With my lack of success yesterday, I was a bit nervous that this loop wouldn’t work out, either. Luckily, it did, and wow, what views! All day! Plus I ran into a friend at the top of Longs Pass.
The De Roux Creek trail is in relatively good shape, but could use a little attention of the brushing variety, especially up the switchbacks to the waterfall view. There are only a couple switchbacks that really need it, but they definitely need it.
There are also 4 trees down along the switchbacks up to the creek crossing on the De Roux trail. They're mostly stepovers, except one that is exactly too high to step over, and too low to crawl under. All could be managed with a Silkie saw.
I was most nervous about the two-mile hiker-only route between the road (Trail 4W301) and the multi-use Esmeralda Basin trail. But I was pleasantly surprised at what good condition it was in! It’s faint, but definitely followable, and switchbacks nicely so that the 900 feet of elevation gain doesn’t seem so bad.
By the time I hit Esmeralda Basin, I was more than halfway done with my loop and it wasn’t even noon! So I decided to see how far up to Lake Ann I could get. Not far. There’s 2-3 feet of snow in the meadow before the final climb to the pass, and since it wasn’t on my itinerary, I decided not to push it.
But I did have lunch in the meadow, and got water from the spring before heading downhill.
Back on the Esmeralda Trail, the going was quick until I hit a Y intersection with both branches blocked off. The one I was pretty sure was the right trail had the bigger obstruction, but I took my chances after consulting my map and was rewarded by not having to backtrack. (Of course, this also means that that obstruction might still be there).
I was reassured in my decision when I saw a couple, doing the loop the other way around. This was a relief because I hadn’t been maintaining a steady ace well and wasn’t sure how far I’d gone.
I’d wanted to do Longs Pass, since it was the first hike I ever saved to My Backpack and I would probably never be back out here with the trail this quiet. I also wanted to see if was vindicated in giving up on my loop yesterday. If there was snow in the pass, I’d feel better about skipping the loop.
I got my vindication, and three surprises. The first was the only other person I saw on the Longs Pass trail, who turned out to be trip reporter jdk610! She was wearing a Hike-a-Thon shirt, and was just finishing a pretty epic loop of her own. She was also nice enough to stop and chat for a few minutes, even though she was running late for dinner! Thanks!
My second surprise, when I got to the pass, was what the “trail” looked like on the other side.
It’s a pretty steep approach to Longs Pass from Esmeralda Basin, but that has nothing on the other side. At first, I couldn’t even see where I might have come up from, but finally located it, only because of a giant cairn that was still half-hidden by snow. It’s a just barely visible path, not benched at all, and running immediately into a snow field, which extended all the way to the treeline, and likely below it. jdk610 had come up that way, but she had spikes and is a badass, so I felt pretty OK about not doing the route yesterday without spikes.
After sitting in the pass for a while, having an apple and changing my socks, I had my third surprise. A mountain goat!
They are habituated up there, so I was glad my break was done and I was heading out. I’m not a huge fan of mountain goats to begin with, but I was surprised how nervous I was, mostly because he basically materialized behind me.
I have no idea where he came from, since it’s pretty exposed up there and I’d noticed some fluff on a bush I was sitting next to, so I was looking for them. But as I was packing up, I heard a sort of shuffle and turned around to see him about 15 feet from me and walking closer. I picked up my bag, saying “Hey dude I’m just leaving, don’t mind me.”
But I couldn’t resist taking a photo as soon as I was far enough away to feel like he wasn’t going to come at me for my sweat.
The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful – I made great time back to the Esmeralda trailhead and then took a horse route that parallels De Roux Creek all the way back to my campsite.
The loop itself is only 12.2 miles, but with all my side trips, I did 18.3 miles that day. Whew!