Wednesday July 1, 2015
Sea level to 7,470 feet
Santa Barbara to Portal Forbay Campground 332 miles.
The familiar sweet fresh smell of pines and recent rain lets me know that I am home in my beloved Sierra! (no S at the end when plural.) I am both soothed and excited. I arrived at Shaver Lake in time to eat my dinner while watching the sunset. With a full belly I make my way up towards Kaiser Pass Road, My gateway into the Sierra.
Kaiser Pass Road
Kaiser Pass Road is damp from the recent rains and makes the drive in even more exciting. I love this two way, single lane twisting, turning, curving, bumpy, pot holed, cliff edge drop off road. I have driven this road so many times both in daylight and night that I know each curve like the lines on the back of my hand. There is one stretch where you can see all the way to Mt Ritter and Mt Banner and tonight the mountains are bathed in the last glowing light of the day. Alpine glow at it’s best. I’m giddy with excitement.
I’m camped close to the trailhead and I’m watching a lightening storm and swapping out cookies for homemade brownies in my bear canister! Thanks mom! It took me a few minutes to realize that the flashing light I was seeing was lightening and not my headlamp. After the lightening show was over I watched the almost full moon make its way through the clouds. I’m now stretched out in my car bed, (I think I’m on version 3.1,) and it feels comfortable and is doing the exact job I designed it for…..sleeping in my car at the trailhead! A perfect night indeed.
Thursday July 2, 2015
Half way to Bear Creek Diversion trailhead (6,820 feet) to Lake Italy! ( 11,202) 16.5 miles 4, 382 feet of elevation gain.
It rained all night! And in the morning it was still raining so I slept until 7, crawling out of the car when the skies seemed a bit lighter. Not raining now but more is on the way; I think this is going to be a rainy thunderstormish trip.
I enjoyed my coffee while watching the clouds gather and recede over the silver divide.
I attempted to drive all the way to the Bear Dam Diversion trailhead on a 4 wheel drive only road. I had talked with the ranger and he thought I could make it in my car saying there was just one rough spot. Of course every treacherous spot made me think, ” is this the rough spot he thought I could make?” And then I would get through that spot and come to another, “Oh this must be the spot.” I did that for about a mile mile and a half until I came to a gully that had been carved deeper by the recent rains and decided to park and walk the rest of the way. But I had to drive back 7/10 of a mile to find a safe place to park. All this to say, with the morning rain and road walk I got a much later start than I thought.
The first 8 miles of the trail went along the incredibly beautiful Bear Creek. The recent rains and humidity made the smells that much more intense. There were so many hues of green it was like a painters pallet.
I saw one other person on this part of the trail….he is hiking the JMT and had stopped at Edison lake fora re-supply and was now hiking the 8 miles back to the John Muir Trail. (JMT) We flipped flopped each other all morning.
Trail along Bear Creek
Cruiser seeking shelter.
I stopped for lunch at two cascading waterfalls. After lunch, PB on a tortilla with dried apples, coconut and crushed corn chips, the trail climb steadily up, Up, UP and then UP some more… and I slowed to a crawl. The after lunch slump and the altitude really got to me and I kept stopping every several feet. Soon I hit my stride and found myself at the trail junction of the PCT/JMT and headed south. I saw a lot of people…JMTers heading south, and PCTers heading north.
An inviting pool along Bear Creek
When I got to the trail junction for Lake Italy I checked my watch and was surprised that is was only 3:15. I figured it would take me 3 hours to get to Lake Italy….I still had a little over 2,000 feet to climb. I thought if I felt too tired I could always stop and set up camp. I saw one person coming down and he shared that the trail was hard to follow. Hmmm I started to second guess myself, and I kept finding the trail so I kept going. This second guessing myself would become a theme for the rest of the trip.
One of the reasons I choose this trip was to practice and hone my cross-country skills. This route has a nice combination of on trail, unmaintained trail, (meaning no trail work is performed on the trail and you might be able to find it and you might not. ) “use-trail,” ( hikers “use” this to get from one point to another but it is not an official trail, is not marked, and may not lead anywhere.) and cross country. ( no trail, use a map and compass and/or a GPS and pick your own route.)
Hilgard Branch was beautiful dotted with granite rocks, Indian paintbrush, lupine and about a hundred thousand mosquitos. Although that’s just really a rough estimate! I’m fortunate in that Mosquitos land on me and annoy me but they don’t always bite me. I didn’t even want to stop to look for the bug juice!
