Mount Lewis via Bloody Canyon WTC Experience Trip

  • Updated: August 18, 2019
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

August 17th & 18th, 2019
Mount Lewis (12,320')
Day 1: 3.5 miles, 2,200'
Day 2: 11.1 miles, 3,200'

These days I struggle a bit to come up with peak based trips to lead for the Sierra Club Wilderness Travel Course that are accessible but that I haven't done before. In 2017 I'd lead a climb of the SPS peaks Koip and Kuna from this trailhead and found it to be a nice trip but a bit on the long side for a mixed group. So I'd decided why not revisit the area and climb one of the multiple peaks around Mono Pass.

And so this two day climb of Mount Lewis was born. The peak itself is on the Vagmarken Sierra Crest List if you're into that sort of thing or if you are not peak motivated then it's a relatively lightly used trail that takes you past waterfalls, gives you multiples lakes to pick between for camping, and lets you visit a historic mining site before presenting you with an epic view of June Lakes.

I had just come off of a slightly intense 11 days on the John Muir Trail so I was feeling a bit beat up when I pulled into the parking lot Friday night. Still, a nights rest and not having to hike 20 miles a day back to back does wonders for ones recovery and by Saturday morning I strapped on my kilt and bounded out of the Jeep to meet my group.

We had a few people who struggled to find the trailhead since the signs on the way in aren't always consistent and trying to rely on Google to nav you in are never going to end well. (Follow my track from the CalTopo map and it's pretty straightforward.)

The trailhead is located in Sawmill Canyon and then jumps over a ridge to pick up Bloody Canyon at the far end of Walker Lake. There is no trailhead at Walker Lake because of the private cabins there.

It's actually a rather nice trailhead for how little use it seems to get. There's a pit toilet and even a few campsites with bear boxes available if you want to camp here thought there are also some nice car camping pullouts back down the road.

The biggest downside is the fact the trail drops 400 ft down to Walker Lake right away leaving a stiff climb for the way out. Once you get past the lake it starts to climb up a series of steep switchbacks which have you doing most of the 2200 ft gain in about 2.5 miles.

The trail was in decent shape with only a few downed logs and there plenty of opportunities to get water since you follow along a stream.

The hike in took us about 4 hours and when when arrived at Lower Sardine Lake everyone jumped at the idea of camping there rather than pushing up to Upper Sardine. And honestly the lower lake is prettier and the camping better down there anyway.

Matt Kraai and I scouted campsites and settled on the sizable collection of sites to the northeast of the lake hidden down a short slope. This ended up being ideal as the wind picked up around evening and it was better protected than the sites on the hillside. Sadly we found a few fire pits though they are illegal here due to the thin vegetation.

Running water is conveniently available at the lake outflow

Having established camp and with several hours until dinner some people dove into tents for a nap while some of us took the opportunity to swim.

The water wasn't anywhere near warm but it felt amazing once you came emerged and managed to get feeling back in your skin.

Later that afternoon we roused the nappers and found a fairly well protected spot for our happy hour before people headed off to sleep.

Wake-up on Sunday was my usual pre-dawn 4:30 am rousing with a planned 6 am departure. As the sun came up we could see a thick later of smoke hanging over Mono Lake from the Spring Fire and I was thankful the wind wasn't blowing it our way.

From Lower Sardine it was about a mile and a half and 700 ft of gain up to Mono Pass. We could see most of our route up Mount Lewis though the actual summit is further back. We also came across two separate groups that were camped on vegetation and too close to the water which is always a shame to see.

We went over to the cabins south of the pass and spent some time poking around and taking a break before starting up the main attraction.

From the cabins it was about 2 miles and 1,300' of gain roughly following the ridge.

Fortunately the talus was surprisingly stable.

We made the summit by 10:30 am and found we had strong cell signals thanks to the summit overlooking June Lake Loop.

We could also see the source of the smoke we'd seen that morning.

We also found two other people up there on the southern summit debating which bump was higher. For the record the one we went to in the middle had the summit register while the lower bump to the north had a plaque dedicated to W. B. Lewis.

The plaque did misidentify the height of the peak as 12,500' while maps and my GPS agreed it was around 12,300'.

We started down around 11:30 am and decided to take the gully down to the west rather than go back up and over the ridge. This saves us a bit of gain but we ended up doing some obnoxious sidehilling to get back to our ascent route so you might consider just dropping down to the trail.

Once back on the trail things went quick and we were back to camp at 2 pm and packed up and on our way out by 2:45 pm.

The trail down went quickly except for one mosquito filled zone right around Walker Lake and that last kick in the pants hill to get back over the ridge to the trailhead. We were out by 5:30 pm.

That left us plenty of time to stop by Bishop on the way south to grab a well earned burrito at the always excellent Las Palmas before I was headed back down to Orange County for the first time in weeks.

Next up: A few dives and then it's back to the Sierra for another multi-week combination of shorter trips and a longer thru hike

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