On a Friday afternoon Joel and I were discussing options in the Tuolumne Meadows area and I remembered looking at Ireland Lake on the map and thinking it would be a neat spot to visit. I had also viewed the Lewis Creek Basin from Vogelsang Peak and wanted to explore the many alpine lakes I saw in the basin. A high pass separates Ireland Lake from Lewis Creek Basin including some cross country travel and scrambling on the west side of the pass making for a logical loop. We could also ascend to the summit of Parsons Peak about 700 vertical feet above the pass for sweeping views of the Yosemite high country.
Starting from the trailhead at 6:40 a.m. we enjoyed a great 6.5 mile run through Lyell Canyon in the crisp morning air to the junction with the Ireland Lake Trail. We hiked up the forested slopes and then broke out into golden meadows. Cirrus made for striking photography as we ascended above the tree line and entered the tundra region surrounding picturesque Ireland Lake, which is aptly named as the terrain looks much like Ireland (save for the fact that the grass was now golden instead of green). This unique setting includes a wide expanse of golden meadows, the clear waters of Ireland Lake and a rocky backdrop of Amelia Earhart Peak and Parsons Peak. After much photography we traversed around the shores of Ireland Lake and continued up the rocky slopes toward the south ridge of Parsons Peak. The final push to the summit included some talus hopping but we were soon on top enjoying 360 degree views of the Yosemite High Country including Lyell and Maclure, Simmons Peak, Mount Florence, the Cathedral Range, Half Dome and Mount Conness. We peered down at Ireland Lake on one side and the lakes of Lewis Creek Basin on the other. The first cumulus clouds were forming in the high country enhancing the photography. We surmised that we had at least a few hours before thunderstorms would develop and this proved true as we only experienced photogenic cumulus “puffs.”
After enjoying the summit vistas, we made our way down the Talus to the pass that would grant us access into the Lewis Creek Basin. After some scrambling down the upper slopes and talus lower down we were at the first of a string of high alpine lakes we would pass through on our descent towards Bernice Lake. The Lewis Creek Basin is spectacular and we were surprised to not see evidence of human travel throughout the area. At the far end of Bernice Lake we connected with a path that took us down into the canyon where we joined with the main trail heading up to Vogelsang Pass. This is a short but moderately steep ascent to the pass with great views of the Lewis Creek Basin and Clark Range. The other side of Vogelsang Pass is a gradual descent with a great view of Vogelsang Lake, which was enhanced on this day by the presence of cumulus clouds. The final 8.5 miles from Vogelsang Pass to the trailhead at Tuolumne Meadows are very enjoyable alpine trail running.