Snow falling on Sierra aspen
On our annual fall trip to the Eastern Sierra last week, we looked forward to escaping Santa Ana winds in exchange for cool, crisp days — perfect for hiking and the final fishing of the season. We got more than we bargained for. Within a few days, we experienced a temperature difference of about 80 degrees. The San Gabriel Valley was hovering at around 100 when we left, and two days later a cold front from Alaska hit the Mammoth Lakes area with temps in the 20s. It snowed about 4 inches. The shot above is of the Sherwins from Old Mammoth Road on Oct. 11. Although it's in the 60s during the day right now, it's staying cold at night and at this rate, opening day of ski season at Mammoth Mountain may come earlier than Nov. 13.
Fall color was nearly peaking in the areas we visited: the San Joaquin River, Rock Creek Canyon, Rush Creek, Hot Creek and Bishop Creek Canyon. Snow amidst the vibrant yellow, orange and amber of aspens, cottonwoods and willows made for some fine leaf-peeping photo opportunities.
We fished the San Joaquin near Minaret Falls campground, stopping at Minaret Vista (photo at left) on the way.
Weather was already moving in and we wondered which of the peaks was the one where Steve Fossett had crashed. A few days earlier, the search for his remains was halted after snow covered the site.
Water in the river was low except for occasional deep pools, and we managed to catch and release a few dinkers. The next day, with a storm on the way, we decided to forgo a day trip to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite and instead went to Little Lakes Valley in Rock Creek Canyon. It was a brisk 38 degrees according to our car's thermometer and the sky was clear. The colors were stunning and we decided to stop and fish at a lake about a mile in from the Mosquito Flat trailhead on the trail to Morgan Pass (photo below right). After a few hours, an eye-poppingly-cold wind blew in and peaks started to disappear. Fingers frozen, I was having trouble casting and wondered if my fly line was abraded.
Upon closer examination, it turned out the line and rod guides were icing up. While scraping ice off with my thumb, I broke off the rod tip. Oops. With that fishing finale, we skedaddled back to the car, where the thermometer read 22 degrees. Brrr. The thought of a grande latte back in town sustained us, but imagine our surprise when a sign at the Starbucks on the corner of Old Mammoth and Minaret roads declared it was closing the next day. I guess three Starbucks in a town of 7,400 is a bit much (the one in the Village closed as well, so the one in Vons is the only remaining outlet in Mammoth). Who needs 'em. A far superior java can be had at the Looney Bean anyway (try the Looney Latte).
It snowed all the next day, dumping powder on our plans. We still managed a short hike at Shady Rest Park and some fruitless fly fishing at Hot Creek (very low water with exposed weeds, as if conditions there aren't challenging enough). I got my rod tip repaired at Kittredge Sports, which I was told was overrun with media after store manager Preston Morrow stumbled upon Fossett's ID while hiking with his dog near the crash site.
Shown at left is the view of Old Mammoth Road from our cabin at Edelweiss Lodge (our favorite dog-friendly lodging, with great fall deals till ski season starts). We headed up to June Lake the next day, which dawned clear and a balmy 40 degrees. We followed Rush Creek along June Lake Loop Road (State 158), stopping to fish along the way. The colors were superb and a photography club must've been on a field trip because tripods were perched in the most scenic spots. We found a great fishing spot on the creek at the Aerie Crag day use area, between Silver and Grant lakes (photo below).
We considered heading to the Mammoth Lakes Basin, but a tunnel collapsed on Lake Mary road while we were there. (It's the one where Chair 15 crosses the road). I was told by an information officer at Inyo National Forest that it's expected to reopen by Thanksgiving. In the meantime, they're rerouting those who want to get to the basin to Old Mammoth Road. It's warmed up since last week and the road to Red's Meadow and Devil's Postpile has reopened (it closed briefly after the storm) but I'm told it'll close on Oct. 31, or after the next significant snow.
On our way out of town we drove up Bishop Creek Canyon and fished at Weir Pond, where I cast every type of fly in box but got nary a nibble. Fishing season continues until Nov. 15; check with Kittredge Sports for conditions, or the Trout Fly. And make sure to pack those fingerless fishing gloves.
— Julie Sheer
Photos by Julie Sheer