Hilgard Meadow. Soon after this the trail disappeared.
I had one moment of panic when I wasn’t sure where I was and in a split second I convinced myself I was lost. But then I reasoned with myself, “how can you be lost? Just turn around and go back.” Out came the map and the compass and I discovered I was on course. Imagine that! I tried to convince myself that I was reading the map wrong and the compass wasn’t right….but I know the compass doesn’t lie and I had identified surrounding landmarks. I pushed on and after what seemed like an eternity I crested the last hill and found myself exactly where I had meant to be….Lake Italy. Not only that, it was exactly 6:15….the time I figured I would arrive
Seriously?! I have to climb through this?
Having hiked 16.5 miles and climbed over 4,000 feet I’m ravenous, and down the two homemade brownies I packed while I set up camp. Beyond delicious! And had I packed three of them instead two I would’ve eaten all three without a second thought!
As I’m writing this a few raindrops are hitting me and a mouse keeps running up towards me and freaking me out! I see a few stars and I know the full moon will be here soon!
It was a long ,long wonderful day and now I have to go nap it on down!! And I’m at Lake Italy exactly where I wanted to be!
Friday July 3, 2015 Lake Italy (11,202 ft) Cross Country to Bear Basin (11,400 ft) 7ish miles.
I had quite possibly the worst nights Sierra sleep in my history. Although I was physically exhausted I just could not fall asleep. I don’t know if it was the altitude, the full moon the lightening storm and hail or the anticipation of my cross county jaunt or a combination of everything….but I tossed and turned all night. It was a long night and not even my morning coffee seemed to help.
Lake Italy camp & Mt Hilgrad: 13,361 ft If Rich & Nancy were here we would have climbed i!
Lake Italy campsite. Drying out.
Lake Italy: Mt Gabb, Abbot and Dade. And Bear Creek Spire
I followed the very faint Italy Pass trail stopping numerous times to check and re-check my position. Again, I kept convincing myself I wasn’t going the right way and then spent time assuring myself that yes, I actually was going the right way. And then I would look up and see a rock cairn or trail duck and realize I was either on course or following some other lost person. There were moments where every rock pile looked like a trail marker and I found myself searching for the cairns like a scavenger hunt. I also had a copy of a trail guide which I kept pulling out of my pocket to read. By the end of the trip that piece of paper had millions of crinkles, folds and dead mosquitos on it!
Jumble Lake. My pole is pointing to the Pass which is my first goal.
As you can see from the picture, Jumble Lake is surrounded by talus fields and the best way to get up to Dancing Bear Pass (where my trekking pole is pointed) is to C L I M B high and work your away around the lake. I did a magnificent job of climbing, climbing, climbing across house size boulders and talus fields to arrive at the saddle of Bear Lake Basin. As I was climbing over the house sized boulders I kept thinking about my mom and how frightened she used to be of these on her backpacking trips with my dad. They can be scary, especially when you step on a rock and it creaks and groans as it shifts. Sometimes there is water running under these talus fields, sometimes you can see it but mostly you hear it. It can be a long way down and it’s not a place you want to misstep. Hmm, come to think of it misstepping anywhere out here should really be avoided.
Getting closer to my goal. Look at the size of those rocks!
Looking back towards Lake Italy….now just a dot.
This tarn was near the top..with Seven Gables just becoming visible.
Once I made it over the pass I sat on the lip of the basin eating lunch and studying the route down. The trail guide had me going down quite a steep slope and there was a use trail going down a gentler route that just made much more sense. As I was debating, two people sauntered up, really they were sauntering as if they had not a care in the world, and we compared notes. The guy and I had a friendly exchange over which lake was which and he tried to convince me that the lake I was looking at was not what I thought. So, I did what I always do, I seconded guessed myself…. and then I tagged along……until half way down the slope he stopped pulled out his map and said, “Oh wait, I was reading the map wrong…that is the right lake there” Damn, “why do I do that!?” We said goodbye and headed off in opposite directions. I was feeling self assured and confident….at least for a few minutes……..
Bear Lakes Basin
Flowers in the Basin
Bear Lakes Basin
Bear Lakes Basin is pristine and gorgeous beyond beauty. Truly! Lush green meadows, granite slabs, wildflowers, cascading waterfalls and lots of lakes with bear names.
