Sierra High Route Day 13: Upper Mills Creek Lake to Vermilion Valley Resort, How the Hole Did it Form?

Day 13
Total Miles: 16.3
Cumulative Miles: 157.7
Elevation Gain: 838 ft
Elevation Loss: 3955 ft
Camp: Stay at Vermilion Valley Resort
Map of our hike Day 13 from Upper Mills Creek Lake to Vermilion Valley Resort on Lake Edison. This takes us 12 miles off the Sierra High Route to get our resupply and clean up.

“There it is!!” I say to Ray as I point excitedly to a large hole in the mountain. We have hiked about 1.5 miles and 1000 feet down from where we camped last night at Lower Mills Creek Lake. We are dropping into what is called “the Second Recess”. There are four “recesses”  that drop down into Mono Valley, the main east-west valley that drains into Lake Edison and Vermilion Valley Resort.  These recesses are all “hanging valleys” that are elevated and truncated as they steepen and drop to the much deeper Mono Valley.

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The “First Recess”, a hanging valley that drains into Mono Creek basin

Think smaller glaciers carving out U-shaped canyons that connect with a big behemoth glacier carving out the main canyon. Big behometh glacier has a greater rate of erosion, more water flow, and/or softer rock that erodes quicker. For these reasons, the valley floor of the main valley is deeper and the hanging valleys are elevated above it.

604CE223-68C0-41C3-B117-EB801E801543.jpegVermilion Valley Resort detours us about 12 miles away from the Sierra High Route. This is a resupply location that is probably not necessary as a Sierra High Route hiker could make their next resupply at Red’s Meadow. But we had built in a few side hikes and a diversion before Red’s Meadow to Iva Bell Hot Springs. The Iva Bell Hots Springs was one of our favorite side hikes on the John Muir Trail and we are excited to go there again. The added side hikes and diversion to Iva Bell adds enough miles and days to make it worth it for us to stop at Vermilion Valley Resort. Besides, it is always nice to shower, do laundry, and eat a few big meals.

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Waterfall in the Second Recess

Right now, though, I am not thinking about a shower, food or a comfortable bed. I am looking at a big hole in the mountain. Roper describes it as an “unusual Sierra sight” and something “that is so incongruous the mind struggles to explain it”.

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Looking across the drainage at the “hole” in the granite (just above tree line to the left of the drainage in the middle

As Roper explains, it is a large gigantic, heart-shaped hole too deep to be a gouge left after a rockfall, and perhaps a cave but “caves don’t occur in granite”. Of course, being geologists and loving mysteries that are not easily explained, Ray and I go into much arm-waving.

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There are at least two sets of fracture patterns in the granite that helped contribute to forming it. But it is odd – a deep cave in granite. Perhaps one day we will come back and explore it closer. It is at least a mile away and we don’t really have the time to go check it out. For now it will remain a mystery that perhaps a few hikers will stop and ponder.

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Crossing Mono Creek

After pondering the large “hole”, we continue down the Second Recess hiking another 2.5 miles until we reach Mono Creek. We cross Mono Creek and meet up with the Mono Creek trail that will take us down to and around Edison Lake to Vermilion Valley Resort. Once we are on the Mono Creek Trail we get into a rhythm and go into “cruise” mode. It is a pleasant hike and we go through a few deep forests of Jeffrey Pine.

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Tall Jeffrey Pines along Mono Creek Trail
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Gotta love these big trees!

The trees are so amazing here. We are at Vermilion Valley Resort by 2:30pm.

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