OUR HIKING ADVENTURE continued in a very different setting today. Yesterday we walked high ridges exposed to the Sierra weather enjoyingunlimited vistas. And now we'll explore the confines of a quiet protected valley, crossing meadows and streams to visit four lakes snuggled in an intimate setting. Our hike began at the old Jamison Mine with its huge stamp mill designed to crush rock and extract valuable ore during the Gold Rush days.
The first obstacle we encountered might have been a product of those pioneer days: a hundred sets of stone steps on the gravel path that led us through a forested hillside. This natural "stairmaster" was a challenge for our old legs as we climbed the first 500 feet, but fortunately the path was shaded and well maintained by the forest service.
We followed the sounds of the rushing Little Jamison Ceek for awhile until we eventually came to a small waterfall where we rested with a sigh of relief. These creeks were the life blood and a valuable resource for the early prospectors, for they powered the mining equipment (pelton wheels and generators) as well as serving as their drinking supply.
We eventually reached the first meadow and climbed over a natural morraine that held back the waters of Grass Lake. (It was easy to understand the name with those grassy shores.) A few Canada geese and other migrating birds had taken up summer residence here, nesting and hunting among this rich food environment. Grass Lake is close to the trail and would attract fishermen and overnight backpackers, but we didn't see any activity except for our feathered friends.
At this point we had climbed halfway up the valley as we skirted the lake and around the base of towering Mt. Elwell and the Pacific Crest that loomed above. The snows had been light this year so the creeks were running low, but we saw many log crossings along the way that would be handy when the waters ran fuller.
Passing through a meadow we wandered through a fern grove and aspen trees until we arrived at a trail junction. Bearing to left we climbed switchbacks towards Rock Lake, Jamison and Wades Lake, and would eventually return to this spot after completing the three-mile extended loop.
Rock Lake lies a short distance across the creek beyond the Little Jamison Creek dam, and it's worth the effort. The trail ends at a friendly little body of water hanging behind a rocky moraine with primative campsites on its shore. The water's color is distinctive from other lakes, ranging from light turquoise to a deep azure blue - and it's crystal clear near the shore. What a perfect place for swimming and a great spot to pause for lunch -- which we did.
Following lunch we continued on to Jamison Lake, an elongated body of water in the shadow of Mt. Elwell hovering 1500 feet above, and accommodating "floating" rocky islands in the middle of the lake. Very cool! After five miles out this was our turn-around point on the trail loop. This medium-sized lake is a natural attraction for serious anglers who would enjoy a day exploring its shores with many inlets and deep fishing holes., hunting down the rainbow trout.
Before returning back to Little Jamison Creek, we climbed another set of switchbacks to visit Wades Lake -- the highest of the group -- simply because we couldn't leave without checking it out. And what a marvelous setting high up in the clouds! The clear waters reflected the summer sky like an artist's painting. It was inspiring and certainly a proper ending to our hike.
By the time we returned to the Jamison Mine, we had hiked ten miles in just over five hours with a total 3421' elevation gain according to my GPS. No wonder we were tired that evening, but we certainly had great stories to share at Happy Hour...