13,494 foot Mount Thompson makes dramatic backdrop above Blue Lake.
I got home a few days ago from my final trip down to the Sierra Nevada. I have now completed every trail in that range for the book and, aside from a few loose ends up here closer to home, I am essentially done hiking the trails for the new guide. I am glad to be done with the long trips, with being away from my family, with life on the road etc. Of course, I know in a few months I will have the traveling jones again and be thinking about where I want to head next.
This was an incredible trip. The focus was almost entirely on the eastern Sierra Nevada, in the high country of the John Muir Wilderness. Before I got there, I did stop off in Lassen on my way south and climb Lassen Peak. Of course I will have to include that volcanic ascent in the book, since it is such a classic hike. After that, I drove down to Mammoth and, the following day began my High Sierra foray. I ventured into the twisted, fascinating geology of Convict Creek. After that it was off to Bishop, where I did two trails in the Bishop Creek area. This is classic High Sierra terrain, with lots of granite, lakes and towering peaks over 13,000 feet. After that I made the climb up to Kearsarge Pass, with its unforgettable vista into the remote interior of Kings Canyon National Park. The next morning was spent hiking to arches in the Alabama Hills. While this area had not initially been intended for the book, I have decided to include it. It’s unique geology, high desert environment and utterly unforgettable view of the Sierra’s eastern escarpment demand inclusion.
It has been a privilege to be able to spend so much time in so many corners of this incredible state. I am sad the journey is drawing to an end but I will always be grateful to have had this opportunity. I hope that when the book comes out, it will be as beautiful as I anticipate, and will be a helpful guide to others exploring the natural majesty found in Northern California.
Since this was a shorter trip with so much awesome scenery, I am breaking with my past format and including two images per hike. I hope that does not put anyone out.
As stated previously, my first stop was not in the Sierra Nevada but in the Cascades. I had been putting off doing Lassen Peak in hopes my family could go with me but I was running out of time and it just made sense to get it done. Though the climb is relentless, this is a great trail. It has views all the way up, climbs above treeline quickly and has an incredible panorama from the summit. I would say that, along with Mount Eddy, this is one of the two best vistas in the North State. The amount of area visible from the top is amazing.
The hike through Convict Canyon is one of the most spectacular trails I have been on. It starts off at what might be the most scenic trailhead in the book (after Glacier Point and the Panorama Trail, of course). Convict Lake, backed by awesome Laurel Mountain and the wavy spires of the Sevehah Cliff is unforgettable. When I was there the fall color was just starting to set in. From that point, the trail follows Convict Creek up through the canyon all the way to Mildred Lake. The passage through the mountains is one loaded with bizarre geology. This corner of the High Sierra is not composed of the typical granite, instead being made of a vast array of metamorphic rock. It is twisted, bent and broken into fascinating shapes. In addition to the forms, the colors are bright and vibrant. Azure Mildred Lake is set in a large bowl at the foot of an expansive meadow. High peaks of the same unusual geology surround it. Unforgettable.
Sabrina Basin is, in many ways, the essence of the High Sierra. Tall peaks, lots of granite, stunted trees at the treeline, jagged peaks and water everywhere. This hike begins at beautiful Lake Sabrina, where the fall color was already well-established. It then makes a tough climb out of the lake’s bowl and up into the high country, where it arrives at spectacular Blue Lake. On they way up to the lake, there are great views of Emerson Peak, the red chaos of the Piute Crags and the distant White Mountains, the tallest range in the Great Basin. From Blue Lake, a traverse through beautiful terrain, past a few lakes, leads to a large basin where a few larger lakes are set below towering spires. Hungry Packer Lake, the end of this hike, maybe the most beautiful but they are all exceptional.
Near Lake Sabrina is South Lake, on a separate fork of Bishop Creek. Climbing above that lake leads to more staggering alpine scenery. The trail leads first to Long Lake, where more granite peaks form a magnificent backdrop behind the lake. From there, I climbed up to Ruwau Lake, which lies at the foot of the Inconsolable Range, a subrange of the Sierra Nevada. Higher up above the lake leads to staggering views of jagged 13,525 foot Cloudripper (probably my favorite mountain name!). The pass lay just below Chocolate Peak, a mountain composed of brown metamorphic rock. The fall color here was amazing. Below the pass were the terraced bowls of the three Chocolate Lakes, followed by beautiful Bull Lake. The trail passed all four before rejoining the main trail and heading back down to the trailhead. Awesome!
The trail up to Kearsarge Pass climbs at the most amazingly even grade. Yet up and up it goes. The climb is made much, much more palatable by the incredible scenery. Granite peaks surround the valley and five lakes add lushness to the surroundings. 13,595 foot University Peak towers overhead and looks as though the glaciers that carved its knife edge spires melted just the other day. After topping out at the 11,800 foot pass, an unforgettable scene unfolds. To the east is Big Pothole Lake, with its tormented tower rising from the water to a single, solitary slab of granite, backed by University Peak and the distant Inyo Mountains rising on the far side of the Owens Valley. To the west, the interior of Kings Canyon National spreads out below the pass, the very definition of vast. Lakes, pinnacles, towering peaks, meadows and vast high elevation forest all lie below.
The Alabama Hills are one of my favorite places. The weathered granite domes, high desert country and utterly stupendous view of the eastern ramparts of the Sierra Nevada make a perfect combination. The Sierra here is capped by 14,505 Mount Whitney, the highest point in the coterminous United States. It is the essence of mountain awesomeness. There are not a lot of official trails in the Alabama Hills but the opportunity for exploration is endless. The trail to the Mobius Arch is the most popular and deservedly so. The arch is awesome. However, there are over 400 arches in these hills and hunting them down is a very enjoyable business. What better way to end the book than exploring the granite domes and fins, locating these great features in the shadow of the Sierra’s highest peak?