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Ediza & Minaret Lakes Loop

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  With lots of waterfalls, lakes, wildflowers, and beautiful mountain peaks, this hike has everything that is great about the Sierra Nevada Range.  Add to this the close proximity of Devils Postpile and Minaret Falls to the end, and you have a truly spectacular hike in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.  There are lots of options for shorter day-hikes or spots to set up camp for more leisurely multi-day excursions.  Ediza Lake is a popular backpacking destination and one our favorite places we've been in the Sierra (John Muir too).  However, the number of people you'll encounter on this hike is extremely low when you consider the setting, especially between Ediza Lake and Minaret Lake.  At minimum, ice axes are recommended as a precaution if you are continuing past Iceberg Lake (or coming down from Cecile Lake) because there is no maintained trail there and snowfields last long into the summer above Iceberg Lake.  This hike starts and ends at different trailheads, but a "free" (entrance fee required) shuttle bus connects the two (within ~0.4 miles).  However, this is a very long and strenuous day-hike and we do not recommend this for anyone who is not in very good shape and who does not at least have a little experience in cross-country travel.  Use-trails exist between Iceberg and Minaret Lakes but in some places disappear.  A topo map and compass are highly recommended.  Required shuttle buses ($7/person in 2013) run between 7a & 7p (vehicles allowed outside of this time range).  Dogs are allowed on the shuttle buses but must be leashed and muzzled.

Distance:  16.2 miles total

Elevation Gain/Loss:  2,450'/3,175'

Season: mid-July to mid-October

Fees & Permits: Entrance fee for Devils Postpile National Monument ($10/vehicle or $7/person on shuttle in 2013).  All overnight stays require a wilderness permit (Inyo National Forest, 760-873-2485).

Finding the Trailhead: Agnew Meadows Trailhead: 37.68190 N, 119.08614 W.  From the Main St/Minaret Road (CA-203) intersection in Mammoth Lakes, follow the Minaret Road northwest for ~4.1 miles to the Mammoth Mountain Village.  If you are arriving between 7a and 7p, you'll need to park here and take a mandatory shuttle bus into the National Monument to stop #1 (Agnew Meadows).  Follow the road ~0.4 miles to the trailhead.  If you are arriving outside of 7a-7p, then continue ~1.3 miles to the Devils Postpile entrance station.  After paying the entrance fee, continue down Reds Meadow Road for ~2.7 miles and turn right toward Agnew Meadows.  The trailhead parking area (with toilets) is the larger of the two ~0.4 miles down the road (past stables).  The trail leaves from the southeastern end of the parking area.  Devils Postpile Trailhead: 37.62962 N, 119.08459 W.  This trailhead is right next to the Ranger Station and shuttle stop #6 (~4.4 miles from shuttle stop #1).

