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Upper Florence Lake
August 2000
by Dave Norton

Upper Florence Lake
Upper Florence Lake
click picture for larger image


We were on a trek from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley, on a route through Vogelsang and Merced High Sierra Camps, up Half Dome, and into the Valley. Always on the lookout for interesting side trips, good fishing, and wistful vistas, we noted the Florence Lakes. At 10,541 feet, Upper Florence Lake is one of the higher and less accessible of Yosemite's numerous Alpine lakes. There is no established trail into the Florence Lakes basin, and we found out why.

Approaching from the north, we had camped on Vogelsang Pass, leaving the trail to pass Gallison and Bernice Lakes, crossing the headwaters of Lewis Creek. On the topo map, it looks like a fairly difficult but short jaunt over from Bernice Lake, following the 10,200 foot contour for less than a mile across a steep slope along Lewis Canyon. That's on the topo map. On the ground, however, where we were walking, we found ourselves picking our way through a jumble of boulders ranging in size from refrigerators to houses. It was fairly dicey and very slow, with full backpacks. Each rock traversed is an opportunity for missed footing, or worse, setting one of the massive boulders in motion.

We reached Upper Florence just at dusk, 1.8 miles and 6 hours after leaving Bernice Lake. In our "Guide to Yosemite's Lakes", Upper Florence is listed as "Lightly Fished". That has to stand as one of the understatements of the year. "Seldom Seen" would be closer to the mark. Hoping for a pristine seldom-fished lake brimming with hungry Golden Trout, we found instead a starkly beautiful glacier-fed lake just emerging from it's winter cloak of ice, it's presumed bounty of hungry trout not yet actively feeding. We made camp nearby at 10,400 feet, near the stream feeding Lower Florence Lake, and resolved to revisit the lake later in the season, certain that we would find a more accessible (and less dangerous) route from the trail along Lewis Creek.

Next morning we fished Lower Florence. The inflow from Upper Florence forms one of the best looking runs of trout stream I've seen, but it too produced no fins. Leaving the lakes, we worked our way down from the steep drop into Lewis Canyon, all the while trying to picture making this arduous climb up to Florence with full packs. No wonder there are no established trails there! When we reached Lewis Creek, and made the somewhat iffy crossing of Florence Creek, we gazed in awe at the white water cascade tumbling down from the lakes above. The Florence basin is a "hanging valley", left high and dry as glaciers and erosion carved Lewis Canyon deep below. We are still uncertain whether this natural barricade to trout has left the Florence Lakes devoid of trout entirely. We'll have to leave that question open until another day....

Dave Norton

by Dave Norton, ©2000


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