TRAIL BLAZER: ELIZABETH: THE QUEEN AMONG YOSEMITE LAKES : IF YOU'RE GOING . . .
``Is the sky bluer up here, or does it just seem that way against the green trees?'' an unkempt day-tripper in our party of five wondered.
It certainly seemed bluer, somehow, but what else would you expect on a cloudless day in Yosemite National Park?
Our destination - Elizabeth Lake, 2-1/2 miles south of the campground here in the eastern hub of the park - would prove the perfect complement to the heavens, its gradient of depths revealed in a palette of azure and aqua.
The three-hour round-trip venture to this most accessible locale should dispel any notion Eastern Sierra visitors may hold that the Yosemite backcountry is too far off the beaten path (read: Highway 395).
The track gains 850 feet in elevation - less than 350 feet per mile - and would be considered moderate for most; its offerings belie the ease of access.
Shimmering reflections on the shallow east side of the 9,508-foot lake are stellar under rounded 11,064-foot Johnson Peak and 11,110 Rafferty Peak to the southeast. Lodgepole pines define the void that is the Elizabeth Lake Basin below the juncture of the Cathedral Range and the Matthes Crest. Stemming from its namesake peak, Unicorn Creek and its hushed flows drain the lake in picturesque fashion. And the northerly views of the Yosemite Wilderness are unparalleled - except by tougher treks more hearty souls may be willing to tackle.
``Few places in Yosemite give so much for so little effort as this lovely subalpine lakes,'' write Jeffrey P. Schaffer and Thomas Winnett in ``High Sierra Hiking Guide: Tuolumne Meadows'' (Wilderness Press).
The trailhead is situated at an elevation of 8,460 feet, alongside the horse camp in Tuolumne Meadows Campground; consequently the course is heavily used.
Half Moon Bay's Mickey Williams, who made the mild hike a warm-up for farther pastures, summed up the situation: ``Very accessible. Beautiful lake with beautiful scenery. Lots of people.''
Indeed, one must be prepared to sacrifice solitude for ease of travel.
It's refreshing to note, however, that in spite of the foot traffic park personnel do what they can to preserve the integrity of the Elizabeth Lake Basin with trail signs indicating no overnight camping or making trail shortcuts are allowed.
A few hundred feet onto the wide, well-groomed track - that one would expect from a popular day hike in a National Park - is the intersection with the Tenaya Lake-Lyell Canyon Trail, which also is at once the John Muir Trail. Some 650 feet of altitude gain are to follow in about 1-1/4 miles. Sure, it's steep, but the rewards include several verdant meadows - and the views they afford - that break up the widely spaced emerald pines.
Lodgepole roots and dry streambeds crisscross the uphill route.
Survive the ascent and expect a cakewalk for the remainder of the adventure. The goal is near when a clearing exposes 10,900-foot Unicorn Peak and 11,065-foot Cockscomb to the southwest. Soon echoes of human voices can be detected bouncing off the placid waters.
A loop around the body of water meanders through a woody high point and a narrow stretch of - get this - sandy beach. There, Fresno's Janet Morello was in a group of 35 visitors who annually hoof to Elizabeth Lake as a tribute to her late husband. ``It's gorgeous,'' she said. ``It stays cool. You never get the hot heat up here in Tuolumne. It's a little more remote.''
Morello recommends the trip for children 5 years and older; younger kids will likely end up being carried in on the backs of their parents, she said.
Las Vegas angler Jim Furlong had enjoyed little luck on a Rapala lure but planned to switch to a fly-and-bubble setup. Three other anglers picked up a couple of colorful 7-inch brook trout on fluorescent orange Power Bait.
Yet it's the surrounding landscape of the glacier-carved lake that is most stunning: ``From the east and north sides of the lake, the views across the waters to Unicorn Peak are classic, and one can see why this is a traditional lunch spot for people climbing this glacier-trimmed, knife-edge crest,'' the aforementioned Tuolumne Meadows hiking guide suggests.
Distance hiker Williams agreed.
``It's well worth the climb,'' he said.
Directions: Drive highways 5, 14 and 395 north some 325 miles past Mammoth Lakes to Highway 120 west, which takes travelers into Yosemite National Park. Entrance is $20 per vehicle. Continue on Tioga Road to Tuolumne Meadows Campground and park. Walk through the campground to the horse camp and the Elizabeth Lake Trailhead.
Allow at least three hours to complete the 5-mile round-trip hike.
Maps: Vogelsang Peak 7.5-minute topographic, Tuolumne Meadows 15-minute topo and Tom Harrison Cartography's ``Trail Map of the Yosemite High Country.''
Note: There are no services in Tuolumne Meadows at this time of year - overnight parking is not allowed after Oct. 15 - so visitors will be on their own. Highway 120 is open only till the snows fly; it is closed for winter.
Information: (209) 372-0265, (209) 372-0200 or the www.nps.gov/yose Web site.
photo, box, map
PHOTO If you must part with the Eastern Sierra for the winter, remember that the tufa towers of Mono Lake east of nearby Yosemite National Park will be there to greet you come spring.
Roger W. Vargo/Staff Photographer
BOX: If you're going
MAP: Elizabeth Lake and vicinity
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Oct 28, 1999|
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