Lakes of the Red Mountain Basin

June 12-14 2001

by Bill Finch

I didn't spend much time in the mountains in the year 2000 so I was determined to make up for it in 2001. My first hike was planned for one of my favorite areas, the Red Mountain Basin. I arrived at the Forest Service office in Prather at seven in the morning and was disappointed to find that it would not open until 8:30. There was no sense in waiting so I continued toward the trailhead. I figured that I could get a wilderness permit at the Dinkey Creek Ranger Station, but it was closed too. Feeling frustrated, I drove to the market nearby and asked when the ranger station would open. The proprietors thought that the ranger wouldn't be in that day but offered to write me a fire permit. They suggested that it would be all right to drop off my itinerary at the ranger station, so that's what I did.

Day 1

I arrived at the Maxon Trailhead at 8:50. Shortly after hitting the trail, a curious doe walked toward me, then bounced away when I made a sudden movement. It was a beautiful, cool day, perfect for hiking. Later that morning at the Hobler Lake turnoff, I decided to check out the view from a nearby ridge. What a surprise. Below to the west was Courtright Reservoir. Courtright Res
Courtright Reservoir - A ridge just south of the Hobler Lake turnoff provided this lovely view.

To the east, Mount Goddard and its neighbors poked their heads above the LeConte Divide. LeConte Divide
LeConte Divide - The view to the east from the ridge was great, also.

Clouds began building in the afternoon as I crossed Post Corral Creek and climbed to the ridge leading to Red Mountain Basin. Finally, I arrived at my destination for the day, Rae Lake. I had the lake to myself and picked a spot on the northwest shore. After dinner, I enjoyed watching mist rising from Rae Lake and the rainless clouds that blew overhead. Rae Lake
Rae Lake - Although it was cloudy and misty, no rain fell at Rae Lake.

A low bank of clouds blew to the north. Through windows in the lower cloud bank, I could see the upper clouds blowing to the south.

Day 2

I slept in the next morning and awoke to crystal clear skies and what promised to be a perfect day for hiking. Rae Lk
Rae Lake - The next morning was sunny with crystal clear skies.

I began my exploration a little after eight and headed northeast toward Lower Indian Lake which turned out to be a disappointment. It's appearance was rather bland for my taste, so I snapped a quick photo and continued up Fleming Creek. L Indian Lk
Lower Indian Lake - The first lake of any size that I passed was this rather unattractive lake.

By mid-morning, I reached Upper Indian Lake which was much more to my liking. I continued north past the lake to Mosquito Pass. Mosquito Ps
Looking North from Mosquito Pass - Mosquito Pass is a window into the San Joaquin River Drainage.

I was surprised to find the north side of the pass was very steep and a cornice at the top blocked further progress. cornice
Cornice at top of Mosquito Pass - A cornice blocked passage down steep Mosquito Pass.

I hadn't planned on crossing the pass, but I was curious about prospects for using it some day. After a little scouting, I found a promising route across granite slabs west of the "pass". From Upper Indian Lake, I contoured along the west flank of Mount Henry to my next destination, Turf Lakes. U Indian Lk
South from Mosquito Pass - Upper Indian Lake is right next to Mosquito Pass.

The pleasant route was partially forested, with good views of Lower Indian Lake L Indian Lk
Lower Indian Lake - Lower Indian Lake looked a lot prettier from the ridge above.

and the Fleming Creek Valley. About an hour later, I crossed an ice cold stream which became a shady snack spot. Further contouring finally brought me to Turf Lakes. Turf Lks
Turf Lakes - Turf Lakes, high above treeline, are seldom visited.

It's not difficult to see how the lakes got their name. They are fringed in lush grass which stands in stark contrast to the rocky surroundings.
From the outlet of Turf Lakes, I followed the stream down to one of the larger lakes in the basin, Davis Lake. Davis Lk
Davis Lake is far enough off the trail to give plenty of privacy.

Moving south up an almost dry drainage eventually led to the top of the ridge separating Davis and Diamond X Lakes. Far below was a small, unnamed lake. ? lk
This small lake also offers privacy and an early sundown.

Dale Lake Dale Lk
Dale Lake is a good destination with good fishing for brook trout.

and Fleming Lake were tiny, blue jewels in the distance. Fleming Lk
Fleming Lake is the first lake that is encountered when entering the basin from the main trail.

