We were on a mission to get to the icy lakes in and around Yosemite National Park before they had thawed and our timing was perfect on this hike up to Helen Lake. White puffy clouds floated over the lake, creating reflections along the edge that had started to melt. I said the word “Wowie” more than once when I came across a reflection that took my breath away.
Where: Yosemite National Park
Distance: 12 Miles
Elevation Range: 9.596′ – 11,001′
Date: June 8, 2014
Maps: Falls Ridge and June Lake Topogs
We headed east on Tioga Road, parking our car at the Mono Pass Trailhead, about 5.6 miles east of the Tuolumne Meadows Campground and 1.4 miles south of Tioga Pass. We put our snacks for after the hike and anything else that a bear might find irresistible in the bear box, used the restrooms, then headed up the trail. We hadn’t gone too far before the small tarn alongside the trail revealed some beautiful reflections of snow covered Mammoth Peak in its still waters.
We had to don our water shoes to cross the Dana Fork. The creek was just deep enough that we would have gotten our shoes and socks soaked if we hadn’t put on our crocs or water shoes.
We had beautiful views of the Kuna Crest, Parker Peak, Mount Gibbs, Mount Dana and Mount Lewis as we paralleled Parker Creek, heading up the Mono Trail. We headed past the old fallen down cabin and when the trail forked, we took the right fork. The left fork heads up to Parker Pass or down through Bloody Canyon. As we headed into the trees before the trail goes right along the creek, we encountered some snow patches that were rapidly melting, nothing that we couldn’t walk around though. Those snow patches won’t be there much longer.
We did this same hike almost a year ago to the day and noticed some differences from last year. One difference is that we saw fewer wildflowers out than we did last year. The heather was one of the few plants that was flowering, showing us the beginnings of pink blooms.
There is no more trail after Spillway Lake so we headed up the hill, trying our best to cross the small creeks where we could and avoid the marshy spots. The approach to Helen Lake is up through this patchy snow covered chute. The snow coverage on the approach to Helen Lake was a smidge less than last year and was noticeably not as deep.
My hiking party heading up the hill to Helen Lake and what a view I had while I watched them hike up.
We arrived at iced over Helen Lake. This beautiful lake is named after John Muir’s youngest daughter, Helen Lillian Muir. She was born January 1886 in California and died in 1964. She married Buel Alvin Funk in 1909 and moved to Belleville in San Bernardino County, California. Helen was often sick and the doctors thought that the desert air might help her health improve.
Belleville was a mining boomtown near Holcomb Valley and although the gold rush that hit this area from about 1860 to 1870 was long over, hard rock mining still took place up to about 1919. Helen’s husband Buel is listed as a Farmer on the 1920 through 1930 census in Belleville, owning their property after the 1910 census. The Funks continued to live in Belleville til at least the 1930 census and Buel died in 1934. Helen died in Spokane, Washington and is buried at the Bellevue Cemetery and Mausoleum in Ontario, California.
Here is a picture of Helen (on the right) with her parents.
When we got our first glimpses of Helen Lake, we were stuck by the vivid contrasts of the blue sky, white snow covered mountains, icy lake and puffy white clouds. I think the ice coverage on Helen Lake was actually a little more than it was last year.
We took in the view back toward where we needed to head to get back to our car, then headed back down. And you know how we got down off of the hill through that snow, don’t you? We utilized our technique called “butt sliding“.
Back across the Dana Fork we went!
We could see some nice buildups both to the north and where we had just left. I took a quick shot from a turnout along Big Oak Flat Road as we drove back and before we reached Highway 140.
We had another wonderful hike and I just love those frozen high lakes! I forgot to mention that we did not see a single person on the trail or at either lakes. If you would like to see the pictures from last year’s Blog at this time, you can access it here.