BLAUERT: You can still get to Twenty Lakes Basin

October 15, 2013 

Two years ago I wrote about the beautiful Twenty Lakes Basin, just east of Yosemite's boundary. Although the boat service that ferries hikers across Saddlebag Lake during the summer months is already closed for the year, you can still walk the 1.8 miles from the parking area at Saddlebag to Greenstone Lake, the first of the lakes in the basin.

If the thin air of 10,000 feet hasn't tired you out at that point, there are plenty of other lakes to explore. It's a great destination while Yosemite remains closed to visitors and it will remain open until snows close Tioga Pass. To learn more about taking the ferry when it reopens next year, go to www.saddlebaglakeresort.com/" target="_blank"__gt__http://.

There's also a back way to the basin's lakes. About a month ago I hiked it on a weekend camping trip. It was a thrilling and challenging trek and my favorite part was actually the easy section that anyone in decent physical shape can enjoy.

The trail starts near Lundy Lake, an Eastern Sierra gem located just north of the town of Lee Vining. Lundy Lake is a natural lake that has been enlarged by a dam. It sits in a deep, narrow canyon that offers fishing, camping, and beautiful aspen groves. Although this year's fall colors are almost exhausted, it can still be an enjoyable hike. Or you can file it away for next summer or fall. Lundy Canyon's mines produced a lot of silver ore and ruins can still be seen.

To find the Lundy Canyon Trail, drive 7 miles north of Lee Vining on U.S. 395 and turn left on Lundy Lake Road. Follow the road past the lake and Lundy Lake Resort. At the resort it becomes a dirt road that ends 2 miles further at the trailhead parking area. It is a bit rough, but just about any vehicle can make it if driven carefully.

The trail follows Mill Creek for about 2.2 miles up Lundy Canyon. The canyon is spectacular, but the best part is the series of waterfalls and cascades along the way. In addition to Mill Creek itself, feeder streams run down the sides of the canyon. There are also some nice aspen groves. It's hard to find a more enjoyable place to hike. Many people make the upper falls their destination for a picnic before returning to their vehicles.

If you're up for more adventure, you can climb the south wall of the canyon to the Twenty Lakes Basin where sparkling Helen Lake is the first gem of the Twenty Lakes Basin that you will encounter from this direction. It's definitely a challenge though. There's no regular maintenance on this section of the trail, and it requires going almost straight up an extremely steep slope made up of loose shale. The path becomes less clear the further you climb.

The safest route appears to be the one that stays close to the solid rock face that sticks out on the eastern side of the shale. The rock face itself is too steep for hikers, but a relatively well-used route sticks fairly close to it. We were able to follow it with only a couple of wrong turns that required recalculation. In addition to the thrill of this dangerous and rather tentative trail, there's the added bonus of cascades that race down the steep rock faces of the canyon.

At the top we were rewarded with grand views of Lundy Canyon and Helen Lake. Although we made this our turn-around point after enjoying a lunch, it is definitely possible to enjoy more of the basin's lakes. You could also leave a car at Saddlebag Lake and finish you hike there, using that car to retrieve the one left at the Lundy Trailhead. With the ferry service closed, this makes a hike of about 9 miles, plus possible side trips to other lakes in the basin.

If, as we did, you hike the canyon as an out-and-back hike, the descent from Helen Lake to Mill Creek is actually more challenging than the ascent. The best route is easier to identify, but you'll probably do more sliding as you work to control your downhill speed and balance.

I heartily recommend the first 2.2 miles of the trail from the parking area to the upper falls. Although the trail climbs continuously, it's a mostly gradual climb. The remaining mile up to Helen Lake is thrilling, but should only be attempted if you have experience on dangerous, unmaintained trails. Mono County's Lundy Canyon Campground is a great place to spend the night. It remains open through mid-November, though nights can be very cold. Sites are only $12 a night.

For more information, go to www.monocounty.ca.gov" target="_blank"__gt__http:// and click on the "Parks and Rec. Areas" menu or call (760) 932-5440. Lundy Lake Resort offers a small store, fishing boat rentals and additional camping spaces in the summer. It is already closed for the season and should reopen for the Memorial Day weekend next year.

For more information, go to www.monocounty.org" target="_blank"__gt__http:// and choose "camping" in the "lodging" menu or call (626) 309-0415.

Adam Blauert is a correspondent to the Sun-Star. He's an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking, and exploring the western states. He can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com.

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