McGee Pass, September 2021

Large fires and extreme fire danger again canceled a lot of September hiking in the Sierra. We were lucky to get a brief window with good conditions. On the drive up Owens Valley I had my doubts that the hike would happen. The valley was smoke-filled and we did not see any of the Sierra or White Mountain peaks.

Jack, Quinn, Ken, Srisuda, and I met at McGee campground for a night before the hike. Over night winds blew all the smoke and haze away and we awoke to a beautiful, clear sky. We drove up to the end of the road and the trailhead for McGee Pass. The trail starts out gentle and follows McGee Creek up. Along the way we passed some Aspen groves that were in the process to change to fall colors. We also saw a deer. After crossing McGee Creek we were rewarded with a nice section of trail in a forest. Around this area the trail got a little steeper. Eventually we reached Big McGee Lake where we found a nice campsite on the eastern side of the lake. After setting up camp and dinner Ken went to the lake to try his luck at some fishing. He was quite successful with several bites. With the sun down behind the mountains temperatures dropped quickly and we crawled into our warm sleeping bags.

On day 2 we continued up the trail to McGee Pass. As we reached Little McGee lake and 11,000 ft the vegetation completely stopped and we found ourselves in barren, rocky terrain. On the pass we got some great views of the Sierra west of us. Srisuda decided to just enjoy the views from here while the rest of the group continued up to the peak of Red Slate Mountain (13,123 ft / 4000 m) along a faint use-trail. The views from the top were spectacular. In the distance we could see some smoke from the ongoing fires. After returning to camp we took quick dips in the lake to cool off. The water at 10,500 ft was very cold. After dinner Ken had another successful fishing session.

On day 3 Jack, Quinn, and Ken were going to hike out while Srisuda and I had planned to stay another night and hike to the other side of the pass. However, when we got out of our tent we could smell some smoke and the peaks around us were covered by haze from the smoke. With these unhealthy conditions we decided to also hike out.

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