The Hike:
From the trailhead, the route heads southwest along the PCT and quickly reaches an opening looking west over the meadows.  A spring is crossed at ~0.3 miles then the trail turns to the northwest through the sparse trees.  At ~0.8 miles the PCT splits off to the left (southeast).  Stay right/straight and continue heading moderately downhill to the northwest toward the River Trail.  Along this section are nice views up canyon and back toward Mammoth Mountain.  The River Trail/PCT junction is met at ~1.4 miles.  Stay right/straight again and follow the flat trail through the sparse trees to the northwest.  As the River Trail approaches Olaine Lake the trees thicken a little where you can find lots of Anderson Thistle in the summer.  The southeastern end of Olaine Lake is reached at ~1.9 miles.  This is a small lake which sports nice reflections of the surrounding peaks in the morning.  Don't spend too much time here, though because the lakes and scenery that follow are worth much more of your time.
Continue walking to the northwest and reach the River Trail/Shadow Lake Trail junction at ~2.3 miles.  Turn left, cross the Middle Fork San Joaquin River on the footbridge at ~2.5 miles, and begin the exposed climb up toward Shadow Lake.  The trail heads north before passing through a few small switchbacks and turning to the southwest.  The lower portion of Shadow Lake Falls can be viewed from south of the trail (very steep and loose rock, not recommended) where the trail turns sharply again to the northwest (~3.0 miles).  Most of the upper portion of the falls is visible from the trail further up, but up close views are possible after negotiating the thick brush and steep slopes (not recommended).  The eastern end of Shadow Lake is reached at ~3.4 miles.
Volcanic Ridge, Waller Minaret, Mt Ritter, and Banner Peak dominate the view over the lake.  As the trail skirts around the northern end of Shadow Lake we spotted many large inviting boulders that would make a great place to relax for a while.  Also, along the shore of the lake under the trees you can find Bigelow Sneezeweed in the summer.  The John Muir Trail is met at ~4.0 miles just west of Shadow Lake.  You can view the small Lower Shadow Creek Falls underneath the JMT footbridge here.  Stay right to follow the trail uphill as it parallels Shadow Creek.  At ~4.1 miles there is a light use-trail that leaves the main trail to the left (east) and downhill to a viewpoint at the base of Middle Shadow Creek Falls.  Continue following the rocky trail uphill to the west and southwest.  Where Shadow Creek is more calm and flat the JMT splits off to the right (~4.6 miles).  Stay left/straight to follow the Ediza Lake Trail to the west and pass by a few nice views of Volcanic Ridge over the creek.
At ~5.1 miles you can leave the trail again to the south, cross a small branch of Shadow Creek, and reach the base of Upper Shadow Creek Falls.  Continue on the Ediza Lake Trail to the west, alternating between exposed rocky and treed sections.  The outlet from the Nydiver Lakes is crossed at ~5.7 miles.  We didn't notice any trail junction near here, but I imagine there is a route along the creek people take to get up to those lakes.  Pass through more exposed rocky and treed sections before reaching the footbridge over Shadow Creek at ~5.95 miles.  From here the trail makes a couple of quick switchbacks in a small stand of trees before heading west toward the outlet of Ediza Lake.  The northeastern end of Ediza Lake is reached at ~6.2 miles.
The northern end of the Minarets (Clyde to Waller) are viewed over the lake to the south-southwest and Mt Ritter towers over the lake to the west.  The trail continues to the south along the eastern shore of the lake and Banner Peak becomes a more prominent feature of the view to the northwest.  About halfway along the eastern shore of the lake we found a nice spot against some rocks to relax and take in the amazingly beautiful views from Ediza Lake.  Ediza Lake is Z's favorite Sierran lake that we have visited and John Muir would agree with him, calling it "the most beautiful lake" in the Sierra Nevada Range.  Lots of Alpine Speedwell bloom along the shore in the summer and Ediza Lake Falls can be seen streaming down the slopes below and right (north) of Waller Minaret.  The bottom of Ediza Lake Falls can be seen up close by following a trail along the southern shore of the lake.  This trail also leads to where potential climbers of Mt Ritter make base-camp.  Once you feel like continuing on the trail, follow it to the south to the southeastern corner where a spring enters the lake and creates a lush area along the shore (just before the Iceberg Lake Trail junction).  Here, are more absolutely fantastic views over the lake toward Mt Ritter and Banner Peak and toward the northern Minarets.  The Iceberg Lake Trail is met at ~6.5 miles.  Turn left to follow this trail as it steeply climbs to the south-southwest toward Iceberg Lake.
