Hemlock Crossing

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.

Here we go!

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 Niche
Howdy Ansel

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.

ChiaGlyph admires the North Fork
Ritter is teasing us!

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.

Lovely water hole

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.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Mark says:

    I’m hoping you get this. Not sure how this blog works.
    I’m wondering what kind of topo maps you use on trail. If you run into a problem you often say we saw another trail on the map and took that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. James Fowler says:

      On my phone I use GaiaGPS and be sure to download USGS 7.5 and USFS maps in advance for the area I will be hiking. I also use paper maps when available (I love the Tom Harrison maps in California). And I’m a little obsessive, so I spend some time poring over the routes before I go out to think about alternates. One last thing: I have downloaded GPS tracks used by others for many of my hikes and I keep some things on there permanently like the Sierra High Route and Southern Sierra High Route and the HST list of backcountry passes which describes their level of difficulty.


  2. Mark says:

    Thank you James. The Tom Harrison maps look good. I think ill grab a couple. I saw the GPS Tracks in the app store. Will grab that.
    The battery in my I-phone is not great right now. Maybe new phone soon.
    I’m a little late to the party (63 been day hiking for years). Just got back from Vemillion Valley. Nice hiking up there.
    I’m gearing up for some 1-2 night trips. Maybe more in the future.
    The weather is cooling down so looking for some trails in SOCAL to do.
    I live in Oceanside. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. James Fowler says:

      Mark, I highly recommend the Pacific Crest Trail in SoCal. ALL OF IT! If you hike in October it’s still hot so you probably want to do higher elevation stuff near Mount Laguna or Idyllwild or Big Bear, but after that the lower elevation stuff starts to get doable, too. There are maps at https://www.pctmap.net .


  3. Mark says:

    Thanks James. The PCT is surely on the radar. But there is a lot more out there. I may try to get a permit next year for the High Sierra Trail.
    Buying gear is getting to be fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. JimmyJam says:

      High Sierra Trail is great!


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