Friday, June 20, 2014

May Lake + Mt. Hoffmann

Trip Report

Start Time: 10:38am
End Time: 3:20pm
Trailhead Elevation: 8850 ft.
Summit Elevation: 10,850 ft.
Hike Elevation: 2329 ft.
Hike Mileage: 6.03 mi.

The turn-off for May Lake Road is pretty well marked on the Tioga Road so we had little trouble finding it.  The road is then about 4 miles of rough and bumpy 2WD dirt road up to a nice paved trailhead area.  It is said that some years May Lake Road doesn't open at the same time as the Tioga Road and so you may need to verify this before making any great plans.

Hiking up to May Lake

In the parking lot, we found that the trail leaves from the western end of the lots near a brown pond.  It is a nice, fairly wide trail that is easy to follow all the way up to the lake.  There is one section in the middle of walking through open rock slabs but even there it is pretty evident how to follow trail.  Just over a half mile in the trail begins a few wide switchbacks on the climb up to the lake, but at no point does this trail every get very steep.   The only real negative we found on this trail is the large amount of "trail apples" that the mules leave along the way.  It seems that the mules are frequently used to ferry supplies to and from the High Sierra Camp at May Lake and they leave their mark on the trail.

First views of May Lake and the east side of Mt. Hoffmann

Upon arrival at May Lake you're immediately greeted with such a beautiful view of such a wonderful lake.  You're also greeted by the welcome surprise of a flush toilet in the guise of an outhouse.  There is also a potable water spigot nearby making this a great stop on a hike up to Mt. Hoffmann.  Off to the immediate northeast is the May Lake High Sierra Camp.  We didn't take the time to walk over there and check it out but definitely made the mental note to return and stay at this one or one of the other four another time.

Such a wonderful lake it is -- May Lake
The trail to Mt. Hoffmann is not signed, but if you follow an obvious trail near the edge of the lake around its south side you will be on the right track.  We were intrigued to discover as we made our way around the lake that there seems to be a water pumping system in the lake here, likely to draw water for the High Sierra Camp.  Its no wonder they have a flush toilet!

Be glad you do not have to scale this as you climb Mt. Hoffmann
At the southwest corner of May Lake the trail does start to veer more to the south away from the lake and begins to climb.  At this point in the hike we were about 1.45 miles from the initial trailhead.  As we moved around the lake we were looking above us to the west where the eastern end of Mt. Hoffmann cliffs out with a pair of larger peaks looming over the lake.  If you didn't know the true summit for sure, or the path to get there, you would think this an impossible climb to scale the east face.  Fortunately, the trail ascends up to the southern slopes where the ascent is sans climbing.

Let the jaw dropping views begin...
After about 200 feet of ascent above the lake the trail comes into the open on a rock outcropping and the views are outstanding.  It is also here there is a new trail section that steers clear off a beautiful meadow that is under restoration efforts.  We noticed a fair amount of winged insect activity in this area so we kept moving to avoid the nagging insects.  From there the trail continued south and southwest until we hit a point of being almost exactly 2 miles in.  At that point the trail begins to make a hard right turn to the northwest and the real ascent begins.  The next 1000 feet is gained in 0.8 miles which is a real haul.

Couldn't stop taking beautiful pictures.  And what's going on with those clouds?

The trail ascends through small rock and scattered trees which offered us momentary shelters of shade.  We took it fairly easy in here as the route-finding was a bit challenging to follow the trail through this mixture of rock and dirt.  It did also appear there may be more than one right way as long as you're ascending upwards in the generally correct direction.  Around 10,3000 it seemed the trees cut out completely. From there the trail moves into a more open area with a slightly less strenuous elevation gain.  In this area the true summit quickly comes into view and the end is tantalizingly close.

The upper summit area comes into view
Looking through the notch at 10,600
As the true summit drew nearer and nearer into our view we began to realize we may actually have a climb ahead to finish this hike off. We could see the summit area guarded by some layers of slab rock and no obvious trail to break through.  The trail led us clearly to a notch in the ridge at just over 10,600 and from there it was an ambiguous push to the summit.

Looking at the "ambiguous" push to the summit
From the notch there were about 4 different trails leading into the loose rock ascending upwards.  We just picked the path of least resistance and started ascending.  It reminded me a bit of the summit stretch of Mt. Eolus in Colorado only much less steep.  We worked our way up to about within 75 feet of the summit where we were greeted by a 10 foot chimney.  I looked at Ken, who has never had the opportunity to climb before, and said "well, it looks like its up through here."  There didn't appear to be an easier choice for us.

A friendly Mt. Hoffmann marmot.
We stashed trekking poles and proceeded onward.  Matt and I helped spot and guide Ken through some scrambling up through the chimney and then on through the slab layers and before we knew it we had topped out.  I would call this terrain some difficult class 2, possibly easy class 3.  On the summit we were greeted by a young marmot and a large antenna structure.  This day happened to be Matt's birthday so we shared some extra congratulations on having a birthday mountain summit.

Birthday summit for Matt
Taking in the views from the summit
As we enjoyed the top I started scouting southward on the summit ridge for an easy path of descent and there just didn't appear to be anything better.  There was a path with less scrambling but it had more downward sloping, somewhat exposed slabs to deal with.  So we ultimately chose the scrambling descent and once more helped spot one another down through the rocks more towards the easier terrain.

As our group neared the notch area I ran on ahead to the two peaks on the eastern end of Hoffmann's high summit area.  I had been eyeing this on the ascent and was looking for a chance to get into some real class 3/4 scrambling.  I found a stretch of about 50 feet to scale into and I worked up through it to top out on these smaller "summits" on the eastern end of Hoffmann.  They provided some wonderful views of May Lake below and of course the high Sierra.

I hopped down from this extra credit work and then jogged on down back to the trail to rejoin the other two who had began the hiking descent.  Up to this point we had not met anyone else above May Lake.  As our descent would continue we would however pass about 2 dozen people all headed up to Hoffmann still.

Loving this beautiful blue color in May Lake
To be sure, an enjoyable hike and more good backcountry experience.  We were delighted with the views and most intrigued by the High Sierra Camp producing some great curiosities to learn more in a future visit.

One more parting shot from the shore of May Lake


I have Tracks and waypoints from our hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk):

My Track


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