Backpacking Trip to Big Pine Lakes (Aug 2019)

Have you gazed on naked grandeur where there’s nothing else to gaze on,
Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon,
Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?
Have you swept the visioned valley with the green stream streaking through it,
Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence? Then for God’s sake go and do it;
Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.

~ Robert William Service

Not for the God’s sake, but for my own sake, I finally kick started my backpacking ventures again after two years break. Last month, I went to Big Pine Lakes in John Muir Wilderness. I hiked up to third lake, but this trail has 7 beautiful lakes. Trail head is at 7820 ft located at Glacier lodge, which is about 11 miles on glacier lodge road from Big Pine town. Total hike is about 11 mile round trip up to third lake with ~2500 ft elevation gain.

Trail starts on paved road next to Big pine creek.

There are aspens and mountain birch on trail and on the banks of the creek, which change colors in falls. So it will be great spot for fall photography as well. You will pass first waterfalls with in few yards from the trail head.

Trail climbs through switchbacks right after the falls. End of the switch backs, trail splits into South fork and North fork. Follow North fork to Big Pine Lakes. Trail is shaded with Jeffery pine trees for first few miles. In about a mile, you will cross the creek over a bridge. Trail again splits into high meadow trail on the right and North fork on left. Take left to continue on trail long side of the creek.

In about 2.75 mile mark, you will come across a nice cabin. It was build in 1929 by an Hollywood actor Lon Chaney as wilderness getaway. It was a great idea and great location. Big Pine Creek flows right in front of the cabin. It wasn’t far from the trail head, yet surrounded by pines, mountains and creek that carry pure glacial waters. Great wilderness experience. Currently this cabin is owned by national forest services and interiors are closed for public.

Trail continue to climb. Just before 1st lake, trail splits again. Trail to Black lake goes onto right. Follow the trail to left and soon you will see the first lake. The turquoise green lake is strikingly beautiful. From this location, you can see Temple Crag, but I did not find a appealing composition (Frankly, not explored this lake much). I continued towards second lake. Second lake is not much further from there.

I spent about an hour searching for a perfect spot from where I want to shoot sunset and potentially milky way galaxy and setup my tent. I left my gear and scouted out to third lake. But I liked second lake much better.

From third lake, a trail goes to Palisade Glacier. From second lake, the glacier is about another 4 miles with 2000 ft more elevation again (~12000 ft.) . Palisade Glacier is the southern most glacier that survived till now in North America. For those who haven’t seen a glacier, this will be a great trip.

I shot night sky right from my camp. While I was shooting milky way, I saw someone flashing light from Temple Crag, saddle on the right side. I wasn’t sure, if a climber stuck there and signalling for help or camped intentionally. I know climber camp at third lake and climb Temple Crag in the day and comes back to the camp by evening. I felt dumb not knowing Morse code for SOS, if that’s what they were signaling . I was confused on how to react. Flash lights eventually died down. Fortunately, it wasn’t any emergency, I later checked. However, first thing that I did right after I reached home is to check Morse code. It’s dot-dot-dot dash-dash-dash dot-dot-dot. This trip was short, but the area is beautiful. Lakes reminded me lakes in Canadian Rockies. Hopefully, will get back here in the fall.

Happy Clicking

Swamy