Little Valley Lakes Trail along Rock Creek Canyon is one of the best if not the best rated hike for the eastern Sierras in Mono county. It is a glacier carved valley filled with wildflowers, marshes, and lakes surrounded by 13,000 foot granite peaks. What better place to spend a morning hiking?

Perfect, right? 

There is always a “gotcha”. The trailhead starts at 10,272 feet, not for the unacclimated soul. 

After staying a week at the foot at Mammoth Mountain, a mere 8000 feet of elevation, we decided we were ready. Or were we?

A the outset, the trail followed along the bubbling Rock Creek. The air was cool and crisp and thin, very thin.

Up our first incline, I gasped. The scene was spectacular, but more importantly, I couldn’t breathe. 

A beautiful open alpine meadow
Up the next incline

Stopping to capture a photo is a great way to catch your breath. (I took a lot of photos.)

Early Morning Stillness

Bending over to catch my breath, I began to notice the wild flowers. Green meadows dotted with purple lupines, red and orange Indian paint brush, white columbines, heather, daisies and dozens more. 

Our goal was Chicken Foot Lake three miles up the valley (believe it or not, the lake is shaped like a chicken foot). To get there we needed to pass by five other lakes, each beautiful in its own right. Each lake we passed was higher than the previous one, translating into one gasp after another. We were beginning to sound like two fish out of water. 

For the record, we passed by Mack Lake, Box lake, Heart lake, Marsh lake, and Long lake.

Did you know that at 10,000 feet there is roughly a 1/3 less oxygen (14.3%) than at sea level (20.9%)? At what point are we susceptible to brain impairment? After a little research, it turns out that symptoms of altitude sickness usually develop after reaching altitudes more than 9,800 feet above sea level. Any life decisions would be put off to another day.

Breathing heavy, Jeff said that as soon as we hit the snow line, he was stopping. I laughed, figuring this was not possible. I was hoping to convince him to go even further and higher to another supposedly gorgeous lake. Perhaps brain impairment was setting in me. Luckily, Jeff had set the limit and I had to eat my words. Just as we approached Chicken Foot Lake, there was snow on the embankment. He stopped, it was time to turn back. Our brains were saved!

During the hike, we had increased our elevation over 600 feet. Normally, this would be a very reasonable hike, but with no oxygen, every foot in elevation change was imprinted on our oxygen starved brains. Especially, since we were led to believe that the hardest part of the trail was the car drive to the trailhead. We had been duped.

Luncheon View Across Chicken Foot Lake

Duped or not, the temperature was in the low 70’s, the sun was shining and we had a breath taking view. Sometimes when your breath is taken away it is worth it!

Remember, it’s all about the light and the air.