Rush Creek Trail – “Living up to its name!”
Monday, June 5th, 2017
Most days, the idea of a Monday morning spawns images of another dreadful work week. For me however, It would be a very different Monday. I was fortunate enough to wake up on in the Eastern Sierra Nevada with a beautiful destination to venture to. I have been visiting the June Lake Loop for well over a decade, but never actually hiked the trails that are in and around this lovely region. I was going to change that by taking on the Rush Creek Trail to Agnew Lake.
“The Starship hits up the June Lake Loop for another glorious Eastern Sierra journey.”
“This view of Carson Peak from highway 158 is what dreams are made of!”
Rush Creek TrailheadGPS Coordinates: 37.7801692° N, 119.1980185° W
The Rush Creek Trail is a pretty relaxed two mile hike to Agnew Lake. The first portion of the trail has you navigating a dense Aspen forest located just behind the Silver Lake Resort which is nicely shaded, but quickly becomes unshaded as it begins to ascend the mountain side. Although it was a sunny day, it was fortunately only 68ºF (20º C) that morning. I had all my camera gear, snacks and water ready. It was time to see what today’s new venture will bring us.
“Here we go, just two miles to Agnew Lake (Gem Lake is just a mile further than Agnew).”
“Alger Creek was flowing the strongest I had ever seen.”
“Carson Peak concealed in a window of Aspen trees.”
“After about 1,000 ft (305 m) into the trees, the shade began to disappear.”
By the time you hit the unshaded part of the hike, you will be hiking alongside the highway as you go up. The view from here is pretty great, but it gets so much better as you ascend. Typically a hike like this doesn’t phase me, but ever since I shifted my endurance training to weight training, I noticed a significant loss in the ability to not get winded on these sorts of hikes. This trail however was a good reason to feel it though as the trailhead starts at an elevation of 7,240 ft (2,206 m) and gains pretty quick once you leave the shade of the trees.
“Highway 158 down below, Rush Creek Trail up above.”
“Looking back down at the rich colors of Silver Lake’s northern shores and the Rush Creek trailhead.”
“Caution, slippery snow patch ahead!”
At one point along the trail, my elevation was high enough to reach the snow patches that were visible from the trailhead below. These were a little tricky to navigate and required patience, a low center of gravity (crouching), and a good sense of balance. They don’t look too difficult to cross, but one overconfident step and you’re on your way down an icy slope which ends at a steep granite cliff.
After sizing up the snow patch for a minute, I noticed a few hikers had caught up to me. There were three generations of ladies behind me, a daughter, mother, and grandmother. They watched me navigate across the snow patch and when I reached the other side, I waited for them to make sure they didn’t run into any trouble. The grandmother was last to cross and I stretched out to take her hand and ensure that she did not slip. They were thankful and we all carried on at our different paces.
“A remnant of the historic Sierra winter still lays across a portion of the Rush Creek Trail.”
“At about 0.75 miles (1.21 km), the trail begins to get very rocky and uneven.”
The day was warming up and combined with the hiking and heavy camera pack, I was getting winded and overheated. Although there was no truly dedicated shade along this trail, there was the occasional tree which provided a much needed place to cool down and get hydrated. The combination of the altitude and being slightly out of shape was definitely taking its toll on my performance, but this was not a time to give up and go back. I stood up and pushed onward.
“The water level at the southern end of Silver Lake submerged some of the islands.”
As the trail began to finally curve around the mountain, I received my first peek at Horsetail Falls. It was an incredible view to see it from this vantage point. The introduction of granite carved steps began to appear along the trail at this point and I was about a mile into the hike. Part of me wanted to keep going, but I know that with the movement of the earth, the light would soon change and I wanted a shot of Horsetail Falls with the light that was available at that very moment.
“Granite steps mark the beginning of all the amazing sights to come.”
“My formula for a silky smooth waterfall.”
I hiked a short way off the trail to an outcrop of granite boulders nearby. I set up my tripod and mounted my 5D MKII with a 70-200mm f/2.8L USM II. I fitted the lens with my Lee filter kit 77mm adapter and the Lee “Big Stopper” for an extra long “10 Stops” of exposure in broad daylight. Considering the distance and the rate of the water flow, I knew I would need at least 5 – 10 seconds of exposure time to get what I was looking for.
