Crater Meadow Loop (Sierra Nevada, CA) 08-Aug-2022

After yesterday’s geology experience, we decided to head back into the High Sierra for a lollipop loop west from Mammoth Lakes. By doing so, we would traverse part of the Ansel Adams Wilderness, touch the iconic Pacific Crest (PCT) and John Muir (JMT) Trails, and set foot (ever so briefly) in the John Muir Wilderness. ๐Ÿ˜ƒ There would also be a beautiful lake, an expansive meadow, ducks ๐Ÿฆ† in a creek, and (later in the day) lots of other people.

After the bluebird day we had yesterday, today came on a little stronger: cooler, cloudier, with a palatable threat of rain (and maybe a thunderstorm). But no wind and no biting insects, so no worries. We started the Crater Meadow Loop from the Horseshoe Lake Trailhead, going west past McLeod (or McCloud) Lake on Trail 27E04 and over (low) Mammoth Pass on Trail 27E07 into the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Leaving the Horseshoe Lake Trailhead
McCloud (McLeod) Lake with Peak 10479 beyond
Peak 10479
Looking west along the lake
On over Mammoth Pass

After descending from Mammoth Pass, we reached the junction of Trails 27E07 and 26E35 at a spring – which was still wet despite California’s ongoing drought. We continued on Trail 26E35 down, past the Red Cones, to Crater Meadow. There were still some wildflowers out (particularly along the creeks) but what caught our attention was the fungus – a huge one along here and an extraordinarily colorful one along our return route.

Wayne and Diane cross the spring near the trail junction
Spring waters
A Giant Sawtooth fungus growing at the base of a tree: the coin (arrow) is 1 inch (2.5 cm) across
Continuing on to Crater Meadow past the Red Cones
A small, unnamed tributary of Crater Creek
Lewis’s Monkeyflower – with a tiny pollinator in its maw
Crater Meadow
Another large, colorful fungus

We passed along the northern edge of Crater Meadow (on a good trail not shown on the USFS or USGS maps) and arrived at the PCT/JMT (the two are together at this point; they’ll separate north of Devil’s Postpile) where it crosses Crater Creek. Here we encountered a PCT hiker who had ruined her ankle and was in the process of being helped down to Red’s Meadow (the closest trailhead) by her husband. It’s tough to have to give up your hike ๐Ÿ˜ฅ but better here than way, way back in the wilderness.

We went southeast on the PCT/JMT for a short distance, crossing Crater Creek again, to its junction with Trail 27E07, our return route. After passing some JMT backpackers, we stopped for a snack at the junction, then noticed about a half dozen Mallard ducks foraging their way up the creek! We’ve seen plenty of ducks over the years but this was a first seeing them in a High Sierra creek. ๐Ÿ™‚ Along here is also where we got our only long-distance views of the day: the Minarets, Ritter, and Banner to the west, Red Cones and Mammoth Mountain to the north.

Crossing Crater Creek
Ducks in the creek
Red Cones (1) and Mammoth Mountain (2) to the north
Clyde Minaret (1), Mount Ritter (2 – climbed in 1983), and Banner Peak (3 – climbed in 1983) to the west

Snack over, we followed Trail 27E07, through a slice of the John Muir Wilderness, all the way back past McCloud Lake and then Trail 27E04 for the final bit down to the trailhead. Along the way, we found a large, astoundingly orange-yellow fungus growing on a dead tree. It was as though someone cut loose with a can of fluorescent spray paint.

Briefly in the John Muir Wilderness on the way back
Mammoth Mountain in the distance
Clyde Minaret
An amazingly orange Sulfur Shelf fungus
The brightest thing in the forest this day
Heading back
McLeod (McCloud) Lake

There was loose talk of a cooling (likely very cooling) dip in McLeod Lake on our return. But the group of some 75+ people yelling and splashing at one end of it, plus a spritz of rain ๐ŸŒง, convinced us to just push on to the trailhead. Considering the number of people we passed coming up as we were going down, McLeod Lake is a VERY popular destination.

Almost back

This lollipop came to 7.5 miles (12.1 km) with 1,480 feet (451 m) of cumulative elevation gain – up to Mammoth Pass, down to the meadow, and back up to the pass. While the clouds toyed with our allowance of sunshine, they only unleashed the tiniest splash of rain (we sweated more than it rained). Regardless, the meadow, the creek, the lake, the ducks ๐Ÿฆ†, and the fungus all colluded to make for another great day outdoors on the trail! ๐Ÿ˜


One thought on “Crater Meadow Loop (Sierra Nevada, CA) 08-Aug-2022

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  1. The large fungus is a Giant Sawtooth (Neolentinus ponderosus). ID courtesy of the field guide book that I bought in Lee Vining!


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