I find myself back on the East Side again. This trip was sort of by happenstance, but none the less a nice hike. The Saddlebag Lakes area is as good a place as any to use as a launch pad for trips into and around Yosemite and although it can be busy during the peak season, it’s nowhere near the scene of Tuolumne Meadows, or the Valley. Our previous trip out of Saddlebag Lake was a great family hike, this one not so much due to the rock scrambling involved, but good fun for those who like to partake of such things!
Destination: McCabe Lakes
Trail Head: Saddlebag Lake Loop accessible near Saddlebag Lake Resort (10,200 ft elev)
Distance: 17 miles round trip (less 4 miles if boat riding), 7300 ft gained/lost (~430 ft/mi avg)
Remoteness: Some company around Cascade Lake, solitude over Mc Cabe Pass
Motivation: Panoramic views of the 20 Lakes Basin, beautiful and quiet backcountry.
Notes: Bear canister required as of 2012 (Hoover Wilderness), Mc Cabe Pass is class 2 to solid class 3 depending on route choice
The Report from Our Trip :: Aug 9-11, 2013
My friend David and I headed up to Tuolumne Meadows in hopes of getting a permit for Young Lakes with plans to go cross country to Roosevelt and maybe bag Mt. Conness from the West side. A couple weeks prior the quota was full so we held out hope for a walk up but alas, no luck. Rather than plan-b something that either of us had already done, we decided to explore somewhere new.
We got started in the evening at Saddlebag Lake, hiked in to Cascade Lake and made camp. No mosquitoes. Beautiful weather, cool at night (mid to upper 20’s). Great stars. I botched some night photos.
Headed towards Secret Lake via the use trail. Spotted the saddle directly above but it looked like a tough scramble to get to it (in hindsight, it would have been easy) so we elected to follow the shelf there which steadily gains the ridgeline and intersects the north east slope of North Peak forming a small saddle at approx 11,200 ft.
The view down the other side here was impressive with Upper McCabe directly below us and expansive views beyond. The ledge we are standing on has a vertical drop of 40 feet or so (and then eight or nine hundred more below that). The route down was not immediately obvious, some climbers suggested we might traverse the ridge and try from the saddle at the other side which was allegedly the recommended way. That made sense. Instead we threw logic out the window and just tackled it from where we were. It was a very exposed and somewhat tricky scramble. Several times we tossed our packs down ahead of us to shimmy down a steep chute or downclimb a shelf. At one point a leap down of about 6 feet was necessary to reach a grassy bench from which we would traverse a bit. David handled it like a champ. I cased the landing and just sorta lay there. Eventually we picked our way down.
The lake was quite beautiful and we had it all to ourselves. A very quiet and serene place. We set up camp then continued as a cross country day hike to middle and lower McCabe lakes. Lower McCabe is very pretty, differing from Upper McCabe in that it’s surrounded by forest. We bumped into a couple of hikers there who had come the same way as we. They were left quite disenchanted with the scramble down to Upper McCabe… their plan: exit via Tuolumne Meadows and hitch back to Saddlebag lake 🙂 We elected to return to camp by following the drainage of Lower McCabe for some time, then veering north east where we knew a large meadow lay. Yet another steep rock scramble awaits at the end to ascend to Upper McCabe and complete the loop.
We had discussed, among other ideas, trying that “recommended route” to climb back out. After walking over and taking a look at it, it looked like a lot of loose rock topped off with a bushwhack. It didn’t look any worse than what we came down, but it didn’t look much better either, and then again we didn’t exactly know what the “route” was. The last thing either of us wanted was to climb ~1000 feet of exposed face only to meet an insurmountable vertical wall. It’s hard to judge what’s up there from the bottom.
We decided on another option which would involve scrambling up to a narrow boulder field at the center of the pass. Again, class 3~ish, slow going progress with careful foot and hand placement. One or two tricky spots, lots of loose stuff at the top including some gorilla sized boulders. We made a point not to climb below one another. The last thing either of us needed was “ROCK!”. Near the top we discovered a tiny bit of worn path, and a couple of ducks, we weren’t the first to try that way. After that everything was cake. While descending McCabe Pass it became clear that reaching the saddle from Secret Lake wouldn’t have been hard at all, if we would have studied it a little longer we would have realized that. I have no beta to offer on the recommended route on the McCabe lake side other than to say: give it a try before trying either of the routes we did. I’m sure they all offer up some great Type II Fun!
Another short but sweet hike concluded in the 20 Lakes Basin. Get out there and give it a go! -JD