Lakes of Cliff Creek

Late May, 1972

by Bill Finch

School was out. I was itching to get into the backcountry before starting my summer job. My wife said it looked too cold for her but encouraged me to go on my own. It was my second solo hike and the first solo that involved cross country hiking. I thought it would be fun to revisit country I had seen on my very first serious hike; a trip from Mineral King to Cedar Grove I had taken with fellow Boy Scouts in 1959. The area around Sawtooth Pass had intrigued me during that trip, so I felt it was time to take another look. I was dropped off at Mineral King and climbed up to Glacier Pass. The area still carried a heavy mantle of snow, but I managed to cross the divide without trepidation. Glacier Pass looked too steep to descend so I walked north on the ridge until I found a snowfield that looked safe enough to walk down. Glacier Ps
Glacier Pass

Shortly after starting down, I noticed something moving on a nearby outcrop. It was a scruffy and fearless pika. He posed for me as I took a couple of photos. pika
Pika Below the Divide - This scruffy but fearless pika looked like he hadn't stored enough hay for winter.

A little while later, I arrived at Spring Lake, the destination for the day. Spring Lk
Spring Lake in Morning Light - I began my climb to Cyclamen Lake before Spring Lake was in full light.

The next morning, I got moving pretty early and began the climb toward Columbine Lake, the highest of three lakes at the head of Cliff Creek. The ascent to Cyclamen Lake, the middle lake, from Spring Lake was routine. I arrived at Cyclamen to find it completely coverd with snow. Cyclamen Lk
Snow-covered Cyclamen Lake - Cyclamen Lake was completely covered by snow. I'd never seen a lake with snow on it before this trip.

The way up to Columbine looked steep and snow covered in places. When I arrived at the first large snow field, I was happy to see boot prints across it. Not long before, someone had crossed wearing crampons and leaving ice axe divots. I followed the tracks and they delivered me safely across the snowfields.
Crossing Snowfields on the Way to Columbine Lake - I'm sure glad somebody had crossed the snowfields before I did. I just followed in their footsteps.

Looking back on the experience, it still seems to me to have been one of the most foolish things I have ever done in the backcountry. One slip and I would have ended up in Cyclamen Lake and I would not be telling this tale.
lks from above
Cyclamen and Spring Lakes from Above - Cyclamen Lake was completely covered with snow while a few hundred feet lower, Spring Lake was almost clear of snow.

Finally, I arrived at Columbine Lake, and to my surprise, it was not covered with snow even though it is several hundred feet higher than Cyclamen.
Columbine Lk
Columbine Lake and Sawtooth Peak - The sky was completely clouded over by the time I caught the reflection of Sawtooth Peak in the crysal-clear water of Columbine Lake.

I turned east and walked down Lost Canyon. Lost Cyn
Lost Canyon Campsite - I shared this campsite with a hiker who was hauling supplies into Kern Canyon. Note the vintage 1970 model Kelty pack, North Face poncho and five piece Eagle Claw fly/cast rod - all antiques now.

I was looking for a place to catch my dinner and set up camp. After a lot of flailing around, I managed to catch a couple of small trout from the small stream in the canyon. Another hiker joined me that evening and the company was welcome.

On the final day, the weather turned interesting. By the time I passed by Sawtooth Peak and got to the top of Sawtooth Pass, storms seemed to be coming at me from every direction. Sawtooth Pk
Sawtooth Peak - Clouds form the backdrop for this truly beautiful peak.

Clouds were blowing in from the west and up Cliff Creek canyon at the same time. Without warning, lightning began to strike. The first bolt struck so close that I could smell the burnt rock. I dropped my (metal-framed) pack and headed for lower ground until the storm lifted. I hurried down to the trail head where I was happy to see our green Volkswagen in the parking lot. It was a great feeling to be reunited with my mate who encouraged me to go on the adventure even though she was worried I might not make it back in one piece.

24 January 1999
One Page Version 25 January 2013