Convict Lake Backcountry – Inyo National Forest

Where: Inyo National Forest
Mileage: 25.9 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation gain: 6000 feet

Map – Mammoth High Country Map (Tom Harrison)
Permits – Quotas in effect May – Nov; available online in advance: $5/person

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Day 1: Convict Lake to Mildred Lake
After a good 5 hour drive we arrived at the trailheads parking lot which had one lone car sitting in it. Start time 1830 with around 5 miles to go and 2000 feet up. This would unfortunately put us in the dark for half of the climb up.

Convict Lake sits at 7,621 feet. The lake’s name originated from an incident that occurred in 1871, where a party of convicts escaped from the Carson City prison. Mount Morrison above the lake was named after Robert Morrison who was killed in an encounter when the Deputy Sheriff led a group to find the escaped convicts.

Before we left we weighed our packs one more time: 41 lbs. Success – less than last year’s. Off we were to Mildred Lake only to see the sun for a couple hours. Looking passed the lake, you couldn’t see a trail beyond it and to think we were entering that, well it was exciting per say.

After about 3.8 miles we hit the river crossing, luckily it was before darkness was upon us. At this point it was 2030 and we had to put our headlamps on after drying our feet and putting our boots back on. The rest of the way was uphill to Mildred Lake, much more rocky and strenuous then the first part of the trail. We didn’t know how steep it was until the last day, climbing on top of a landslide with sharp rocks that sound like glass under your feet.

We reached Mildred (9,450 feet) around 2200 and pumped some water, then hiked around to see where there would be a good camp spot. With no trees around, we decided to go right under Mildred back down the trail to where there was a comfortable looking campsite in the sand and under the trees. We made some soup after setting up our tents and finally after tying up all our food, we finally called it a night around 2300.

Day 2: Mildred Lake to Lake Wit-So-Nah-Pah (Dorothy, Bighorn and Constance Lakes)

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730 rolled around as we made our coffee and packed up to head to Mildred to have our breakfast. After pumping water and eating our Mountain House (Scrambled Eggs and Ham in a tortilla) we headed to look for the trail that looked like it didn’t exist. GPS says it was there, map says it was there, but we couldn’t see it on the mountainside. Finally after a bit of scrimmaging around, we hit the trail up, climbing all the way up to 10,300’.

The first part of the “short” 1.3 mile climb was treacherous as we were climbing on sharp rocks that made sounds like we were dropping glass under us. Once we reached 10000 feet, the view emerged of Mildred with the towering walls of granite and slate around it. Mildred sat in a vast valley of streams and meadows. The further we went up, we entered a luscious green area that felt as if we were walking in a rainforest. Of course the normal towering trees lingered above us as well keeping us in the shade and a little cooler.

We hit a junction at about 10,300’ and turned left as we were headed towards Lake Wit-So-Nah-Pah not Lake Genevieve. Lake Dorothy (10,350’) sat in a bowl that was formed by rock slides of the granite and red slate. Dorothy was a little over a mile long and is 150 acres. Once we reached the end of Dorothy the trail was not as maintained; good thing we had the Garmin with us. After a gruesome climb we had an almost full view of Dorothy below us. Bighorn Lake was much smaller than Dorothy.

After passing Bighorn, we climbed up a tiny gully following our GPS to find Lake-Wit-So-Nah-Pah lingering right below us to the right and a vast valley to our left. We reached Wit-So and found our campsite (only real flat spot on the north side of the lake). After a snack we decided to head up all the way to Constance Lake. Constance Lake is a massive lake that is formed from the runoff of a glacier. After enjoying its presence we stumbled across the many boulders back down to our campsite at Lake Wit-So-Nah-Pah. After some soup and some stargazing we all passed out, but were awaken multiple times by the strong winds. I could have sworn that our tents were going to fly away with us.

Day 3: Lake Wit-So-Nah-Pah to Lake Genevieve (Dorothy, Edith and Cloverleaf Lakes)

After not much sleep we packed up our things after a small snack and headed down the same way we came to Bighorn then Dorothy. It was on the way down where we were able to see the vastness of Dorothy below us. After about an hour we reached the split to go left to Lake Genevieve. There was a short climb up 200 feet and then down 300 feet.

This side of the Convict Lake Backcountry the mountains were more red slate colored. We must of hit 10-15 switchbacks on the way down, which did not excite us for the way back at all. Down we went and first task was to find the campsite for the night. We found a spot and took a short nap after eating breakfast for lunch. Once we napped we headed up to Edith Lake and Cloverleaf Lake. Even though the mosquitos were eating us alive we made it to Cloverleaf checked it out and kept going.

Cloverleaf was more of a swampy lake, but the water was completely clear and you could see a good amount of large fish swimming to safety as we arrived. Edith Lake was the larger of the two. Both had great views of Bloody Mountain standing above us a little over 12,000’. Hurrying back down to our campsite we took a quick swim in Genevieve and soaked up a bit of sun.

Looking at the sky it filled up with clouds that were getting darker and darker. It was time to possibly get rained on, though the clouds were moving fast and left us dry the entire night.

Day 4: Lake Genevieve to Convict Lake Trailhead

The next morning we packed up and headed back to the cars. It was muggy and drizzly when we headed up 300 feet towards Dorothy. Mosquitos were out to get us as we sped through the only uphill portion of the day. After reaching the top we took a short break and headed down to the junction back to the car or to Lake Dorothy.

We turned left and headed down to Lake Mildred. The view was incredible from atop looking down into the valley that Mildred sat in. We stopped at the waterfall dropping out of Mildred for a little snack. We were excited to see what it looked like on our way down, since we came up in the dark on Thursday night.

We grabbed our packs and headed down to discover what we climbed the first day. Staggering down from an elevation of 9600’ to 7600’ we were overwhelmed and surprised at the stunning views ahead of us. It was inconceivable that we had gone up in the dark on Convict Creek Trail. The creek was on our side as we staggered down on the trail with enormous walls stretching high and around as we dropped in elevation.

After 7.6 miles we finally hit the cars, took off our shoes and looked back into the valley recollecting the journey we just took. 25.9 miles later, climbing over 6000’ feet we took off our shoes, socks and backpacks as a few more drips from the clouds cooled us off from the humid hike down.

Note to self: Pack a little more raingear and mosquito repellent, especially in July!

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