Leavitt to Crabtree

Join me, Steve and Brian on an epic and breathtaking 34-mile journey through the Emigrant Wilderness in the Stanislaus National Forest. Day 1 – Leavitt Lake to High Emigrant Lake over the volcanics of the Relief Peak Formation. Day 2 – High Emigrant Lake to Frasier Lakes, with perhaps the most stunning camp view you’ll ever see. Day 3 – Frasier Lakes to Gem Lake via Wood Lake. Day 4 – Gem Lake to Crabtree Trailhead. I’ve annotated every photo so please read the photo journal for a full description. I hope you enjoy the trip as much as we did.
  • The drop-off:  Thanks to my mom and dad who so generously dropped-off Brian, Steve and me at Leavitt Lake, the start of our epic backpack.
  • My mom and dad were happy to get me out of their neighborhood for a few days, but more importantly they love to come to the mountains to fish and enjoy the views.
  • I think we had a pretty good idea of what were getting ourselves into, thus we were very happy to get onto our adventuring ways.
  • My mom was "So Happy..." for us.
  • The initial grind of the hike out Leavitt Lake trail.  The first day was 8 miles... 1000' up, 1000' down, 1000' up and 1000' down to get to High Emigrant Lake.  Here Brian and Steve flash an early smile less than half a mile into the trip.
  • Steve shows us the initial climb up and over the looming peak behind Leavitt Lake.  The trail looks so defined becuase it used to serve as a ROAD to two tungsten mines that operated from the early 40's (WWII) until as recently as 1967.
  • The initial climb requires a bit of acclimation since the trail starts at 9700' and climbs to 10,800 over Big Sam.
  • The view from ridge crest behind Leavitt Lake.  This view is looking south-se towards the prominent Tower Peak (r-center) and Hawksbeak Peak (l-center) in Yosemite.  Tower peak is about 9.5 miles away from our vantage point.
  • Steve eats a snack overlooking Leavitt Lake.
  • A view of Leavitt Lake that not many folks care to obtain.
  • Brian's jacket was so funny, Steve about choked while laughing.
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  • A new addition since our last outing to the area in 2009 - Hoover Wilderness signage to demark the new acerage added in 2009.  Our trek through the Hoover would be brief.
  • Just in case it wasn't clear, this newer post reminds visitors of wilderness regulations.
  • Steve and Brian start the first trek down to the saddle above Kennedy Lake.  We're hiking on awesome volcanic flows and brecciated lahars (mudflows with angular broken rock chunks in them) of the Relief Peak Formation.
  • There is just something magical about the texture and velvet-like appearance of the unglaciated areas of the Relief Peak Formation.
  • Aren't the sweeping  "brush strokes of color" simply magical??
  • Steve can see the next five miles of our trail laid out very clearly along the mountains.  Big Sam is the large mountain peak just left of center and the point at which our trail dives into the Emigrant Basin.
  • PCT trail marker.
  • A look down Kennedy Canyon - excellently glacially carved.
  • Steve continues down the trail towards the saddle behind Kennedy Canyon.
  • Brian says "This is easy!"
  • PCT trail marker atop Kennedy Canyon.
  • Amazing blooms of lupine and sulphur flower.
  • Brian starts the long haul up to Big Sam.  You can see him for scale in the bottom-center of the photo walking along the Relief Peak Formation of volcanics.
  • A look down to the west over Kennedy Creek spring atop the Kennedy Canyon saddle.  There's quite a nice camp site here if you absolutely had to stop here.
  • The day was amazingly clear, as noted by the ability to see the Dardanelles in the far distance.
  • The trail/old road leading up and over Big Sam looking down toward Kennedy Creek Canyon.
  • Living on the edge:Alpine Gold.
  • Several minutes of climbing gets one a view of Kennedy Lake and its glacially-carved valley. The lake is home to a sporty population of brown trout that seem to grow abnormally large thank in part to "nutrients" from cattle grazing along the lake.
  • Steve pulls over for a refreshing refill of water before we head over Big Sam.
  • This snowmelt is headed over the precipice towards Kennedy Lake.
  • Steve models the water bottled at the source of the snow melt.
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  • After getting refilled, the grind up Big Sam continues.
  • Zig-zag-zig-zag-zig-zag.  The switchbacks seem to never end.
