Sister Lakes & Forsyth Peak

The Sister Lakes region describes a chain of lakes that straddle the northern border of Yosemite National Park and Hoover Wilderness. The name “Sister” aptly describes the names of these lakes, which include Stella, Harriett, Helen, Ruth, Bonnie, Cora and Dorothy. Forsyth Peak serves as a rugged backdrop for all of these lakes with its permanent snowfields and impressive north face. Dorothy Lake Pass (on the Sierra crest) marks the actual boundary line between Yosemite and Hoover and Dorothy Lake is the only lake that actually lies in the national park (south of the pass) and flows into the Hetch Hetchy drainage and ultimately the Pacific Ocean. The other lakes (north of the pass) drain into the Walker River and the Great Basin. Here are some photos with many more here.

The Pacific Crest Trail travels through this area and since these lakes are a minimum 15 miles from the nearest trailhead, most visitors to this region are thru-hikers or backpackers. We took the shortest route to reach these lakes, which begins at Leavitt Meadows off the Sonora Pass highway (108) and follows the West Walker River up 10 miles to a junction where the West Walker is crossed (via log or wade). This first part along the river is pleasant and very runnable with nice non-technical stretches to keep a consistent pace going. From the West Walker crossing begins a moderately steep climb above the valley to join the Pacific Crest Trail. A couple miles beyond the PCT junction lies the first lake, Lake Harriett, and another mile later is Stella Lake, with it’s intricate inlets and peninsulas interspersed with alpine firs and pines. Dorothy Lake is the largest lake by far with an azure color and lovely views down the valley. Fortunately, there was a breeze all day which kept the mosquitoes at bay and the temperatures reasonable for the run along the West Walker River (I can imagine this can get quite hot). 

I climbed Forsyth Peak as part of this trip. The route I took left the trail just after the outlet of Dorothy Lake (~17 miles from the trailhead) and ascended the steep ridge to a flatter area of granite slabs.On the way to the summit I stayed closer to the ridgeline and wound up ascending several false summits with ultra thick pine vegetation. On the way back, I chose a talus slope to descend back to the granite slabs which worked out better. The views from the top of Forsyth included the Sister Lake basin immediately below, the expanse of the Emigrant Wilderness to the West, the Hoover Wilderness, and Yosemite National Park. Specifically, Tower Peak looked very impressive close by and I could easily spot Mount Lyell, Mount Ritter, and Banner Peak in the distance.

Many more photos here.