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.
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.
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.
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.
We crossed back and forth across the Bench Canyon creek depending on the terrain.
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!”
As it turns out, there are steep but pretty easy ledges and ramps.
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.
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.
The climb up to Blue Lake Pass was steep but not exposed.
We took another break at the pass, where we noticed a device for monitoring wildlife as it enters and exits Yosemite.
And then we headed down to the lake on the west side.
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.
Once at the low point on Foerster Ridge we got our first views of the Lyell Fork of the Merced.
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.
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.
We decided to camp on the broad flat area as far from the lakes as we could get in order to minimize mosquitoes.
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.