  • A look back toward Kennedy Canyon Saddle.
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  • Off we go into the wild blue yonder.
  • Yosemite was looking grand.
  • Almost atop Big Sam, we could take a peak at Lost Lake (see it in the cirque, L-center?).  It's waters feed into Kennedy Lake too.
  • This is the view for which I was hiking!   Our first look at Emigrant Meadow Lake (C) and Middle Emigrant Lake in the far distance.  We'd basically be heading toward the center horizon of the photo for the rest of the trip.
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  • Steve was loving it.
  • I can't fully describe how great one feels coming down this section of the hike.  It's emotionally overwhelming.
  • Looking back SE into Yosemite.
  • Looking back SE into Yosemite.
  • Looking back SE into Yosemite.
  • Looking back SE into Yosemite.
  • Steve provides a sense of scale for the descent
  • What a great place for a small lunch break!
  • Brian rests out of the wind just after summitting Big Sam (10,825').
  • Time to load up for the final push.
  • Brian's feeling the endorphins.
  • Cool, itty-bitty succulents.
  • Brian absorbs the view. Our destination was High Emigrant Lake on the far left of the photo.
  • High Emigrant Lake - our destination for the night.  Note the great little iceberg in the small pond in the foreground.
  • Super-tiny penstemon.  Maybe an inch big?
  • This is a great view to see the contact between the Relief Peak Volcanics (between 10-20myo) and the much older (~90myo) Fremont Lake granodiorite.  The Little Walker Caldera was responsible for recovering the granites with lava and mudflows long ago.
  • I'd never before seen a paintbrush / snapdragon of this color.
  • Trail down towards Red Bug Lake.
  • Fields of alpine penstemon guide our way to the lake shore.
  • I guess we're gonna have good luck this trip.
  • A look back towards Big Sam, from where we had just descended.
  • Steve was the first to reach the shores of High Emigrant.
  • Brian Reflects on the day's hike.
  • We had planned on camping at Emigrant Meadow Lake, but it looked a tad swampy with high chance of REALLY bad mosquitoes.  We opted for known good fishing and soft, weathered granite ground for the first night.  Mosquitioes were only a tad bad here.
  • These several erratics provide good cover in which to hide a tent.
  • With the tents set-up, it was time to stop dilly-dallying and catch some fish (while Steve slept-off his altitude issues).
  • Brian was the first to get in on the action this year after being skunked during last year's trip to Rainbow Lake.
  • The average size of the brookies in High Emigrant are crazy-big for the elevation (9700'). The fish average about 13-15" and a fighting pound+.  I've caught many near two pounds, but even the small ones fight hard!
  • The sun gets low as Brian fishes in the shadows of Big Sam.
  • High Emigrant Lake has a man-made element to it.  This check-dam was built in the 1920's-30's by Fred Leighton to bennefit fish populations during dry years.  Based on what I have read, it looks as though this dam will not be removed, but allowed to naturally deteriorate.
  • Someone took out a large chunk of the top of the dam in 2002-2003 but only got into the first layer.
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  • Brian enjoys a sunset dinner on the Topaz Lake granodiorite overlooking the lakes.
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  • The oxidized granodiorite and firey sunset make for a nice view.
  • Day 2 - Kicking around the camp I stumbled across quite a nice piece of petrified wood that seems to be pretty common in this part of the Relief Peak volcanics.  Thumb for scale.
  • DAY 2 - Our destination was Frasier Lakes via Mosquito Lake. This is just a few hundred yards past the outlet of High Emigrant Lake.
  • There's no formal trail from High Emigrant Lake to the Brown Bear Pass Trail, but the cross country is so easy that is doesn't matter.
  • DAY 2 - The first columbine sighting of the trip.
  • DAY 2 - Little Elephants Head flowers on the hike down to Emigrant Meadow Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Steve cools his feet.
  • Brian picks his way down towards Brown Bear Pass.
  • I kept finding petrified wood about every 400 yards.
  • Brian rounds the marshy end of Emigrant Meadow Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Looking down towards west end of Emigrant Meadow Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Snack break!
  • DAY 2 - North Fork Cherry Creek - One of the many creeks leading into Emigrant Meadow Lake
  • DAY 2 - A great little array of Sierra Stonecrop (yellow), Brewer's lupine (blue) and pussypaw (pink).
