“Hiking to 10,000ft in search of pristine Alpine Lakes!”
Saturday, September 1st, 2018
Today was the day that Jenn and I had been talking about for some time. The relentless heat of summer in the Mojave Desert had pushed our venturing ideas into the cooler regions of the Eastern Sierra Nevada. We had known about the lakes at the foot of Temple Crag for some time and had only ever seen photos of them. We wanted to experience one lake in particular, Big Pine Lake or as it is often called “Second Lake”. The hike is nearly 5 miles (8 km) to Big Pine Lake and over 3,000 ft (915 m) of elevation gain, which was pretty rough. We loaded up our back packs with lunch, snacks, and lots of water. I brought my Canon 5D MKII, a Canon 24-70mm lens, and my GoPro HERO 6 mounted on an EVO SS Gimbal for buttery smooth footage.
“The start of the trailhead is marked by a gate which is often closed.”
Big Pine Creek CampgroundGPS Coordinates: 37.1254737° N, -118.4358954° W
Jenn and I arrived at the trailhead around 9:30 in the morning. Parking was a bit of an issue, so we parked her truck a little further down the highway and hoofed it back to the actual trailhead. We were well rested and loaded up with packs. The hike started casually at first, but got quite difficult right away. The beautiful scenery made the ascent along the woodsy switchbacks worth the struggle. The weather certainly helped making this a hike much more pleasant with an average temperature of just 72 ºF (22 ºC).
“Jenn takes a nice shot of the distant Palisade Crest on her Pixel 2.”
“North Fork Big Pine Creek was flowing in cascades along the trail with a beautiful ferocity.”
“The water looked so cool and quenching.”
“Once we made our way up the first set of steep switchbacks, things leveled out for a short while.”
“Looking back, all we could see were the trees that marked the top of the first switchback set.”
“Manzanita trees littered the trail side and adjacent fields along this portion of the hike.”
The trail began to ascend rapidly as we neared the next rising plateau. The smaller trail off to the bottom right of the image below was were he had just come from. By this point, gravity and elevation were really having a ball with us. Every step felt like ten. Jenn and I had to take frequent pit stops to catch our breath before shoving off again. The elevation at this point was 8,600 ft (2,621 m). We saw and heard a roaring cascade coming down off the second plateau so we decided to make that our first official stop.
“It’s hard to translate photographically, but the incline here was relentless and steady.”
There were several small trails that broke off from the main trail all along our hike which made us have to think twice before heading onward. Fortunately, we had a general idea of where we were headed since each of us had studied this hike several times in the weeks prior to this venture. One thing we did notice was that as we got further along, there was the presence of occasional signs that pointed the way which was reassuring to see.
“Can’t miss this sign, nice to have trail markers once in a while.”
“Hiking up the rocky switchbacks of the second plateau was a bit rough.”
“Now entering the John Muir Wilderness.”
At last, we had summited to the top of the trail and were treated to the relaxing sounds of rushing water over a barrage of rocks and boulders alike. It was the perfect place for us to rest after the second major ascent. Jenn was all smiles, she absolutely loves cascades and waterfalls as do I. Being from the southern portion of the Mojave Desert, we never get to see water flows like this so it was a real treat. We rested for a bit while taking in the shear alpine beauty of it all.
“Even in September, the snow melt was still fueling the rivers and creeks in this area.”
“That smile just says it all”…”Hi babe!”
“The water looked so crisp and was rather cold to the touch.”
After a good 15 minute break, Jenn and I set off again. we had about 3 miles (1.6 km) left to go before we reached the lakes and lot of elevation to cover. The whole way up, the magnitude of amazing views did not let up for a minute, it was pure magic and got better with every turn of the trail.
“It was time to get moving and see what was next.”
“Another short break as we surpassed 9,000 ft (2,743 m) mark, Jenn also made a new friend.”
“And here we go again!”
“We saw many vibrant wild berries along the trail.”
“Jenny was a trooper and kept the pace solid. Cloudripper looms in the distance.”
“The North Fork Big Pine Creek was almost always in sight which made for a great trail companion.”
“Another break was mandatory, Jenn took it in style this time…lol”
“The nearby, bald peaks of the mountains became an instant elevation indicator.”
“We were very close now, just a little bit more.”
Big Pine Lake (a.k.a. Second Lake)GPS Coordinates: 37.1226635° N, -118.4910105° W
“Finally!”, we had made it to our destination! Big Pine Lake (a.k.a. Second Lake) sits at about 10,100 ft. (3,078 m) and took roughly 5 miles (8 km) to reach. The distance was not that big a deal, but it’s the elevation that will kick your ass. The view was well worth it all however, a place that we had only ever seen in photographs became a reality. The images did not lie, it was truly a spectacle of liquid turquoise as I now call it. The color was so vibrant, it was like something out of Willy Wonka story. Rising to a height of 12,982 ft. (3,957 m), the massive granite peaks of Temple Crag frame the scenery beautifully and make this image very iconic.
“This is a brief video of the 5 mile hike to Big Pine Lake.”
“This was one of the most rewarding hikes that I have done to date.”
“The water was very clear and there were fish swimming near the rocks below.”
“Jenny was taking this well earned resting point to relax properly.”
“It’s views like this that make the Eastern Sierra my favorite place in the world.”
“Jenn got a hold of my big cam and snapped a few shots of me…hehe.”
“I swear I turn into a big kid when I’m in the mountains, I just love this place.”
“One last look at Temple Crag before we head off.”
A brief lunch at First Lake
Jenn and I stopped over at First Lake for some much needed lunch. It was a great place to have a meal while enjoying the view of another turquoise beauty below. Jenny had crafted some tuna with mayo and smashed avocados into disposable cups which we ate with water crackers. It was very satisfying and tasty too. We got a little too relaxed and started to get a tad cold, especially at this elevation.
“Looking for a place to settle down for lunch.”
It wasn’t long before the wind started to pick up and we could feel the temperature drop as the sun was nearing the mountain peaks. It was time to go, so we put our jackets on and started our way back to the truck. Also, we are very strong advocates of “Pack it in, Pack it out” and so should everyone else.
“It was going to be 5 miles (8 km) of downhill hiking and our toes were going to feel it.”
“Looking back, you could see the beautiful light of the golden hour setting in.”
“There were luscious outcrops of Indian Paintbrush all along the path.”
“Jenn had the look of satisfaction and accomplishment on her face.”
“We trekked along the creek for the last time on this hike.”
“The final moments of light cast a hazy golden light everywhere as we neared the trailhead.”
We eventually made it back to the truck, but not without a fair amount of pain and soreness. Regardless, it was well earned. This is one hike that I had on my “To do list” for a very long time and thanks to my awesome girlfriend, we pulled it off together. I was seriously out of shape, but somehow managed to pull this one off and with such elevation too. Accomplishing this hike has inspired me to begin preparations for other hikes like this in the near future. If you are interested in a spectacular day hike in the Eastern Sierra, I highly recommend this hike!
Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”
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