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Elizabeth Lake & Beyond - California, United States

by tmusolf  
with a Garmin eTrex Legend HCx
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The hike to Elizabeth Lake was our warm-up hike after arriving in the Tuolumne Meadows area.  The hike to the lake itself is only 4.5 miles round-trip with a 900 gradual elevation gain.  The "and beyond" part adds snow, two lakes, summit and saddle views, 1700' feet of climbing and another 5 miles of hiking.

The trail-head is a bit hard to find in the back of the Tuolumne Meadows Campground.  You don't have to be staying in the campground to drive in and park.  At the campground checkin booth we said the magic words "Elizabeth Lake Trail-head" and they waved us through.

After you pass into the campground immediately go right.  You'll quickly pass a bathroom and a road on your left.  You then take the next left at the next bathroom.  There's parking for about 15 cars near another bathroom with running water and spigot to fill water bottles.  It's next to site B49.

The trail-head itself is signed and is very obvious just beyond the bathroom at the back edge of the paved parking area.

The trail immediately begins a gradual climb through pine forest.  It levels out occasionally and then climbs again.  You start to get some views off to the left of Unicorn Peak through the trees.

When you're about halfway there the climb lessens and you approach Unicorn Creek.

In another half mile the trail opens up into a beautiful meadow split by meandering Unicorn Creek which feeds out of Elizabeth Lake.  A bit further and you can see Unicorn Peak rising at the far side of the Lake.

After having lunch on the north side of the lake I decided to hike up past the lake to find two unnamed lakes up past the next ridge.  It started with a nice stroll around the west side of the lake and then I saw a small trail veering south, away from the lake and up the slope.

I followed this good trail, switchbacking up the slope.  The GPS told me the lakes were off to my left on the other side of bowl I was climbing.  I figured this trail was climbing on this side and then at one point would cut left and traverse across the bowl to the top of the ridge hiding the lakes.

As I climbed up further it became obvious that that wasn't what was happening.  The trail continued to veer further to the right, away from the lakes and a traverse was looking like it would cross some rougher terrain.   

I climbed up out of the thicker forest into a granite landscape.  The trail ended at a saddle with howling wind and a fantastic view south towards Yosemite Valley.

After a rest and pictures I started bushwhacking up the granite slabs to my left.  At that point I got a clear view of the bowl I'd been climbing.  The ridge I was on led to a minor peak and another saddle with snow nestled just below it on it's north face.  

I decided to climb the ridge to this peak, drop down to the saddle and check out the snow and then traverse across the rockfall face of the bowl the the ridge on the left side of the bowl containing the lakes.

That plan pretty much worked.  The summit was windy with great views north to Elizabeth Lake, Lambert Dome and beyond.  South I could see more small lakes down in another valley.

Dropping down to the saddle I made the obligatory snowball in the last of last winter's snow and then started to descend and traverse across.  This traverse was much more difficult then I has expected.  Large angular boulders piled up from where they had fractured off the cliffs above.  You had to be careful not to upset one or slip.  It would have been easy to split open a shin or shake loose a rock leading to a fall or foot entrapment.

I continued to drop and traverse and eventually more gravelly soil and plants started to appear as I reached the east side of the bowl.  From there I climbed up a few more hundred feet through light forest, granite slabs, little gullies and small meadows.

At long last I came over a ridge and looked down into a small depression filled with a beautiful, crystal clear blue lake.  My step was a lot lighter as I strolled down to the lake.  The west side had the most amazing sand beach which is where I sat and had my second lunch.  I looked great for a swim, but between the water and wind it wasn't going to happen.

On the north east side of the lake the ridge containing the lake was lower.  I headed that way and quickly came to another shallow, but spectacular lake.  I followed this lake and then it's outlet stream down the other side of the ridge back to Lake Elizabeth.

The walk back was mostly bushwhacking.  I'd occasionally run across a piece of an unofficial trail, but it would soon peter out and I'd be working my way down through open forest, pretty meadows and around granite boulders.

I picked up the Elizabeth Lake trail in the meadow just east of the lake and headed back the way we had come up that morning back to the car.

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Trip Info
by tmusolf
September 07, 2010
Trip Location: Yosemite National Park, California, United States
Length: 9.5 miles
Duration: 5 hours
Activity: Hiking
Trip viewed 1,311 times
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