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Camping, Fishing and Hiking with Sally at Saddlebag Lake

Sally and I headed up to Saddlebag Lake in the Tioga Pass Area for 4 days of camping, fishing and hiking. We had darn near perfect weather and I even spent some time trying to locate some of the old mining roads in the area.

Where: Hoover Wilderness, Inyo National Forest
Distance: 8.48 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Range: 10,080′ – 10,359′
Date: August 26 through 30, 2014
Maps: Falls Ridge Topog

Sally and I arrived at Saddlebag Lake Campground just before lunch and really lucked out, snagging our favourite campsite, #18. I like this campsite because it is close to get to the lake and when you head down to the lake, you don’t need to go by any other campsites. Also, can you believe the view that you get from here?

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I got my tent set up and stored my ice chest and food in the bear locker, ate the sandwich that I brought with me, then headed down to the lake with my fishing gear. I caught a couple of 9-inchers, 1 rainbow and 1 brown trout but released them.

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I could see a bit of early fall color along the trail.

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That evening the clouds built a little and there were a few sprinkles but I didn’t mind. Those clouds created beautiful patterns of light against the mountains. Last week I had backpacked up to Mount Conness from the west side and this week I was on the east side of Mount Conness, so I couldn’t get enough of watching those clouds build up against that impressive mountain.

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Saddlebag 9.5That one white cloud near Mt. Dana was also picture perfect!

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We headed back to the campsite and got ready for dinner. Nothing fancy for dinner, fried chicken from Raley’s for me and dog food for Sally. Sally was pretty pooped out and had no problem crashing where she landed as I watched the sunset put on its show.

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When I woke up the morning of Day 2, my thermometer said it was 34 degrees. Brrrr. It took about an hour for the sun to make it over the top of the Tioga Crest to warm my campsite up, but the reflections in the lake were very pretty to watch while I drank my coffee.

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I received some visits from the local residents. Mr. squirrel was busy eating his breakfast while keeping an eye on us.

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This beautiful butterfly didn’t stay in one place too long.

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But this bird was definitely an early riser, as I would discover the next few mornings. He was up before daylight chattering and squawking up a storm. I did not intend to get up before daylight, thus the conflict.

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Sally and I ate our breakfast then headed out on the trail to hike the 20 Lakes Loop to the north of Saddlebag Lake. I was also very intrigued by the research that I had stumbled across while writing my Blog on Dana City whenever they talked about how they brought the heavy mining equipment into Dana City and Bennettville. When you think of how this was long before the Tioga Road was in and that they hauled the equipment from Lundy, it just amazes me that they were able to accomplish this.

I am not really sure exactly how the equipment was brought in and I have read conflicting reports on this. Did they bring it from Lundy through Lake Oneida through Dora Pass, down to Saddlebag Lake, through the old Sawmill area, then down to Dana City and Bennettville? Or did it come up through Bloody Canyon and south on what is now the Mono Trail? The Lundy newspaper, the Homer Mining Index (HMI), gives us some wonderful glimpses into their plans.

HMI: January 21, 1882: “The machinery will be transported by teams to the foot of the cliffs in Bloody Canyon, from which point it will be snaked up over the snow to the summit by block and tackle, and from the summit to the tunnel it will be transported on sleds. The undertaking is a heavy one, but in accordance with the policy of the company, no expense is to be spared in hastening the development of their valuable properties.”

HMI: March 4, 1882: “The transportation of 16,000 pounds of machinery across one of the highest and most rugged branches of the Sierra Nevada mountains in mid-winter, where no roads exist, over vast fields and huge embankments of yielding snow and in the face of furious wind storms laden with drifting snow, and the mercury dancing attendance on zero, is a task calculated to appall the sturdiest mountaineer; yet J. C. Kemp, manager of the Great Sierra Consolidated Silver Company is now engaged in such an undertaking, and with every prospect of success at an early day—so complete has been the arrangement of details and so intelligently directed is every movement. The first ascent, from Mill Creek to the mouth of Lake Canyon, is 990 feet, almost perpendicular. From that point to the south end of Lake Oneida, a distance of about two miles, is a rise of 845 feet, most of it in two hills aggregating half a mile in distance. The machinery will probably be hoisted straight up to the summit of Mount Warren ridge from the southwest shore of Lake Oneida, an almost-vertical rise of 2,160 feet. From the summit the descent will be made to Saddlebags Lake, thence down to and along Lee Vining Creek to the gap or pass in the dividing point to tunnel, a distance of about one mile, is a rise of 800 feet, most of it in the first quarter of a mile.

The machinery consists of an engine, boiler, air compressor, Ingersoll drills, iron pipe, etc. for use in driving the Great Sierra tunnel. It is being transported on six heavy sleds admirably constructed of hardwood. Another, or rather a pair of bobsleds accompanies the expedition, the latter being laden with bedding, provisions, cooking utensils, etc. The heaviest load is 4,200 pounds. Ten or twelve men, two mules, 4,500 feet of one-inch manila rope, heavy double block and tackle and all the available trees along the route are employed in snaking the machinery up the mountain—the whole being under the immediate supervision of Mr. Kemp, who remains at the front and personally directs every movement It is expected that all the sleds will be got up into Lake Canyon today, and then the work will be pushed day and night, with two shifts of men. . . . “

On March 9 and 10, 16 inches of snow fell, the 11th was a clear day and at 11 p.m. on March 15, avalanches buried the machinery that was being pulled up Lake Canyon. The snow started falling heavily on the 18th through the 19th. 6 feet of snow had fallen in Mill Creek Canyon and 7 to 8 feet in the higher mountains.

