Chris and I spent 5 blissful days last week backpacking in the southwestern Sierras. While we live in California, it seems we don't spend nearly enough time in our "local" high peaks so we have vowed to make it into these beautiful mountains more frequently. We have both done the John Muir Trail, the High Sierra Trail, the Evolution Valley Loop, and a bit in Yosemite, but that is just a sampling of what is available in the Sierras! With no clear destination or goals this trip, we simply loaded the packs up with 5 days of food plus all the usual stuff, procured the requisite permit (with what ultimately turned out to be a rather bogus itinerary), and set off from the Wolverton Trailhead in Sequoia National Park.
Our first night's campsite was at Hamilton Lakes. Since it is on the High Sierra Trail, we had both been there before, but I'd forgotten exactly HOW impressive was the trail to/from there, blasted into miles of rock and even tunneled at one point! A bold deer and her twin fawns passed through the campsite a few times. On her final pass, undoubtedly attracted to the salt deposits, she grabbed Chris's shorts which were drying on a branch. She dropped 'em after I chased her down. :)
Below, Hamilton Lake campsite. That's a food storage box on the right. Most heavier used campsites in the Sierras have them although backpackers are still supposed to have bear-resistant food cans as well. (We brought our Bearikade cannister.)
The next morning we made our way up to Kaweah Gap and were suprised to find this amount of ice and snow still on the higher lakes and trails.
Queen of a very small snowfield...
At Kaweah Gap we gazed down into the spectacular Nine Lakes Basin vowing to someday do some cross-country exploring here.
At Big Arroyo we decided to diverge from the HST and head into new territory. We'd intended to hike farther, but upon seeing the first of the Little Five Lakes, we were captivated by the beauty and solitude of the lake and the perfect campsite to be had. We ended up spending a good chunk of the afternoon reading our books and sunning ourselves on rocks. :)
The view near our campsite...
On Day 3 we decided to do a little cross-country route from Big Five Lakes back to Little Five Lakes Basin. The area was loaded with awesome bristlecone pines, and the lakes were incredibly beautiful and clear, with trout visible just below the surface.
One of the Big Five Lakes...
...and the descent back to Little Five Lakes Basin. This was an easy off-trail route of a little over a mile.
Approaching Black Rock Pass, we met our second hiker in two whole days. (Apparently the week before Labor Day is the time to be out here.) The view from Black Rock Pass rivals anything we have seen anywhere else in the Sierras so far. Of course, a photo cannot do it justice! From top to bottom, that's Columbine, Cyclamen, and Spring Lakes. Just beautiful.
From Black Rock Pass, we had a long descent to our night's destination near Pinto Lake. Unfortunately, the camera took a little dip during a slippery stream ford, so our photos end here!
Day 4's route brought us back down to the elevation of the giant sequoias, and we went through a lovely grove just filled with the monsters! The trail through this section was smooth and serpentine; we kept thinking how much fun it would be to run. A short climb brought us full circle to Bearpaw Meadow which we'd passed on Day 1. We set up camp about a mile below Bearpaw and settled in. As a 3 foot rattler passed near the campsite -- and then didn't seem to be in a hurry to leave -- I insisted we move the tent to a different campsite a few yards away. (I like snakes, but I don't LIKE snakes.)
On the final day, which was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, we had just 10 miles to hike out. Whereas we'd seen just a handful of hikers the previous 4 days, this day we must have passed over 100 hiking in for the weekend. Time to go home! We'd had a blast, really enjoying this mellow hike, staying flexible and covering only about 100 km. total. And, being the Sierras, the weather was perfect. We can't wait to go back...!!