“Propped up and ready for some long exposure action!”
I tested exposure durations until I got what I was looking for, a silky smooth waterfall over the rough granite terrain. I set this shot with an aperture of f/9 and an exposure time of 10 seconds. As with all my shots, I took this one with a flat color profile and an ISO 100 setting. My focal length was not the full 200mm, surprisingly I captured this image at a focal length of only 155mm on a full frame sensor.
“My 200mm lens wasn’t even zoomed in all the way, that’s how close I got to these falls.”
“A brief video of Horsetail Falls shot with the 5D MKII and my 70-200mm.”
I stayed at this location shooting dozens of images with various apertures and focal lengths. I even shot a good amount of video from the 5D MKII which came out rather nice. Once I felt that I got all the shots I needed, I packed up my gear and headed back up to continue along the trail. I was about 1.2 miles (1.93 km) into the trail and ready to proceed to Agnew Lake.
“From this point on the trail, the view of June Lake below resembled a miniature model.”
I was closing in on the path to the lake when I suddenly noticed an exorbitant amount of water on the trail. As I proceeded, the Rush Creek Trail was in fact becoming a creek complete with miniature cascades as water poured over the granite carved steps. I could hear the water get louder as I proceeded. The lovely ladies that I helped earlier on the trail were sitting down and having a snack. They informed me that the trail was inundated with a powerful water flow just up ahead.
“Small cascades of snow melt poured over the stone steps of the trail.”
“I looked up to see where in the world all this water was coming from.”
“Here is a short video of the cascading water on the trail.”
“I navigated the trail here as best I could to see how bad the situation was up ahead.”
Once I had reached the point where the water was hitting the trail, I was able to see the rest of the dry trail across the way, but the depth and power of the water made it difficult for me to cross without getting drenched and I didn’t come prepared with sandals. I grabbed a stick and drove it into the rushing water to see how deep it was. I learned that it was almost knee deep through the rushing water flow if I decided to attempt it. This was a real bummer because I really wanted to get to Agnew Lake, but not with wet socks and boots. I’ve done that before and it’s a real crappy way to hike. At this point, my hike along this trail reached 1.45 miles and peaked out at 7,918 ft. (2,413 m).
“A barrier of deep, rushing water blocks the path to the rest of the Rush Creek Trail.”
“Although I couldn’t cross, the view was simply gorgeous so I didn’t mind at all.”
The entire time that I had been hiking, I continuously watched and heard helicopters take turns transporting equipment and supplies to the Agnew Lake Dam. From what I had learned, the dam and it’s water pumps were in desperate need of repair. The immense quantities of water being generated by the huge snow pack this year was overwhelming the lake. Southern California Edison (S.C.E.), which operates the dam, had the pumps wide open and working overtime to eliminate the increasing water that was filling the lake. This is why Horsetail Falls, which is usually just a trickle of water most of the year, was flowing with incredible force lately. One of the locals had mentioned that the choppers had been flying equipment up to the dam for the last three weeks.
“A Bell UH-1 Huey chopper hauls some equipment to the top the Agnew Lake Dam.”
“Even the rare Sikorsky CH-54A ‘Tahre’ a.k.a. ‘Sky Crane’ was getting in on the action.”
“The Sky Crane can lift up to 20,000 lbs. (9,072 kg), a very impressive feat of power.”
“Watching a backpacker take on the further reaches of the Rush Creek Trail.”
From where I was sitting, I could see a lone backpacker crossing the tracks up the mountain only to come to a complete stop when he noticed that the collapsed snow patch was going to be an impassable obstacle. You could see the foot prints that other hikers had left behind, but that was clearly up over his head. The section of snow that was once there had collapsed a while ago, so getting up there was far too risky. Apparently the ladies that were taking a break here said that the guy was able to cross the waterfall over the trail earlier because he had a pair of flip flops with him so as not to get his socks and boots drenched. (Note to self: “Bring flip flops next time.”)
