Backpacking into the John Muir Wilderness(Cont)

South Fork Lake 1 (from my base camp site at 5:54am)

After a 5 mile, 1,000′ elevation gain I arrived at South Fork Lake, where I established a base camp. From here, I would take day hikes to a number of other lakes in the area including South Fork Lake 2, Cottonwood Lakes, and Cirque Lake. The air was blessedly clear of smoke from about midnight until the following midday, so photography was good within that window of time.

Moon, Snag

The moon is almost within the talons of this imposing snag.

Campsite Tree(6:57 am)

The Tree from which I hung my Bear Vault food storage container(middle, left) and my bright red-orange water bucket(lower center). After adding some hot water to the bucket, showers were comfortable: until the water stopped and the chill breeze rendered a mountain of goose bumps.

My tent site

The view from my tent site showing the bright orange self inflating sleeping pad that provided a relatively comfortable sleeping environment for my 73 year old bones. New Army Pass is the low bit on the horizon. New Army pass is the gateway to Mount Langley, at 14, 032′ sitting on the boundary between Inyo and Tulare counties, California. Some day I will attempt to get to the top of Langley in stages. Hiking back down to the trailhead the following Saturday, I met several individuals and parties attempting to get to the top and down in the same day!

South Fork Lake #2

I hiked up to South Fork Lake #2 to explore its environs plants and denizens. Which turned out to be very productive from a bird photography perspective.

Merlin(Falco columbarius)

I noticed a Merlin, a small falcon, flying over me, headed for a stand of pines. Moments later, I heard a number of Steller’s Jays(Cyanocitta stelleri) squawking and raising hell in the direction that the Merlin flew. Putting two and two together, I hiked up into the pines to see what was happening(if anything) between the Merlin and the jays. Sure enough the Jays were harassing the Merlin, and vice versa. The image above is the Merlin diving on one of the jays, back to the sky, belly facing earth, but head rotated on its long axis 180 degrees to track it’s intended victim.

Merlin, left center; Steller’s Jay, upper right

In this view the Merlin is pictured attempting to head off a Steller’s Jay approaching from the right. I was lucky to capture any shots at all because all of the birds were flying cheek to jowl among the canopies of individual trees. I had to set my camera on rapid fire(6 frames/second), fast shutter speed, shallow depth of field and and just point in the direction of their movements. Jays are notorious nest robbers, preying on eggs and hatchlings: Merlins will take great measures to discourage them from frequenting nest sites, even after the juvenile Merlins fledge and leave the area.


Detail of Merlin. Merlins are slightly larger(6.5oz) than our native Kestrels(4.1oz), the smallest Falcon in North America. The arboreal and water loving Merlins are much smaller than the next largest falcons(Prairie and Peregrine Falcons) both averaging 1.6 pounds.

Bristlecone Pine Snag

Gnarly Bristlecone Pine snag on the trail to South Fork Lake#2. These dead snags can remain erect for hundreds of years past death due to the rot resistant nature and arid, boreal environment. The oldest individual, called Methuselah is estimated to be 4,852 years old whose location in the Inyo National Forest is a closely guarded secret.

Stream crossing on South Fork Creek

Beautifully engineered stream bank stabilization on South Fork Creek. Probably completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. These large rocks weigh several hundred pounds and are fit perfectly to keep the creek confined to its banks. Imagine men deprived of employment during the great depression finally getting chance to display their skills and abilities working in the most spartan environment possible. An opportunity to achieve a measure of dignity when all had been lost to them: their farms, their jobs their livelihood, but most of all, their self-respect. These CCC work sites are a lasting monument to their adjustment to adversity!

Audubons Warbler(Setophaga auduboni auduboni)

This bird was long known to be closely related to its eastern counterpart, the Myrtle Warbler, and at various times the two forms have been classed as separate species or grouped as the Yellow-rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata. The two forms probably diverged when the eastern and western populations were separated in the last ice age.* From Wikipedia

Milky Way over my camp site

As the skies were clear between midnight and midday, I chose to get up at 3:30 am to prepare for this shot of the Milky Way from my camp site. It wasn’t easy because I did not have my tripod, only a monopod with a ball head, which I wedged into the branches of a fallen dead Bristlecone pine.

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel (Callospermophilus lateralis

A very cute Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel visiting me at lunch time. You may take comfort in the knowledge that in this day of Covid-19, this Golden-mantled ground squirrel, along with other wild rodents- other squirrels, wood rats, prairie dogs, chipmunks, mice, voles, and some rabbits can carry Bubonic Plague. Oh and don’t forget that rodents can cause: Hantavirus, leptospirosis, lymphocytic choriomeningitis, Tularemia and Salmonella. So don’t mess with wild animals of any size.

Crustose lichens

Well decorated emergency rodent burrow entrance. The chartreuse colored one is Pleopsidium flavum; the pinkish one is probably in the genus Candelariella: sometimes called the egg yolk or gold speck lichens. Bloody clever of the ground squirrels to decorate with lichens!


Sunrise over South Fork Lake #1, where I camped for four nights. Next time I’ll take a fishing pole.

Published by sabaiedmsncom

I am a former park ranger, and coastal dune preserve manager, now retired and photographing the places that suit my wanderlust. I usually have a general idea of where I want to travel to, but once on the road I just follow my nose: it seldom steers me wrong.

One thought on “Backpacking into the John Muir Wilderness(Cont)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: