoes are scarce.  I see a wild grouse darting off the trail.  It’s trying to act as a decoy to her young chicks.  We eat a nice 45 minute lunch in meadow gazing our 11,000 foot mountain pass that we are about to hike.

While making serious elevation gain, I loose Frank.  I can see his bobbing every so often behind me. I hike at a pace that my old swimming buddy, Tom, calls “pay as you go”.  It’s moderate and does not leave me out breath.  I make up to Post Peak pass by 1230 and I know that it was extremely hard.   I eat lots of food, call my wife and kids (gotta love 3 G phone service!) and rest for 45 minutes waiting for my fearless leader.  When Frank finally arrives, we make snow cones out of the nasty stuff called Mio, that actually tastes really good.  It’s full of all kinds of artificial flavorings and sweetener.

Day 6-1 hour hike to Sadler Lake and Cora Lakes

While not exactly a day of rest like one would expect, we really took our time.  I drank a  cup of brewed coffee while watching a mother duck and ducklings gliding across Lower Isberg Lake and marveled at God’s beauty.  The sun casting a golden hue on the mountain back drop made the morning even more enjoyable.  I could have stayed here all day, but we needed to move onto Sadler Lake for fishing.

After drinking several cups of gourmet coffee brewed in the Finum Coffee Brewing basket, we leisurely walked to Sadler Lake.  I was in no hurry to fish as I was still tired.  

I could have stayed here for the entire day and pretend to enjoy all the fishing.  Frank was on a mission to go another 4 miles to Cora Lakes.  My head is swimming trying to remember all the lakes.

Sadler Lake Fishing

The fishing at Sadler Laker was by the far the best fishing that I had in my entire life.   My professional fishing guide let me paddle around the lake in his small boat to catch more fish. I lost count of all the fish that I caught.  Frank must have caught over 50 even though he admits to less.    Good thing he put most of them back in.  I ate at least 3 fish for lunch and I was full.

After lunch, I caught and cleaned one more fish because Frank was still hungry.  We carried the rest to Dora Lakes to eat and give away to other campers.

Dora Lake is an easy 2 hour hike down hill.  We made it there just before the sun set behind the mountains.  I jumped the cold water to bathe a second time.

After dinner we fished again and came up empty.   There were plenty of fish biting just out of reach of my tiny fishing pole. Even Frank could not land one because the water was too shallow.  We needed the little yellow fishing boat.

My fishing guide was nearly out of food.  I heated some dehydrated chili that my wife put together for us.  I went real light on the chili season and it nearly killed Frank because he does not like spicey food.



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