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Gardisky Lake

Inyo National Forest

July 3rd, 2009

1.5 miles
840 vertical feet
Total Time: 4:52

Starting elevation
9760 feet
Max elevation
10515 feet

Rating: 8/10

Directions: From Tuolumne Meadows, take Tioga Road (Highway 120) east out of Yosemite Park. Turn left onto Saddlebag Lake Road. Follow this dirt road (it's fairly straight and wide) for about a mile until you find the Gardisky Lake trailhead parking lot on the left. The trail itself starts across the road on the right.   View Driving Map

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GPX File

It was a nice sunny day as we rolled into the small dirt trailhead parking lot. There's space for about 8 cars here, and the remaining couple of spaces were filled soon after we arrived (about 10:30am on a Friday morning). A man parked next to us was getting ready for the hike with his dog. He'd done the hike many times before, and warned us it was steep, but said it was worth it. He started off on the trail a bit before us.

It was a warm day, but much of the beginning of the hike is in the shade of the forest. On the other hand, it is steep. Incredibly steep. You may look at the stats for this hike and think -- 840 feet in 3/4 of a mile, that's steep. What those numbers don't tell you is that it's actually steeper than that, for reasons I'll get to shortly.

In any case, suffice it to say that it's a steep slog up the dusty trail, basically following a fast-flowing creek. The trail starts on the right side of the creek, but after a few minutes crosses it. It's an easy cross across some rocks. The trail continues its unrelenting steepness. As we climbed higher we started to get views of the mountains across the road. At one point, we could even see our car reflecting the sunlight in the parking area far below.

Creek just above where we crossed it

View and creek

View of the mountains to the west

Finally, we broke out of the forest into a large grassy area with wonderful views to the west of snow-covered mountains. We had now climbed 650 feet, but done so in (if you believe my GPS) about 1/3 of a mile! This works out to an average gradient of 37%. Wow. I know my GPS tends to underestimate distance when there are a lot of small switchbacks, so don't take that to be completely accurate, but that should at least give you an idea of how steep it was. 0.4 miles may be more accurate, which would result in an average gradient of 31%. In any case, needless to say, our 3 year old was not having fun on this stretch. But he made it.

Looking back down the trail

We weren't done yet, but the hard part was over. We now had a gentle climb the rest of the way. The trail was now straight, no more switchbacks. The trail was a bit muddy in places, but nothing too hard to get through. Jean noticed some type of green onion growing next to the trail here. We finally saw another hiker on the trail around here, the first we'd seen so far. This was in great contrast to the hordes of hikers we saw yesterday on the Steelhead Lake hike.

We crested a ridge and could now see Tioga Peak rising up above a couple of small ponds on the right. We soon saw the man with the dog again, as he was preparing to head back down. He said the lake was right over the next ridge, and less than a minute later, we saw it in front of us, just to the left. After all that work it was a beautiful sight.

The northern shore of the lake is open, grassy, with little in the way of shade from trees. We could see a handful of people on that side, some of them fishing. We continued along the southern shore, looking for a shady spot near the edge. We found one, in a place where the shore rises up about 15-20 feet above the lake. We settled down here for lunch.

Flowers on shore of Gardisky Lake

Eastern end of Gardisky Lake

A few sea gulls soared around the lake as we ate. We enjoyed the view of Tioga Peak to the south of the lake, with snow on its lower slopes leading right into the water. We didn't enjoy the bugs in the area, which we found in clusters here and there, although most of them didn't seem interested in biting us. It also started to get quite cold in the shade, as a slight but incessant cold breeze came in from the west.

Tioga Peak above Gardisky Lake

We moved to the sun, skipping rocks at the shore, just generally enjoying a long break here. It had only taken about an hour from the trailhead to the lake, and we had plenty of time to enjoy the lake now. I half-jokingly suggested I hike to the top of Tioga Peak while the others took a nap here. Maybe I will in the future, but I was content to just take a lot of pictures instead on this trip.

Flowers at Gardisky Lake

Mountains to the west

If you visit Gardisky Lake, be sure to stop by the ponds as well. There's a wonderful view from them of the snow-covered mountains rising up on the other side of the road to the west. We discovered this view on our trip back down. Of course the trip down was pretty easy, although because it was so steep, we did have to watch our step to avoid sliding downhill in many places.

Mountains above ponds near Gardisky Lake

Mountains above ponds near Gardisky Lake

When we reached the bottom, we found there was only 1 other car left in the parking lot. It looked like it was the car of the man with the dog, off exploring somewhere else.

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