Isberg Pass Trailhead to Hemlock Crossing
(9 miles +2400/-1900 feet).
Ever since we had to alter our Sierra High Route section hike last year, MixMaster and I have wanted to go to Bench Canyon and Lyell Fork. It is supposed to be one of the most remote and beautiful parts of the Sierra.
This summer, we had originally planned to do the Clark Range loop in southern Yosemite with our buddy ChiaGlyph, but since all three of us increasingly enjoy cross country travel, our plans gradually morphed into a combination of that loop and last summer’s unfinished business.
Starting at the Isberg Pass Trailhead, we mapped out a loop that would take us up the North Fork of the San Joaquin to Bench Canyon, Blue Lake and it’s eponymous pass, Foerster Ridge, Lyell Fork, and then over to the Clark Range before heading back out the Fernandez Trail.
One thing that surprised me today: it takes a long time to get from MixMaster’s house in Aptos to the Sierra! It would only be 1-2 hours longer coming all the way from San Diego. I guess this state is designed more for north-south travel!
We picked up ChiGlyph in San Jose and headed to Madera. After a longish wait in a very authentic Mexican place in Madera, it took us an hour to get up to North Fork where our permit was taped to a door outside the closed office. Then it was another hour and a half to the trailhead. By 3pm we were hiking.
The trail climbed through deep woods up to a place called “The Niche” where we got our first open views of the forest and distant mountains.
The trail leveled off, which was nice, but passed through several meadows, one of which was aptly called “Bugg Meadow.” Soon it was DEET and headnets all around.
When we peaked the ridge over the North Fork San Joaquin, we got some really lovely views and some wind to keep the bugs at bay.
Alas, we dropped back into woods and back into the bugs. At Hemlock Crossing we got water at a beautiful waterfall and then searched for a campsite.
Within five minutes we found an established site, complete with a fire ring that we would not use. We donned rain gear to ward off the mosquitoes, set up our tents, quickly ate dinner, and hit the hay.