Backpacking Mammoth Crest Loop

Trip Date: August 29-30, 2020

Trail Overview

Trail: Mammoth Crest Trail to Duck Pass Trail “Mammoth Crest Loop”

Distance: 14.1 mile loop

Elevation Gain: 2,758 ft.

Location: Mammoth Lakes, CA.

Permits: Wilderness permits required for overnight stay. Permits can be obtained here.

The Story

The California wildfires we experienced this year were heart-breaking. This past summer, our hiking community was affected by trail-closures, canceled hiking plans and permits. Oh, and not to forget- we’re currently in the middle of a pandemic. Once places started to safely open up to the public; hikers and backpackers, like myself, took full advantage of getting back on the trail. It was the last week of August and little did I know, it would be my last backpacking trip in the Sierra this summer. It had been a few months before finally locking in plans with Melia. I was first inspired by her story that she shared with me for the Her Wanderful Life platform and ever since, I’ve been motivated by her posts and captions. This weekend would finally be the weekend we meet up, head out to the Sierra, and create some pretty awesome memories in the backcountry.

After waking up Saturday morning on BLM near Mammoth Lakes, we got ready, prepped our packs, and made way to our trailhead. Being the middle of summer, we had a full day of sunshine, and a trail that wouldn’t take too long to complete- so starting at sunrise was not necessary on this trip. I was excited to hike this loop. There are two main lakes near our trailhead: Lake Mary and Lake George. Immediately, our trail starts to climb and views of the two lakes are seen from above.

We were lucky enough to hike this trail without any of the surrounding smoke causing an issue. As a matter of fact, we had clear blue skies as seen from pictured above. The Mammoth Crest Trail takes you along a ridge with amazing views of Mammoth Skyline, Ritter Range, and Duck Lake. It’s a pretty accessible trail, which makes it really popular with the locals and easy to see why. At 2.1 miles, we made it to the top of this cinder cone type hill, overlooking all the lakes down below. We stopped for a quick break, as we just climbed nearly 1,000 ft. in 2 miles. From there forward, we had a pretty straightforward trail, with very little elevation gain. We hiked for another mile or so, before breaking for lunch. We found a tree off-trail and pulled out some snacks. It was nice to not have to rush against daylight, we took our time and ended up breaking for a solid 25-30 mins. We ran into a group of people who had started around the same time as we did, but they were making their way to Mount Whitney! They would be hiking part of the John Muir Trail and planned to be on the trail for the next several days! As a matter of fact, they were the only group that we had run into that was hiking the same direction we were going. We ran into a few others, but they were going the opposite direction, either turning around at Deer Lakes or completing our loop in the opposite direction.

I couldn’t believe the views we had of Ritter Range from our trail! After hiking up and over Mammoth Crest, the trail opened up, flattened out and it immediately felt like we were hiking an entirely new trail. My favorite part was that the trail was flat, so we were able to actually enjoy the views while making our way to our destination.

Apparently, there is an official summit to Mammoth Crest, but we were unaware and completely missed it. Must have been these views. Lol! At last, we came into sight with our destination, Deer Lakes. At 5.8 miles, we reached the lowest of 3 Deer Lakes: upper, middle, and lower. We decided to check them out all 3 lakes, scouting for the perfect campsite. Of course, after doing research prior to hitting the trail, I knew I wanted to camp near Upper Deer Lake, also putting us closer to our trail the next day. When we finally made it to Lower Deer Lake, we were tired. We dropped our packs near the lake and made a quick lunch.

We contemplated if this lake was going to be our home for the night, and it just didn’t suffice, so we trekked on. We discovered a lot more people camping at Middle Deer Lake but didn’t really see any open spaces for us to set up camp. To Upper Deer Lake we went. It was a nice climb and being able to see the lower Deer Lakes from below is always a plus. From the excitement in Melia’s voice, I knew we made the right choice to keep pushing a little further. After 7 miles, we arrived at our final destination. We lucked out being the only two people camping there that night and after a little wandering around the lake, Melia discovered the perfect place for our home in the backcountry. And luckily for us, we still had a few hours of daylight to soak up some sun by the lake. Which, if you know me, already packed a floatie!

After setting up camp, we enjoyed our love for weed and expressed to one another that passing judgment over this stigma was stupid and silly. For so long, I always worried about what people would think. I would pass up opportunities to meet new people because I was scared of being judged. When in reality, smoking helps me relax, especially after a long day of carrying a heavy pack up a mountain. So stop judging people, especially because you don’t know everyone’s story. Of course, time starts to fly when you’re having fun…๐Ÿ˜‰ sooner than later, we were racing sunlight, as we needed to have some sunshine to dry off before it got too cold.

Alright, the water was cold and I was more worried about losing the ability to warm up once we lost all sunlight; so I’ll admit- we didn’t float around for very long, but you should know by now that I like to make the most of it. As the sun started to set, we took our cooking supplies and dinners to go watch the sunset nearby. It’s a smart idea to not prepare your dinner by your tent anyways, which is something I always forget to do- but I’m glad that we did. We ate our dinners with the sunset and made our way back to camp. Melia had brought fairy lights to put up around her tent and it was so magical to see our camp all lit up, not to mention the moon starting to rise right in front of our eyes! The weather was so perfect, we ended up sleeping without the rainfly!

It was a beautiful night. The moon eventually made its way right in front of my face, but luckily I like to sleep fully tucked into my sleeping bag that it wasn’t really an issue. We had a slow morning, as we woke up, had breakfast, and packed up. Of course, we snapped some photos by the lake before getting back on the trail and making our way to complete our loop. We saw the scramble that we would have to climb out and it looked a little intense. Loose rock/ big climb didn’t sound so fun early in the morning and it was literally the first half-mile of our journey that day.

The climb out wasn’t even that bad, we took our time and followed a small worn path. From the top, we saw all 3 Deer Lakes and the surrounding smoke that started to linger overnight. After 2 miles that morning, we came in sight with Duck Lake. Unfortunately, the smoke was apparent and the pretty colors of Duck Lake couldn’t be seen from our trail. From Mammoth Crest trail, we met up with Duck Pass trail, where we would loop around and complete our hike. I had been here once before, last summer during Labor Day weekend, so there was really no reason to hike down to Duck Lake, especially with the surrounding smoke. We found a nice spot to rest, overlooking Duck Lake, and chilled for a solid 25-30 mins before making our way down Duck Pass.

After passing Barney and Arrowhead Lakes, we went for Emerald Lake rather than hiking out. Turns out we can also meet up with our trailhead from Emerald Lake, and we both wanted to get in the water one last time. The hike down to Emerald Lake was kind of long, a little longer than I thought, but worth it to see another alpine lake. Unfortunately, the water was pretty mucky and even though we attempted to get in, we definitely didn’t stay in for very long. It was the last lake we’d pass on our journey, for a total of 10 alpine lakes along our Mammoth Crest Loop. We completed our loop by having to hike nearly 2.2 miles along Lake Mary Road, and after a total of 14.1 miles, we were back at the car. Hearts full, as we look forward to our next adventure together!


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Vanessa is an outdoors enthusiast, hiker at heart, and the storyteller behind Forever She Wanders; a women's lifestyle + travel blog inspiring all to get outdoors, seek adventure and live an active lifestyle. As an outdoors enthusiast, Vanessa has found passion in being outdoors while backpacking, camping, hiking and creating memories of a lifetime.

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