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  • DAY 2 -  The swampy shallows of Emigrant Meadow Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Looking west towards where Mosquito Lake (hidden on other side of mountain). I never got a close look at what the yellow flowers were.
  • DAY 2 - Geology Time!!  This is a great little area.  I took this picture standing atop the ~90myo Topaz Lake granodiorite.  Sometime about 25 million years ago new volcanic activity brought lots of new ash, lava and mudflows to the area covering the once exposed granodiorite.  The whitish layer in the middle of the picture is fine-grained ryholitic ash from the Valley Springs Formation that dates to about ~25myo.  Above it is the Basalt of Brown Bear Pass (note the columns) that is about 19 myo.
  • Gratuitous feldspar shot for Laura.
  • DAY 2 - Our cross country route diverted us off the Brown Bear Pass Trail for the saddle in the middle of the photo.
  • DAY 2 - Action shot.
  • Yellow, yellow, everywhere.  Water-plantain Buttercup.
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  • I'd definitely love to come back and poke around these rocks.
  • DAY 2 - I especially wish I had the opportunity to check out the oxidized orange bits.
  • Our ascent towards Mosquito Lake begins.
  • DAY 2 - Steve skirts the buttercup to gain access to the knoll.
  • BIG feldspar crystals.  Yeah!
  • DAY 2 - Perfect example of spheroidal weathering.  Chemical and physical forces more readily attack corners and edges due to their increased surface areas leaving rounded structures over time.  Note the nice build-up of soil.  Lots of weathering (breaking down of rocks) but very little erosion (transportation of weathered particles) is happening here.
  • DAY 2 - First contact with silvery lupine.
  • DAY 2 - Silvery lupine near Brown Bear Pass.
  • DAY 2 - Silvery lupine and Red Mountain Heather.
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  • DAY 2 - Brian makes his way up and over the saddle to gain access to Mosquito Lake.  Check out the great view of the Valley Springs Formation in the background.
  • DAY 2 - View of Emigrant Meadow with Grizzly Peak in right center of photo.
  • DAY 2 - Grizzly Peak and Saurian Crest in center background.
  • DAY 2 - Great jointing and old, weathering polished surfaces.
  • DAY 2 - After attaining the saddle near Brown Bear Bass, our first view of Mosquito Lake is revealed.
  • DAY 2 - Mosquito Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Interesting feldspar distribution (lens cap for scale on top of rock).
  • DAY 2 - Lupine-lined descent into Mosquito Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Brian weaves his way down toward Mosquito Lake.
  • DAY 2 - The amazing waters of Mosquito Lake.
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  • DAY 2 - Shoreline of Mosquito Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Steve needed a lunch nap at Mosquito Lake.  Brian and I fished to no avail.
  • DAY 2 - Mosquito Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Sandy outlet of Mosquito Lake.
  • DAY 2 - The stagnant outlet was our path out to the Lunch Meadow trail at the bottom of the canyon.
  • DAY 2 - A photo for my mom, a lupine lover.
  • DAY 2 - A photo for my mom, a lupine lover.
  • DAY 2 - Now THAT's what I call an erratic.
  • DAY 2 - Wandering Daisies and lupine in canyon above Emigrant Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Lunch Meadow Trail heading south towards Emigrant Lake.
  • DAY 2 - The faint pink in the far-center meadow is a mat of pussy paw.
  • DAY 2 - Silver lupine make the trail bearable.
  • DAY 2 - Steve marvels at the uprooted tree with a boulder stuck in it.
  • DAY 2 - Halfway from Mosquito Lake to Emigrant Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Halfway from Mosquito Lake to Emigrant Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Halfway from Mosquito Lake to Emigrant Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Halfway from Mosquito Lake to Emigrant Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Halfway from Mosquito Lake to Emigrant Lake. Note dear and other tracks in the point bar. I'm still a bit perplexed as to how such a large bar formed near the outer cutbank.  Must be an eddy here.
  • DAY 2 - Emmigrant Lake / Horse Meadow Junction.  We headed on towards Horse Lake.
  • DAY 2 - North Fork of Cherry Creek as it feeds into Emigrant Lake.
  • DAY 2 - North Fork of Cherry Creek as it feeds into Emigrant Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Our goal for the evening was getting to the top of the knob on the left of the photo.  To do so, we'd have to work our way around Shallow Lake.
