The Foss Lakes-Necklace Valley Loop had been on my list since the first time I hiked to Little Heart Lake. After a long summer of climbing, and still trying to prepare for Mt Whitney it seemed the perfect way to keep my. We thought we could do it in two days, we were right, but three would have been a much more relaxed (enjoyable) option.
The pace of elevation gain until you reach the river crossing is moderate and pleasant. It is easy compared to the hill you must climb following the log crossing. This hill is the worst part of the day and does not stop climbing until you have reached Tank Lakes.
To make Foss Lakes-Necklace Valley Loop into a 3-day trip, before the log crossing there is a campsite. It is right on the trail about 4 miles in and could help add an extra night. I have stayed here once, and save for the bear that visited during the night it was great. The campsite has easy access to water and plentiful flat spaces for tents.
After the river crossing you will reach Jade lake. The trail does flatten out for a few minutes and the stream on the far side of the lake made a nice spot to eat a snack. There are a couple of campsites at the west end of the lake and 1 possible site at the east end.
After Leaving Jade lake Foss Lakes-Necklace Valley Loop begins to climb again until it levels out in a meadow. From here it turns toward a large moraine that you must climb. Follow the cairns along the moraine to get to tank lakes. Once at Tank lakes, the trick becomes finding a campsite.
Though there were quite a sites in the area, but we arrived around 4 pm and many were gone. Nonetheless, we found an excellent site near one of the lakes with a view of Summit Chief Mountain. We got to watch the summit chief glowing in the sunset while cooking some dinner.
A perfect end to an easy first day. Day 2 would present some far more serious challenges. It was an uneventful day and with the long day we were about to have on day 2 it was more than welcome.
We knew day 2 of Foss Lakes-Necklace Valley Loop would be long so we woke up around 6 am. During the night, the wind had shifted and all the smoke from two major fires moved toward us. It emptied into the valley that held our route.
Thick smoke obscured Summit Chief Mountain. Even worse it made it difficult at times to see much further than a couple hundred feet. While this is not ideal conditions for a route like Foss Lakes-Necklace Valley Loop, we pressed on. As we started the smoke cleared some which made all the route finding we had to do far easier.
Once you leave Tank Lakes, head southwest (follow the trail). For the first 1/4 mile or so there is a small trail that disappears and reappears over and over again. Do your best to follow the trail. When it starts to look like you are walking toward some cliffs pull out your map and start route finding. This is the beginning of the off-trail part of Foss Lakes-Necklace Valley Loop.
The Foss Lakes-Necklace Valley Loop route leads downhill into a basin. From here The general idea that we used was first to follow cairns. Every now and then we pulled out our compass and checked the map. But, Once down into the first basin we made a giant rookie mistake. We chose to stay low and on the east side of Iron Cap Mountain. From here we attempted to work our way north and then around the north side of Iron Cap. Without paying attention to the steep grade that the mountain turns into. We ended up climbing a (half) dry waterfall to get high enough up on Iron Cap to get around the north side.
After dropping onto the first basin, the best route for Foss Lakes-Necklace Valley Loop is to stay up high. Keep that in mind as you route find.
When we reached about halfway up the east side of Iron Cap Mountain I spotted a cairn and we were back in business. Not that the route gets any easier, since it doesn’t, but from here there were cairns again at least. Now back on route seemed to run into a cliff-band that appeared uncross-able without rope.
After searching we found a small ledge and a couple of gulleys that go around Iron Cap Mountain. This part was quite nerve-wracking and may be difficult to get through for those with a fear of heights. This 1/4 mile section was the hardest part of the Foss Lakes-Necklace Valley Loop. Finally we made our way into the basin that holds Iron Cap Lake. From here the trail does actually start to ease up a little bit. It also becomes much more clear where others travel.
On the map of our route it will be much easier to see. But, from Iron Cap lake, you want to head around the moraine that is on the Northwest side. Then follow the moraine out and around the end of the ridge. Once you have gotten outside of the ridgeline you’ll want to follow the cairns (if available).
Head in the general direction of Chetwoot lake you can see on the map. This will lead you to the outlet stream for Chetwoot where you will find a fisherman’s trail. This trail will lead to Big Heart lake.
From Big Heart the remainder of the Foss Lakes-Necklace Valley Loop is the regular trail. I would implore anyone who is doing Foss Lakes-Necklace Valley Loop to take three days. We pressed on exhausted and worn thin by the ordeals of traveling through the backcountry. During the last two miles I was ready to give in and stop. But, both of us had work the next day. We did our best to keep up conversation and spirits but it was tough.
We ended up back at or cars around 10 pm. Much of the way out was in the dark with little water, an experience I am not ready to soon repeat.