Winter is coming. My friends and I snuck in one last backpacking trip out of Mammoth Lakes before Reds Meadow Road closed for the season. Our destination was Ediza Lake, and boy was it a trip to end the season.
Several weeks prior, I received notice that the Agnew Meadows road and parking area was closing for the season. I immediately panicked because I really didn’t want to hike an extra three miles up to Minaret Vista on the way out. (Yes, I know, I’m lazy.)
I called the ranger station and they let me know that I didn’t have to hike all the way in from Minaret Vista. I thought the ranger said on the phone that we could park at Starkweather Lake and hike in.
We parked at Starkweather Lake and then realized that we couldn’t actually connect to any trails. We ended up doing some mild bushwhacking down the hill to connect with the Pacific Crest Trail. (Note: if Agnew Meadows is closed, you can park at Upper Soda Springs Campground for no bushwhacking and instant access to the PCT.)
After bushwhacking, the hike on the PCT was mellow. We hiked in and out of eye-shot of the San Joaquin River. Eventually, the PCT splits right to Agnew Meadows to gain elevation. To get to Ediza Lake, we stay to the left where it becomes the River Trail.
The trail splits again with a really sharp right, but this takes you back up Agnew Meadows again. Stay to the left again. Once the trail passes the shallow Olaine Lake on the left, you’ll reach another junction. The left climbs up to Shadow Lake. The right continues the River Trail to Thousand Island Lake.
Once on the Shadow Lake trail, you begin to climb up switchbacks to Shadow Lake. This is the biggest gain in elevation for the day. After reaching Shadow Lake, it’s another three-ish mile climb, this time gradual and steady. The trail between Shadow Lake and Ediza Lake is some of the most scenic, passing through beautiful alpine meadows and a meandering Shadow Creek.
When you’re about a quarter mile from the lake, the trail gets a little confusing. The trail dead ends into the river. Previous hikers have left cairns and directionals to the correct trail. Hike across the stream and gain the last hundred feet or so to Ediza Lake. It is absolutely stunning.
There is no camping at Shadow Lake, along Shadow Creek, and most of Ediza Lake. Signs and your permit indicate the safe spots for camping. We camped on northwest side of the lake. The first people in our party hiked all the way around Ediza Lake to set up camp. The rest of our party found passage across the outlet of the lake. We skirted the base of the talus field for a much faster way to camp.
Everyone set up camp. Per usual, we pulled out all our libations and set up for happy hour. The forecast called for 30% of snow showers. In the distance, the clouds darkened and thunder rumbled. We watched as the clouds began to drift overhead. Then sleet began to fall over our heads, causing us to hastily pack up.
The wind picked up and sleet turned to snow. Everyone climbed into their respective tents. Oaf and I brought Uno Wilderness in case of being stuck in our tents with bad weather. People floated in and out of our tent. Snow blanketed the ground. At one point, we managed to fit six people into our little tent.
Finally, the weather cleared enough for everyone to come out of their tents. The Minarets stayed hidden behind the clouds, but it was enough of a break for everyone to cook dinner. As it got dark, everyone crawled back into their tents.
Wind continued throughout the night, but the worst of the bad weather was gone. In the morning, the skies had cleared-ish. The Minarets, however, were still feeling pretty shy. We made breakfast and packed up. Our group retraced our steps back to the car.
Ediza Lake was one of my most favorite trips this season with its unpredictable weather. The snow was absolutely stunning. I would definitely come back, if only to see the Minarets.
What you need to know for Ediza Lake
- For most of the year, this trip requires a permit to stay overnight. Permits can be found at recreation.gov.
- Day hikers do not need permits and can easily do it from Agnew Meadows in a day.
- If Agnew Meadows Road is closed, hike in from Starkweather Lake or Upper Soda Springs Campground.
- Camping is restricted for many sections of this trail. Check your permit or posted signs for areas indicating where you can and cannot camp.
- Ansel Adams Wilderness is the ancestral homeland of the Miwok, Paiute, and the Mono.