Bench Canyon

Hemlock Crossing to Lyell Fork of the Merced
(10 miles, +4400/-1800 feet).

I was hoping a cold morning would reduce the bug pressure, but we didn’t really have one.  The temperatures only dropped into the high 50s so the little bloodsuckers were more than happy to greet us as we exited our tents.

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Peace be with you little mozzies

We had a couple more miles of trail before we would need to cross the North Fork San Joaquin to head up into Bench Canyon.

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Trailside shroom
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Seasonal creek
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California corn lily
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Buggy, but also pretty
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Shooting stars (dodecatheon)
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Ancient cedar
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Looking back down North Fork

The North Fork is pretty wide where we needed to cross it.  My intuition was to cross above the place where the Bench Canyon outflow joins, but just below that was a very manageable knee-deep ford.

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Crossing the North Fork San Joaquin

We then needed to climb above some falls.  I originally thought we should go to the right because it is less steep, but it was full of willows so we stayed in crumbly talus on the left.  It verged on class 3 in a couple of places.

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Climbing up into Bench Canyon – we went left
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Mellowing out

We crossed back and forth across the Bench Canyon creek depending on the terrain.

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MixMaster crosses back
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A lovely break

Then we got to a section that shows up red on the slope angle shading of the topo map.  I had not been able to find anyone’s description of this part (the Sierra High Route does not come this way), so I was just a little worried about it.  We affectionately called it “the wall!”

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“The Wall”

As it turns out, there are steep but pretty easy ledges and ramps.

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Climbing “The Wall” with Ritter in the background
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Made it!

Then we entered Bench Canyon.  It was so breathtaking that none of us spoke.  We took a wide route all around the right side of the creek so we could take it all in.

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Mount Ansel Adams (left) and Old Bones Pass (right)
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Bench Canyon meadow
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View towards upper Bench Canyon
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Upper Bench Canyon
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Looking back towards Old Bones Pass and Peaks 12204 and 11537
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Upper Bench Canyon
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Climbing up to Blue Lake
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ChiaGlyph, Banner, and Ritter
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One more push to the lake
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View from Blue Lake
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Blue Lake

We had a nice long break at Blue Lake, which is definitely one of the bluest lakes I have ever seen.  We then headed up to the lake just above it.

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Not blue!
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Getting our bearings

The climb up to Blue Lake Pass was steep but not exposed.

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View from the climb
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Following a grassy seam
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The last couple hundred feet on talus
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And a little snow
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Almost there!
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View from the pass

We took another break at the pass, where we noticed a device for monitoring wildlife as it enters and exits Yosemite.

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What’s it counting?

And then we headed down to the lake on the west side.

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Bouldering
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The lake below
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Water stop
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Blue Lake Pass from the lake

We kept the same elevation as the lake as we headed north below Foerster Peak.  It was easy until the last quarter mile or so, where we increasingly had to hop across talus.

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Yellow!
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Looking back on the route up to Foerster Ridge
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Foerster Ridge

Once at the low point on Foerster Ridge we got our first views of the Lyell Fork of the Merced.

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Wow!
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Peaks 11600+ and 11994
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Snow fields on the northeast face of Foerster Peak

The first bit down Foerster Ridge is very steep, but on stable talus without exposure.  It quickly levels out to a long low angle boulder field where it was surprisingly not too hard to make good time.

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View of Lyell Fork and our low angle boulder descent in the shade
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Looking back at Foerster Peak

After about half a mile of low angle descent, we had to drop into a ravine that became much steeper but, again, gave us no exposure.

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Our class 2+ descent to Lake 10217
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Lake 10217 after the steep descent
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Lake 10217 near the shore

We decided to camp on the broad flat area as far from the lakes as we could get in order to minimize mosquitoes.

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Mount Ansel Adams
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Plain below Lake 10217

But the wind completely died so it was no use.  Once again we quickly donned our rain gear and head nets, set up camp, ate dinner, and dove into our tents.

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Evening glow on the plain
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Sunset in Lyell Fork

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