Alpine Laurel, Heather, and Mountain Pride line the trail almost the entire way up because of the numerous springs that the trail crosses.  Be sure to look back early on for views back over Ediza Lake.  The northern shore of Iceberg Lake is met at ~7.35 miles as the trail meets the outlet creek at the lake.  Clyde to Leonard Minaret hang over the lake to the southwest.  Icebergs won't necessarily be found floating in the lake, but perpetual snowfields do exist on the slopes off of the southern and eastern shores.  For this reason, having ice axes at minimum is a good idea to continue along this route toward Cecile Lake.  The maintained trail ends at the northeastern end of Iceberg Lake (~7.5 miles) but a use-trail can usually be seen heading up the talus slope to the top of the ~500' Iceberg Lake Falls.  Sierra Primrose flourishes between the rocks and boulders above Iceberg Lake to the east.  If you lose the trail just keep steadily heading up toward the top of the waterfall.  This section will be slow-going, so be sure to take multiple quick rests and hydrate.  As you cross over 10,000' elevation look back over Iceberg Lake toward Mt Ritter and Banner Peak.  The last section of the trail is steepest and closest to the waterfall before making it up to the northern shore of Cecile Lake (~7.9 miles).
Kehrlein, Ken, and Clyde Minarets loom over the lake to the south and southwest.  Some older maps refer to Cecile and Iceberg as the "Iceberg Lakes".  Here, the trail really disappears and you are forced to make your way over the boulder field along the northern and eastern shores of Cecile Lake.  This will also be slow-going, so take your time and be careful as you boulder hop.  Once on the eastern end of the lake, head away from the lake uphill and above and around the northern end of a small pond before reaching the high point of this hike (~10,330'; 8.35 miles) where lots of krummholz trees grow.  Continue to the southeast and pass above the western end of another small pond as you make your way downhill.  At ~8.45 miles you should find a use-trail (and cairns) heading steeply downhill to the southeast, just south of the second small pond.  Take it slow and watch your footing because the rocks are very loose here.  However, just before reaching the maintained trail (~8.6 miles) just above Minaret Lake, stop and admire the beautiful view over Minaret Lake with Mammoth Mountain, Bloody Mountain, and Red Slate Mountain in the distance with Riegelhuth Minaret towering over the lake to the southeast.
Follow the maintained trail to the northeast around the northern end of Minaret Lake (~8.7 miles).  At the northern tip be sure to look back over the lake to the southwest for a great view of Riegelhuth to Ken Minarets over the lake.  Continue following the trail to the southeast and reach a point where the trail virtually disappeared for us.  However, we quickly found the trail by climbing the rocks to the southeast up and over a small rise toward a junction with a side-trail coming in from the left (north) at ~9.2 miles.  At the eastern tip of Minaret Lake look back again over the lake for a fantastic view of Riegelhuth to Clyde Minarets soaring over the lake.  From here, head southeast away from the lake through a couple of switchbacks where Upper Minaret Creek Falls can be seen to the west.  As the trail continues downhill to the southeast another small cascade can be seen just south of the trail.  The trail turns to the east as its slope lessens before turning to the southeast again at a small meadow where three springs meet.
At ~10.9 miles the pack trail to Minaret Mine should be met coming in from the left (north) but we did not notice it.  After this the slope picks up again and the trail turns sharply to the east.  Here, Middle Minaret Creek Falls can be approached to the southwest.  The trail traverses the southern side of a shoulder, above Minaret Creek, and passes the top of Lower Minaret Creek Falls (~11.5 miles) before switchbacking down to the base of the waterfall (~11.7 miles).  This is a very nice cascading stretch of Minaret Creek whose base can be reached by safely heading downhill from the trail to the south.  From here, the trail heads to the east down into the trees and passes around the northern end of a small wetland before temporarily moving into more sparse trees.  As the trail makes it way southeast it heads into thicker trees again and connects with the John Muir Trail just north of Johnston Meadow at ~13.6 miles.
The trail then passes just east of Johnston Lake, crosses Minaret Creek at ~14.0 miles, and reaches a junction with the Beck Lakes Trail coming in from the right (west) at ~14.3 miles where the trees thin temporarily.  From here, the trail heads downhill to the east before the trail turns to the southeast just above the top of Minaret Falls and moves back into the trees.  The trail then switchbacks a couple of times before reaching a junction with the PCT at ~15.0 miles.  To view Minaret Falls, follow the PCT to the north (left) for ~0.5 miles.  Stay straight (east-southeast) at this four-way junction and follow the trail as it heads downhill mildly and turns to the south.  Another trail junction is reached at ~15.5 miles (stay straight/left) just before the footbridge over the Middle Fork San Joaquin River (~15.55 miles).  There is a nice view of the meadow upstream from the footbridge.
Just east of the footbridge the trail splits (~15.6 miles).  To the right, you can view Devils Postpile (~0.15 miles).  To the left, the trail leads to the Devils Postpile Trailhead, Ranger Station, and shuttle stop #6 (~15.8 miles).  Be sure to be at this shuttle stop before 7p (and probably before ~6:40p) to catch the shuttle bus.  If you drove to the Agnew Meadows Trailhead, get off at stop #1 (Agnew Meadows).  If you took the shuttle into the monument, then take it all the way back to Mammoth Mountain.  Dogs are allowed on the shuttle, but are required to be leashed and muzzled.  Once you are dropped off at the Agnew Meadows shuttle stop (#1), follow the road to the west-northwest ~0.4 miles back to the trailhead.  Be sure to check out the abundance of wildflowers growing beside the road at the Agnew Meadows shuttle stop.