I stumbled, thankfully not literally, upon an awesome campsite and at 3pm and called it a day. My site is perched on a sandy granite bench, nestled under white bark pines with a 360 degree view of Seven Gables, Feather, Royce and Merriam Peaks and Little Bear Lake. Too good to pass up! This would end up being my favorite spot of the trip.
I spent the afternoon watching the clouds gathering, swelling down my feet and exploring some of the lakes in the basin.
Looking back towards the pass. The small patch of snow in the far center of the photo is where I came down.
I ate my dinner to the accompaniment of the cascading creek, distant thunder and a few rain drops….that have now turned into a steady rain.
waiting and watching the storm
My favorite campsite of the trip.
The sky cleared in time for the alpine glow to reflect off The surrounding peaks. The whole basin was gorgeous!
It was another PERFECT day!
Feather & Royce Peak
Little Bear Lake. Seven Gables.
Saturday July 4, 2015
Little Bear Lake (11,400 ft) to Medley Lake (10,500 ft) 12 ish miles.
I slept! Yeah! 6:00am cloudy skies and hot coffee. I can’t tell if the clouds are going to blow over or if the sky is going to open up and pound me with rain. Just as I finished that last sentence and as I began to debate whether I should take my tent down and have a dry tent or leave it up in case it pours…..it started pouring! Not one or two little drops trying to decide to rain but a full deluge! I threw everything back into the tent, including myself and am now enjoying my coffee while the rain continues to pummel my tent.
My big Independence Day adventure began after the brief rain showers. Man oh man it was quite a day! The first two miles down below Seven Gables came off pretty easily.
I had to walk down this lovely boulder infested gully.
It actually was pretty easy. But look at the size of those rock slabs.
The pole is pointing to the gully I walked down
There was one spot where I had choose between scooting down a very slight cliff onto a small rock in the water or jumping from a ledge around a tree onto another ledge that was just a little too far away. I opted for scooting down the slight cliff…I extended my trekking poles all the way and leaned heavily on them while easing myself down the edge onto the rock in the water. I ripped my pack but I didn’t get my feet wet!
Shorty after crossing a pristine meadow I made the first of six, yes six crossings of some part of Bear Creek; the highest being knee deep when I finally made it to the JMT/PCT. But that comes later first I have to get past the pristine meadow…..I was looking for a “use” trail….it took me along time to find it….but I found it faint as it was. And then it was a game of hide and seek for the rest of the journey back to the main trail. The scenery just got better and better and it’s hard to adequately describe it.
Climbing down the channel into the meadow
Indian paint brush
Stopping to orient and check the map. “now, lets see, if that is that peak there then that must mean I’m here. Huh, that’s right. wow.”
The flowers were blooming everywhere!
At my second crossing of Bear Creek I stopped for a coffee milkshake! I can’t take credit for the concoction of chocolate protein powder, instant coffee and fresh creek water…but I can tell you it was the best milkshake I’ve ever had on the trail! Mmm mmm!
At one point I connected to the decrypted seven gables trail and I could see the rocks that were used to build the switchbacks. It took a while to climb and clamor my way up over the rocky cliff. And then, THEN I found a good trail and I did a little jig, I was so happy!!!!
The first real trail I’ve seen in two days!
The sign says unmaintained trail.
I sauntered down the trail, YES, I sauntered, feeling proud and self assured….. and before long I was at the official Bear Creek crossing on the JMT. I ate a late lunch, forded the knee high creek and headed south on the JMT. In the one and a quarter miles I was on the JMT I saw 6 people…a crowd. One guy told me I looked so tidy…. And I thought that would be a good trail name for me….because I like my pack tidy and don’t like things hanging off the side of it!
Lou Beverly inlet
I followed an actual trail up to Medley Lake where I’m camped. There is one other group here but since it’s a lake medley they are far far away. I only know they are here because I saw them climbing down the ridge. The first thing I did was jump in the water and it felt so good. This is another stellar lake basin. The west side of Seven Gables is now illuminated in alpine glow!
Someone just walked by my camp and I have to say I was very happy to have a chat. He is one of the group members I saw earlier. He just came down the ridge that I was thinking about going up tomorrow and hooking up with the trail at Marie Lake. I’ll see how I feel in the morning, right now I’m feeling accomplished for finding my way on my part trail, part unmaintained trail, part cross country and part use trail trip!