  • DAY 2 -Steve said this area reminded him of a smaller scale Yosemite Valley.
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  • DAY 2 - Steve soaks in the good vibes from the North Fork Cherry Creek.
  • DAY 2 - And up we climbed again to get around peak 9534.
  • DAY 2 - First corn lilly spotting of the trip.  These still looked healthy.
  • DAY 2 - This part of the trail brought us into a new pluton of rock - the Fremont Lake Granodiorite.  The lens cap is showing scale for the large biotite mica crystals.
  • DAY 2 -  Biotite, feldspars everywhere!
  • DAY 2 - Junction of Horse Meadow and Middle Emigrant Lake Trails. Blackbird Lake in the background.
  • DAY 2 - Quick stop at Blackbrid Lake.  No luck fishing.
  • DAY 2 - Blackbird Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Blackbird Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Blackbird Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Interesting xenolith strip near W lake.
  • DAY 2 - W Lake.  Our x-counrty starting point to Shallow Lake and then Frasier Lakes.
  • DAY 2 - W lake.
  • DAY 2 - Shallow Lake.  I would imaging the islands would make for great camping in August after the skeeters go away.
  • DAY 2 - Steve scrambles up the rather steep steps and boulders behind Shallow Lake on his way to Frasier Lakes.
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  • DAY 2 - Our first view of "eastern" Frasier Lake.
  • DAY 2 - With our packs still on, we searched for a suitable camp site at the largest Frasier Lake.  When we saw the end of the "infinity pool" we knew right where I tent had to go.
  • DAY 2 - What a view of big Frasier Lake.!
  • DAY 2 - A small pond next to the lake.
  • DAY 2 - Yup, we found our spot!
  • DAY 2 - What a view!  Looking down on Emigrant Lake.  We had crossed the back end of the lake about 90 minutes earlier.
  • DAY 2 - Emigrant Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Emigrant Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Emigrant Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Steve enjoys the view, even though it was a tad buggy.
  • DAY 2 - Camp a couple hundred feet from Frasier Lake.
  • DAY 2 - Caught a little bit of the setting sunlight.
  • DAY 2 - Not a bad place to soak in a sunset.
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  • DAY 2 - Setting light.
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  • DAY 2 - The perfect end to a great day!
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  • Day 3 - We slept-in but still got a great view of the reflections.
  • Day 3 - Reflections on Emigrant Lake.
  • Day 3 - Reflections on Emigrant Lake.
  • Day 3 - Reflections on Emigrant Lake.
  • Day 3 - Xenoliths near camp.
  • Day 3 - I need to research how these feldspar "pineapple rings" formed.
  • Day 3 - The "pineapple rings" of feldspar seem to have developed in a sphere-like manner around clusters of more mafic inclusions.
  • Day 3 - Some of the rinds were thick, some thin as seen in the photo.
  • Day 3 - My great new gregory pack.
  • Day 3 - Pollen on the end of Frasier Lake.
  • Day 3 -  Frasier Lake.
  • Day 3 -  Frasier Lake.  Note the great glacial polish across the way!
  • Day 3 - Our goal for the day was to reach Gem or Piute Lake.  Steve wanted a route with a view.
  • Day 3 -  Emigrant Lake.
  • Day 3 - I am a rock, I am an island.
  • Day 3 - Steve says "hi" from his route.
  • Day 3 - It wasn't as bad as it looked here.
  • Day 3 -  Brian picks his way down towards a better route.
  • Day 3 - Emigrant Lake.
  • Day 3 - Working around the knob, we gained birds-eye view of east Frasier Lake with lots of pollen on it.
  • Day 3 - The smaller Frasier Lakes.
  • Day 3 - Smaller Frasier Lakes.
  • Day 3 - Amazing glacial polish and striations along our x-country exit route from the Frasier Lakes.
  • Day 3 - The goal was to find the old Chicken Ladder Trail at west end of Emigrant Lake and follow it to Starr-Jordan Lake.
  • Day 3 - And down we go towards west end of Emigrant Lake over nicely polished Fremont Lake Granodiorite.
  • Day 3 -  Brian does a great balancing act.
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  • Day 3 - Surprise fern above Emigrant Lake.
  • Day 3 - Brian says that was no sweat!
  • Day 3 - Brian walks on steps that show a great exfoliation pattern from unloading.
