This post continues from the last one, on meadows and lakes north of Bennettville , north of Tioga Pass on the eastern boundary of Yosemite National Park.
Above its precipitous descent toward Mono Lake, Lee Vining Creek flows in a straight northwest-southeast trending valley for two miles. As you travel upstream, the head of this valley is blocked by a 1,400-foot wall that looks like a huge loaf of bread.
The stream cascades three hundred feet down around the east end of the wall. At the top of the cascade you enter a broad, spacious airy basin. It continues northwestward for three more miles, still following the orientation of the folded metamorphic rocks in which it has been carved before ending at the brink of deep Lundy Canyon to the north.
We took the water taxi to the far end of mile-and-a-half long Saddlebag Lake, then headed up the gentle incline of the basin. We passed green meadows and a string of small to medium-sized lakes bordered by outcrops of ancient rocks smoothed by glacial action. Above us to the left, side basins led to the broad, high face of Mt. Conness and the dramatic wall of North Peak gleaming in the sun.
Shortly before Steelhead Lake, we realized that the tiny stream on our left was gently flowing north, away from Saddlebag. The last mile of the basin drains toward Lundy Canyon.
As my cousin explored toward the knapsack pass over the crest to McCabe Lakes, I investigated the area around Steelhead Lake. The clouds that had been forming now grew darker. The breeze picked up and steady rain began to fall. Below Steelhead Lake I watched, fascinated, as gusts of wind and rain moved down a smaller lake, then across it as the wind changed direction. It seemed like a living thing.
In the halflight and rain, glacier-rounded bosses of dark metamorphic rock interspersed with slopes of green looked otherworldly, as though I was in some kind of fairyland.
Finally the rain stopped and the clouds slowly thinned and broke apart. Sunlight again flooded our part of the mountains.
Late that afternoon, while we were waiting near the edge of Saddlebag Lake for the ferry, the clouds moved in again, and while we were on the lake it began raining lightly. However, when I came out of the restroom by the road, the rain had stopped. The far shore of the lake was spotlighted by late afternoon sunlight shining under dark clouds. A sunbeam shone in slight haze through a gap in the crest. A fitting ending to another unforgettable day, and a reminder of the awesome world of which I’ve been made a full member. It makes me feel humble, grateful and exultant all at once.