SILVER DIVIDE TRAIL RIDE
John Muir Wilderness
Rock Creek to Mammoth
Day 1: Rock Creek Pack Station to Mono Creek (9 miles)
Leaving Rock Creek Pack Station (10,000 ft.), our route follows the Mono Pass Trail which ascends Mt. Starr to Mono Pass (12,000 ft.). During the first part of this section one has a panoramic view of Little Lakes Valley, an area with more than twenty lakes framed by towering mountains including Mt. Morgan(13,748), Bear Creek Spire(13,705), Mt. Dade and Mt. Abbott.
The Mono Pass trail is one of the oldest routes through the Sierra and was used by Native Americans many years before the first man came through which was the California Geological Survey in the early 1860’s. During this climb to Mono Pass, the trail goes through meadows with scattered limber pine and wild flowers, crosses a few small creeks and then climbs above timberline. At all times there is an unrestricted view of the overwhelming landscape.
The flowers and trees of the east slope of the Sierra Nevada represent a different life zone than the westside. The lodge pole pine and aspen forest gives way to the white bark pine sub-alpine area. Lupine, Indian Paint Brush, white phlox, mustard and mountain mint cover the landscape as we travel to the top of Mono Pass. It is not uncommon to see families of marmots and the occasional coyote.
After crossing the pass…. a barren landscape…the route starts an easy descent going by Summit Lake; immediately afterwards, Pioneer Basin, Hopkins Basin and the northern Sierra range comes into view. The trail proceeds down past Trail Lake to Gold Creek where we enter the heavier timber and headwaters of Mono Creek alongside which we travel through a long valley with green meadows, wild flowers, stretches of lodge-pole pine, aspen thickets continually broken by small feeder creeks coming from tributary watersheds. The sounds of the Clarke nutcracker break the silence of the wilderness.
We make camp near the confluence of one of the many streams cascading into Mono Creek. Majestic Mono Rock towers over the canyon to the south. There are a series of meadows and camping areas from Fourth Recess to Hopkins Meadow. This area was once the center of the Native American summer trading camps.
Layover Day ---Great areas to explore from a central camp alongside of Mono Creek. Side trips available to Third Recess Lake, Fourth Recess Lake, Hopkins Basin and Pioneer Basin.
Exploring Hopkins Basin…to Lower Hopkins Creek, which is a climb, is a one hour ride from the confluence of Mono Creek and Third Recess Creek. Once at the meadow, there is a trail that climbs straight up to Lower Hopkins Lake…about a 20-minute ride. Lower Hopkins Lake is the most beautiful lake in the Sierra – it sits on a high shelf, you would never know it’s there unless you have been there before. To make a circle route, continue up the inlet stream and drop over a small hill to Hopkins Creek. The green meadows, winding crystal blue creek winding through the meadow and the red talus slopes of Red Slate Mountain make Hopkins Pass one of the most colorful vista points of the trip. The views looking south over the Recesses are awesome. Carpets of shooting stars, buttercups and yellow flowers alternate with the lush meadows dotted by gushing springs.
Third Recess…in easy stages, Third Recess Lake is a forty-minute hike or ride. This canyon opens up south of camp and provides a remote basin to explore.
Fourth Recess Lake is a thirty-minute trek up Mono Creek and Fourth Recess Creek. This is an easy hike for those not wanting to spend much time on the trail.
Day 3: Third Recess and Mono Creek to Silver Pass Meadow (10 miles)
Traveling west to the John Muir Trail, ride through several life zones with groves of lodge pole pine giving way to the Jeffrey and Juniper Pine Forest. The trail parallels Mono Creek cascading to the side of the route. There are a wide variety of flowers, shrubs and trees as we descend to the large White Fir forest and tall aspens of First Recess. A short jaunt over a ridge and the Mono Creek Trail meets the John Muir Trail (Pacific Crest Trail). Going up the North Fork of Mono Creek there are spectacular stands of larkspur, white columbine and tiger lily as we enter Pocket Meadow. The trail zigzags up beneath the tumbling falls coming from Silver Pass Lake. Camp is in a sheltered meadow with a winding creek that abruptly ends at the granite cliffs overlooking Pocket Meadow. The panoramic views of the mountains to the south make this a favorite camp of those familiar with the John Muir Trail.
Day 4: Silver Pass Meadow to Cascade Valley (11 miles)
The trail follows the North Fork of Mono Creek through meadows as we climb to Silver Pass Lake. The trail skirts the eastside of the lake with a gradual ascent to the pass. The views to the south towards Bear Ridge, Volcanic Nob, Selden Pass and Seven Gables is one of the most beautiful panoramas in the Sierra. To the north, the wide expanse of Fish Creek, the North Fork of the San Joaquin River, the Minarets and southern border of the Yosemite are in view once we reach to the top of Silver Pass (10,900ft). The trail switchbacks down a wide granite and sub-alpine meadow bowl with five lakes in view. We descend to Upper Fish Creek through a forest of Hemlocks, Firs and lodge pole pine past small brooks and lush meadows.
The last two miles follows close to Fish Creek…many waterfalls and beautiful pools as we go down canyon through several meadows. Cascade Valley is an area of vast lush meadows. The name comes from being able to hear Minnow and Purple Creeks cascading into the valley to join Fish Creek.
Day 5: Cascade Valley to Mammoth (10 miles)
We switchback up 1500 ft. to Purple Lake to rejoin the John Muir Trail. The trail follows the ridge that overlooks Fish Creek and the San Joaquin River. Spectacular views back of the Silver Divide, Jackson Meadow and northwest of the North Fork of the San Joaquin River. The trail breaks west through small meadows in a Hemlock Forest as we climb to Duck Lake. We have lunch before rejoining the trail that follows up and around Duck Lake to Duck Pass (11,000). The trail to the roadhead descends 1800 ft. past many lakes with Mammoth Mountain and the wide expanses of the volcanic region of the eastern sierra in view to the north.
A van meets us to take us back to the pack station. Generally we arrive at Rock Creek around 5 PM.
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Rock Creek Pack Station provides all of its trips as a permitee of the Inyo National Forest.
Last Updated: February 20, 2014