A short walk to the east led to Diamond X Lake, an alpine gem at tree line. Diamond X Lk
Diamond X, another gem far off the trail.

From there, I walked near a swampy, unnamed lake which did not tempt me to venture nearer. swampy lk
I didn't want to veture too close to this little bog.

At mid-afternoon, it occurred to me that I was getting a bad sunburn. A cool breeze had been blowing all day and I had forgot to put on sunscreen. Having visited the north part of the basin, it was time to move to the southern part. My destination was Disappointment Lake, certainly a misnomer because it is one of the most delightful destinations in the basin. Disappointment Lk
Disappointment Lake - One of my favorite destinations in the basin . . .

I found a perfect camp spot on the south side of the lake near its southern inlet stream. As shadows lengthened, I headed to the outlet with my camera, hoping to capture scenery bathed in evening light. I made a mental note of several small, secluded campsites I discovered on my way to a high point south of the outlet. As the mountains turned to gold, I finished off the roll of film in my camera. alpenglow
Alpenglow - There was enough time at the end of this day to attempt to capture alpenglow on the mountains surrounding Disappointment Lake.

That evening, the rushing stream lulled me to a refreshing sleep.

Day 3

Another perfect day dawned. After breakfast, I headed up the southern inlet stream toward Horseshoe Lake. I didn't expect what I found. Horseshoe Lake has many personalities. It is warm and colorful, Horseshoe Lk
Warm and Colorful Horseshoe Lake - Horseshoe Lake, a many faceted gem.

cold and bleak, Horseshoe Lk2
Horseshoe Lake, Cold and Bleak - Horseshoe Lake, a many faceted gem.

a crystalline beauty. Horseshoe Lk 3
Horseshoe Lake, Crystalline Beauty - Horseshoe Lake, a many faceted gem.

Just a little above Horseshoe lay Arctic Lake, a relic of the Little Ice Age, its small, tiny moraine giving it life. Arctic Lk
Arctic Lake - This relic of the Little Ice Age comes complete with a mini-moraine.

Just north of Arctic Lake and over a rocky ridge lay the giant of the basin, Hell for Sure Lake. HFS Lk
Hell for Sure Lake - Above this huge lake lies the pass that gives it its name.

It was time to head back to the trailhead and I figured I had just enough time to visit the last half dozen lakes of the basin during my return. I descended the outlet stream from Horseshoe Lake and contoured around a spur of Mount Hutton to Blackrock Lake, out of the way and certainly worth another visit in the future. Blackrock Lk
Blackrock Lake is a worthy destination, the huge wall across the water forming a magnificent backdrop.

I continued contouring over blocky talus, eventually arriving at Big Shot Lake. Big Shot Lk
How many visitors to the Devil's Punchbowl have neglected to visit this small lake just upstream of the main attraction?

A quick descent past Little Shot Lake brought me to perhaps the loveliest lake of the basin, the Devil's Punchbowl. Devils Punchbowl
Devil's Punchbowl has it all; beautiful scenery, good fishing, great camp sites, and an intriguing name.

As I moved around the north and west shores of Devil's Punchbowl, Jigger Lakes came into view far below. Jigger Lks
Jigger Lakes - Far below the cliff wall that dams the west shore of Devil's Punchbowl lie these lovely lakes.

A marvelous view up the Fleming Creek valley included the steep cliffs at the edge of the Devil's Punchbowl. Fleming Crk Valley
Fleming Creek Valley - The view north from Devil's Punchbowl includes the cliff just a stone's throw west of the lake shore.

Pine pollen rings on a hunk of granite close to the shore recorded the recent lowering of the lake's level. pollen
Pollen rings on the nearshore boulder record the receding waters of Devil's Punchbowl.

Soon I crossed the outlet stream and started down Meadow Brook toward the North Fork of the Kings River. I passed the last lake, or rather pond I would see on this trip in a meadow of Meadow Brook Valley. pond
The return down Meadow Brook included a view of this little pond.

I stopped for a hot dinner at Post Corral Creek and reached the trailhead at about 9:30 that evening. It was a marvelous trip. Where was everyone? I didn't see another soul during the entire trip.

09 October 2001
One Page Version 24 January 2013