  • Day 3 - Our trail SHOULD have been in the canyon to the left.  SHOULD have...
  • Day 3 - Not being able to find the trail, we stuck to the left side of the trail along widening of the North Fork Cherry Creek.
  • Day 3 - Not being able to find the trail, we stuck to the left side of the trail along widening of the North Fork Cherry Creek.
  • Day 3 - Not being able to find the trail, we stuck to the left side of the trail along widening of the North Fork Cherry Creek. Surprisingly few mosquitos around this area.
  • Day 3 - Not being able to find the trail, we stuck to the left side North Fork Cherry Creek.
  • Day 3 - Gorgeous widening of North Fork of Cherry Creek.
  • Day 3 - Keep your eye on the far right cascade.  A surprise awaits in the next zoomed-in photo.
  • Day 3 - See the funny "C" inthe right fall?  That's a small brook trout trying to get back into the main pool above the fall.  We saw four or five futile attempts of fish trying to get up.
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  • Day 3 - A nice 10' fall.
  • Day 3 - Brian lends some scale to the fall.
  • Day 3 - Still no damn trail, but we did find Starr Jordan Lake (Background) amongst the ferns.
  • Day 3 - Starr Jordan Lake.  My friend Louie, who now lives in Washington, swears he caught 4lb rainbow in this lake 12 years ago or so.  We fished for over half an hour and didn't see any sign of life.
  • Day 3 - If you squint at the center of the photo you can make out a VERY faint trace of an old trail. This is what we had been looking for!  Too bad it only lasted in spots for 100 yards in three miles!
  • Day 3 - This is OUR Chicken Ladder Trail.  The ducks and trail on the right were non-existant. Wait, I take that back.  We found three trail ducks.
  • Day 3 - As you can see, getting lower means more scrub brush to deal with.
  • Day 3 - Brian does well with his shorter legs to get over the drops.
  • Day 3 - The first Mariposa Lilly sighting.
  • Day 3 - A cheery display of wandering daisy, pestemon & another yellow composite flower.
  • Day 3 - Wide and slow North Fork Cherry Creek.  Here we finally saw a hint of a trail near its intersection with a main trail.  There was also a 15" rainbow in the creek with some smaller brookies.  We all missed it.
  • Day 3 - We'd come a long way by this point.  Looking generally towards the east.
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  • Day 3 - A small lilly pad pond near Wood Lake.
  • Day 3 - Lilly flower near Wood Lake.
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  • Day 3 - The back end (east) of Wood Lake.  There's a great erratic on top of the hill, highlighted by a nice cloud.
  • Day 3 - Wood Lake Crossing. We saw a damselfly get sniped by a leaping trout here.
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  • Day 3 - Trail across Wood Lake.
  • Day 3 - Fishing at Wood Lake.  I caught a couple small rainbows here.  We saw bigger ones lurking around.
  • Day 3 - Our last push to Gem Lake!
  • Day 3 - Excellent glacial polish on the way up to Gem Lake.
  • Day 3 - Steve makes last push to Gem Lake.
  • Day 3 - I finally got myself in a photo near Gem Lake.  The day was rough on me.  I felt absolutely crappy (literally) for the next several days.  And no, it wasn't bad water, just a bug.
  • Day 4 - Morning at Gem Lake.  Having only seen 5 people total in the previous three days, we were bummed to run into the weekend crowd here.  There had to have been seven or eight camps around the lake.
  • Day 4 - Gem Lake.
  • Day 4 - Trail from Gem Lake to Paiute Lake had been re-routed with new switchbacks after the maps that I had used to plan the trip were printed.  The extra tread added a good mile to the day.
  • Day 4 - Ready to head home.
  • Day 4 - We're definitely not in the alpine zone anymore.
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  • Day 4 - Shooting Stars.
  • Day 4 - By this point in the trip we were still seven miles out and I was fighting-off a horrible stomach bug, so my photography took a back seat to "One foot in front of the other".
  • Day 4 - Paiute Lake.  Glad we didn't camp here because it was a longer haul than expected.
  • Day 4 - A huge, great juniper tree.
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  • Day 4 - Flash forward five miles and a swim at Camp Lake and we were home!  Thanks to Laura for picking us up at Crabtree on our anniversary!  I was a little teary-eyed.
  • Yup, we needed a shower.  THE END!!