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Hiking with Sally on the 20 Lakes Basin Loop

Hiking in the Tioga Pass Area on one of my most favorite hikes with my dog Sally and fishing. How does it get any better than this??

Where: Hoover Wilderness Area, Inyo National Forest
Distance: 8.29 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Range: 10,057′ – 10,409
Date: August 22, 2013
Maps: Tioga Pass

Highlights: Beautiful wide open country with a rich mining history dotted with many more than the 20 in namesake “20 Lakes Basin”, this country offers endless possibilities to wander from lake to lake against the backdrop of the vibrant mountains surrounding it.

After we exited the east entrance to Yosemite National Park at Tioga Pass, we drove east on Hwy 120 about 2 miles to Saddlebag Road. We headed up the mostly dirt road to Saddlebag Lake, parking at the backpacker parking lot. There is a trail on either side of the lake that you can take for this hike or you can take the water taxi across the lake to cut off some of the distance. Dogs are welcome on the water taxi operated by the Saddlebag Lake Resort and information on the rates can be found at a link at the bottom of this Blog. Sally and I decided to walk along the lake.

There is quite a bit of history tied to the Saddlebag Lake Resort. It was originally built by the Gardisky family in the 1900’s and the resort was later owned by the Berglund family, who sold it to the Grover’s in 1960. The Grover’s’ operated the concession for 26 years. In 1986, they semi-retired and sold the resort to Don and Lois Stennerson, who ran the business until 1997. Saddlebag Lake Resort is currently owned by Richard and Carmen Ernst of Modesto, California.

Hiking with my dog Sally is a lot of fun and she has been doing it since she was a pup. Hiking in this neck of the woods really suits Sally. She can run around in the wide open spaces, no poison oak and it would be very rare to find a rattlesnake up there, but I have heard some reports. Can you spot Sally on the trail along Saddlebag Lake? I hike with an orange collar on her or else I couldn’t see her. She blends in so well.

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In 1919, the Southern Sierra Power Company built the Saddlebag Dam. The water from Saddlebag Lake is used to generate power in Lee Vining and the water then flows to Mono Lake or it is diverted to the L.A. Aqueduct System.

As we approached the dam to Saddlebag Lake, we could see that they were still working on the upgrade project that started a couple of years ago. The USDA, Inyo National Forest website states that “the Saddlebag Lake Reservoir upgrade involves the installation of a new geomembrane liner to protect the dam face from current and future leaks. The liner is expected to extend the life span of the dam by up to thirty years.”

I took a few pictures of the work to better show their progress. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the lake level was up some since I last visited.

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We did this hike in a counter clockwise fashion but you can do it the other way if you wish. Before we stopped at our first lake, we hiked by this beautiful tarn with reflections of the landscape adjoining Mount Conness.

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We took a short detour off of the main trail to Hummingbird Lake.

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We passed by Odell Lake, then through a rocky chute to Helen Lake. Sally was wondering why I was taking so long, but I had taken a look back at where we had come down that rocky chute. When I came down it, I didn’t notice the flowers but looking back up, I could see pockets of monkeyflower tucked in many little outcroppings.

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I could smell it before I spotted it. My favorite plant up this way is Pennyroyal!

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The willows were already turning red along the trail in places.

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We arrived at Shamrock Lake in time for a long lunch break. I had been wanting to try my luck at fishing this lake for a while, so you know what I did. (Photo of me fishing by Gail Gilbert)

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It was pretty windy and a full moon and I think those were good excuses for me not catching a big one. Small 6 to 8 inchers were biting though.

We headed on down the trail, stopping at Steelhead Lake for a little fishing. Small trout were biting, but the were thrown back to grow big for a future visit.

We wandered up to the Cascade Lakes to check them out. (photo by Gail Gilbert)

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We worked our way down the hill cross country to Greenstone Lake, then picked up the trail along side Saddlebag Lake to return.

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Almost back to the car, I turned around and could see the smoke, which turned out to be from the Rim Fire.

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As we drove through Tuolumne Meadows, it was apparent that the Rim Fire had blown up and made a big run.

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As we made our way west on Tioga Road, I took a few more pictures of the Rim Fire. What a tremendous amount of energy was being put out by that fire!
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(Photo by Gail Gilbert)

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If you are thinking about hiking with your dog, there are many great resources to help you plan the perfect hiking experience. Sally has been hiking at high elevations since she was a pup and does very well but you wouldn’t want to take yourself or your dog up to such a high elevation unless they were acclimated. Just like people, dogs are affected by the elevation. Not every dog is cut out to take hikes like Sally does.

Conditioning your dog for hiking is an important element to hiking. Sally covers so much more ground than I do and it would be unfair to her to take her on a hike beyond her endurance. Make sure your dog is physically ready for the adventure.

Having good water for your dog to stay hydrated is also of the utmost importance. You need to watch what your dog drinks. Water in lakes and rivers can contain algae or parasites that can make your dog sick or even cause death in extreme cases. You will need to carry the water for your dog if there is not good water available along the trail or your dog may be able to pack the water with its own backpack. Sally and I do both, depending on the conditions. If conditions are very dry, sometimes I just don’t take Sally with me because I just cannot pack enough water for both of us.

I also carry a small first aid kit for Sally in my pack, including some boots for her in case her paws get a little tender or we go through some tough areas. She even has a set of boots when we go snowshoeing. I like the Ultra Paws boots, but you need to continually check and make sure that they are securely on because it is very easy to them to get lose and come off. If you do get some boots for your dog, be ready to video the first time they have them on because it is hilarious. I probably don’t need to add this, but you should get your dog used to the boots at home before you start them on the trail with them.

The first aid kit that I carry in my pack is the Ready Dog Essentials First Aid Kit which I have added a few items to. I also carry a dog trauma kit in my car for Sally, as I do for humans.

You will be sharing the trail with dog hikers and non-dog hikers, so your dog needs to be well behaved, come to you when you call if they are off leash and you need to dispose of the poop that your dog makes. I don’t know why Sally sometimes chooses to use the middle of the trail for her business but no hiker wants to see that so I clean it up.

I also bring energy bars for Sally and continually give her some through the hike. She is expending a tremendous amount of her reserve energy in her travels. I am not talking about dog treats but something that will replenish the important nutrients that your dog needs to maintain the high level of energy output on a hike. I like K9 Restart Energy Bars.

Periodically through our hike, I check Sally’s feet for any worn spots or cuts. After our hike, I check Sally’s feet thoroughly and usually grease her paw pads down with Bag Balm or Musher’s Secret. I also check her for ticks and stickers, foxtails, etc.

Hiking with Sally 26Sources:

Day Hikes in the Tioga Pass Region, John Carroll O’Neill & Elizabeth Stone O’Neill, 2002

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