Sierra High Route Day 15: Vermilion Valley Resort to Laurel Lake, Tinman and the Memory Bank

Day 15
Total Miles: 9.0
Cumulative Miles: 166.7
Elevation Gain: 2896 ft
Elevation Loss: 319 ft
Camp: Creek Below Laurel Lake
Map of Sierra High Route Day 15: a boat ride across the lake and then 9 miles up to just before Laurel Lake
I am in awe as I listen to the Tinman give us beta on two passes we will be hiking over tomorrow. “You drop down from Bighorn Pass but don’t go all the way down to the lake. Go partway down and then take the ramp up from there to Shout of Relief Pass” he says. My awe is not because he is giving us information on the off-trail passes we will be hiking over tomorrow. It’s because of who he is.
With the “Tinman”
It was mid-day when we met the Tinman on the Mono Creek trail as we head back up the valley to return to the Sierra High Route. We left Vermilion Valley Resort this morning on the Ferry which takes us across the lake and saves us the 5.5 miles of walking around the lake. It is much later than when we like to get started but our choices were eat granola, leave at 6:30am and hike an additional 5.5 miles around the lake, or eat pancakes, eggs and bacon at the restaurant around 7am, take the Ferry at 9am, and don’t start hiking until 9:45am but skip the 5.5 miles around the lake. Ok, so we picked the big breakfast and ferry. Guess we will enjoy a few more minor conveniences before heading back out cross country. 😊
The Ferry Boat that takes hikers across Lake Edison
Most everyone getting off the Ferry boat were doing the John Muir Trail
Then it is back up the valley for another 6 miles or so before we turn off to head up (and I mean UP) to Laurel Lake. It is right before we turn off to go to Laurel Lake where we meet the Tinman.
Woodlands pinedrop (Pterospora andromeda) growing along the Mono Creek Trail. The woodlands pinedrop steals carbon, water and other nutrients from fungi growing around tree roots instead of fixing carbon from the air like most plants do through photosynthesis. That is why they don’t have green leaves!
I love hearing people’s stories and why they are out hiking. But Tinman’s story is special. Tinman says he is 79 yrs old or 80 yrs old if you go by the Chinese calendar. I asked him if he was hiking the John Muir Trail. “Oh, no”, he say. “I am done with that. I’ve hiked it 16 times already. I am mainly hiking the off-trail passes including part of the Sierra High Route”. Now I am really impressed. “Why the name Tinman?” I ask. “Oh, I have had both knees replaced. You know, titanium knees. I am really quite famous amongst the Orthopedic Surgeons” he says with a laugh. Now I am beyond impressed. This guy has not let age or bad knees hold him back.
Looking up the drainage that goes to Laurel Lake

After saying happy trails and goodbye to the Tinman, we start the steep climb up to Laurel Lake. The climb is close to 2,000 feet up in about 2.5 miles. It is grueling but I keep thinking about Tinman. If he can hike this so can I. I wonder why some people have the ability to overcome and why nothing holds them back. This guy is really quite amazing and I am truly inspired.  Is it belief in themselves? Shear determination? Lack of fear? What really are our limitations and why?

It starts to get stormy as we are heading up to Laurel Lake
We get to a nice meadow below Laurel Lake and it starts to pour. There is a good campsite and we pull the tent out quickly. Ray and I have got it down: one, two three and it is up and we are in the tent without getting wet. The rain doesn’t last long and the sky clears up. It is another magical Sierra moment. We unzip the tent and look around.
Laurel Creek with Red and White Mountain in the background. This view was gorgeous and classic Sierra Mountains. Red and White Mountain is a roof pendant with the dark “rock hat” made of metasedimentary rocks.

OMG – it is so breathtakingly beautiful. This could be a poster on a wall. I try to capture it as another happy place to store away in my memory bank. I have several places I have held close in my memory bank. These are the places I go to when facing the more tragic sides of life: death of a loved one, fear before a surgery, or even to provide calmness before a work presentation. Today is a good day, I will breathe in the memory of this valley and hold onto the inspiration of Tinman.


  1. Thanks for sharing about Tinman. That’s the kind of inspiration I need to be patient with my recovery from ACL surgery. Six more months and I’ll be backpacking again!

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