“Too risky to continue, a backpacker contemplates going up the tracks.”
Eventually the backpacker did what you’re not really supposed to do and climbed up the cable assisted mine tracks to get to a part of the trail further up. You can’t really get in trouble if you hike the tracks, but it’s steep and you have to keep an ear out when the cable starts winding up. Southern California Edison actively uses the tracks to get up and down the steep slopes of the Angew Lake Dam.
After witnessing the backpacker, I realized that even if I had gotten past the waterfall over the trail, I would have been stopped by the giant snow patch and thus left with only one option to get to Agnew Lake. All things considered, I felt that if I had gone any further, my “full frontal” shot of the falls would have been reduced to a mere profile images. I was happy with my current perspective on the scenery and decided to start my way back after hanging out here for awhile.
“The mining tracks, cart, and affiliated equipment are originally from Bodie Ghost Town up north.”
The hike back was very easy as it was mostly downhill and when I got near the trailhead, I realized that I was starving even though I had snacked earlier. Looking at the clock, I realized that I had taken photos and video for over two hours up there. I was happy that I scored as many shots as I did, but right now the only thing on my mind was “FOOD!”
“The hike back down was really easy as it was mostly down hill.”
“A quick stop at the Silver Lake boat launch ramp on the way out, it was completely submerged!”
“Get to da choppa!”
Driving back into the downtown area, I was stopped short at the June Lake Ski Lifts. It was the landing area for the helicopters I had been seeing all day. There were two Hueys and one Sky Crane working around the clock. I pulled off the highway and watched one of the Huey choppers come in for a landing while the big Sky Crane was preparing for another lift off.
“A Bell UH-1 Huey touches down to get another load of equipment to haul up the mountain.”
“These guys even brought their own fueling station.”
“A small clip of the ‘Big Boy’ preparing for another trip up the mountain.”
“The powerful six-bladed Sky Crane relieves the Huey with another heavy equipment haul.”
After getting my fill of the mini airshow at the ski lifts, I realized how starved I really was by this point! I continued my drive into town and headed straight for the June Lake Brewing Company. No more distractions, time for some serious grub at my favorite place!
“Carson Peak is a pretty awesome sight no matter where in the June Lake Loop you are.”
Ohana’s 395GPS Coordinates: 37.7786916° N,119.0781631° W
Ohana’s 395 is one the tastiest places to grab something a little different than the traditional burger or steak platter in the June Lake Loop. The menu is full of amazing items including the single biggest reason I return here over and over again, the “Ono Poke Bowl” made with raw or seared Ahi Tuna. I was only recently introduced to this place in Autumn 2016 and have continued to visit since then. Ohana’s 395 is a bright orange food trailer located at the opposite end of the June Lake Brewing Company’s property. You can take your order to go, or you can hang out at the brewery’s seated patio area and have a beer.
The June Lake Loop is far too beautiful a place to spend lunch in town, so I took mine to go and headed out for a more scenic venue. I chose the aqua and emerald colored shores of June Lake itself to have a seat and enjoy the peaceful view while I ate my tasty lunch.
“A medium sized Ono Poke Bowl at Ohana’s 395 is legendary.”
“You just can’t beat this view for a lunch break.”
“The sounds of the water crashing subtly against the rocks is so relaxing.”
“A granite boulder surrounded by beautiful aqua blue and emerald green water.”
It was a pretty steep hike to get down to the south shore of June Lake, but it was totally worth it. When I wrapped up my amazing lunch, I started my way back up the slope when I suddenly got distracted by something glistening and bright on the ground. I found the biggest and most polished piece of obsidian I had ever seen in the Eastern Sierra so far.
“It’s hard to tell from the photo, but this obsidian was very shiny.”
“One last shot of the beautiful June Lake waters and it was time to head home.”
“Farewell June Lake, you’ve been amazing!”
June Lake Loop personally fares as one of the best destinations in the Eastern Sierra Nevada and today was my first time actually trying out one of the many hiking trails there. I can’t believe what I had been missing out on all this time. I will certainly be doing more June Lake trails in Autumn when I return later in 2017.
Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”
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