Trip Report: Benson Lake
June 9-10, 2018
In Northern Yosemite just half a mile from a fairly remote section of the Pacific Crest Trail lies a large, sandy beach on the shore of a beautiful Alpine Lake. This is a brief trip report recounting a weekend outing to that lake, Benson Lake. This trip fell relatively early in the season, but a well-below-average snow year made it possible to reach the lake with only wet feet and a few short sections of snow. The twenty miles from the nearest trailhead provided a reasonable amount of solitude.
My plan was to hike the Benson Lake Loop, a 50 mile loop from the Twin Lakes trailhead, camping at Benson Lake and completing the longer leg of the loop (30 miles) on the first day. I drove over on Friday night, picked up my permit at the ranger station, and rolled out my sleeping bag under the stars at the Sawmill Campground.
Day 1: Twin Lakes to Benson Lake
20.5 miles +4,200’
I was up and ready when Annett’s Mono Village opened for the day. For easiest access to the trail, you have to pay them for an overnight parking spot in their campground. But that delayed my start a bit. Around 7:30, I was leaving the RVs behind and hiking through the meadows along Robinson Creek.
Looking up Horse Canyon towards the Sawtooth Ridge.
Barney Lake with Crown Point behind. With its slightly smaller sandy beach and great views, this lake is a popular day-hike destination.
Beautiful green Robinson Lake.
Looking east over Crown Lake. Above here, on my way to Burro Pass, I ran into consistent, deep snow cover that made for difficult routefinding and postholing. I expected it would be at least as bad over Mule and Burro Passes, which meant I wouldn’t be able to make 30 miles this way, so I reversed course and headed for Peeler Lake, figuring that if conditions were good that way I could make an out-and-back, or if they were bad I could just bail altogether.
Peeler Lake and Crown Point.
Kerrick Meadow from above. There was still a good amount of meltwater in the meadows, especially upper Kerrick Meadow.
There wasn’t a human footprint to be seen on the trail.
Looking back east, upstream at Kerrick Meadow.
Volunteer Peak from just below Seavey Pass. There were a few small sections of snow hiding in the trees near Seavey Pass, especially on the north side, but nothing too difficult.
Part of Piute Mountain from south of Seavey Pass.
The beach at Benson Lake was significantly reduced due to the very high early season lake level. In other pictures I’ve seen, all of the trees and brush that are underwater in this picture are at least 10 feet from the water’s edge. I had to wade across some knee-deep inlets to get to the far end where there was a bit less water. The bugs were out in the trees and in the slow-moving sections of Piute Creek, but a strong wind kept them off the lakeshore.
Enjoying a cold one at Benson Lake.
Day 2: Benson Lake to Twin Lakes
18 miles, +2,800’
I rose with the sun, cooked a quick breakfast, and hit the trail.
Piute Creek near the Benson Lake inlet.
Another, less cloudy, view of Volunteer Peak and the unnamed (on my map) peaks to the west.
Tarns near the top of Seavey Pass.
One of the sources of the footprints along the trail from yesterday.
A gorgeous section of Rancheria Creek.
This is where the trail crosses Rancheria Creek. Despite it still being early season, the crossing was trivial, the creek was not even knee deep and very slow through here.
Gorgeous granite formations in the morning light along Rancheria Creek.
Morning view looking upstream at Kerrick Meadow.
Looking back downstream across Kerrick Meadow.
The view of the Sawtooth Ridge across Peeler Lake.
Another shot of Barney Lake and Crown Point, this time with less wind.
The view up Little Slide Canyon and a close-up with the Incredible Hulk.
The great views continued all the way to the gas station, and for much of the drive back as well.
I made good time on the fairly uneventful hike back, leaving me with time for a Jolly Kone burger and a lovely run through the forest near Peaceful Pines on my way back over Sonora Pass. Despite not managing to complete my original objective, it was still a fun weekend out, and I was happy to be able to do this trip so early in the season.
I’ll only comment on a couple of things, first the route itself. Even though I wasn’t able to complete the full loop, I still thought this area was awesome. On this hike, you’ll pass by the spectacular Sawtooth region of the Hoover Wilderness, explore several of North Yosemite’s long canyons, and visit a Sierra Nevada alpine lake with a large sandy beach. I’ve heard Smedberg Lake is quite scenic as well, but didn’t get the chance to visit it this trip. On top of that, you’ll avoid Yosemite’s infamous crowds and some of its backpacking red-tape.
Second, the conditions. I’ll talk about the three things that every Sierra Nevada backpacker should consider: snow, creeks, and bugs. As a reminder, this trip was June 9-10, 2018, which was a relatively low snow year, the snowpack peaked around 60% of April 1 average. I found only a few small patches of snow near Peeler Lake and the north side of Seavey Pass. While there was some walking on snow, it was not difficult by any means. The unbridged crossing of Rancheria Creek was equally uneventful. The trail crosses in a large, flat meadow. The water was only 2 feet deep or so and slow moving. I noticed the bugs were beginning to come out, especially in some of the swampy areas along Piute Creek, but they were still a ways from peaking and I was perfectly comfortable bivying and lazing around without a headnet.