Carolyn and I pushed off from the trailhead on a Thursday morning on July 21, 2011 with the temperatures in the low 60's. We were hoping to make it all the way to Duck Pass but had heard from a ranger that the climb up to the pass was very snow filled and the trail was completely obscured. This season was the most snow that Mammoth Lakes had seen since 1951. We got to the Arrowhead Lake turnoff in 30 minutes but kept on going past Skelton Lake and up to Barney Lake. We started encountering patches of snow at Skelton Lake, but it was soft and it was still relatively easy to see where the trail went. As we approached the final climb up to the ridge above Barney Lake the snow was much deeper and it was difficult to stay on the switchbacks. But it wasn't too steep here and as long as we stayed on the bearing line we'd eventually come across the trail. At the top of the ridge we could look down to Barney Lake and up to Duck Pass which was quite an impressive view. We covered the 3 miles to Barney Lake in an hour and 40 minutes with about 1,200 feet of AEG. We stopped for lunch and fished for a while with no success. Before we left, we encountered an experienced hiker that was going up and back to Duck Pass. He'd been there before and knew where he was going and while we were tempted to follow, discretion got the better part of valor.
We headed back down and managed to stay on the trail through the snow, stopping to fish at both Skelton and Arrowhead Lakes along the way. Again, it was more fishing and less catching. Both lakes were simply gorgeous. It only took us an hour and 20 minutes to get down, not including the stops. We encountered several groups of peoople through out the course of the day, but it wasn't too bad at all since we were on a weekday. We'd heard that this trail gets overrun on weekends which is understandable. At the parking lot we ran into the experienced hiker who had made it all the way to Duck Pass. He reported that it was very steep, slippery and tiring and that he was really fatigued when he was coming down. So much so that he was concerned about slipping and sliding down into the rocks, but he made it okay. Including stops for fishing my GPS unit had the total trip at 6.5 miles in 3 hours with 1,200 feet of AEG. Just out and back to Barney would probably be closer to 6.0.
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WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.
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