Hiking to the Red Cones

After our relaxed day of driving around in the Bishop Creek Canyon area and photographing fall colors, it was time to get some more hiking in. :-) During our morning walk to McLeod Lake (Shuwen’s photos) I noticed a spot on the map that piqued my interest: the Red Cones.

A trail continues along the northern shore of McLeod Lake and soon enters the Ansel Adams Wilderness. After a short ascend to Mammoth Pass, it’s all gently downhill on a quiet and truly unspectacular forest path – I’ve written about it from a different perspective here: The Woods are all right.

It’s about 3.5 kilometers to the northern one of the two Red Cones from McLeod Lake (or a total of 4.5 km from the trailhead at Horseshoe Lake) – and it’s quite a sight when it suddenly comes into view through the trees. The Red Cones almost look alien after the hike through the forest. The northern Red Cone is easy to ascend – a use-trail veers off to the right and it’s just a short climb over the loose pumice to the top. From there, one has pretty nice views in most directions except to the east, where the wooded side of the Mammoth Crest blocks the view.

Shuwen and Toni stayed at the northern Red Cone while I continued to the southern one*. The trail descends another 100m, down to Crater Meadows, where it soon meets the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trail. Crossing Crater Creek and following the southbound JMT/PCT, I soon found a use-trail that led uphill to the southern Red Cone. Reaching this peak was much more strenuous – the narrow trail leads uphill steeply on the loose pumice (which appeared to have more color variation than on the northern red cone, in hues of brown, red, orange and purple). I had already seen those narrow trails from the other Red Cone, but underestimated them.

The experience itself and the views of the northern Red Cone with Mammoth Mountain behind it were absolutely worth it. I wandered around making photos, had a snack, and then rejoined Shuwen and Toni for the hike back – now uphill of course, on the pack trail back up to Mammoth Pass and McLeod lake.

Hiking on such a forest trail, without constant visual stimulus (“it’s just forest”), has a great meditational quality: thoughts wander at first, then they just seem to peter out. Ultimately, one ends up in a state where existence is limited to keeping the rhythm of movement and breathing comfortable, and the thought about where the next two or three steps will lead, ie. picking the spot where you’ll place your feet next. Both are mostly sub-conscious activities, I guess. And that’s it. Nothing else matters. What has been and what will be, in an hour, or the next day, or the next week, what awaits when you return home… it doesn’t become irrelevant – it just disappears. It’s like getting rid of all the weight of thoughts and worries in one’s head. One step. Here and now. Breathe in. Another step. Breathe out.

It’s easy to forget how meditative hiking can be. Maybe it has to do with being a photographer and carrying a camera – there’s no denying that I constantly and sub-consciously “scan” for visual interest. And when we’re looking to make photos, we all have a heightened perception of our surroundings, which makes our experiences more intense (and with “we” I really mean all people, not just the photographers).

Eventually, the meditational state is broken by a growling stomach of course. :-) We found a great little Ramen place in Mammoth where we had dinner. The hot and rich soup really hit the spot.

Last not least – the photos!

*) I promised myself to not skip such opportunities – it was only another 2 km, and the chance that I’d get this close to the southern Red Cone again would be pretty much zero in the near future. I am really most grateful that Shuwen supports my desire to explore a little more.

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3 thoughts on “Hiking to the Red Cones”

  1. I tried to hike this area in the winter once and nearly got our AWD car stuck in the snow. Very nice pictures; it’s great to see what it looks like when it’s not covered with snow. We’ll have to look up that ramen place when we go skiing this winter.


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