By Jon Crowley
Always up for an adventure, my wife Teresa and I concocted a plan that included both off-roading and hiking all condensed into three days and two nights. We chose Bridgeport, CA as the hub of our operations due to its central location between Mount Patterson in the north and the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite National Park in the south.
Knowing that Teresa would love to see the view from the top of Mount Patterson, I was itching to take our new 2021 Can-Am Commander XT-P out for a ride around the high Sierras. We drove three hours to the town of Walker, CA, and from there, continued solo to the summit reaching up to 11,654 feet. Separating the West Walker River from the East Walker River, Mount Patterson is the tallest peak in the Sweetwater Mountain Range and sits to the north of Mono County, California. Save the exceptionally willing, most of the range remains only accessible on foot, with the use of a pack animal, or in our case: a capable four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The area comes alive with history as we visited the ghost towns of Belfort and Clinton –– small gold mining camps on the south-eastern slope of Mt. Patterson that date back to the 1800s. The Sweetwater post office existed on the eastern boundary of the range during the 1920s, relatively more recent than the Fales post office on the southwestern boundary that dates to 1877. Both Clinton and Belfort operated post offices during the 1880s, as well. Several other inactive small gold mining camps and gold mines in the range include Boulder Flat, Montague Mine, Angelo Mission Mine, Kentuck Mine, Frederick Mine, Longstreet Mine, Lilly Mine, Deep Creek Mine, and Tiger Mine.
On the way to the top, we stopped at Lobdell Lake. Not far from there we reached the peak of Mount Patterson and its panoramic 360-degree view.
Continuing to explore, we ventured through the ghost town of Belfort and then back over to Montague Mine. Soon after, we starting heading back down the slope.
Back in Walker, we loaded up and drove 30 minutes south to Bridgeport, CA to spend the night. A great finish to an even better day, we met up with our friends Kurt & Kelly for some nice burgers, tater tots, and a few brews at Big Meadow Brewing Co. before crashing for the night at Ruby Inn.
Up early, we headed to the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite National Park. The good news is the trailhead is right at the park entrance. We were able to park just outside without worrying about getting a reservation to enter Yosemite. Since we’ve been training to hike Mt. Whitney this coming August, we have been bagging as many peaks as we can to get in as much altitude training as possible. At 13,061 feet, Mount Dana was a perfect test run. The hike starts at about 10,000 feet and rises to over 13,000 in only 3 miles!
With jumbled rocks and a super steep climb to the top, we felt a little like billy goats. Nonetheless, our hard work was rewarded with a spectacular view: Mono Lake to the east, Yosemite Valley to the west, Mount Lyell to the south, and Mt. Patterson to the north which we road to the day prior.
After eating lunch atop the mountain, we descended back down the trailhead to clock in at about 5 hours round-trip! Seeing as it was just 1 PM, Teresa and I certainly weren’t done with dventuring for the day, though. Driving north almost back to Bridgeport we unloaded our Can-Am Commander at Green Creek Road. Exploring the area to the southwest, we found some old mining cabins and equipment before heading over to Kavanaugh Ridge.
This spot specifically is over 11,000 feet and drops off dramatically into the Hoover Wilderness Area. Despite the extremely gusty wind, the incredible views of the area were worth it nonetheless.
Back in Bridgeport at dinner time, the first thing we decided was to grab some much needed food. Stopping in at Rhino’s Bar and Grille, we kicked back and reminisced.
So inspired by the view from Kavanaugh ridge the day earlier, Teresa and I did some investigating into the Hoover Wilderness Area. To our luck, I found an access point into the same area that we peered down on from the Green Creek Trailhead. Navigating wasn’t too difficult. The spot will take you less than 10 miles down a decent dirt road, and is accessible via Green Creek Road.
From the trailhead, our goal was to get to East Lake –– totaling about 9-miles round trip. The hike was comparatively much easier than hiking Mount Dana the day before. Instead of 1,000+ feet per mile, today’s trek was closer to 500 feet per mile. Since it lacks the large rocks and boulders, we also found the trail to be much easier to navigate without having to look when placing each step.
Overall, the Hoover Wilderness Area was fantastic –– including the hikes to visit both Green Lake and then East Lake. Bringing the trip full circle, it was interesting to see the top of Kavanaugh Ridge, but this time from the bottom.
Packing in as many activities as possible, we had a ball exploring this area over the course of three days. With so many outdoor opportunities one really can’t miss out when visiting the area. The only downside that I can think of would be the price of fuel in Bridgeport. It has to be one of the most expensive in California!