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DAY FIVE

Was it really day five? Our adventures had seemed both timeless and endless, so the days were swiftly blurring together. A bit more map-reading and hasty planning suggested a new course: by remaining on the High Route over Blue Lake Pass, we could conceivably leave sufficient time to still detour into the Lyell Fork Merced, thereby having our cake and eating it too (chocolate, I hoped!). This was not a major detour in itself, but one small problem cropped up: none of us actually recalled much of the detail from the guidebook past the next lake, since we had planned on either going north or north-west from there and not west! Nevertheless we were pleased and eager to be off, with the trail now a half-day closer on the new route.
Almost immediately we found ourselves off even that part of the route that we remembered, finding ourselves well below the elevation of the next lake. Despite the research that led the author to select another way, we confidently predicted that we could reach the meeting of creeks in Bench Valley by a lower route. We continued our traverse with a slight bit of descent, then climbed up to a dark-grey ridgetop crowned with a balanced white rock. From there we could see why the route did not go this way! By squinting and tipping our heads slightly, we still felt sure we could climb up the right-side slot without too much difficulty - so again we were off, sliding down a forested slope, then a talus-choked streambed. From there it was steeply up through flowers, bugs and rocks until the grade slackened. We were minutes away from Paradise, though it was barely visible from this point. Ten minutes later, we knew: a gorgeous high valley, lightly forested, with a splendid creek sliding gently down slabs from pool to trout-filled pool. Larry dropped his gear and grabbed his fly-fishing outfit, while Scott and I soaked what needed soaking in the gently-flowing pools. Mt. Ritter and its satellites marched across the skyline behind us, and the bright sun warmed and dried us with only a few deerflies to spoil the effect. [I enjoyed swatting them and feeding the trout; revenge is sweet!] After a half-hour our family of four rejoined us; they had packed up their lower camp and were moving into this valley for a few days (a wise decision, as if they didn't know it!). We talked with them for quite a while and exchanged e-mail addresses before they moved upward. We finally put ourselves back on the path, reluctantly saying farewell to this special place. We waved at the family one last time as we moved uphill into a magical valley, accompanied by the smaller but still exuberant creek flowing from Blue Lake. [It's difficult to describe this area without fear that everyone on the Internet will pack up and go there, making it far less special than it was for us!]

Paradise: Bench Valley neat the meeting of creeks

Ritter &c from near Blue Lake Pass

The siren-call came upon me here, just as it had near Mt. Reinstein the previous year. This time it was the summit of Forester Peak, looking like a short scramble at the head of the valley. Even though it was several hundred feet higher than the pass, it looked like an easier path! No one else heard the call, however, and when I accepted the obvious we continued up-valley without further thought of the summit. We took another quick break at Blue Lake, refilling our water bottles, then pondered two routes that slanted up to the right. Again we split, with Scott taking the left-hand path while Larry and I went right. Our path went higher and further right than we expected, and when we finally emerged it took us a while to find Scott (he was ahead of us). We wandered among still more large talus until we finally crested Blue Lake Pass late in the afternoon. This would be our last view of Mt. Ritter and the Minarets, and much of the central Sierra (the Silver Divide and points south) showed up for a curtain call as well. On the far side, the Clark Range now appeared in silhouette against the lowering sun. A beautiful view, but no place to rest for long!

Aside from the cold wind, we had another steep slope to descend before reaching camp, so after a short break and more photos we marched wearily down. The slope at first looked good on the left, but after ten minutes the right began to look much better; as Larry and Scott worked their way down the steepest stretch I doubled back and came further right. We met at the highest lake and continued down toward several inviting lakes in a rather barren landscape. We really needed to find a camp pretty soon, yet camping by a treeless lake did not hold much appeal, so we veered north toward where Foerster Creek should be. Soon we reached a couple of dry creek-beds, but the next valley held a small tarn and moving water- not a great flow, but good water nonetheless. We didn't search long before settling on a nice spot, and we hardly finished our dinner before the sun set.


The TalusMen on the west side of Blue Lake Pass


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