Sierra High Route Day 23: Reds Meadow to Iceberg Lake, I’ve Seen Fire and I’ve Seen Rain

Total Miles: 11.4 Cumulative Miles: 235.4 Elevation Gain: 3846 ft Elevation Loss: 1644 ft Camp: Iceberg Lake
Map of Sierra High Route Day 23: from Reds Meadow, over Nancy Pass, past Minaret Lake and camp at Iceberg Lake
We walk through the pumice, chalk dust puffing up like smoke swirls. The pumice dust coats us like a layer of makeup hiding but accentuating the cracks and folds of our skin and clothes. It is dry and feels like Fall starting at a low elevation of 7600 feet at Reds Meadow and Devils Postpile.

We stayed at Mammoth Mountain last night so we could take the shuttle bus to Reds Meadow and Devils Postpile to complete the remaining 48 miles of the Sierra High Route (for us). This section of the Sierra High Route ends at Tuolumne Meadows. We took the first bus leaving Mammoth to Reds Meadow at 7:30am and got started around 8:15am this morning. It is late for us but we are glad to be back on the trail. This section of the Sierra High Route from Reds Meadow starts on the Muir Trail and after a few miles turns onto the Beck Lakes Trail before heading cross country over Nancy Pass.

The Beck Lakes Trail switchbacks up through mature stands of western white pine, mountain hemlock and red fir. The Lions Fire (2018) burned through some of these mature groves and came close to the trail.
Ray and I are both excited that the National Park Service has finally opened the Beck Lakes Trail. This trail has been closed most of the summer because of the Lions Fire. When we picked up our permit, the ranger said the fire is just “smoldering” now and we should be ok. It is 80% contained. Guess our plan to wait a week and come back to do this section paid off.

After several miles we turn off on the Beck Lakes Trail and it was actually a pleasant hike through the woods. We weren’t too bothered by smoke all morning. Every once in a while we get a whiff of a burnt tree but no smoke filled valley.
We were surprised to see a trail closure sign as the ranger had told us the trail was open. We chose to believe the ranger and kept going.
It is good we have a trail to start on I think to myself. It takes a while for me to get back into the rhythm of hiking. After 7 miles we come to a lake called “Superior”. It is small and swampy so I wonder how it got its name. From here we head cross country and climb up our first pass today, Nancy Pass.
View of Nancy Pass from Superior Lake

It begins to rain as we get to the top of Nancy Pass and get our first views of the Minarets. There is something compelling about the Minarets. They drip darkness, piercing the white flesh of the sky like daggers. I am drawn into their beauty reluctantly.

From Nancy Pass, looking at the daggers of the Minarets poking at the skyline.
View from Nancy Pass of the Minarets. The next part of the Sierra High Route involves traversing down to the trees in the bottom right of the photo and across to Minaret Lake which is behind a ridge in the right hand side of the photo.

We work our way across the talus slopes towards Minaret Lake. I am very used to talus hiking now and this is nothing like the big talus going over Frozen Lake Pass or Alpine Col. My ankles have gotten really strong on this trip (I am just wearing Hoka trail running shoes after all…). It also helps to keep the pack light. I shutter to think what it would be like trying to cross these talus fields with a 50 or 60 lb pack. My pack weighs about 25 pounds, give or take, right now with 5 days of food.

This talus hiking isn’t so bad!!

We cross country to Minaret Lake and connect to the Minaret Creek Trail which is a fairly popular trail coming up from Devil’s Postpile and Red Meadows near Mammoth Lakes. We see a few people but it is not crowded. Maybe it is because it is September now and after Labor Day weekend. Or maybe the Lions Fire has scared people away from this area.

Minaret Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness

It is raining as we work our way around Minaret Lake and up towards Cecil Lake. We have been to Cecil Lake two years ago when we hiked the John Muir trail. We took a day hike from a camp at Shadow Creek and hiked past Ediza and Iceberg Lakes and up to Cecil Lake. It was one of our favorite days on our John Muir hike. We call them “scamper days” when you do a side hike without packs. We haven’t had much in the way of scamper days on the Sierra High Route. But it is a different trip.

There is not an official trail between Minaret and Cecil Lakes but enough people have hiked between the two lakes so there are some fairly defined “use” trails. Roper talks about a class 3 slot that slices through a steep cliff band below Cecil Lake. This slot does not appear to be used anymore. The “use” trail goes to the right of the slot and switchbacks up a rocky gully. It is fairly straightforward and easy to follow.

Ray on the use trail between Minaret and Cecil Lakes

Cecil Lake down to Iceberg Lake is a “steep and unpleasant slope” as described by Roper. For us, it begins to rain hard and the rocks are very slick. We stop at Iceberg Lake for the night where it begins to hail as we put up the tent. The temperature has dropped. I guess that is to be expected at an elevation close to 10,000 feet in September. Fall is definitely here.

Wet campsite at Iceberg Lake
The clouds mirror the raggedness of the peaks themselves. View from Iceberg Lake of the Minarets.

Video of the Day:


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