Long Way to Long Lake – Emigrant Wilderness: Stanislaus National Forest

california; emigrant wilderness; sierra nevada; stanislaus national forest Not as rugged as some Sierra landscapes, this one was still appealing.

Not as rugged as some Sierra landscapes, this one was still appealing.

“That’s a lot of cars,” we both exclaimed simultaneously as we arrived at the Crabtree Trailhead. But where are all the people?

The trailhead doubles as a camp where those heading into the Emigrant Wilderness can spend the night before beginning their trek. With all the tent sites, we only saw two other groups, though admittedly it was after 10pm and dark so we didn’t look very hard.

The trip is a 14 miles and moderate.

Shortly after 10am we started our hike, crossed the bridge over Lily Creek, and after a tenth of a mile made our first left onto an “infrequently maintained” trail towards Chewing Gum Lake. The first two or so miles were quite steep and added up to about 2000 feet of elevation gain. Quite a pleasant stretch though, climbing through forest and meadows, still teeming with wildflowers of all colors. The trail did seem to have been recently maintained as many downed trees were freshly cut.

california; emigrant wilderness; lake; long lakes; sierra nevada; stanislaus national forest Should you decide to chew gum near Chewing Gum Lake, or anywhere else in the backcountry, please dispose of it properly. NOT on the trail.

Should you decide to chew gum near Chewing Gum Lake, or anywhere else in the backcountry, please dispose of it properly. NOT on the trail.

california; emigrant wilderness; meadow; sierra nevada; stanislaus national forest

By the time we reached Chewing Gum Lake we were ready for a break so we plopped down on the shore to rest.

Making a right at the junction less then a mile past the lake, we headed East towards Whitesides Meadow. This one was rather spectacular. As the name suggests, it was surrounded by granite walls and spotted with flowers.

After passing the junction with a trail heading towards Meadow Lake (continue straight here) we didn’t see anyone until reaching our destination. This trailhead is definitely a popular one as to that point we felt like we were hiking at a local park; as far as the number of people were concerned.

california; emigrant wilderness; flowers; sierra nevada; stanislaus national forest Gorgeous alpine lilies.

Gorgeous alpine lilies.

We continued straight at each subsequent junction passing the trails headed into Upper Relief Valley, towards Toeajam Lake, and finally Wire Lakes. Another tenth of a mile later we turned East (left) to climb a hill then descend to Long Lake.

california; campsite; emigrant wilderness; sierra nevada; stanislaus national forest Our home for the night near Long Lake.

Our home for the night near Long Lake.

After being alone on the trail for a few hours, we were rather surprised that the first couple of sites were already taken. Venturing just past the end of the trail we found the perfect spot. It was rather fortunate that the other two sites were occupied as we surely would have plopped down at the first one. The site was spacious with a nice fire-ring a good distance from a flat tent spot, and close to the lake.

california; emigrant wilderness; lake; long lakes; sierra nevada; stanislaus national forest Long Lake, the highlight and goal of our trip.

Long Lake, the highlight and goal of our trip.

california; emigrant wilderness; lake; long lakes; sierra nevada; stanislaus national forest Me splashing in Long Lake.

Me splashing in Long Lake.

Access to the lake was great and the water was quite warm.

We headed back up to the main trail then turned left towards Deer Lake, then Gem Lake, then Piute Lake, Piute Meadow, and finally Camp Lake.

california; emigrant wilderness; sierra nevada; stanislaus national forest Our very scenic path.

Our very scenic path.

california; emigrant wilderness; lake; sierra nevada; stanislaus national forest This pond was filled with dying water lilies. It sure must be a sight when they

This pond was filled with dying water lilies. It sure must be a sight when they’re in bloom.

As we got closer and closer to the trailhead we began seeing more and more people.

california; emigrant wilderness; sierra nevada; stanislaus national forest The leaves of this plant were decaying while still attached to the stalk.

The leaves of this plant were decaying while still attached to the stalk.

When we got back, a young gentleman we saw earlier on the trail with a lady came up to us and frantically asked for a sprained-ankle kit. We grabbed an ace bandage from the car and handed it to him. It turned out his fiance twisted her ankle about 3 miles out and after it puffed up like a basketball he sped to the trailhead, presumably to get help. This, as he informed us, was their very first backpacking trip. The worst things do always seem to happen the first time out.

After futile attempts at checking for reception, I suggested that he might ask the leader of a horse-packing trip that just came down for help. He ran off in the direction of the horses and we didn’t see him again. As we sat around waiting to see if he would come back, ready to hike out with him to help, we spoke with a member of the aforementioned trip. She informed us that they were indeed heading back up with horses for the rescue and that they actually ran into the girl on their way offering to put her on one of the horses, but she refused. I’m sure she was worried that if her fiance came back up, he might miss her.

Regardless, we were fairly confident that the two would now be safe so we headed home; after stopping to drop off the sneakers in front of the now locked door of the ranger station.

Question to the reader:

If you’ve read thus far, our loyal reader, let me pose a question. If you were in the position of the young couple and your better half injured an ankle, what would you have done? Would you have left your significant other to hike back to the trailhead and find help right away? Keep in mind it was 5pm by the time he got down. Would you have improvised a bandage or a splint and tried to hike the 2 to 3 miles out? If you did try to hike out would you leave your packs and all your gear, or take them with? Or would you have pitched a tent right there and waited until morning to take any action? Granted the morning would have meant Monday with all the weekenders like ourselves at work and likely fewer individuals to offer any assistance at the trailhead.

Leave a comment here, or even better, on the CampingandHiking subreddit post you most likely got here from.

For more national forest adventures, visit our U.S. Forest Service Agency Guide.

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  • Hindsight is 20/20, but I think the boyfriend made the right call. If there were as many people around as you said there were, then it seems like a good bet that he would be able to find somebody to help, and that’s way better than trying to carry somebody out on a Monday morning after what would not have been a happy night out.

    Of course, 5pm is calling it close! Hopefully he was prepared to hike back in the dark and camp with her if he couldn’t find anybody.