My camp at Medley Lake.
My camp is on a granite slab between two of the Medley Lakes and I can see a third lake as well. I wonder how many lakes make up a medley?
This is better than fireworks!
Sunday July 5, 2015 Medley Lake (10,500 ft) to lower Bear Creek (8,500 ft) with a few side trips. 15 ish miles
A beautiful blue cloudless morning. Enjoying the views, listening to the birds and the water lapping against the granite shore while drinking my coffee.
I headed up over the ridge In search of Marie Lakes and the JMT. I stopped at the top of the ridge and picked out all the peaks I could name….amazing how far I can see! I’m now swelling down my feet in Marie Lake and watching the storm clouds gather. This lake is huge, dotted with islands and had a granite rocky shoreline.
Marie Lake via my cross country route.
Next I hiked down the JMT and then took a side trail to Rose Lake where I enjoyed lunch. Back down to the JMT where I recrossed bear creek, still knee high. I counted 30 people most doing the JMT. Two people in particular stuck out. The first was a woman maybe close to my age hiking the JMT solo. The passion she felt for the trail was bouncing off her as she shared with me this was her 10th day on the trail and she was feeling more vibrant with each passing day. She also told me not to get too close to her because she smelled bad….which made me laugh…because, well, I smelled bad too. We talked for less than five minutes and I felt happier as I walked down the trail…and I was already feeling pretty happy!
The next person I talked with was from North Carolina and he was leading a youth group up to Seven Gables. He was very interested in where I had been, how often I go out hiking solo and what my favorite area of the Sierra is.(again, no S on Sierra.) He was also very curious about my backpack, how could it be so small and tidy! ( I took a picture of my tidy pack, but I must have deleted it, so you’ll have to wait for the next trip to see just how TIDY it is!) He grilled me on all my gear and in a jovial way kept saying, “I’m so jealous.” When I told him I also had a baby bear canister in the pack he practically fainted. As we were talking, the teens in his group kept catching up and he would tell them in disbelief what was in my pack. These kids all had HUGE packs, some bigger than they were. After I left them I rounded the corner and saw three teens sprawled halfway off the trail, looking tired but happy. They were part of the group and once they found out they weren’t too far behind they chatted me up asking all kinds of questions and telling me stories. I gave them the information about my blog…so if any of you are reading this, let me know how your trip was!
I love my solitude in the mountains and I also love chatting with people on the trail. Although I don’t necessarily want to share a campsite with them ( although maybe). I love the instant sense of camaraderie and the ease in which conversations happen. I love the sense of belonging to a group where you are immediately accepted and welcomed.
Along Bear Creek
I am camped along the lower part of Bear Creek probably 5 miles from the trailhead. I got to camp a little after 6 and immediately plunged into the water and sprawled on the warm granite rocks as the sun slipped behind the hill. While eating dinner I watch the alpine glow on Mount Hilgard (13,361 ft) some 12 miles away at the base of Lake Italy, and marveled at how far I hiked on the first day! It was another perfect day! I wonder how so many days in a row can be perfect?!
Lush Bear Creek flowers
Monday July 6, 2015 Bear Creek (8,500 ft) to Trailhead plus road walk (6,720 ft) : about 6 miles.
My last morning in the Sierra….well at least for this trip…I’ll be back in a few weeks for a longer trip! I slept with the rainfly off and enjoyed the brilliant stars. It’s amazing how many stars you can see and how close they seem. It has been warm at night this whole trip and I’ve actually been hot in my 10 degree bag. Amazing because usually I’m slightly cold in the wee hours of the morning or just perfect throughout the night.
I drink my coffee while being mesmerized by the waterfall carving it’s path down the granite rocks. This is the same water, well not exactly the same, because that water has gone by, as the water I was watching in Bear Basin. Bear Basin is the headwaters of Bear Creek and I’m both fascinated and in awe by the path the water takes. I have now hiked the entire length of Bear Creek…..that amazes me!
As I hike these last few miles I think about this Latin saying, or maybe it’s a proverb, “It is solved by walking.” Although I didn’t have anything in particular to solve I feel “solved.” The trail changes you in ways that need to be experienced before explained. Experience before explanation. And that is why I come back again and again and again.
Until next time HAPPY TRAILS!