ROUTE 1 - Gabbot Pass

Lake Italy by Second Recess and Gabbot Pass, returning along the Hilgard Branch of Bear Creek.

Bear Creek watershed southwest from the John Muir Trail.
Route intersection with the John Muir Trail.
High on the Hilgard Branch of Bear Creek.
Teddy Bear Lake hanging at the end of a valley.
Snow bank calving into Lake Italy.
Lake Italy outlet to the Hilgard Branch.
Evening light on Mt. Julius Caeser and Bear
Camp site with a beach on Lake Italy.
SSE from Gabbot Pass to Toe Lake and Lake Italy.
Easy snow on the northwest slope of Gabbot Pass.
Lower Mills Creek Lake from above.
Southeast in upper Mills Creek toward Gabbot Pass.
Slabs to avoid on MIlls Creek.
Mills Creek near peak water.
Mono Creek watershed west toward Lake Edison.
Lake Edison east shore ferry landing.

(Mouseover triggers interactive features.)

Route Description

Data Table PlaceholderThis cross country route crosses the Mono Divide to Lake Italy by way of Second Recess and Gabbot Pass, returning via the Hilgard Branch of Bear Creek and the John Muir Trail. It's a comfortable four day, 29 mile loop, with side trip opportunities.

Take CA 168 to where it ends at Huntington Lake, turning right onto the Kaiser Pass road. Follow it past the USFS High Sierra Station at 15.2 miles (where permits are now available 7 days a week), taking the left fork at 16.2 miles. Go another 5.8 miles to the western shore of Lake Thomas A Edison. This is a winding single lane road that is steep with limited visibility in places, and can make for an interesting encounter with a truck pulling a boat. (For the most part, people drive responsibly on this road, but it's worth paying attention - your mobile phone doesn't work back here anyway, except in a couple places, like on top of the dam at Lake Edison if you have AT&T.) [Note: permits are also available at the USFS station just at the Kaiser Road turnoff (the Eastwood Visitor Center), and at the USFS station on CA 168 near Prather. Sometimes the rangers do check for them.]

Take the ferry from Vermillion Valley Resort to the landing near the eastern shore of Lake Edison. The VVR ferry runs twice daily, departing at around 0900 hrs and 1600 hrs, and returning from the eastern landing 45 minutes later. One way fee is $11 - round trip is $19. The ferry is usually reliable, especially during JMT/PCT hiking season, but schedules and locations can change depending on lake water level, so it's worth checking. (And stop in for a meal, or a beer, while you are at it.) Alternatively, hike the north shore from the Mono Creek trailhead to the eastern ferry landing; this adds 4.2 miles, is worth doing at least once, and is the fallback if you miss the return ferry (and get to hike out in the dark).

From the eastern shore landing marker 1, hike the main trail east toward Mono Pass. In 2.3 miles, cross the North Fork Mono Creek, which is pretty straightforward even in high water. At a little over 3 miles, the trail offers a nice view southwest of the main creek basin marker 2 and the Vermillion Cliffs (which don't really seem all that red).

At Second Recess (there's a sign), turn south on the access trail and cross Mono Creek. There is log across the creek east of the trail. BUT, during very high runoff, this crossing is potentially life-threatening, and perhaps a reason to consider doing something else. However, if this crossing goes okay, the rest is likely fine, so it's probably a good idea to do this loop clockwise (as described here) if the water is high so that you find out early if a safe crossing of Mono Creek is feasible. But when, for example, Mills Creek looks like this marker 3, think twice.

Climb the Second Recess trail to its end. There are many fine bivouac opportunities along the way, but higher might be better. From trail end, climb northeast along the north side of Mills Creek avoiding steep slabs marker 4. This section is Class 2 and there may or may not be cairns, which may or may not point to the path of least resistance. The slabs and terrain will probably dictate climbing higher and further left than you might prefer, but it does offer a nice view southeast into the upper creek basin toward Gabbot Pass marker 5. Traverse right and down into the creek basin, with the most challenging terrain now behind you.

The section from here to the pass is lovely, perhaps the most enjoyable of the loop. Ascend easy and sometimes open terrain southeast past Lower Mills Creek Lake marker 6 and Upper Mills Creek Lake. You may encounter snow in the upper reaches of the northwest side marker 7, but it is not particularly challenging, and probably easier going than the rocks underneath. Gabbot Pass (12,303 ft) gives nice views, including southwest to Toe Lake and Lake Italy marker 8. Descend the south side on Class 1 terrain.

There are plenty of bivouac opportunities around Lake Italy, including one on a rise above a beach on the north shore marker 9, which might offer a nice sunset on Mt. Julius Caesar marker 10.

Circle Lake Italy to the north and cross its western outlet to the Hilgard Branch of Bear Creek marker 11. [For future reference, note the snowfield on the south shore of Lake Italy marker 12, which must be crossed if your destination is Italy Pass, and which can be interesting without crampons in certain conditions.] Pick up a trail south and west, which is shown as the unmaintained Italy Pass trail on some maps. A side trip to Teddy Bear marker 13 and Brown Bear Lakes is worthwhile.

It's best to recross the Hilgard Branch and descend along the north side marker 14, eventually picking up a very good trail, which in places traverses steep terrain. Alternatively, one can bushwack the south side all the way out, with cairns intermittently pointing the way. (The north side really is far easier.) There are plenty of good bivouac options farther along, before the route intersects the John Muir Trail marker 15.

Turn northwest on the JMT, which eventually gives a nice view down the Bear Creek drainage marker 16. (The Bear Creek trail gives an alternative route to the west shore of Lake Edison.) Continue north on the JMT, descending many, many switchbacks, to close the loop at Quail Meadows. There is bridge across Mono Creek here. Head west to the landing for the 1645 hrs ferry, or hike out along the north shore of Lake Edison.