A quick trip down memory trail to see what inspired this trip…while working on the Stanislaus National Forest in 2006 I was out exploring the forest along Highway 108 and stopped at a turnout to ogle Night Cap Peak and Granite Dome. I thought to myself, I want to go there! Fast forward to 2012 when Wildlife 4-8 and I were traveling over Sonora Pass. I stopped at that same turnout and shared that story. Wildlife 4-8 turns to me and says, “Let’s do it, how do we get there?”
Destination: Granite Dome – Iceland Lake
Mileage: 11.8 round trip
Trailhead: End-ish of Eagle Meadow Road or Kennedy Meadows, both off Hwy 108
Elevation: 7,560 up to 9,317 feet
I should have realized this trip was going to be quite the adventure the moment I discovered I forgot my pants. The night before we’d left in a hurry after work and camped above Sardine Meadow off Eagle Meadow Road. We chose this access point to Emigrant Wilderness so that Wildlife 4-8 could ride his mountain bike and I could four-wheel a bit in his truck on the way to the trailhead.
Pressing on with the trip, I fashioned some bottoms out of two bandanas and my tights – ready to hit the trail. I drove as far as the Toyota Tacoma would allow, then we parked, strapped on our packs, and hiked to the end of the road. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to drive as far as we had hoped so we started with an uphill trek before we even reached the wilderness. Once at the top of the hill we had a great view down to Lower Relief Valley and up to Granite Dome. The map showed an unmaintained trail to follow – HA! This was 100 percent cross-country. Then came Lower Relief Valley, which was hardly that – I would have felt bad for crossing this lovely meadow, but compared to the giant heard of cattle grazing I don’t think my footsteps were noticed. Finally on solid ground we accessed the best route up Granite Dome. If there was a better route up the north side I would love to know where, but I was thankful Aspen is part mountain goat. At one point we were switch-backing up a wall. Our three-hour hike had turned into a six-hour hike – but we finally made it to Iceland Lake!
We were expecting Soils 4 and Basil to beat us to the lake; they were coming from Kennedy Meadows as their car has lower clearance and wouldn’t manage Eagle Meadow Road. However, they were nowhere to be found. Apparently, Granite Dome isn’t easy to access on a whole. Thankfully they arrived safely just as we finished scouting out campsites. There are great options along the southwest side of the lake.
The next day we explored Granite Dome and fished for golden trout at Ridge Lake and Lewis Lakes. The feisty brooke trout were biting at Lewis Lake and elusive goldens were a bit harder to catch, but we managed two at Ridge Lake. Back at camp,we were feeling brave and crossed to the island at Iceland Lake to take a dip in the water.
For the trip out we decided the safer option would be to go off the east side of Granite Dome with Soils 4 and Basil. From there we picked up the trail toward Kennedy Meadows and then parted ways at the turn off for Lower Relief Valley. At the base of the cliff, I mean mountain, we picked our way through a bolder field, which at one point involved picking Aspen up by her pack handle and passing her through a gap higher up. Then ascending a scree slope that was not for the faint of heart or heights. We finally made it to the top and back to the car though!
I learned a few things from this trip: make sure you have your hiking pants, cross-country travel can take a lot longer than trail travel, topo line intervals need to be studied closely, Mia’s in Cold Springs has delicious brick oven pizza and refreshing ice-cold beer!
Picking a destination from a vista and actually making it there was a great adventure. What inspires your adventure destinations?