It took Kemp and his men more than two months—from March 4 until May 6— to move the eight tons a distance of about nine miles. It is said that Kemp’s remark at the end of the back-breaking task was, ‘It’s no wonder that men grow old!'”
So now maybe you will understand why I am so fascinated about this trip to try and find the remnants of those old routes that they did this.

Some of the old roads are easy to figure out and others not so much. The above description of their route is their plan, not necessarily where they ended up traveling. Some of the trails that we hike today in these parts are on some of those same roads. The HMI article on March 4, 1882 appears to show the route they hauled the equipment in over Dora Pass, so I really wanted to investigate that area to see what I could find.

My plan was to hike the 20 Lakes Loop because this trail is on top of some of these old roads. I also wanted to head part way up the side of the hill under Dora Pass to see if I could find any signs of old roads in that area or winching operations.
As I headed around the east side of Saddlebag Lake on what is obviously an old road, I could see what was creating the yellow that I was seeing from my campsite. The corn lilies were turning their fall colors.

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I took a picture of something unusual that I had come across while looking for old mining roads. I found this old pipe that had been set in rock. I don’t know what it is or was for. My best guess is that could be marking an old claim? Maybe someone else knows?

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I left the trail a little before I was underneath Dora Pass and in my cross country venture, I ran across some old diggings. I could make out some old use of roads on the lower elevations but couldn’t figure out if they were old jeep trails or roads utilized by the mines. It was just too much of a challenge to see the lay of the land from the bottom of the hill through the trees. I will need to return and come in from the top to see what I may find another day.

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Sally and I headed back down to the trail that heads through Lundy Pass and onward to see the lakes along the 20 Lakes Loop. Sally gets her picture taken at this little lake during different seasons and years. There are always wonderful reflections.

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We headed down the rocky trail through Lundy Pass to Odell and Helen Lakes.

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Willows along the trail between Helen and Shamrock Lakes were turning red for the fall. I checked my hiking history and last year, I did this hike 1 week earlier and these same willows had turned red then. So, I figure this part of the country is right on schedule for fall colors, not early, right on time.

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Shamrock Lake always makes a great lunch stop. I say it is a great lunch spot because it is beautiful but I also like to do some fishing here. Sally is starting to get the hang of this fishing thing. She watches my bobber intently and when I start to reel in a fish, she gets pretty excited. Well, I have to admit that I get pretty excited myself! I caught a couple of 8 inch Brook Trout here and released them.

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We headed back down along Steelhead Lake, then back to the east side of Saddlebag Lake.

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On the morning of Day 3, the temperature was about 38 degrees when I got up, warmer but not what I would call warm. I had a coat on Sally for the chilly nights, along with a blanket, and she is still in her jammies when I took this picture. She was a little footsore from the prior day’s hike and I had her wear her boots on this day. That 20 Lakes Loop is a tough hike on dog’s paws. There are lots of sharp rocks that can wear on their paw pads and cause little nicks. You need to periodically check your dog’s paws if you are hiking in this country. I had packed Sally’s boots the day before but she seemed ok so they didn’t get used.

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Sally and I were going to concentrate our efforts on this day to get some fish. We headed along the east side of Saddlebag Lake in the morning and I just loved the reflections on the still lake.

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Sally got a break from wearing her boots once we arrived and I got going on the fishing.

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She is pointing my stringer of 1 fish. It is a nice 10 ½ inch fish so I don’t blame her for keeping an eye on it. She later found a nice flat rock where she could keep an eye on both me and my stringer. We ended up catching 5 fish that day, throwing back 2 smaller ones. I took home a total of 3, the other two being 9-inchers, a mix of Rainbow and Brook Trout.

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We got back to our campsite and got the cleaned fish packed on ice. I got cleaned up because the Campground Host, Dennis, was hosting a Happy Hour that evening. He is the best Campground Host that I have ever seen. Under his watch, Saddlebag Lake Campground is very clean and safe. I have always found it to be a very happy place and very dog friendly. Thank you Dennis!

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The morning of Day 4 was the warmest of the bunch, about 40 when I got up. I drank my coffee, waiting for the sun to come over Tioga Crest to warm things up. Beautiful! Part of me kind of hated to leave but a big part of me was also looking forward to a real bath. I packed up our camping gear and was home by lunchtime. Both Sally and I had a most excellent adventure!

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Please note that the topographic map and profile are for the 20 Lakes Loop hike that I did on the second day.


Day Hikes in the Tioga Pass Region, John Carroll O’Neill & Elizabeth Stone O’Neill, 2002
Hubbard, D. H.,Ghost Mines of Yosemite, 1958, Awani Press, Fresno
Homer Mining Index http://www.lundycanyon.com/the-homer-mining-index/

Prior Blogs on This Area:

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