Sandwiched between Yosemite National Park and Mammoth Lakes, the Ansel Adams Wilderness is home to pristine glacier lakes, and imposing mountain peaks.
The wilderness offers multiple hiking options from day hikes to multi-day backpacking trips. We chose to do Lillian Lake loop in 3-days.
Logistics: Call the ranger station to find out if there are permits available for the dates/no.of people, you are looking at. For example, I called one month in advance, for the July 4th weekend and wanted to get 8-10 permits. But, at that time, they only had 5 left. Since its a paper based form that you have to mail with a physical cheque to get the permit, call ahead to find out availability.
Here is the link to ranger station and permit application form: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/sierra/passes-permits/?cid=fsbdev7_018115
From Sunnyvale, CA the nearest town to the trailhead, Oakhurst is about 4-hrs drive. We drove down on Thursday evening and stayed at a hotel that night. When the ranger station mails back the approved permit letter, they mention the location to pick-up the “real” permit before starting the hike. We had requested for Oakhurst pickup.
Friday morning, we picked up the permit from the ranger station at 8:30AM and drove to the trailhead. The trailhead is 1.5-hrs drive from the town. There is a decent size parking lot with porta-potty at the trailhead.
Day 1: Reach Flat lake for camping overnight.
We started at Walton trail towards Flat Lake, which is about 6 -6.5 miles. We started the hike with an adventure. In about 0.25 miles into the hike, we took a wrong turn and ended up hiking two extra hours before we found the trail we were supposed to be on.
Eventually, we made our way to the Rainbow Lake junction. From here the Flat lake is supposed to be 0.2 miles. Again we lost our way, or more like there was no trail marking for Flat Lake. By this time, we were 30-mins from sunset. As it started getting dark, we decided to just camp near a small creek, overlooking Flat Lake, instead of being next to the lake. In one sense the view was better this way.
We witnessed a gorgeous sunset and one of the most beautiful moon-lit sky. Dinner that night was Freeze-Dry Kathmandu curry. We were at 9,250ft altitude and surprisingly, it was a warm night.
However, next day early morning there was an hour long rain/hailstorm/wind that pretty much drenched the tents and some of the clothes. There is one thing I learned from Patagonia, the weather can change drastically within minutes. And it did. After the rain, the sun came shining through to dry our tents and clothes. Before we finished the breakfast (instant oatmeal, instant coffee), everything was dry and crisp.
Day 2: Chittenden Lake via Lillian Lake
The day was fairly uneventful in-terms of finding the trail. We were really cautious to look for the trail markings and ducks. Without getting lost, we reached Lillian Lake for lunch break.
Refilled bladders with water from Lillian lake and hiked through granite sections to reach Chittenden via Standford lakes. The tricky part here is that Chittenden Lake has only one designated campsite. So, whoever gets there first gets that spot. When we got there, there was already a group that has claimed the spot. The spot is about 100ft above the lake access, at a hill.
However, there is some flat surface near the lake and not sure what the rangers would say if they knew we camped near the lake. But, we just went ahead the stayed there overnight. I believe the only rule for backcountry camping is to stay 100ft away from water sources in order not to potentially pollute the water.
Again, we campted at 9250ft and that night was pretty cold and I used all my layers.
One of the best things about camping at Chittenden is the spectacular sunrise reflection.
Day 3: Hike back to parking lot.
Another straight forward hike back through Fernandez Trail to the parking lot. It was a good 7.5 miles hike. We stopped at Vanderburgh lake for a small break. Had to skip Lady lake as we were running short on time. Next time !!!
We met a group of rangers/volunteers headed on a 7-day trek on our way back. And they did check the permit. So, keep the records clean.
Below is the map you can download to follow our route.